Monday, March 26, 2007

More Summer In March

Summer-like conditions have made biking to work a breeze (even with some steady headwinds). It was in the mid 60s this morning with partly cloudy skies. I use to prefer biking down Green Bay Road instead of the Green Bay Trail in the morning but all the pot holes have changed my mind. It is still dark when I leave but the mornings are gradually getting brighter.

I recently received some 2-for-1 coupons at Cereality Cereal Bar and Cafe in Evanston. So one of these mornings I might make a pit stop and check the place out. Then again I may not. Once I get rolling I don’t like to stop.

Upon reaching the Lakefront Trail I was just behind a biker on one of those light green Bianchi road bikes. He kept a pretty good pace and it wasn’t until around Lawrence that I glided up to him and said hello. I pulled in front thinking he’d draft for a while but when I later glanced back I couldn’t see him in my peripheral vision.

I spotted a guy way off in the distance on what could have been a fixed gear bike. His white socks were pulled up high and he obviously wasn’t a slave to biking fashion. I don’t think he had a helmet either. Nonetheless his pace was tougher than mine and I lost him.

Around Addison I saw another bicyclist to run down. He was a tough nut to crack. It took me until just north of Ohio Street to finally catch up to him (he probably didn’t know he was being chased though). I kept a polite distance and trailed him until he broke off at Randolph. Good thing too; I was beat.

I feel a lot stronger than I did when I started biking regularly last summer. However my commute time isn’t quite as quick as I thought it would be by now. But I’m enjoying myself more.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2261.5 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Friday, March 23, 2007

Biker In The Mist

Work responsibilities prevented me from biking home until today. It was in the high 40s, drizzling, and light winds. I started work at 5:00 am so I left around 2:30 pm.

Biking through mid afternoon traffic on Roosevelt Road made me realize the importance of City of Chicago's Traffic Control Aides. During rush hour there are Traffic Control Aides at every major intersection from Ashland to Columbus keeping people honest and moving traffic along. But Roosevelt Road is still busy off peak and it was a gridlocked mess for motorists. Fortunately it was absolutely no problem for me. In fact it greatly improved my ride through the area. I often have to wait out the lights at Halsted and Union. But a big construction rig was turning and blocking all traffic. So I just zipped around everyone and had eastbound Roosevelt all to myself. There was much of the same from Des Plaines to Canal.

Since family and dinner weren't waiting for me, I took it easier on my ride home. I passed an older gentleman with a plastic bag hanging from his handlebar. He reminded me of a co-worker who did the same thing with his groceries. The guy was biking home and caught one of his bags in his front wheel. He flipped his bike, broke his collarbone and was off work for a week and off his bike for months. He probably lost his groceries too. So let that be a lesson to you little leaguers out there.

Sherman Avenue in Evanston use to be a pleasure to bike on. But now it is a pothole and gravel mess from University Place to Gaffield. It is amazing what a wet winter can do to asphalt and concrete (some people at work pronounce it "ash-fault"; kind of annoying after a while).

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2237.2 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Good Deed For The Day

Last night I figured out how to operate the road phone. I looked in the phone’s contact list for Mom but came up empty; sad. So I telephoned the last number called and explained the situation. I learned the phone belonged to a gentleman named Clyde and he was really upset he lost it. So I gave this person my telephone number and asked he pass it to Clyde. Later that night Clyde called and we arranged to meet this morning at a gas station on Clark and Touhy.

I got off at 6:00 am. I was a little sluggish and had a lot of things on my mind (mostly problems that’ll cost me a lot of money or be a pain in the ass). So I wasn’t in the best of moods. 17 mph winds were reported from the northeast so I hoped I’d get a little push this morning.

I hammered through the darkness in near freezing weather. I had to search through a pile of dirty laundry for my headband; I thought I wouldn’t need it again until next fall. But it was pretty cold. My fingers were also a bit cold since I was only wearing one pair of glove liners.

