No buts about it!
Think you can't live without your car? Five hardcore cyclists deflate your tired excuses.
Lame excuse no. 1:
But I wear a suit to work
Erma Tranter bikes to work in a suit most days, and she rarely has a problem.
But she does offer one piece of strong advice: “Make sure you have both shoes,” says Tranter, the president of the nonprofit advocacy group Friends of the Parks. “I had a couple incidents where I grabbed the wrong shoes and they were mismatched when I got to the office. So pay attention to that.”
Tranter didn’t always wear her suit while riding her bike. When her commute was longer—about eight miles each way—she changed into her work outfit when she arrived at the office. She’d simply fold up her suit at home, place it in an everyday duffel bag and attach it to her rack with bungee cords. She never worried about wrinkles: “Fabrics today are pretty good,” she says. “Most fabrics have that stretchy stuff, and wool is good for winter. That just wasn’t a problem.”
These days, she only rides two miles, so she saves herself the trouble of changing and just pedals in her work clothes. She says sweat isn’t an issue, and she’s been doing it for so long that she’s figured out just what to wear—even in the dead of winter.
And while she admits that she probably takes her clothes to the dry cleaners more often than the average person, she feels that’s a small price to pay.
“It’s just so convenient,” she says. “During the day, if you have meetings, it’s the quickest way to go through the Loop. It even beats taxis. It saves so much time. The sense of freedom you have on a bike is worth it.”
TIPS FOR Two-wheeling:
- Ride slower than you would on a recreational ride. It’s safer, and you’ll sweat less.
- Equip your bike with fenders to avoid lines of muddy water running up your back.
- Carry a small pack of baby wipes to clean up quickly at your destination.
- Chain rings eat pants for breakfast. Invest a few bucks in reflective Velcro leg bands.
- Fold your clothes along the seams, then roll them up. They’re easy to carry and stay less wrinkly.
- Don’t sweat the sweat. Trust us: Unless you perspire like Dick Cheney’s hunting partners, your co-workers, fellow students and family members won’t ever see you glistening.
Lame excuse no. 2:
But I’ve got stuff to haul
Sarah Kaplan delivers hundreds of copies of Time Out Chicago in the Loop and Near North neighborhoods. And she wouldn’t consider using a van to do it.
She, along with four other delivery “drivers,” fan out across the city every Wednesday on bicycles with attached trailers.
The 27-year-old Kaplan, who moved to Chicago about four years ago from New Jersey, says that she “just knew” she had to use a bicycle as her primary mode of transportation. She had no interest in cars, and found public transit frustrating.
She started out carting her things in a simple backpack, but the more she rode, the more use she wanted to get out of her bike. A friend gave her a pair of beat-up panniers, and those expanded her carrying capability significantly. Eventually, she moved to a one-wheeled BOB (for “beast of burden”; see inset) trailer, and recently upgraded to a two-wheeled model, built by Alex Wilson of West Town Bikes (2418 W North Ave, 312-213-4184).
When she’s not hauling magazines, Kaplan uses trailers to lug groceries, cart kitty litter and even move between apartments. “The heaviest thing I’ve put on there is a cast-iron 1927 farmhouse sink,” she says. “[I moved it] about five or six miles. That was really slow. Really slow.”
Despite the fact that riding with a trailer will cost you a little in time and agility, Kaplan loves it.
“It’s like being a truck. You have to take up more space,” she says. “And the cars just have to deal with it.”
TIPS FOR Two-wheeling:
- Get a rack and some good bungee cords. You’d be surprised how much you can balance on a strip of metal with a bit of ingenuity.
- You don’t need pricey touring equipment to carry your everyday stuff: Jandd (www.jandd.com) and Bike Nashbar (www.nashbar.com) make inexpensive folding “grocery bag” panniers that hold a ton.
- If you’re worried about weighing down your fancy racing bike with baskets and racks, consider picking up a cheap beater at Working Bikes (www.workingbikes.org) to use for errands. A fully loaded utility bike can be had for the cost of about five or six tanks of gas.
Lame excuse no. 3:
But I have kids
Val Carpenter has two kids, but she still rides around the city.
