By Tonya Wallach
When gas rose to $4.12 a gallon the summer of 2008, our monthly gas bill increased dramatically due to my 54-mile, daily, round-trip commute through downtown Chicago.
At the time, I was pregnant, in my second trimester, stuck in traffic twice a day going 5 mph. Every once and a while on side streets, I would see bikers riding past the slowly moving cars and I would fantasize, what it would be like to be that free to just ride along, in the fresh air. 54 miles and pregnant on a bike wasn't going to happen, but I had these pipe dreams of reducing my commute to save sanity, time and money. I would read all about these folks who were finding ways to reduce their commuting footprint by riding their bikes to work. "Cool!" I thought. I could do that. Two years, a baby, a graduate degree, and a new job later, I'm now in a position to do just that...except I don't...even though I have the holy grail of commutes. My daily, round-trip commute is 2.6 miles and 12 minutes via car from my front step to my office chair.
But now I get to fulfill that pipe dream. The Pace of Chicago blogger, who happens to be my husband, recently brought home two shiny new play things called TREK Ride + electric bikes. I'm, well, slower than him at everything. And his big selling point was that we could bike together and because of the power-boost feature that gives you some electronic oomph I could keep up with him. I liked his second point better, that I could bike to work, get a little exercise, and avoid breaking a sweat if needed.
So, I gave it a shot. And I really put this baby to the test. Pants? I think not. In my flowiest, below the knee skirt, I boarded the Ride +
and bid my family adieu. I felt pretty cool as I shot through the park
near our house at 11 mph (I had the power-boost on 4!). For the first
time ever, I was fast on a bike. And then, screeching halt. After the
first 200 feet, a driveway with bushes. Had to stop and look for
cars. Another 200 feet, screeching halt. Same thing. I had this
vision of going 20 mph and getting to work in 8 minutes, but had to
stop for 4 traffic lights and 9 commercial and residential driveways!
It was a bike commuter reality check, there are a lot of obstacles out
there to prevent you from getting from point A to point B. However, I
was still relatively cool and not working as hard as I would have been
on a "regular" bike.
16 minutes after leaving home, I triumphantly pulled into the parking
lot of my office. The bike maneuvered well up the hill and I was still
dry, cool and feeling good. And then we broke free. The smooth
blacktop stretching out in front of us to the main building, I
unleashed said bike on power-boost 4 and hit 19 mph, successfully
avoiding four speed bumps on my way to the bike rack.
bike, because of the added weight of the motor, is NOT the carbon fiber
lightweight bikes I'm used to moving from our basement to the first
floor with ease. I almost broke a sweat lifting it up, over and onto
the bike rack. It's heavy, so if you don't have a garage or an
elevator, you might want to take that into consideration. I'm not sure
this would be easy to tote up and down 4 flights of stairs in an
My hair still looked good, I wasn't sweaty and smelly, got in a little exercise and was ready for work.
I am fortunate that my company provides plenty of space for bikes, I
was only the 5th bike in the only bike rack for thousands of people at
8:30 am, and still only one of five bikes in the bike rack when I left
at 5:00 pm.
While it took me 19 minutes to get to work, the ride home only took a
breezy 13 minutes. Less bushes, more speed, and only one guy at a
stoplight who tried to look up my skirt. All in all, I liked bike
commuting. It made me feel special (1 of 5!), adventurous, and fast.
And that last part is only due to the bike. I'm looking forward to
continuing the adventure...and to using my Trek Ride + to keep up on weekend rides with my husband's iron-man motor.