My first commuter bike

I bought my first commuter bike in 2011 the weekend after I had another expensive repair with my Jeep.  I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in probably 8 years, but that didn’t stop me from going to the local bike shop.  I remember riding it for the first time and thinking how crazy it was that I was going to purchase this bike and use it to get to work.   It served me well for nearly 6 years, through all seasons and all sorts of locations.  I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, but it served its purpose and it got me through not having a reliable car.  I maintained it well and I would visit the bike shop to ask questions whenever I was concerned about a potential problem.  It was a great first commuter bike and it gave me the ability to slowly learn about bike commuting.

My first commuter bike

Bike Model:  2009 Raleigh Detour 3.5, 17″ hybrid

Mileage:  Unknown, easily 3,000+ miles

Purchased: $335 (bike), $532 (TOTAL including accessories and tax) From Roberts Cycle on 8/27/11

Sold: Through Craigslist on 6/18/17 for $175

Components replaced when needed: brake pads, chain, saddle (2012, 2014), rear rack (2013), crankset (2014), pedals and tires (2015)

Distance: Up to 40 miles daily, entire route bicycled, or broken up through a multimodal commute (bus or train)

 

Original look of the bike after completing my first urban commute in 2011.

 

The original receipt

 

Pros:

As my first commuter bike, there were many pros to starting off using a hybrid bike.

  1. The bike fit me.  I’m short, a little over 5’0″ with shoes.  Even though it was a men’s bike, after adjusting the seat, I could reach the handlebars and the pedals comfortably.
  2. It was an upright riding style.  That meant that I was able to see the road clearly, and was especially helpful when in the city.
    Upright front view.

     

  3. It came with a rear rack where I could bungee cord my stuff.  I didn’t have the money for panniers so I did what I could with my old backpack and bungee cords.
    Backpack strapped to the rear rack.

     

  4. It was not a flashy bike and I did not have to worry about locking it in the city with just a Kryptonite Keeper lock.
    Locked to a bike post in Chicago. 2017.

     

  5. It was affordable to me and I found it in the corner of the bike store on clearance.  It allowed me to eventually save money to deal with car repairs and other expenses.
  6. It was “slow.”  I could probably pedal 15 mph if my life depended on it.  This prevented me from being reckless and going too fast.
  7. It taught me about minor maintenance – over time, I learned how to fix my own flats and troubleshoot where exactly on the bike things were giving me trouble.

 

Cons:

A few cons for my first bike included:

  1. The weight of the bike itself.  It was heavy for me initially but I gained the strength to lift it up stairs and up on Metra trains.  Switching to a crankset with fewer speeds made it a bit lighter as well.
  2. The upright riding style meant no hiding from the wind and made me feel the full brunt of the cold Chicago winters.
  3. Toe overlap – when turning or when positioning myself at an intersection, sometimes my foot would rub against the front tire.
  4. Aluminum frame – I could feel every vibration in the road, especially when dealing with potholes.
  5. Not great for long distances – near the end of the week, my legs were really hurting, especially my quads.

 

Over time, I realized what I really desired in an everyday commuter bike and had no hesitation upgrading to a new touring bike this June.  Even with its cons, my original hybrid bike was able to do the job when I needed it.  I put the bike up for sale on Craigslist twice – the 1st time I had no responses, but the second time when I posted it, I used the keywords, “women” and “ladies” and had several replies.  This bike is now in the hands of someone else, and I hope they get as much use out of it as I did.

Summer of biking – 2016 edition

It’s been a busy summer on and off the bike, but I’ve spent enough time riding around to get a biker’s tan.  I’ve recorded over 1000 miles this year with the miles mainly from commuting.   Here’s some highlights of this past summer.

2016 Active Transporation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge

I was the sole captain this year as the co-captain from last year opted out of organizing.  Overall, it was a very fun and successful event – this time my company had 17 participants (new record), and we finished within the top 25 of companies Chicagoland in terms of mileage.  I think since word got out much earlier this year,  people were interested.  I made some flyers and had emails sent out to the company starting a month before the event.  As captain, the event website made it difficult to find stats or manage the team.  Active Transportation did admit they they were rolling out a new backend system so some user-friendly features from last year were not available – such as sending out daily messages to my entire team through the website. Me and other team members also encountered were some minor technical difficulties with their bike app in terms of uploading miles, but that was resolved by just restarting the program.

I was able to bike every single day of the challenge, and the first day I had an interoffice commute which I’ve never done before.  I even tried a new route from another coworker who lives nearby.  I’ve since used that route on my commutes to mix things up a bit.  Some days were hot, but luckily, kids still run lemonade stands and I was able to take a short break on my rides home.

Lemonade Stand
Hot weather means one of many lemonade stands on my commute home.

