Written by Abi Humber Tuesday, 27 March 2012 14:51
Ten Things I Never Knew About Bike Commuting in Chicago Until They Happened To Me:
No. 1: Rush hour on Lake Shore Bike Path is just as insane as rush hour on Lake Shore Drive.
Bicycles may not be two-ton death traps, but the cyclists are weaving in and out among the other bikers and rollerbladers, trying to speed ahead just as much as the cars are.
The situation is worse in the summertime when you add drunken beach bros to the picture—huge groups of oblivious, sunburned juiceheads trying to cross the path to the beach while cyclists are zooming to work.... Bad news.
No. 2: Cyclists are as big of jerks as car drivers.
This is a continuation of No. 1. Car drivers cut each other off and, yeah, it’s annoying, but it’s probably not going to result in your imminent death. When bikers cut each other off, the element of surprise alone is enough to nearly knock a novice off her bike.
I’ve learned that it’s polite to shout, “On your left!” as you approach another biker to pass, but not everyone does this.
Nothing is scarier than huffing and puffing your way along the path, minding your own business, when another biker zips past you, nearly clipping your shoulder and knocking you off your beautiful yellow Schwinn.
No. 3: Biking makes you sweat.
Profusely. Everywhere. All the time.
I guess this means you might be burning a lot of calories, but mostly it means your clothes are soaking wet and you will show up to work looking a hot mess. Add sweaty helmet hair to the mix and it’s really a bad situation.
No. 4: The pressure to “pimp out” your bike is surprisingly enormous.
Originally, I was drawn to the vintage looks, but now I find myself being seduced by the bold, colorful rims and sleek simplicity of the newer, fixed-gear bikes.
The only problem is that this having a super sweet-looking bike is super expensive. Helmets, lights, racks, baskets, handlebar tape, gloves—it adds up so fast! I thought biking was supposed to be the cheaper alternative to driving and taking the train?
No. 5: It’s important to pick a bike shop with a cute bike mechanic.
I mean, sure, it’s probably just as important to pick a bike shop with a good bike mechanic, but when you’re as bad with your hands as I am, you’ll spend a lot of time in these shops. All I’m saying is a little eye candy goes a long way.
No. 6: Biking isn’t as glamorous as it once seemed.
It isn’t all flowy dresses, floppy hats and baskets with puppies inside. I guess you could give that a shot, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Your dress will blow up around your ears, exposing your “knickers,” a helmet is probably more protective than a cute straw hat, and that puppy might be catapulted from the basket as you slam on your break to avoid hitting a jaywalking pedestrian.
I’m just saying, bike tights, helmets and bungeed milk crates are a better way to go. Even though the you’ll never, ever make it into Vogue.
No. 7: Beware of blind bikers.
Yes, it’s exactly how it sounds, and no, I’m not exaggerating. A coworker of mine is legally blind and, therefore, not allowed to operate a vehicle...so he bikes. The idea of a legally blind biker taking the streets of Chicago is more than terrifying, but Mike actually has surprisingly better biking etiquette than any other bikers I’ve encountered.
He’s also a really good mechanic. I call him my “bike whisperer.” He builds all his own bikes. He’s also been clipped and “doored” by cars more times than he can count, but still bikes everywhere. Such a champ.
No. 8: Basketball advice from Keli Chisholm (now Keli Wray) has saved my life while biking.
Throughout middle and high school basketball, Keli taught the post-players to “stick our elbows out and claim our space, like an elephant.” This was the key to holding our own in the paint, but it’s also been a key to bicycle survival on Chicago’s perilous streets.
With Keli’s voice in my head, I position myself properly in the bike lane—not too close to parked cars, lest I get hit by an opening door or moving cars think they can zoom right past me, but not too close to the moving cars, lest I get hit.
I promise I’m not a bicycle brat who thinks she owns the road, I’ve just learned that you have to the claim the space you need or cars will try to steal it and probably kill you.
No. 9: Just have fun—that’s all that matters!
No. 10: Kidding.
Wear a helmet. Follow all the road rules, carry a bike pump everywhere, buy a raincoat, bring a change of clothes, and drink lots of water.
Oh, and don’t be a jerk.