Bike Commuter riding her first century

I decided to try the North Shore century ride this past September.  This would be my first-ever century, and I figured that biking 100 miles in a day didn’t seem that bad since my transferrable bike commuting skills would come in handy. My body was already accustomed to being on a bike for long periods of time, I knew how to perform basic bike repair and best of all, I wouldn’t be weighed down by a backpack full of work clothes or a work laptop.  My training schedule consisted of bike commuting at least 50 miles a week six weeks leading up to the event.  I also went on a 75 mile bike ride two weeks before to make sure I felt confident with my energy and choice of food.

bike at rest stop
My bike at one of the rest stops.

I used my road bike with platform pedals.  I packed two water bottles and some energy bars and goo, and a stick of sunscreen which I kept in my handlebar bag.  My outfit for the day was what I typically wear when bike commuting.  I wore my running shoes with bike-specific insoles to help with foot fatigue.  My knees and legs felt fine after the event, so I do think the bike-specific insoles really helped and made things feel a lot better when pedaling.  I also wore a cooling scarf to keep comfortable and sun sleeves so I wouldn’t get sunburned.

olivia holding bike
Holding the bike at the last rest stop. I certainly did not look like most of the other century riders in my bike commuting clothes but at least I was comfortable.

 

Here’s the recap of the day:

Weather: Perfect – sunny with no wind.

Breakfast: Oatmeal, some fruit and coffee about an hour before the event.  I had eaten a lot of carbs the week leading up to the ride and felt good.

Started:  6 am, which is my regular bike commute time.

Rest stops:  I stopped at all of them to eat and give my legs a rest.   My husband was nice enough to be there to keep me company.  I had a hotdog at lunchtime and enjoyed watermelon, pickles, grapes and pretzels throughout the day.  I was sufficiently hydrated and the best part of being a woman at these events is there is no line to the ladies’ room.

Favorite part:  I’d never been to Wisconsin my whole life, and I got really excited on State Line Road when I knew I was going to cross over.  Also, being able to see neighborhoods in Illinois I’ve never seen before.

biking in wisconsin
Biking in Wisconsin

 

Least favorite part:  Climbing hills on a single-speed.  The second leg of the event before reaching Wisconsin was very hilly and I doubted if I would be able to make it the rest of the ride.  Thankfully, the terrain was mostly flat after that point and I didn’t have to worry anymore.

Boredom:  At mile 80, I was actually quite bored and wanted to stop and do other things that day.  Next time I do a century, I am making someone I know come with me.   I did encounter some very nice people who talked to me during various stages of the ride – some guy named Guillermo who I started the race with, and other curious people who said I was crazy for biking the whole thing with my single-speed.

Ended: 4 pm = 10 hours of biking

 

NSC Certificate
I had to fold and stuff my certificate in my bag.

At the end, I was expecting some sort of fancy finish line, but there was none, so I just had to imagine it being a crack in the road.  I went to the finisher’s tent, got my certificate, stuffed it in my bag and rode back home.  Luckily, I got to enjoy some Spotted Cow which the husband picked up in Wisconsin.  I think I did just fine for my first century and found that regular bike commuting enabled me to train during the week without sacrificing time on my busy weekends.  This was definitely a new experience for me and I’m glad that bike commuting helped prepare me both mentally and physically for a long day in the saddle.

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.

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.

Bike the Drive 2015

Bike the Drive is the one ride I look forward to all year.  It is so much fun to actually ride 30 miles on Lake Shore Drive without worrying about sharing the road with cars.  It is a relaxing ride, and my husband and I can go at a comfortable pace.   This is our 3rd Bike the Drive, and we started the event a little bit after 6 am (event started at 5:30 am).  Because we had pre-registered, we had our stickers/wristbands/breakfast tickets ready to go and didn’t have to deal with waiting in line.  I brought along my little speaker so that we could enjoy some music.  We saw some interesting people who brought along their small dogs either on their handlebar basket or trailer.  We managed to bike the entire distance with some breaks and ate breakfast at Grant Park.  It rained during portions of the ride, but it wasn’t so bad.  I had on my windbreaker and light wool socks so I wasn’t totally soaked riding through the rain.   I did feel a bit sore after it was all over, but then again, I haven’t been bike commuting as much as I used to.   Looking forward to the next Bike the Drive, and hopefully they can extend the finish time to even later – past 10:15 am.

 

Here are some pictures from the morning.

Our bikes
Our bikes

 

Southbound on LSD approaching the S-Curve
Southbound on LSD approaching the S-Curve
Maybe one day we can bike the Chicago Skyway.
Maybe one day we can bike the Chicago Skyway.