I definitely met a lot of new people and have new biking friends.  It’s always nice to have camaraderie around non-work related stuff.  I’ve ridden to work with two ladies in a different department who take one of the early morning Metra trains.  As someone who’s commuted for many years, it’s great to see new commuters giving biking a try, using whatever bikes they have.  A few weeks after the event, we took a group photo and it was included in our company newsletter. People said they had lots of fun and it motivated them to be healthier and consider alternatives to driving.

 

Upgraded some bike items:

I treated myself to some new bike lights, bags and other bike supplies to replace what I’ve been using.  My equipment will be discussed in later posts.

 

Biked to work in a downpour:

One morning the radar showed red and I thought I would get to work before the worst of it hit.  I was wrong and ended up in a really awful downpour about 15 minutes in my commute.  There was no lightning in the sky, but the thunder was really serious.  Thankfully, I always have all of my lights with me and I kept to the quieter streets.  At times, the rain actually hurt as it hit my skin.  When my husband texted me if I was OK, I said that I was putting my phone in a plastic bag and I turned on the Beacon feature so that he could track my route.  I remember pedaling so hard through some standing water and telling myself not to stop since I didn’t want my bike to fall over.  The water came up to my bottom chain but it required a lot of force to pedal through.   It was such a weird sensation to be pedaling through water, but not as crazy as underwater cycling. It was terrifying at times, but luckily I made it to work safe and was actually the first one to arrive.  I was reminded by my boss that one day I will show up looking like an electrified kitty on a bike.

 

 

On Labor Day, rode 75 miles in preparation for the North Shore Century.

I signed up to do my first century ride since I’ve always wanted to do this event and my other coworkers are doing it too.  My only training for a century is biking two times a week commuting to work (50 miles).  On my Monday off, I got up at the usual time for my bike commutes, but I wanted to see how I felt after riding a long distance.  I decided to enjoy the lakefront path which kept my speed slow at about 12 mph.  I tried eating something about every hour- some energy goo or food I had packed.  I think I did not eat enough for breakfast – I only had oatmeal and some fruit and a cup of coffee.  My feet felt fatigued but that was expected since I use platform pedals and have regular gym shoes.  I may consider swapping in harder insoles, or purchasing bike specific insoles to put in my gym shoes.  Otherwise, I feel I am ready to bike 100 + miles.  Even a day after riding, I am not really in pain, but seem a bit dehydrated –  I blame that on the two beers I had the night before and two beers the night after my ride.  More on my first century ride in a future post.

Bike on the Lakefront Trail next to the Shedd Aquarium.
Bike on the Lakefront Trail next to the Shedd Aquarium.

Planning an unfamiliar route

I recently had a coworker ask me how to find the best route from her house to work.  Previously, I wrote about how to find a route to work, but it can be challenging when you are not familiar with the area and don’t have anyone to ask. When planning a route for you or someone else in an unfamiliar area, the internet can be of great help.

With the bike commuter challenge about to start, she wanted to commute using bike paths.  For someone new to bike commuting, finding a safe route is probably the most important consideration when commuting to work.  I was totally unfamiliar with the area near where she lived, but luckily I knew that Google Maps and Strava are useful in figuring out the best bike route. Using the informational overlays on both of these websites, I was able to find a suitable route for her, making the most of trails and quiet streets.  These online tools are great for someone new to commuting, or for someone wanting to bike in a city they’ve never been in before.  For experienced riders who already have their favorite route(s), it’s also interesting to see where other cyclists go.   The following is how I go about figuring out a new route in an unfamiliar location.

 

Planning using Strava

Strava’s heatmap is a great tool for initially planning a route around roads that other cyclists actually take.

Strava’s heatmap compiles all the data cyclists have logged on their smartphones and is a good indicator of which roads are bike friendly and well traveled by other bicyclists.  I use this as a guide when searching for or optimizing a route.  I wish this type of thing was available back in 2011 when I started bike commuting.  Recently, I didn’t realize I had other options on my route until I looked at Strava and found that a lot of people take a shortcut on one side street on my regular commute.  Even with all of these years being familiar with the area, I had never explored or seen anyone take that street before, but the heatmap showed me that it was an option.  Now I try to track my rides on my commutes as much as possible since I know my data will be used to help others when planning their route.

ChicagoHeatmap
Chicago roads frequently traveled by bicyclists.  You can determine your best route by looking at heatmaps.   Screenshot from Strava.

 

Google Maps for route planning

Google Maps‘ Bicycling function does a fair job of indicating roads which may be good for cycling.  Just type in your start and end points and see the routes it suggests.  Be careful though, since Google suggests the shortest routes that  do not always make sense and may put you on busy roads when a longer route is safer.  You can change and drag the route around, but I find combining Google Maps’ suggestions and Strava’s real world use is best.

I also switch to street view to visually gauge how the streets are laid out.  Then you can virtually test your route. Rotate the map at intersections to see where trouble spots might be.