At around 6:30 am I arrived at the Mobil station as arranged. While I waited for Clyde, a road biker turned from Touhy to Clark looking like he was headed to the Lakefront Trail. At least I wouldn’t be passed by him this morning. Clyde arrived shortly thereafter in a nice gold Cadillac. He really appreciated getting his phone back and even offered a reward. I declined but was very gratified I was able to brighten his day. It also improved my mood so I did get something out of my minimal efforts.

The winds gave me a nice boost once I got on the Lakefront Trail. I was going to be early to work so I took it easy and enjoyed the sunrise.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2212.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Monday, March 19, 2007

Free Cellphone!

Beautiful afternoon for biking. My left wrist still aches and I’ve concluded it’ll probably be a problem for a while. So I might as well learn to live with it. Steady winds from the west both hindered and helped my progress. The Lakefront Trail was moderately populated.

Just past Navy Pier I started to tail a roadie wearing a backpack. He had a much quicker pace but since I could still see him I made an effort to keep up. Near Fullerton my knees were really burning though. Most of the time it is my thighs that give out on me. So I backed off and decided to just enjoy the ride. As I passed a few bicyclists I said hi but again got nothing in return. Oh well.

I’ve been pretty generous with the White Lightning chain lubricant and it has paid off. My drive train is pretty quiet and the chain doesn’t jump from cog to cog anymore. I still need to adjust my derailleur but it is livable.

I really like riding in daylight again. I enjoy the ride and I’ve shaved about 10 minutes off my commute.

On Clark Street just north of Devon I passed a cell phone lying in the street. At first I figured it was a busted piece of junk but I stopped and turned around to make sure. Once I picked it up I realized someone accidentally dropped it there. Since it wasn’t a model I was familiar with I couldn’t figure out how to operate it in hopes of determining its owner. Then it powered off and I couldn’t turn it back on. So I threw it in my bag with the intent of taking another look at it when I got home.

On the Green Bay Trail at the border of Winnetka and Kenilworth I passed a couple on their bikes. Unlike the others they responded enthusiastically to my greeting. Joy of joys.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2188.6 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Friday, March 16, 2007

Wimped Out Yet Again

I gave blood late today, my wrist and back are still killing me, it is in the 30s and is really windy; so I decided not to bike home today.

I wanted to figure out what is wrong with my middle chainring and adjust my rear derailleur over the weekend though. Since I don't have a bike rack on my car I would have to wrestle it into my back seat. I decided to just work late and leave that for another weekend. Oh well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Humid Hump Day

I got on the road at 6:00 am. The news said the temps were in the high 50s but it felt even warmer since it was pretty humid. My glasses were a little foggy and prevented me from seeing potholes and other hazards. So I just threw them in my shirt's back pocket.

My bike is still kind of screwed up. Despite giving it a good cleaning the night before, my chain still gets caught up. I think either my middle chainring is warped or it has a bad tooth. It was really, really annoying.

Other than that it was a very nice ride in. Since I didn't have to look out for puddles, ice, and snow I was able to really able to hammer down the Lakefront Trail despite a headwind. I managed to bike to work about 15 minutes faster than I did throughout the winter.

Once I got in I gave my chain another coat of White Lightning chain lube. It isn't as convenient to use as regular chain lube and doesn't do too well against rust but I really like that it is pretty clean. I'll keep using it for the time being and see how well it does through spring.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2164.3 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Summer in March

Despite my gimpy wrist and sore back it was just too warm out to stay off my bike. I wrapped my wrist real well and figured my back would be fine as it never bothers me while riding. I thought it was going to be in the 60s when I left work today but I guess it was at least 70°. It was nice not having to wear all my winter gear for a change.

My bike wasn't in good shape. The last time I'd touched it, it was encrusted in snow, salt and street grime. Since I hadn't originally planned on biking home I didn't pack any chain lube. At first it wasn't too bad but upon reaching the Lakefront Trail I began to really hear my chain squeal. Then my already marginal shifting got even worse. My chain was jumping all over the place.

The Lakefront Trail was jam packed but I didn't mind the congestion. It was really nice to see some life on my commute home for a change. At Grand Avenue I started to follow a guy on a road bike who wore a big back pack. I kept a bit of a distance and just wanted to see if I could keep up. Just south of Fullerton I gave up. He had a pretty fast pace and it was especially challenging with my crunchy drive train. I managed to keep him in sight all the way up to Ardmore though and caught him just as the light was changing. He and a pack of other bicyclists turned up Kenmore while I continued west to venture up Broadway.