It’s not easy, though: Once, a driver screamed at her while she rode through the intersection of Damen, Fullerton and Elston with her seven-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and five-year-old son, Milo, in tow. They were on their usual outlandishly large rig: a tandem bicycle with an attached Trail-A-Bike, when she noticed the irate motorist.
“He was yelling from inside his mammoth hoopty, ‘Watch out for my car!’?” recalls Carpenter, a 42-year-old policy writer for the American Medical Association.
She has since gotten over her anger about a person who’s more worried about nicked paint than the safety of her kids and herself. Now, Carpenter finds the incident oddly encouraging, because it shows just how easy it is to spot her cycling menagerie. “Our bike is so outrageous, [drivers] have got to see us,” she says.
And with the exception of a few bad apples, Carpenter maintains that drivers often proceed with more caution when she’s with her kids.
“We have moral priority,” she says. “When I’m not riding with my kids, it’s totally different; they’ll disregard you or see you as being in their way.”
Nevertheless, Carpenter still takes extra precautions, such as avoiding traffic-heavy arterials and trying to stick to streets with bike lanes. She outfits her kids with helmets and avoids using low trailers designed for recreational riding—partially because they’re hard to see, and partially because she wants her kids to pedal along with her so they stay active.
And even though she owns a minivan for family trips to Michigan and for when the weather’s very cold, she would often prefer to forego it.
“In some ways, the car is so easy, but there are a million reasons not to take a car,” she says. “Cycling is good for the kids’ health, it’s good for the environment and you can always find parking.”
TIPS FOR Two-wheeling:
- Always outfit your kids with a snug-fitting, American National Standards Institute– or Snell-certified bicycle helmet, even if they’re in a trailer.
- Make short trailers and Trail-A-Bikes more visible with tall plastic flags. (But be prepared to replace them regularly, Carpenter warns, as contemptible jerks will steal them.)
- Teach your kids to signal when you turn and slow down. They’ll love doing it, and it will prepare them for cycling on their own.
- Try to avoid traffic-heavy streets without bike lanes. Even though drivers tend to give riders with kids a wider berth, it pays to map out a route on side streets. Check out the city’s bike map online at http://www.ci.chi.il.us/transportation/bikemap/keymap.html
Lame excuse no. 4:
But it’s not safe
Kathy Schubert is a veteran bicycling fanatic, but she’s also a safety fanatic.
Schubert, who owns a small business selling Australia-centric souvenirs, knows that riding a bike in an urban area is risky, but she points out that no activity is risk-free. At least when you’re riding a bike, she notes, you can wear protective gear to help you stay in one piece. “It’s dangerous to cross a street in the city,” she says. “You can’t wear a helmet all the time, though—just on a bicycle.”
Schubert’s interest in helmets verges on the obsessive: She not only constructed one for her schnauzer, Joey, but she also owns seven in different colors to match her outfits. Part of Schubert’s safety-conscious attitude stems from an accident 20 years ago, when she rounded a corner on her bicycle and woke up in the hospital 24 hours later. She’d suffered a concussion through her helmet. And if she hadn’t been wearing a helmet? “I wouldn’t be talking to you,” she says.
In addition to her color-appropriate helmet, she wears a reflective jacket, wraps her spokes in reflective tape, and loads her bike up with head and taillights galore. For her, the expense and hassle of outfitting her bike—and her body—with so much safety gear is worth it. “Some people overestimate the danger, and that’s too bad, because then they don’t bike, and they miss out,” she says.
Aside from getting the right gear, Schubert recommends starting out in a group before tackling solo trips in traffic. She’s a member of the Cycling Sisters (www.cyclingsisters.org) and the Chicago Cycling Club (www.chicagocycling club.org), two outfits that offer supportive, fun rides and bend over backwards to be welcoming to newbies. (See “Bill of rides”)
Schubert firmly believes that anybody can learn to bicycle on city streets. “Do it more often and get used to it,” she says.
TIPS FOR Two-wheeling:
- Never ride without a helmet, even if it’s just a few blocks.
- Because air escapes from the foam in helmets over time, reducing their cushioning capability, replace yours every two years.
- Obey all traffic laws, even those that are a pain in the ass (like stopping at every single stop sign). Better slow than dead.
