Though the logical benefits are many, I have to say that I think what is compelling me lately is just the simple joy I get from biking. Every time I get on my bike, without fail, my mood is elevated. Riding my bike makes me feel like I’m 12 years old. I feel like how Phoebe runs in that one Friends episode – like a kid. After rediscovering biking last summer and then participating in Bike the Drive this May with my family, last week for the first time ever I biked to work.
Last week was Bike to Work week in Chicago, and I promised myself that if all went well, I would make an effort to bike more days a week than I take the train, for the remainder of the summer and well into the fall. Weather permitting. This being the end of the second week, I am pleased to say the bike to work experiment so far… equal parts success and adventure.
In order to get ready, I spent the previous weekend researching bike commuting and getting my ride in order. This included determining how I would transport my work clothes and items that generally go in my leather briefcase/purse, what route I would take to and from, what bike gear I still needed to purchase, installation of gear and tuning my bike.
- General Route: Rogers Park to Water Tower
- Distance / Time: 10 miles / 50 mins – 1 hour
- bike rack over back tire
- headlight on handle bars
- spare tube for tire
- portable hand pump
- canvas panniers
- Canvas panniers
Lesson #1 – I’m sure they are not ALL this way, but the brands of panniers at the bike store near me are nothing but a large pocket. After trying to figure out how I was going to pack this big pocket, I remembered… I am a woman. I need little pockets inside of the big pockets to feel like my stuff is organized. This is why the hobo bag never really took off with me for an everyday purse. The panniers were promptly returned, and I have discovered my backpack (which has many big and small compartments) bungee corded to the rear bike rack works perfectly!
Lesson #2 – Attempting to wing-it on a new street route home on your first day biking to work is kinda stupid-brave. But I get in these moods sometimes where suddenly I feel that if I am going to participate in the culture of something, I need to give it my all, and in this case to me that meant bike with traffic. All I can say is Sheridan and Ashland at rush hour (probably most hours) are ill-advisable; however, any fear I had of riding with traffic has now been tapered immensely. So then was that successful or stupid? Hmmm. Who can say?
Lesson #3 – When installing a bike rack, consider a lock washer after the FIRST nut falls off. I went through four screw and nut sets in one day on Tuesday. The first set I lost on my way to work. This meant I had to take my backpack off the rack and wear it – sweaty back. So on lunch I found a hardware store and bought a replacement set, plus two more sets for back up. Fixed the rack, and then promptly ran through the last two sets on the way home! They just kept vibrating themselves loose! I got a lock washer today, and so far so good.
So, after two weeks and five days of biking to work (due to weather I came in one day short on the goal last week) I am almost starting to feel like maybe this is going to work. I have successfully managed street traffic and weathered my first commute with gear issues, so far coming out unscathed! And, I think through a combination of the cooler weather we had at the end of this week, and the fact that my legs are getting used to the everyday ride, I officially shaved 10 minutes off my ride today, both directions!
Finally, in my research to get ready for Bike to Work Week, a friend who works for the Sun Times sent me an article they ran about bike commuting that highlighted a couple of girls, one in Chicago and the other in Nashville, who write a blog all about bike commuting in hopes of encouraging more women to do it. Love their blog. They are hosting the LGRAB Summer Games 2010 and each month raffle off bike accessory prizes to contestants, ultimately raffling a new bike. I didn’t find out about them until after their first round was over, so even though I met the goal of participating in a group ride (Bike the Drive) and biking with family (Dad participated with me), it probably won’t count toward the raffle. However, this month I knocked it out with carry a load on your bike (backpack) and perform a maintenance task (bike rack lock washer).
Can’t wait to see what bike commuting lesson the next month holds!