DamenFullerton
Going southbound on Damen at the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection.  My least favorite intersection to ride through.  Screenshot from Google Maps.

 

Final considerations

Once you’ve found a good route, then I suggest you try it out on your bike, ideally at approximately the same time of day you’ll be commuting.  On a bike you are much more aware of traffic patterns and the actual road conditions (potholes, hills).  If the road seems too narrow or dangerous, find another alternative.   Bring your directions on your bike if you need it by using your smartphone or writing it on a piece of paper or a piece of tape.   If you want to drive the route, the advantage is that is that you will see how much space you have when you share the road and also what drivers see from their perspective.

Above all, just relax and ride and trust your good judgement.   Pedal out of your comfort zone and just enjoy the commute.  With all of the knowledge you’ve acquired you’ll be much more confident while on your new route.

Dealing with a flat tire when you don’t know how

Springtime means more riding, rain and flat tire season for me.  After a long winter, the roads are not in the best shape and the rain seems to stir up all the debris on the road.

I was a few minutes into my ride home the other day when there was a strong headwind and I thought I was spending too much energy trying to pedal.  I soon realized that I had a flat and had nothing to repair it with.  I didn’t have my portable air pump, spare tube, and patch supplies as I had forgotten to pack these into my commuter bag.

How do you deal with a flat when you don’t have the proper supplies or don’t know how?

There are several options, but the first thing you’ll want to do is get off your bike so you don’t damage the wheel.  At this point you may be angry at yourself for not being prepared, or frustrated that you’re even in this situation (that’s me), but once you’ve calmed down, you’ll have to improvise a bit to get yourself home.

1) Pump up your tire at a gas station

This is my default response.  Usually my slow leaks are fixed by simply getting to the nearest gas station and inflating with the air pump.  I keep a Schraeder/presta adapter handy if I ever need it for my road bike.  In my situation, I was close to a gas station and didn’t feel like going back to work where I keep extra tubes and a bike pump.  I simply paid 75 cents for the air.  I did short bursts of inflating until the tire felt hard.   Since the tire didn’t immediately deflate, and I heard no leakage of air, I had a slow leak. I was able to ride the rest of the way home but could have taken public transit instead.

If you have a total blowout, pumping up your damaged tire will not help, but you can ….

2)  Give up

The easiest option – call someone for a ride or take public transit home.  This works and requires the least effort.

3) Ask for help

Back when I didn’t know how to change a tire, I asked coworkers for help.  Usually someone will know how to fix a flat, and people like to help.

Alternatively, there are on-call bicycle professionals who will come out and help fix your bike, but for a fee.

4) Find the nearest bike shop

I once took the wrong Metra train expressing downtown with a flat tire and was dropped off deeper in the city than I anticipated.  A quick search on my smartphone revealed the nearest bike shop and they were able to fix my flat on the spot.  Bike shops are great when you are a bike commuter and they realize that you need your bike fixed fast in order to get home.  They are usually accommodating and willing to help you right away.  You’ll get great service and conversation while they fix your bike.

 

I’ve used all of these methods to get home when I’ve been stuck without the option of repairing my flat immediately.  Surprisingly, I had no idea how to fix a flat tire for my first two years of biking.  If I had a flat, I’d do one of these things and eventually made it home.

Reducing the chance of flats

Avoiding flats altogether is not realistic, unless you want to buy tubeless tires, and don’t mind the added weight on your ride.  I have puncture-resistant tires and average about one flat a year, which is not bad considering how much I ride. I think I am lucky, but I also take care to maintain my tires at the correct pressure and avoid riding near the edge of the street where all the debris accumulates.  I slow down when I go over speed bumps and avoid potholes when I can.  I once plowed into a really sharp speed bump a few blocks from home and my tire immediately deflated, so I’m cautious near them.

Looking at my tires now, I realize that after 4 years of riding and thousands of miles, it’s about time I change the original stock tires on my main commuter bike.  The treads are worn down and there are some slits in the casing, and I’m surprised they have lasted so long.   I will definitely find some other puncture-resistant tires to use.

How do you change a flat?

There is plenty of information out there on how to change a flat.  I thought it was a difficult and frustrating thing to do until I was taught by my local bike shop.  You need decent hand strength to get the tires off the wheel rims, but tire levers really help.  I prefer to install a new tube rather than patching the old tube out of convenience.  Changing flats is a relatively inexpensive and easy fix which will save you time when you know how to do it yourself.  Ask someone you know or ask the local bike shop – they’ll be happy to teach you.

Sometimes you just need to fix the flat yourself.
Sometimes you just need to fix the flat yourself.

 

There you have it.  Dealing with a flat tire when you don’t have the proper supplies is an inconvenience, but one that is easily solved through various options.   Unless you are riding through potholes and broken glass everyday on your commute, worrying about getting a flat is counterproductive.   Just enjoy the ride and know that a flat can be dealt with, even if you aren’t prepared.