By this time my wrist was beginning to ache and my gearing was just awful. Both were really spoiling what would have been a fantastic day. At least I had a nice tailwind. At the stop light at Isabella and Sheridan I came upon a group of bicyclists out for a training ride. I said hi but was really glad I was turning. All the racket from my bike would have been embarassing.

Once I got home I gave my bike a good cleaning and lubed the chain. I noticed my rear brake pads were really worn down. This was especially surprising since I just changed them a few months ago. My rear wheel is also a little out of true. I figure it must have been from the potholes last week.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2140.0 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Not biking much. My back and my wrist are still killing me and riding around probably aggravates the problem. I'm just hoping the time off the road will heal what ails me. I was consoled about missing a ride since it rained so much on Friday afternoon I would have been pretty miserable.

I mangaged to fix my GPS after taking it apart and putting it back together about a zillion times. For some reason I couldn't consistenly turn it on and off. I never figured out what was wrong with it but I guess enough fiddling around with it cured the problem. Unscrewing the back and taking it apart isn't the rocket science most would think it is since these things are designed so illiterate 12 year olds can assemble them in foreign sweatshops.

Distance Traveled: 0.0 miles
Distance to date: 2115.7 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Where Did All Of This Damn Snow Come From?

I forgot to set my alarm this morning and had to rush in order to get on the road in a timely manner. I knew there was going to be light snow the night before but there must have been two inches on the ground. This winter seems like it is going to last until May!

The roads were wet and slushy but not too hazardous. All the moisture created unseen hazards though. What look like mere puddles can end up being deep potholes. I managed to avoid many of these traps until just north of Howard I plonked right through one and jarred my GPS from its housing. I saw it skid along the pavement and feared I’d damaged my front wheel as well. After retrieving the GPS and continuing on I figured neither it nor the wheel sustained noticeable damage.

The surface of the north end of the Lakefront Trail was like gooey donut icing. The Chicago Park District did a pretty good job of clearing away all the new snow but the biking path was still soft, slushy, and slippery. I kept to a slower than normal pace and managed through it without much trouble. Just past the Totem Pole at Addison the path wasn’t clear at all. I guess the crew that clears the section from here to Navy Pier must not have set their alarm clocks either. But this wasn’t a major problem; the path was snowy and also bumpy in some spots but still passable.

I decided to detour away from what I’ll call the Fullerton Ice Shelf. I took the high path in an effort to avoid cracking up on what might be hidden sheets of ice. But I ran into an unseen ditch crossing the path and was really jarred. Again my GPS went flying and I also jettisoned my water bottle. I couldn’t get my GPS back on and I fear it sustained permanent damage.

The snow provided more traction over all the icy chunks along the Oak Street curve and I managed to gingerly bike almost all the way through to clearer surface. But at the end I fishtailed on a really smooth section and had to walk the rest of the way out. I stayed high on the banked path as I biked through the slippery snow. There were tracks on the level portion closer to the water but I figured I’d have a better chance of avoiding a swim if I stayed where I was.

Just south of Wacker I passed another bike commuter traveling north. I’ve seen him quite frequently in the past month and I grunt out a greeting or smile. I always get nothing in return though. Oh well. Maybe my approach is too subtle.

Roosevelt Road was a blast. Traffic snarls created a virtual bike lane through stopped cars. Tailwinds and traffic lights were in my favor and I figured I made this last leg of my commute in record time. Too bad my GPS was busted. Otherwise I would have been able to verify this.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2115.7 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dry Tuesday

Blasting south easterly winds provided an unwelcome surprise this afternoon. I had been expecting relatively mild conditions and instead I get bone shaking wind chill. But after about 10 minutes of hard riding it wasn’t an issue.

