missroserose: (Freedom on a Bike)
It's been thirteen months, hundreds of miles, a few traffic near-misses, and a slightly embarrassing amount spent on accessories, repairs, and eventually a new bike, but I'm beginning to feel like a seasoned urban cyclist. I bike so much (and Brian works from home so much) that, for the first time since we moved here, I've given up our monthly transit pass subscriptions; it makes more sense now to pay as we go, or nab Brian a weekly pass if he's got an on-site job.

My unstated, very-unofficial goal for the spring/summer/fall has been to only use the car for trips involving at least two people. With the notable exception of my once-or-twice monthly Costco/Trader Joe's stock-up trips (I have yet to figure out how to load a pallet of toilet paper onto a bike), this has been surprisingly doable. Especially in a crowded city, biking is often faster than driving for short distances; it may not be quite as fast for longer ones, but that's balanced out by not having to search/pay for parking at the end. (The one exception currently on my regular schedule is the Sauganash studio, which is a fifteen-minute drive with a free parking lot at the end, versus a 25-30 minute ride. But that's balanced out somewhat by being a far more pleasant commute by bike, as well as getting to eat All The Calories afterward.) There's definitely been an adjustment curve with my physical condition, but I feel like I'm largely over the hump, even if my hip and glute muscles might not agree, heh.

All of which is to say, biking is feeling less like a novelty and more like a lifestyle change. I'm...torn on saying whether I'd consider it part of my identity; there's a lot of aspects of the urban-biker subculture I either don't fit into or am less than enthused with (I have zero desire to do triathlons or multi-city tours; I bike largely for commuting/eating purposes rather than recreation; I try not to look down on people who primarily drive, not all of us are able-bodied enough to pedal everywhere). But I think it is, to a degree; I like who I am better when I'm biking most places.

I'm not sure how this coming winter is going to shape up. Last year I put my bike away in late November when the temperature was regularly dropping below freezing; there was more than one period over the winter, however, when the mercury rose and I regretted not having it handy. I think I might try leaving it out this year and seeing how often I can ride it. I am nowhere near hardcore enough to ride in snow, but if the roads are clear and I have enough layers I don't see why colder temperatures have to be a barrier. I suppose a lot will depend on the weather.

In more fun news, I've been combing through Redbubble looking for stickers to decorate my new bike - hence the reflections on biking culture and where I fit (or don't) in it. Still, even with the hardcore athlete/snooty stickers discounted, there are some good candidates, even if my all-time favorite is untrue for me on every level, haha. I like the colors in this one, and the fanciful vintage air of this one; this one has a nice minimalist feel to it as well as being a good shape for a crossbar. This one probably gets the award for most accurate/most likely to be purchased, possibly with this one as a complement; also, it's nice to see an actively non-snooty message in a bike-oriented sticker.

How about you? Are there any subcultures you probably fit in but are hesitant to actively jump into?
Have you ever tried something new and discovered you hadn't even realized it was part of who you wanted to be? Seen any great bike stickers lately? Let's discuss!
missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
One quirk of the Swedish language that I'm particularly fond of is that the words for "heart" and "brain" are only one letter apart. This just feels right to me; we need each as much as the other, and God knows there are times when it feels like they're pulling us apart with equal force.

Luckily, as such times go, this one's rather less high-stakes and more pleasant than some. The good news: I'm buying a new bicycle for my birthday! I've been riding my 80s-era steel-frame Schwinn road bike around for a good year and a half now, and it's been a solid beater, but the repairs are starting to run more than I paid for it initially, which seems like a good point to start looking at nicer options - God knows I've proven that I'm going to put a more expensive bike to good use. (When I walked into my neighborhood bike shop yesterday and said I was thinking about investing in something newer with a warranty, the woman who does the repairs - and has thus seen me on an almost monthly basis for a year and a half now - laughed and said "Yeah, you deserve a new bike!") Also worth considering is weight; Chicago's not a hilly town, so it's less of a big deal when riding, but I store my bike on my deck when I'm not riding, and carrying a nearly-thirty-pound frame up three flights of stairs versus a 17-pound frame makes a bit of a difference, especially after a long ride.