Bicycle Profile – Wabi Classic 42 cm

For the past two years, I’ve enjoyed riding my Wabi Classic 42 cm.  I don’t have a name for it, but I describe it as “My blue bike that looks like a toy,” even though it is a serious road bike and great for commuting.

 

Wabi Cycles 42cm
Lakefront bike ride when it was new

This is my favorite bike, the bike I use when I want to have fun, go fast and feel like I can keep up with anyone else on the road.  Tiny and powerful, it is a bike I can ride for 20 + miles and not feel like it’s taken all of my energy to do so.  It’s the kind of bike that immediately changes your attitude when you’re having a bad day and the kind of bike that has people ask you where you go it.  It’s also the kind of bike I carefully lock up or bring inside since I’d be very upset if it ever got stolen.  It’s put into heavy use during the spring and summer on my commutes and on recreational rides around the city.

Specs:

Model: Wabi Cycles Classic 42 cm

Purchased: June 2013

Miles ridden: Strava says I have 1850 miles, but I know I have biked much more. Probably 2000+

Gearing: 44 x 17, single speed.  One gear is fine since there aren’t many hills around

Weight: ~17 lbs of steel and components,  it is very light compared to my other bike

Pedals: Platform MKS Sylvan Touring Bicycle Pedals, since I can use a variety of shoes with it, and I don’t see the need for clipless pedals.  These were purchased separately for about $35.00.

Tires:  Changed stock tires to Continental Road tires in 2014

Seat: stock ladies saddle, will upgrade to a newer bike seat eventually

Rear rack: None, since there is no room for one. I use my messenger bag or cycling backpack to carry supplies.

Lights:  Enough room on the handlebar to mount front lights, I have a tactical flashlight with a flashlight holder mounted to it.  The seatpost has room to mount a rear light, but I usually have a light clipped to my backpack and one on my helmet for rear lighting.

Speed: I average 13-15 mph on this bike and have recorded myself as going as fast as 27 mph downhill, 22 mph “hammering” on a flat stretch of road or a steady 19 mph keeping up with traffic on busy roads when I am brave enough to take the lane.

Price: $750, a great value

 

Wabi bike on side
Bike with water bottle and emergency bike pump on the frame.

At the time, I wanted another bike in case my main hybrid commuter bike was in the shop for repair.  I wanted a fast bike, it had to be light so that I could easily lift it onto the train, and be maneuverable enough in heavy traffic.  This bike fit all of these requirements.

 

If I was running late to catch the train,  I knew I could pedal fast enough to make it in time and still be able to lift the bike up the stairs while catching my breath.

My bike taking up two seats on the Metra.  Two grumpy people probably had to move so I could park my bike.
My bike taking up three seats on the Metra. Three grumpy people probably had to move so I could park my bike.

Why Wabi?

Since I’m short (5’0″) my options for road bikes were limited but I wanted to find a stylish road bike which could be used as a commuter bike.  There were many options from the big name brands, but after reading around the internet, Wabi kept being mentioned.  Even though it was a single speed bike, and I had never ridden one before, I thought it made sense since the bike would be lighter and more efficient.

I looked at www.wabicycles.com and was immediately drawn to how simple and beautiful the bike was, especially the turquoise blue color.  Due to my height, the only option that made sense was the 42 cm model.  I wasted no time and contacted Richard Snook who owns Wabi Cycles.  Richard was very helpful in helping me decide on the build of the bike.   Our conversations over email and phone focused on my physical measurements, riding style, and my desire to bike long distances.  He suggested I get a stem riser so that my handlebars could be more upright and that a 44 x 17 gear ratio would allow me to comfortably climb hills in the suburbs while maintaining a good cruising speed in flat Chicago.  He also answered any questions I had about bike sizing and not being able to test ride the bike before purchasing.  My fears aside, I placed the order through the website soon after our final discussion.

My biked arrived packed in a big cardboard box.  I only had to figure out how to put on the front wheel and the pedals I had purchased.  The first ride was a short ride around the block.  Richard told me that since I was used to riding a hybrid bike, it would feel like upgrading from an old SUV to a Porche.   He was right as I was instantly impressed by its speed and somewhat unsure if I had bought a bike that was too fast.

After a few rides, I got used to its speed and I took it to my local bike store and made some minor adjustments to the seat and handlebars.  Since then, I haven’t had to perform many adjustments or maintenance on this bike and it has been a very reliable ride.

Final Verdict

Everything about this bike is awesome and feels good, especially the effortless pedaling and steering.  Since the bike is so responsive, I can confidently negotiate traffic, easily avoid potholes and be fast enough so that I can make all the green lights before they turn red on the road.   Overall, this is a fantastic bike and it fits my commuting and recreational biking needs.  You will see me riding this bike for many years to come.