 

Museum of Science and Industry rest stop.
Museum of Science and Industry rest stop.

 

Bio break.
Bio break.
Rainy approach to Soldier Field
Rainy approach to Soldier Field

Raining

Breakfast
Unlimited pancakes and sausage, and some sort of orange drink for post-ride fuel.

 

We were actually going the same speed as the 147 bus on our way back.

147 Bus Inner Drive

 

We even saw a guy riding off the Belmont exit on a penny-farthing bike.

PennyFarthing
Guy riding a penny-farthing bike near Belmont Harbor.

2014 Bike Commuter Challenge

The Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge ended last Friday, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Overall it was a very positive experience, and I had a lot of fun being captain and inspiring people to at least think about bike commuting. I’m very proud of my team for putting in such a tremendous effort.

I found out about this through a brochure I had received for Bike The Drive, another event in which I had a lot of fun. Since I already enjoy bike commuting and do it as much as possible, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to let my coworkers know about a fun challenge to bike commute. Registration was free, but I donated a bit to Active Transportation to show my support.

 

Forming the Team

I sent out an email the Friday before the start of the event to interest people in the challenge. It was well received, with people talking about wanting to join, or asking me how I go about commuting on a bike. Ultimately, our team consisted of five people, all of whom gave their best effort. One person had good intentions but could not ride due to family obligations, but the rest of us really cranked out the miles.

The Challenge

We endured carrying our lunches, change of clothing, heavy U-locks and rode through bad weather (rain, humidity, tornado warnings, heat) to make it through the 6 days.  We ate “healthier”, needed more sleep and paced ourselves for the duration of the challenge. As a team, we found the strength to make it through by asking each other about our rides, talking about our strategies and anticipating weather patterns. We rode as much as possible, but set realistic goals for ourselves. If the demands of work or family were too much, then it was OK not to ride in. If the weather looked uninviting, then it was better to be safe than sorry.

As captain, I felt I had to be mentally strong and ride everyday to set an example to others that it was possible, even on bad weather days when I normally would not commute. I also sent out some emails offering encouragement with some tips. My coworkers and I were really lucky the worst of the weather seemed to hit while we were all still at work. I only got drizzled on twice.

What also excited me was that one of the ladies on the team used this challenge as motivation to finally try commuting to work. She had thought about it and finally decided to make the plunge. Thinking back to when I first tried bike commuting, I would’ve loved to have been part of a group.

Team Results

As of this writing, we had 14.5 trips, for a total of 384.6 miles and a 2.7% participation rate. The trip log will not be closed until June 30th, so we’ll have to see when the numbers are locked down.

At a total of 384.6 miles, this came out to be 384.6 miles/5= 76.92 miles/rider, which looking at the stats, is the highest among any company in Chicagoland. This ranks us 23rd out of 86 companies in the “For Profit 100-499 Employees” category. This is truly impressive for such a small team, and reflects the tremendous individual effort of each rider.

Personal Results

Individually, I am 14th out of 6000+ riders overall in terms of miles. I also believe that I am the top ranked female in terms of distance (188.4 miles). These are all verified miles using the Strava Mobile app on June 13th, and June 16-20th.

I rode everyday of the challenge but was unable to bike as much as I wanted to on Thursday, June 19th.   The Metra did not allow me and two other bicyclists to board the train as there were already too many bikes exceeding their capacity.  It was disappointing since I had intended on biking at least 30 miles a day.  That meant taking the train in the morning and then biking to work, and then biking the entire 20 miles back home.  I learned this week from a conductor that Metra had been swapping out their cars for some reason and they had given the train I take two cars which didn’t allow bikes.  It just doesn’t make sense why Metra decided to do this during Bike to Work week.

I could’ve waited for another train, but that required waiting another hour for the next one and I didn’t want to risk having the same situation. I could’ve biked all the way to work, but had not mentally prepared myself for the distance, and also felt uneasy about biking in the drizzling weather. Defeated, I decided to turn back home and drive (boo!) to work. Friday I made up for it by biking 57 miles and finished strong.
As I was nearing the end of my final ride for the week, I was having so much fun and going very fast that I wasn’t really paying attention and hit a speed bump so hard that it caused a flat in my front tire. Luckily, it was the last block before home.


Overall, this event was very satisfying and highlights the fact that many people are willing to give bike commuting a try. If you see how many people signed up and entered their stats on the website, it is very encouraging. I am a true believer that participation in events such as this make people realize that bike commuting is a viable means of transportation. With time, people’s perception of biking will change for the better.