The Gloves Are Off

 

It seems like it was eons ago when I showed up at Daley Plaza on my bike for the Car Free Day ride. It was rush hour and about twenty of us were there last September.  My friend Brig and I thought the Car Free ride would be a fun thing to do even if being car free isn't reason enough for either of us to ride our bikes. Doy. We do it because it's fun.  I've lived a car light life for years in Chicago and while I love my bike and I love looking at cool bikes, I try not to spend too much time thinking of bicycling as anything more than what it is--a way to get around town without some of the annoyances that often come with driving a car.  Oh, and did I mention, it's fun?

 

Perhaps something magical happened that evening as we cruised around the downtown area in our little peloton. Maybe Gin's sloganeering over the megaphone had some kind of transformative effect. I mean, how many times can you hear someone shout, "You don't have to have a car to live in Chicago! Ride a bike!" And, "Parks! Not Parking Lots!" before it has some kind of sticking power?

 

Unbeknownst to me, the ride was a kick-off ride for Bike Winter, and afterwards, what I thought was going to be an eating and drinking party at the Billy Goat turned out to be a "meeting" about the upcoming winter cycling season. We sat at tables arranged conference-style and went around the room while each person talked a bit about themselves...you know...favorite rides and how long we've been riding in the winter....rides that each of us might want to organize this winter...blah blah blah.  The time came for me to talk and I realized, "Holy mother of God! I am going to have to say something out loud." And then I think I said my name and then uttered something like, "This will be my first winter of bicycling." WTF? How did that just come flying out of my mouth?

 

 

[Cut to October.]

I'm standing on my porch thinking about how the Summer season has officially changed to Fall. I remember that a couple of weeks ago, I had some ambitions to ride in the Winter. I think about how I seem to have those ambitions every single year. I think about how, years ago, my friend, Brad, used to tell me, "It's really fun. You'd probably like it. Winter is my favorite season for bicycling in Chicago."

I'd say to him, "I don't know. It's f*@?#ing cold here in the winter!"

He'd usually reply "It's not as cold as you'd think. When you're riding, you generate some heat and if you have the right gear, you might not really notice it's cold outside."  Every year, the waffling wimp in me would raise her ugly head in early November, and once again, I'd find myself putting my bike away because...well, it's Winter.

 

Determined to make this year more of a bicycle cycling year, an idea percolated one day while I was riding around town doing my dog walker routine. [Cut to a voice over and a montage of whirling images of my head floating around while I'm riding down Milwaukee Avenue--kinda like a dream sequence, but not really.]

I mean, I did say I was going to do it, didn't I? It can't be that bad. If it is that bad, why are all those other people out there doing it?  I met a few of them on the Car Free ride. They didn't seem like fools.

[Cut to the sound of "Click, click..." and hands typing "bikewinter.org"...more clicking sounds. Hands tapping..."contact us"...click, clickity, clackity, tap, tap, click...]

 Hi all--

I'm interested in doing a blog on winter bicycling from a newbie perspective.

I'd love to know if you're interested in linking that would-be blog to the Bike Winter site. If not, I will still probably write it, but I think it could be an interesting read. The blog would, ideally, serve as a site for winter bicycling advocacy while I work through the process of becoming a safe cyclist during the snowy months.  I already have a platform for it (I'd use the Wordpress platform that I already use) and I also have a server so it shouldn't be a problem to host my photos.

This is my first season biking during winter in Chicago. I have to admit that I'm totally stoked about doing it. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with others in the Chicago bicycling community! Let me know what you think.

Holly

And there you have it--just a 6 months have passed and a bike winter advocate is born!

You will ask: 

Are you glad you did this? Emphatically, I will reply, "Shit, yeah!" (except I probably won't use those words in real-life because I don't really curse in-person nearly as much as I do when I'm tapping on the tapping machine.)


Do you think you will stick with year round cycling? Of course...why wouldn't I? I already like riding my bike so riding during the winter allows me yet another season of fun times.


What was most helpful to you in terms of making it through the winter? For sure, without a doubt, fenders. Second to that--wool.  I used to think wool was that itchy stuff that made me break out in hives. Now, I'm a card carrying member of The Merino Wool Council for Better Fabrics Found in Nature.™ Oh, and the rain pants that fellow newbie winter cyclist, Madeline, gave me were great to have on certain wet or windy days.