The dilemma: yesterday I found a bike at the shop that I really like. It's not a well-known brand (KHS, which Google tells me is a Korean manufacturer), but that's not necessarily a drawback - I'm not planning on attempting to resell it anytime soon, the price point is lower than a Cannondale or a Trek or something similarly recognizable, and (this is Chicago) it's not going to be as tempting a target for theft. I brought a friend with me who's much more knowledgable about bike stuff, and she says the frame is solid, but the components are mixed in their quality - the gearbox is high-end, the brakes decent, the shifters sort of mid-range. This fits with both what I've been able to find online about the brand (a couple of people mentioned they make strong frames with mixed parts) and my experience riding it (the smoothness of the pedaling is phenomenal, the shifters were fine but a little more finicky). I'm pretty sure I can live with that, and if not, there's no reason I can't get them upgraded later on.

So now to the dilemma: my friend thinks that I should hit up another shop or two and try out a few more bikes in my price range from different brands to see if I like any of them more. And, objectively, I agree it's a good idea! ...but that requires researching shops, getting down to them, riding around, assessing, not to mention finding the time in my schedule to do so...and some part of me's like "but you could be riding your amazing new bike this week!" Ah well. No matter which way I jump, here, I imagine I'll be pretty happy with the results. :)

(Hrm...I need a bicycling icon...)
missroserose: (Default)
Hello again, Chicago! It's good to be back. I was saying to Brian recently that my semi-regular trips home to Anchorage, over the years, have been an excellent indicator of how much I like where I'm living. When we lived in Juneau, it was nice to get somewhere that felt (slightly) less isolated; when I was coming from Arizona, it was such a relief to get out of the heat and see green and open water again. Now, as much as I like visiting my mother, I'm genuinely sorry that it has to come at the expense of a week-plus of things to do in Chicago, hah. But! My mother is all moved in to her new place (if still in the throes of her decorating frenzy), and it's even more gorgeous than the pictures made it look. It's not somewhere I'd want to live permanently - far too isolated, with nothing within walking distance - but it'll be nice to visit her now and then for a change of pace. (Luckily, she feels much the same way about Chicago. Hurrah for complementary family preferences!)

Speaking of things to do in Chicago, last night I some friends and I went to the first of this summer's movies In Millennium Park. (We brought a picnic dinner, but despite arriving almost an hour early, the entire lawn was taken, so we ended up grabbing seats and just passing the fried chicken and salad and wine back and forth.) I actually enjoyed the movie far more than I expected to. Ferris Bueller's Day Off isn't a favorite of mine, exactly - I always found Ferris to be kind of a twerp, which isn't helped by his complete lack of character arc - but there's something undeniably special about getting to see all those gorgeous shots of Chicago while surrounded by that very same skyline and a cheering crowd. The best part, by far, was when damn near the entire pavilion got up and danced and sang to the "Twist & Shout" sequence. (I was lamenting on Facebook that I didn't get any pictures/video, but...that would have meant I'd have to stop dancing and singing. Nah.) Afterward, Lindsay got a picture of Brian and Jamila and me under the Pritzker's frankly amazing architecture, and later on in the evening I got a nice shot of part of the nighttime skyline as seen through the superstructure. This city is far from perfect, but I do love the very real sense of civic pride we have.

Speaking of civic pride, I've gotten on the sucker list for the Lyric Opera's educational outreach programs, and I've got to give their phone fundraisers credit - they know their stuff. They always ask if now's a good time to talk, they're unfailingly gracious, they ask you about your recent experience at whatever performance, talk about the goals and achievements of their programs, and start with an aspirational sell - "These are all the awesome thank-you gifts you get if you donate at this level" - but never come off as less than wholeheartedly grateful if you offer a (sometimes much) smaller donation. I think what's really impressed me, though, is their enthusiasm; they don't come off as hired telemarketers, but people who are genuinely passionate about music and opera and want to share it with the community. Helping give kids in underfunded schools in my community access to art and music education is a pretty easy sell for me already, but way to make people feel good about giving, Lyric. A++ would donate again.