2015 Bike Commuter Challenge Completed

This year’s bike commuter challenge was a great success.  My company had seven members and we all biked in at least once (100% participation), for a total of 24 trips and 287.8 miles (12.1 miles per member).  We had four men and three women, including two new bike commuters.  I had been interviewed by the Active Transportation Alliance, so I knew I had to give my best effort.  As one of the captains, I lead the team with six rides and 78 miles, but due to the weather and other commitments, could not devote more energy towards the challenge.

Forming the team:

About a week before the bike commuter challenge started, another lady bike commuter I had met introduced me to the guy who had been organizing the event for the past few years and we went from there.  He had just welcomed a new baby, so the bulk of the responsibility shifted to me to organize and encourage the team.  I registered the team on the website, designated us as co-captains and then edited an email template he had sent me to include detailed instructions on how to sign up for the team (this year you needed a password). HR forwarded the email to the entire company and also put up announcements on the TV screens.   We also printed out some flyers which were put up by the administrative staff.

HR and I went to a nearby bike store and selected some raffle prizes (bike commuter kit with reflective bands and rear light, active wipes) which the company graciously paid for.   Our HR department was really great in helping us advertise the challenge to hundreds of employees.  I was unable to recruit my immediate coworkers to join (although they really did entertain the idea), and ultimately we ended up with seven team members.

Preparing for the challenge

Before the challenge started, I brought some clothes and snacks to keep in my office so I wouldn’t have to bring them on the bike.

I sent out an email to the team and wished them luck during the next week.  With the weather indicating rain, I reminded people to be more careful (use lights, go slower) and to not ride in the rain if they didn’t want to.  I don’t like riding in the rain myself, but a light drizzle is fine with me.

One of the new bike commuters asked us our opinion on the route he should take to work.  Being in the suburbs, it can be tricky negotiating traffic when the streets are busy and the speed limit is 50 mph.  We found a route which would minimize sidewalk riding and cautioned him to be extra careful and look for turning cars and driveways.

Logging my rides

I tried using their bike commuter app on the first day,  but it didn’t record some of my miles so I relied on Strava.

My commute is usually 12 miles to and from work, or 17 miles if I take the long way on the trail.

What most days of the bike commuter challenge looked like:

BikeHomedreary061215

Friday: 6/12: Little bit of rain in the morning, cloudy in the evening, colder than usual.
Monday 6/15: Did not bike, but did bring a supply of clothes and snacks for the week to store in my office.  Hawks win the Stanley Cup.
Tuesday 6/16: Biked in, little bit warmer, feeling good.
Wednesday 6/17: Could’ve biked in but stayed up late watching the NBA Finals.
Thursday 6/18: No biking, lots of things to do.
Friday 6/19:  Really felt worn down from the week, but I had to bike in since it was the last day.  Luckily the weather was nice. Bought and ate a pan pizza from the cafeteria and it gave me enough energy for the long ride home through the North Branch Trail. I rode as fast as I could  and beat some of my personal records I have on Strava.

Every few days I would log into the bike commuter challenge website and send out emails encouraging the team and updating our progress.  Some team members even emailed me directly to share their progress.  I enjoyed seeing people’s routes and hearing about how they took the opportunity to bike in.  A raffle was also held, and the prizes sent out through the company mail.

Until next year..

Next year we hope to get the word out sooner so that more people can think about commuting to work. The rain also put a damper on our efforts.

Participating in the bike commuter challenge was a great way to meet new people and share information about bike commuting.  Nearly every week is bike to work week for me, but it is always fun to to share the experience with others and to keep each other motivated.

First bike commute to the new job

I’ve already biked to work twice to my new job, squeezing it in before Bike the Drive.  I used to commute 20 miles each way, but now it’s only 12 miles each way, meaning that I no longer have to rely on public transportation.  I can bike the entire distance to and from work.   It only takes me an hour each way, and it is sometimes faster during the evening commute depending on traffic.  Right now I have to strike a balance between my desire to bicycle commute and my responsibilities at work and at home.  I do it when I can and don’t stress out about it.  An ideal day for me is to bike commute, have a great day at work, and then a relaxing time at home.  Unfortunately, I can’t have it all, so if I do have the chance to bike in, then I’ll do it.

What I really hate about driving is being stuck on the Edens and going the same pace as if I were biking.  Below is a familiar scene as I cross the highway going home.

Edenstrafficweb

For my first bike commute of the year, I was ready as I had planned out my route, packed my backpack and was mentally prepared.

I got a good night’s sleep and had my usual coffee/oatmeal/banana combo for breakfast.   I didn’t have to shower before heading out because I would shower at work.  I would not have known that my workplace had a shower if I hadn’t talked to one of my coworkers about my plan to commute in.