The Lakefront Trail was pretty dry and clear. The winds actually proved to be an ally giving me a boost of 1-3 mph. Winds from the lake created an obstacle course of rocky ice at the Oak Street curve. I chose to push my bike through a meandering path rather than chance crashing again. But soon it was clear again and I was on my way. Encountered another bicyclist headed north and we greeted each other as I passed by. Just south of Fullerton I encountered a long patch of ice where the winds off the lake coat the path. I wiped out earlier this year along this same stretch. I eased my way through it but will be mindful of it when I bike this way tomorrow.

The rest of my ride was the usual routine.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2091.4 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Monday, March 05, 2007

Clear Monday

The only unusual aspect of my morning bike ride to work was it was light out when I rolled out at 6:00 am. The sun hadn’t risen yet but the clear predawn skies provided a hint of daylight. This was fortunate since my replacement helmet mount for my tail light was still enroute from Planet Bike. Strong winds from the northwest gave me a bit of a push and the roads were dry. Even with temperatures in the mid 20s, it was ideal biking conditions.

Before my ride I was concerned because my left wrist still ached from my mishap last week and now my back was acting up. Because of my bum wrist I had been lifting things (groceries, firewood, children) in an abnormal manner and it think it caused me to pull a muscle in my lower back. Once on the road neither malady bothered me. I guess holding on to the handlebars took the weight off my back.

The conditions on the Lakefront Trail were generally pretty good. There were quite a few icy patches on the north end of the trail but by Wilson the path was mostly clear all the way to Roosevelt Road.

As I was waiting out a red light at Roosevelt and Columbus, I saw a gentleman on a low, low recumbent head down Roosevelt as well. I figured it was the same guy I saw months ago further west. Once I got the green I hoped to catch up to get a better look at him. Upon cresting the hill over the South Shore tracks I saw the recumbent was way ahead of me at Wabash or State Street. I was further delayed at red lights and last saw him cresting the hill past Clark Street. I think I got a glimpse of him through the congestion between Canal and the Dan Ryan Expressway but he was so low I couldn’t be sure. I hammered the pedals thinking I’d catch up but I never saw him again. I feel really vulnerable on a regular bike on this part of Roosevelt. So I can’t imagine risking my neck on a recumbent against the crazy drivers in this neighborhood. But then again people think I’m nuts.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2067.1 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Friday, March 02, 2007

Wimp Out Averted

I was walking around downtown this afternoon and the wind was whipping and light snow not only limited visibility but made the sidewalks quite slippery. Add to that my ailing wrist and broken tail light, I was talking myself out of biking home. The weather improved by the time I got back to work and I knew if I bagged today's ride then it would cancel out biking back on Monday. By quitting time the skies brightened a bit so I did a gut check and got my gear ready for biking.

In this weather I find myself being more uncomfortable walking a few blocks than I do biking 24 miles. Once I got on the road I wondered why I had so much trouble talking myself into biking anyway. Many of my co-workers either think I'm crazy or admire my spunk. I don't dissuade them from these opinions but if they tried biking themselves they'd realize it isn't a pain at all (most of the time anyway).

My wrist still ached from my crack up but if I kept my hand positioned over the hood of my shifter it didn't bother me at all. The surface of the Lakefront Trail varied from just wet to a slight layer of snow. Some areas had shallow drifts. Steady winds from the southeast but wind gusted significantly from all directions. Along Grant Park I was literally blown about a foot sideways. It made for a little bit of excitement. Ohio to Oak Street, the bugaboo of my winter route, was crisscrossed with snow and puddles but was easily navigated.

Through Lincoln Park I was mesmerized by five bike tracks in the snow. A set of fat tires frequently crisscrossed the path and a thinner set kept a straighter line. One set was lighter than the rest indicating the rider preceded the others. Further north where the path was clearer of ice and puddles, the thin tired straight track was on the other side of the path indicating a southbound course. I realized this could be the track of a sharply attired roadie I passed long ago in Grant Park. After the underpass at Buena Avenue the path became of tangle of tracks but the meandering fat tires were still prominent. Within a quarter mile I caught up to them and they belonged to a young lady who might have been the same person I startled when passing her on the path in January. I said hello as I passed but much quieter than the last time. She was bundled up so I didn't notice any reaction.