And speaking of...hrmm. Not sure how I can segue into something about biking from opera fundraising. But! I've got my bike all kitted out for pedaling around Chicago. (Bet y'all can't guess what I named it, heh.) I'm still taking baby steps regarding where and how much traffic I'm comfortable dealing with, but as I was telling my mother, I actually feel far safer on the streets in Chicago than I would in someplace suburban like Anchorage. For one thing, the exponential traffic density and unpredictable patterns mean that people are paying much closer attention to the road, as well as by necessity limiting their speed. Plus people here are much more used to cyclists on the road. In Anchorage traffic moves too quickly; you have to ride either on the shoulder, the sidewalk, or a bike path, and cars don't look for you. I nearly got run over a few times crossing streets as a teenager; while driving my mother's car just a few days ago, I was a little saddened to see a woman on a bike slam on her brakes when she saw me about to cross her path to turn into a parking lot. (I would have let her go first!...but you just can't depend on that attitude in suburban environments.) By comparison, I took a fairly busy road to the store during rush hour yesterday, and actually made better time than most of the cars by dint of being able to cruise by in the gap between the parked cars and the flow of traffic. Though I did keep a very close eye out for car doors that might open in my path.
missroserose: (Default)
Happy summer, world! Technically the solstice isn't until the 20th, but proper summer weather has finally shown up here in Chicago (in all of its roller-coaster glory -- 93 today, 68 tomorrow, 90 on Monday, and high seventies for the rest of the week), and this weekend is Andersonville's Swedish Midsommarfest. Which I'm sure Petra would say is hardly a proper Midsommar, not being in Sweden and not even on the right day, but there's live music and booze and good food and hey, this is Chicago. Någon förevändning för en fest!

In further summer-y news, I finally have a working bike! Last fall I bought a 1985 Schwinn Sprint road bike from a friend who was moving; what with the colder weather coming on and my having zero experience with urban biking, it promptly went into the storage unit. I'd almost forgotten about it until our local bike shop opened a pop-up right by my train stop; after a couple weeks of procrastination, I finally got the bike out of storage and did some research on it. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't an expensive bike to begin with, and this model (and ten-speeds in general) seem to be pooh-poohed by the cycling community, at least in the threads I found. Still, it felt solid enough, so I took it to the shop for an exam and (presuming it was road-worthy) tune-up. After a minor repair, the mechanic said it would absolutely get me around fine; it's not the fancy fendered Dutch cruiser I'd been envisioning, but even with the steel frame it's a heck of a lot easier to carry up the steps and store on our porch. (And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's not going to be a target for thieves the way a newer/fancier bike would - this is Chicago.)

Yesterday I took it out for its inaugural journey, a half-mile stretch along Broadway with its relatively new bike lane. There's one intersection in particular that can get a little hairy, with a loading zone for a stretch of restaurants where trucks regularly park partway in the bike lane, right before all the turning cars cross over to get in the turn lane. I ended up stopping behind the parked truck on the red light, and letting all the cars go by after the light changed before proceeding. (Luckily there weren't any impatient cyclists behind me; I can't imagine such a tactic going over well in traffic.) I also noped out of attempting a left turn to get to my destination - in my defense, the intersection is under a train overpass and in the midst of construction both, with obscured sight lines everywhere. But it wasn't precisely difficult to hop off the bike, roll it onto the sidewalk, and cross at the crosswalk. Another advantage a lighter road bike has over a cruiser -- I can walk it one-handed.

On the whole the trip was actually a lot less scary than I thought it would be, despite being made around rush hour. Having a designated bike lane definitely helps, as does already being familiar with the traffic patterns in my neighborhood. And while I'm definitely less protected on a bike than in a car, I'm also much more maneuverable, and speedier than on foot -- although I can see why some folks look down on ten-speeds; there's definitely a point where it feels like I could be going faster if I had the gearing. But I don't need to zip down the road at that speed quite yet. So I think I'll do okay -- at the very least, it gives me another option for getting to the yoga studio if the bus is running late. Now to get a rack and panniers for grocery runs.

Partially related: this morning I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck, despite having slept ten hours, and having tried to be more aware of my activity levels the previous week. I suspect the combination of a busy couple of days at the spa, plus yoga, plus the (short) bike ride and various walking-around-in-nice-weather activities all kind of added up. Luckily some Advil and Emergen-C and a nap (my personal cure-all) did the trick; hopefully my body will acclimate to the increased activity level soon.

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