What surprised you? I had an encounter with a nice man while we were waiting at a stop light. Herminio was all about lights. He had 3 across the front bars, one on each fork, and ankle straps equipped with blinky lights. I wanted to ask him what was in his Igloo cooler that was strapped to the back of his rack, but instead, upon seeing his cache of lights all I could mutter was, "Whoa. You have a lot of lights on your bike!" He asked me my name and said, "You no have light?"  I explained that I had one in my bag, besides, it was only snowing those teeny, tiny, baby flakes. What's more, it was sunny out so I didn't need a light. (I say all that before I realize that he doesn't speak English.) He tries to tell me that he wants me to have one of his lights. I'm not in the market for a light, so I say, "Thank you, but I don't need a light."  I ride off on the green light. He pulls up to me later when I make a quick stop at a store and gives me a very nice bike light. He just gives me the light. I still use it all the time. You never know who you'll meet in the bike lane. Thanks, Herminio! (I guess it also surprised me that you need to carry lights. Dark happens early in winter!)


Did you notice any benefits to riding more? (saved money on gas, health, eco-benefits, etc)? Did I ever. One key thing is that I no longer have to endure that "first ride of the season" butt pain. My ass is in perfect shape for spring and summer riding. I am being serious about this. And, I will add that Bike Winter helped me realize that if the roads were clear enough for me to drive, they were definitely clear enough for me to bike.  I'm a dog walker, so I can't really use public transportation to commute to work. In past winters, I drove around all afternoon in my car, wasting time searching for parking and just hoping that my car didn't get stuck in the snow on a side street. This year, I got around as fast if not faster on my bike than I did when I was driving.  I also saved so much money--and my sanity-- just by grabbing my bike lock more often than my car keys. I like having this new connection to my city and the changing of the seasons.


 What advice would you give to others attempting their first Bike Winter? You already like riding your bike, so that should answer the "Why?" part of the question. Now, all you need to do is to figure out "How?" There are all kinds of tips and insider secrets here on the blog and on the Bike Winter site. Why not just give it a whirl and see what you think? My advice: You can always quit if you hate it, but not unless you actually try it. Another thing--there's no big secret. As one Chainlink friend told me at least a few times this past winter, "The secret to riding a bike in the winter is that there is no secret. It's really not that difficult."


What are you still trying to figure out? I'm still trying to figure out why Keen hasn't written me back to tell me if they're going to replace my Keen.dry™ boots that are still supposed to be under warranty. Those Keen boots were only a year old. By the end of December, my waterproof boots were cashed and all the stores had their spring and summer shoes in stock. I have some general foot issues and some pains in the feets. I'm not sure if I'll ever get the perfect shoe or boot unless some old timey cobbler makes me custom footwear. Are there any cobblers out there who want to help me figure this out?


What was your favorite and least favorite month and why? The best month was December. We had a snowy day on my birthday. I think it was the first one of the season. I found this great quote around that time. It makes me feel quite differently about the snow.

"The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?" --J.B. Priestley

Subsequently, most days I biked, things felt fresh and new because it was really just the beginning of the season. What's more, I got to feel like one of the cool kids in my dork biking gear.

By far, the worst month was April--no snow, no fun--just constant rain, wind and clouds almost every single day! It didn't help that there were a few weird warm-up teaser days in March that made me think I was done with winter. By the end of the month, all I could say was: "GET ME OFF OF THIS RAIN PLANET!"


When is the summer solstice/sliding towards winter party? Well, that depends on you, folks. I'd love to organize a potluck grilling shindig this summer in my courtyard. Let's do it. Check the Chainlink for updates. Be advised: there's so much stuff going on this summer, I'm sure you're all going to already be committed to some other awesome bicycle cycling outings in Chicago, but my courtyard is pretty lovely and you can always ride your bicycle cycle to Logan Square. Oh, I will also send an email to the Bike Winter mailing list. Are you on the mailing list? No? Then, get thee to it by emailing us. Just let the chair know you want to come to my party. And don't be a drunk douche if you do come over--we don't like that.

 

 

Okay friendly friends. It's time for me to dash! It's like Summer out there today. No gloves necessary--Pow, Bike Winter--the gloves are off!  I'm pretty sure I'll see a lot of you riding today. And, what about next winter? Will you be out there? If you're thinking "I wish I could ride in the winter, but I just don't think I can," and you'd like other people see you metamorphosize into a winter biker, think about this: we need a new Bicicle Beginner blogger for next year. Maybe that blogger could be you. You have a few months to think about it.  Let me just tell you one last thing that I've said at least a couple, two-three times before...if you already like riding your bike, you'll probably like doing it in the winter, too.  I know I do.

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These photos were taken on 4/30/11. We rode to Munster, IN for The Dark Lord Day. It was fun, but windy (gusts of 30-40 mph!) I sorta forgot to take pictures that day. Wah. The trails were in full bloom, too! This last photo is of my most excellent vintage find--bicycle themed barware from the '60s. By the way, I am a vintage clothing dealer. I sometimes sell housewares, too. Find me & my stuff here.