The weather was cold and windy even though it was the 12th of May.   I had to wear long pants, my windbreaker and gloves to keep warm.  I chose to use my hybrid bike since it allows me to be more upright and then I can also have my rear rack to strap things to.   It was also dark and cloudy so I had to turn on my front and rear lights.

RaleighBikeBelmontweb

I had planned well and already stashed what I needed in my office so there wasn’t much for me to bring to work.   I use an old backpack to carry my stuff and bungee cord it to the rear rack.  I don’t have panniers since my backpack does a good job and I have no problems handling my bike even with a large load on the back.

I can already say that my route to my new workplace is easier and more enjoyable.   The roads I take are wider, have less traffic and I am in less of a rush because I don’t have to catch the train.  The only difficult thing is dealing with the traffic near the two high schools I have to pass.  People drive faster than normal and do not give you as much space on the road.

During my first bike commute of the year, here are some things that caught my attention:

I was more cautious around traffic-  Even though I’ve biked many miles, I found myself being hyperaware of cars, especially during the evening rush hour.  More than usual, I found myself looking over my shoulder to gauge when cars would pass me and really signaled my intent when trying to take the lane.

Potholes – this forces me out into traffic since they seem to form on the right side of the road, directly where I need to be.  Even the North Shore suburbs can’t be pothole free.

Feeling lonely – Maybe it was the bad weather, but I only saw one other bike commuter during my whole route.  I usually pass a few people going into the city when I am headed out of it.  Also, I used to take the Metra and would chat with some people before boarding.

Having to coast more than usual–  I didn’t feel bad “cheating” and I coasted as much as I could to conserve energy.

My lack of upper body strength – When I was bring my bike out and up a short flight of stairs, I was amazed at how heavy my bike felt.  I previously had found no problem lifting my bike up and down the stairs of the Metra train.   My arms did feel more toned after my rides because they basically act as shock absorbers.

A sore butt – I don’t wear padded shorts but  I do have a sport saddle and it is good enough for me.  This type of discomfort usually subsides within a week or two and I just deal with it.

Feeling weighed down – I didn’t bring my purse but instead stuffed my wallet and keys into one of my backpack’s compartments.  My lunch, change of clothes, shoes and towel took up enough space.  This is typically a “light” load, but it felt like I was carrying quite a bit behind me, especially going uphill.

A dry mouth: I think I was breathing through my mouth and exerting myself too much, but this was easily solved by drinking some water throughout my commute.

 

Eventually I made it to work and locked my bike up to a parking sign post, out of the way.  There wasn’t anyone in my building yet.  I felt a bit sore, but was able to recover in my office, rehydrate and then checked some email.  I then managed to make it to the shower, changed and went about the rest of my day.  I am glad I have the ability to shower now as it makes things much easier.  At my previous job, I relied on baby wipes and washed my hair in the sink.

I had arrived early enough that nobody noticed, but with my helmet at my desk, people were curious about my ride in.  I told my coworkers that it only took me an hour,  but that it felt much longer due to the wind.  Otherwise, it was a lot of fun and it was nice knowing that I didn’t need a car.   Biking in helps me to be more alert, and also causes me to be more efficient with my time and helps me deal with stress.  The day also seems to go by quicker.

Suddenly it was time for me to pedal back home.  I left a little bit earlier to avoid the worst of the evening rush hour.  The ride home is always something I look forward to, even if I am tired from the morning ride and a full day of work. When the work day is good, I can ride home without much worry. If there is a problem at work, I can take the time on my bike to think about it, and if the day has been really bad, then I can just ride as fast as I can and deal with my frustration.

Even with some minor discomfort, it is the sense of accomplishment that I arrived at work under my own power, which motivates me to do it again.  I like the challenge and learning process of each ride.  With the weather becoming warmer, I hope I see more bicycle commuters share the road with me.

 

Planning to commute to a new job

Starting a new job is exciting and there is a lot of learning that goes on in the first few weeks, including how to commute by bike.  The distance to my new job is significantly shorter (still 20 + miles if I bike to and from work).  At my previous job, I didn’t start biking until 6 months in.   That was because I didn’t consider bike commuting to be an option and didn’t have a bike.  These are no longer barriers and it will be fun to plan my first bike commute.  Right now, things are extremely busy so I am not able to bike commute until I am comfortable in my role.  However,  I have been observant and taken steps to plan for my new commute so that it will be less stressful.  The following are a few things I’ve considered before I start biking to work.

 

Finding other bike commuters
Since I’m new and my organization is larger, it will take some time for me to find the other bicycle commuters that I have heard about.  Therefore, I need to go with my gut feeling.   If a conversation ever flows to the topic of biking, then I will bring it up.   I already know my boss is OK with me biking, and it seems that people have a favorable attitude towards it.   This has lessened my worries about how I would be perceived biking to work.