Crossing Lake Avenue in Wilmette was like opening the door into a snow storm. The ride suddenly went from wet and clear to snow crusting flurries. It was more peculiar than bothersome. Although the 100 yard track in south Kenilworth was a series of slushy and frozen ruts that nearly caused me to wipe out again.

The Green Bay Trail in Winnetka had a generally uniform layer of rime snow. The snowflakes lit up in my headlamp and the crunching surface gave me the illusion of biking at great speed but my GPS clocked me at only 12-13 mph.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2042.8 miles
Price of gas: $2.59

Thursday, March 01, 2007

2000 Mile Crack Up

About 25° and cloudy when I headed out at 6:00 am. I was extra careful knowing that puddles from last night were now patches of ice this morning. My pounding the pedals yesterday caused me to feel a little sluggish today as I biked into a slight wind.

Trudging up Isabella, way up ahead I saw a bicyclist cross my path where Sheridan turns into Ridge. As I continued on my route I saw he preceded me. I dialed it up a bit and finally closed in on him in downtown Evanston. From the rear I saw it was Troy, a gentleman I've known for a few years through activities with my sons. I greeted him and we shared the ride. I knew he was a tandem owner so I asked about it as my wife and I also hope to own one some day. I don’t normally like talking and biking in traffic but it was still pretty early and not many cars were out yet.

Once we got on the Lakefront Trail we were joined by a mountain bike rider. The mountie kept a pretty quick pace and eventually passed us. I had no desire to keep up with him as the path was really icy. Eventually we did catch up and stayed with him in his slipstream. I passed him and offered to let him draft for a while. Soon I had to slow for some ice and Troy took the lead. The mountain biker came up beside me and we talked a bit. He told me he bikes to work every day. I guess the mountain biker preferred to ride in front because he took over the lead again and allowed Troy and I to draft. We continued in a pace line all the way to North Avenue.

Just south of the North Avenue pedestrian bridge the path branches off. I opt for the route closer to Lake Shore Drive but I guess the mountain biker prefers the route passing the beach house. I followed along and found the route sloppy with deep puddles and ice. Troy and the mountain biker were going to break off and head for the underpass while I was to continue south. As I was about to say good bye I lost control on an icy patch and wiped out. All morning I'd been extremely wary of the path conditions and the one time I let my guard down I bite it.

It was my worst spill yet. I felt myself tumble along the pavement knocking my shoulder, knee, and hand. When I eventually came to rest my left wrist was sore and various pieces of bike gear were strewn about. Troy retrieved my helmet tail light and I picked my GPS out of some slush. I waved the mountain biker off and told Troy I was ok but he didn't seem convinced. I was a bit shaken up but only my wrist bothered me. I again assured Troy I was fine and we went our separate ways. My bike survived the fall with only minor tearing of the handlebar tape. But I was a bit worried how well I'd manage the rest of the ride with an aching left wrist. At least nothing was broken.

I continued at a slower pace until I cleared my head of the crash. My wrist didn't bother me too much as long as I didn't move it. Fortunately the Oak Street Curve was generally clear. The frozen slush and puddles on the path after the curve presented the most challenging biking I've ever encountered on my commute. The surface was a combination of rough chunky snow and ice. Had my wrist not been injured it might have been a little fun. South of Chicago Avenue the path cleared some and the route was less treacherous.

South of Illinois I stopped to adjust my helmet, take a drink, and continue to get my head back together. I saw the mount for my Planet Bike helmet blinky was busted. Bummer. I continued the rest of my ride slower than my usual pace. Getting banged up in one way or another tends to drain me. My rear derailleur was also acting up again.

I got to work without any more drama and assessed the damage. I skinned my left knee and shoulder, probably sprained my left wrist, scuffed up my jacket, put a hole in my already holey long underwear, and put a crack in the plastic cover of my helmet. The funny thing is that I really don't remember hitting my head.

That morning I called Planet Bike about my light mount. They directed me to their website where I later purchased a replacement for only $5 shipped. Nice!

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 2018.5 miles
Price of gas: $2.59