- Ride at least a door’s length away from parked cars. Don’t assume you’ll be able to stop if someone opens a door.
- Always ride in a straight line. Don’t weave in and out of empty parking spaces.
- Always carry your ID, health-insurance card, and enough cash to hop on a bus or train if your bike gets a flat tire.
Lame excuse no. 5:
But the weather sucks
Freezing rain or sweltering shine, Payton Chung climbs onto his bike.
But he admits that there’s one Chicago season during which he sometimes dreads the four-mile bike to work: summer. The 25-year-old research coordinator just can’t take the heat. “That’s why I moved here,” he says. “For winter.”
Still, the range of temperatures he’ll brave on a bicycle is impressive. Anything between zero and 90 degrees is fair game. For Chung, it’s simply a matter of preparation.
In winter, he wears the basic setup familiar to all cold-weather athletes: First comes a wicking core layer—Chung likes the Patagonia company’s Capilene, but he says other fabrics, such as Coolmax, will do the trick. Next is an insulating layer of windproof fleece, topped by a waterproof outer shell. But most important, he says, is keeping extremities (hands, feet and ears) protected.
“Get really good mittens and wool socks. In cold and wet [weather], wear galoshes over your shoes. And a hat and gloves when it’s below 40.”
In summer, he wears a single layer of a high-tech fabric. “The wonderful thing about wicking fabrics is that they work for summer and winter,” he says. “They do a good job of wicking away sweat, so you’re not drenched all the time.”
And while the clothes might make the man, the route selection makes him comfortable.
“In the summer, it’s nice to stay off of the main streets, because [on them] you feel like you have to go faster with the fast traffic, and they don’t have the nice street trees,” he says. “In the winter, I switch away from using the lakefront path, because the winds are worse than they are just three blocks in. On the North Side, use Clark Street and on the South Side, use King Drive. It’s much more manageable.”
TIPS FOR Two-wheeling:
- You don’t need top-of-the-line technical fabrics to stay warm or cool: Stores like Target and Old Navy have a good selection of inexpensive wicking gear.
- Windproof fleece is a “godsend,” Chung says. It works well for gloves and headgear.
- Buy a helmet with lots of holes for ventilation. It’s slightly more expensive, but if you’ve ever felt like your head was about to burst into flames as you pumped up a hill on a 100-degree summer day, you’ll know it’s worth every penny.
Jandd Garment Pannier, $185
Your power suit can ride in the grand style to which it’s accustomed in this pannier (a bag that fastens to a bike’s rack). This bag opens flat, with a bar across the middle to keep your Brooks Brothers finery unrumpled. There are even separate minicompartments for your spats and your fancy face wash. Rapid Transit Cycleshop, 1900 W North Ave, 773-227-2288
BOB Yak trailer, $300This heavy-duty hauler can carry 70 pounds—that’s 20 bags of Science Diet for your feline friend. Its low-slung design means that you’ll be stable on the road. You can thank kitty later for your incredibly toned thighs. Boulevard Bikes, 2535 N Kedzie Blvd, 773-235-9109
Adams Trail-A-Bike, $225
Hook this puppy onto your regular set of wheels, and you’ve got a bicycle built for two. Your partner must be pint-sized, as the weight limit is 85 pounds. Happily, you don’t end up pushing those 85 pounds yourself—that’s why there’s a wee second set of pedals. At Rapid Transit Cycleshop
Bell Metropolis helmet, $70
Allow us to channel your mother for just a moment: For crying out loud, wear a helmet. Okay, with that out of the way, we recommend this air-vented beauty. The design is a little less Starship Enterprise than some of the headgear out there, and a snap-on front visor shields your eyeballs from the sun on your morning commute. Kozy’s Cyclery (locations throughout Chicago, www.kozy.com)
Gore-Tex Century II Jacket, $200
How thoughtful—this rain/wind jacket is built longer in the back to protect your precious tush. Better, it’s engineered to be impenetrable to wind and water. Just don’t be the idiot who buys the blue/black version. Dark colors may be slimming, but a smart cyclist picks the loudest color on the rack every time. At Kozy’s Cyclery