 

Planning the route
While driving to work, I take notice of the traffic patterns in the early morning.  When bicycle commuting, I will probably be on the road an hour before the morning rush really hits.  I had some time before my job started and actually test biked one of the routes I would typically take.  Thankfully, I can avoid the busy roads and take a more scenic route.  Previously, I had to bike commute on a stretch of road that was 35 mph where car drivers would speed and didn’t know how to share the road.  One advantage I have is that I am already familiar with the area.

 

Finding a place for bike parking
I still need to find a discreet location to park my bike.  An out of the way pole or fence may be an option.  As long as it doesn’t get in anyone’s way, or violate company policy, then it’s fine.

 

Bringing items to work
Everyday I bring items from home that I can stash in my drawers at my office. I used to have a cubicle and had to make good use of the space I had. Now I am spoiled since my storage space has doubled.  Things that I’ll bring before my first commute include:

1) Extra clothes.  My dress code is now business formal, so I’ll probably bring an outfit before my first commute.  I will also test folding and rolling up my clothes to see how wrinkled they get.
2) Food, snacks = salt and sweets
3) Bicycle pump and new inner tubes. Yes, I have these in case my tire goes flat and I need to repair it.   I have had instances where I’ve rode to work but didn’t know I got a flat on the morning commute and then couldn’t ride home.
4) Hygiene prep products- baby wipes, shampoo, hairdryer, towel, cosmetics etc.

 

Being physically ready
My physical stamina has  decreased significantly after this harsh Chicago winter.   I have only been biking on the weekends and this contributes to my stamina, even though it’s only short trips or a fun ride.   I will have to deal with the increased fatigue (sore butt + legs) until my body becomes used to the process of bike commuting again.  If things become unmanageable, I can always hop on the train or bus to give myself a break.

 

With these things in mind, I know that I will be setting myself up for a successful first commute.  It also helps to see that more people are bike commuting and it isn’t as strange as when I started a few years ago.  I do look forward to the day when I turn into the parking lot on my bike instead of my car.

 

 

Biking Hibernation

It’s already a week into the New Year and the long Chicago winter has kicked in. Several inches of snow and negative wind chills are predicted for the next few days. The temperature drops below 0 in the morning and makes the snow seem like concrete.

This is when I suspend bicycle commuting and try to occupy myself while waiting for the snow and ice to disappear. This biking hibernation can last for a few days all the way into March. If possible, I will bicycle around the neighborhood for fun or to nearby stores if road conditions are safe, but I give myself a break from the grind of bike commuting.

What I do when I’m not bike commuting in the cold months:

Exercise: If you count running outside to throw away the trash in the alley and walking quickly to avoid being in the cold as exercise then yes.  I actually don’t do much physical activity outside of bike commuting. I do workout videos during times when I really feel like a lump of lard, and those are on rare occasions when I have time and am motivated.

People have told me to purchase a bike trainer, but with no room to put it, I’d rather just wait until it’s safe to bike in the cold. I received some Bar Mitts as a gift for Christmas, and it certainly cuts down on the wind chill while biking. I tried these in below freezing temps and it definitely makes your hands more comfortable.

Bikebarmitts

 

Daydream about a new bike: When the snow totally covers the ground I often want to purchase a fatbike just so I can go on the lakefront and ride on the snow and sand. I also picture myself in the summertime riding around in a nice dutch cargo bike hauling groceries.

Cook more: With so much more time freed up, winter means cooking indoors and trying out new recipes. It also means eating more and fattening up, but after a whole year of biking, it’s OK.

Read: Sometimes it is just nice to relax and catch up on a few books I haven’t had the chance to read. One book I’m reading now is Cycling Home from Siberia by Rob Lilwall.

Catch up on Sleep: Probably the biggest thing I neglect and I know is not healthy is the amount of time devoted to sleeping. Typically when I bicycle commute, I only get around 6 hours of sleep. When I’m not on the bike I get a luxurious 8 hours of sleep and I am super awake.

There you have it. I am a normal person and have realized to let myself relax and let my body rest during the cold months. Last year when the winter was so bad, I found that relaxing and keeping my mind busy was the best way to prevent myself from going crazy.

 

Some thoughts on Winter Biking

The cold Chicago months are now upon us and it’s time to commit to winter biking.  Yes, riding around in the cold is something most people do not consider, but it is fine if you are prepared.  When you bike in the cold, you learn fast if something does not work and then quickly adapt.  Winter biking is definitely more challenging and harder on the body.  The coldest temperature that I’ve ridden in has been 13 degrees.  Bicycle parts don’t work as well when the temperature is that low, but it is still manageable.

This is my third winter biking, and here is a summary of the past few years:

2011: First winter biking, mild Chicago winter.  Made the mistake of biking of the sidewalk after a first snow thaw.  Smacked my knee on some ice and then have never ridden on the sidewalk ever again.

