Chicago Bike Week: Let the Challenge Begin!

Chicago Bike Week: Let the Challenge Begin!
My bike on board a Metra train heading into the city

In some ways, I strongly dislike writing about bike-themed days/weeks/months.

It’s especially true when the theme is commuting by bicycle, such as this week’s Bike Commuter Challenge.

If an individual has written off bicycling to work as a physical impossibility, he or she tends to ignore anything posted about the topic.  I can’t say that I blame them either – it’s like reading a newspaper story about a big concert or championship sporting event you’d love to attend, but can’t get tickets to.

It’s a shame that the concept of bike commuting gets directly compared with commuting to work by other modes of transportation.  People who drive cars to work also use their cars to run errands, visit friends and family, and travel to entertainment and recreation activities.  We don’t refer to these “other” purposes as car commuting – they’re all just lumped together under one activity; driving.

Chicago’s Bike Week isn’t only about commuting by bike, it’s about riding a bike instead of driving.

I was out on a nice long ride on my road bike Saturday morning when I encountered a 68 year-old man who was part of the Wheeling Wheelmen’s weekly ride.  He pulled in behind me, hoping that he had finally caught up with another member of the lead group that he had lost contact with.  We struck up a conversation as I pulled him along at a comfortable clip.

He had lamented to me how it was only his fourth outing with the group this year and that he still wasn’t up to the challenge of hanging with the younger, faster guys.  He had taken up racing later in life – the past 15 or 20 years – and he would suffer intermittent injuries and obstacles as he trained to achieve top form each season.  He is a strong rider and for him, riding fast and training hard is what cycling is all about.

I mentioned to him how I like to ride a little every day – usually no more than an hour at a time.  I ride ten miles roundtrip to pickup the items I forgot to buy at Trader Joe’s.  I ride six miles for a haircut.  Sixteen miles to the Secretary of State for my license plate sticker.  Ten miles to retrieve a prescription at the Target Pharmacy.  I ride five miles to the Metra station, board with my bike, log another twenty miles visiting customers in the city, take the train back, and ride home.  If there is any way possible for me to substitute a bike ride for a drive in the car, I try hard to work it into my schedule.

After I finished sharing this with him, he admitted that I might be “on to something.”

Bicycling is whatever any individual chooses to make of it.  Competition.  Training.  Fitness. Recreation.  Transportation.  Commuting.  It can be any or all of these activities.  None is mutually exclusive.

The only limitation to the possibilities of bicycling is one’s own perception of the challenge at hand.

This week, challenge yourself to ride your bike more than you did last week.  Pull up Google Maps, select “get directions”, click on the bike icon, and type in your home or office address.  The safest routes for cycling will appear as solid green lines.

If no green lines appear, type in a familiar destination and compare Google’s recommended bike route against your normal drive by car.  Hop on your bike and give it a try or do a dry run by car first and look for ways you might tweak it for your comfort level.

Look for nearby forest preserves, community bike paths, and regional rail trails.  There are plenty of places to ride a bike in our area, find one that is comfortable for you.  Visit Trail Link and the forest preserve district sites for more detailed information.

This week, the challenge is what you make of it.  Keep riding and be safe!


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