2012: 2nd winter biking, mild Chicago winter, avoided biking in the Northern Burbs since drivers don’t give me space.  Rescheduled my working hours around a different train line that would bring me closer to work so that I would spend the majority of my time bicycling in Chicago.

2013:  The day after Thanksgiving the temperature dropped into the 20’s and I hopped on my bike to buy some seafood at the fish market.  Horrible cold, snow and ice Chicago winter with no relief.  No bike commuting for nearly 3 months waiting for the snow to melt.  I remember still seeing a remnant of little pile of snow up in my office research park in May and thinking how awful it was.

2014: Cold snap hits early, which means more time to try to enjoy the cold.  Made the 2nd annual trip to the fish market the day after Thanksgiving for some red snapper and oysters.  December is starting off cold but with no precipitation.  I intend to bicycle as much as possible before the snow hits.

 

Things to just accept and prepare for when winter biking:

1) Being in the cold

Yes you will be cold and then it becomes a game of mental motivation over your physical hesitations.  Probably the most uncomfortable thing I find about winter biking are the first few minutes to heat up.  Once my body temperature is elevated, then everything is okay.

Whenever it is cold outside, go out and enjoy the cold.  The more you expose yourself to cold conditions, the less likely you’ll feel uncomfortable when the temperature really drops.  When the first cold snap hits, I usually just go out and bike to acclimate myself for what’s to come.

Being in the cold is not a limiting factor for me as I know how to properly layer and keep myself warm.  I usually wear wool layers to keep myself warm and make sure my extremities are covered.  Wear appropriate clothing to keep yourself warm and cover any exposed skin or put a thin layer of Vaseline on your face.

Your feet will become cold when you bike.  You can combat this by wearing wool socks or getting off your bike at every intersection and jumping up and down or shaking your legs.  I used to do this but became lazy and decided to wear thin athletic socks with toe warmers.  For my hands, I usually double glove with an outer mitt.  If conditions are super cold, (below 20°F or a nasty windchill) I will place handwarmers in my mittens as well.

Yes, you will need to blow your nose, so carry some tissues.

Your eyelashes will freeze only if you don’t wear some sort of eye protection.  I use cheap safety glasses to prevent my eyes from becoming dry and frozen.

Keep hydrated.  Everytime you see your breath you are losing water.  I use a thermos bottle to keep my water from becoming so cold.  A regular water bottle will just freeze

On longer commutes, you will probably need to switch gloves halfway through if you’ve been sweating.  You hands will freeze otherwise.  I have done it on 20 miles commutes, but it becomes very uncomfortable when your hands feel like icicles and you are trying to brake.

2) Being in the dark

Morning or evening it will be dark and lonely.  Make sure you have lights and that you are visible from all angles – front, back and side.

3) Winterize your bike

Have appropriate lights, wider tires, a properly lubed chain , and occasionally rinse off your bike from the road salt.   You can add knobbies or studs to your tires if you’re really hardcore.   I prefer to use my hybrid bike with its regular tires and avoid biking when there is snow or ice on the ground.  Talk to your local bike shop and have them look over your bike and give suggestions.  This is the time of year when I know that it will be nearly impossible for me to fix a bike out in the cold.  Thank goodness for public transportation and a cell phone to call someone to come pick you up.

4) The cold wind

There are no windbreaks as all of the leaves have fallen off the tree, so you will feel the full force of the wind.  Just get used to it.

5) Trust your judgement

If you feel it’s not safe to bicycle around for any reason – cold, precipitation, or wind, then don’t do. it.   I avoid biking when the snowfall hits as there is not enough room on the road for both cars and bikes to share.  Also, the side of the road is filled with slick spots as the snow melts and freezes, and I do not feel as safe.  Also, check the weather forecasts for temperatures, wind, and precipitation conditions.  If it’s too nasty, then don’t put yourself through awful conditions since it simply won’t be fun and might be dangerous.

 

Why do I enjoy winter biking?

One of the more enjoyable things I find about winter biking is how quiet the air sounds.   I like hearing the sound of my pedals and my tires rolling over the cold pavement.   I like being able to conquer the cold.   Knowing that I can travel on my bicycle when the temperature is below freezing gives me a huge sense of accomplishment.  An advantage of winter biking is that you will most likely have the trail and road to yourself.

Also, with the holiday season it is a great way to fight off those extra pounds and to maintain your fitness until the weather warms up again.   When spring hits, you feel so much faster and confident on the bike because you’ve endured such harsh conditions throughout the winter.

In the winter, you will find yourself to be more alone on your commutes.  Some people will look at you strangely.  They seem to want to roll down their car windows and tell you that you’re crazy.  Some do, but only to complement you that you are brave, they could never do it, and to keep at it.