Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lessons Learned on a Bike in Winter

It feels like winter is almost over, but any Chicagoan knows at least one mid-March snowstorm is still waiting to sneak up on us. Even so, I've been seeing a lot more people commuting to work on their bikes. I kind of liked having the road almost to myself all winter. It was an enlightening and empowering experience. So I compiled a short list of things I learned from biking through a not-so-bad Chicago winter.

1. Strangers admire you and tell you so. There were a couple weeks where I couldn't ride the elevator up to work without making a new friend. These new friends liked to tell me how they wished they could bike through the winter, asked me for tips, gave me tips of their own, and basically elevated me to Dalai Lama status because I had a bike helmet slung through my arm on a cold day.

2. Friends don't really care. "Well no one told you that you had to ride your bike." Okay. Fine. I'll stop complaining about being cold, because it is ultimately my own fault.

3. It's okay to conceed to the weather every one in awhile. I was determined to ride through a winter storm watch for whatever silly reason. I made it to work safely and was glad to have a change of clothes. Afterwards, I realized how stupid of an idea it has all been. It had snowed several more inches during the time I was at work, making the roads more dangerous and slick. Also, I would have had to change back into my still-damp riding clothes and potentially catch hypothermia. I decided I still wanted to live to see my next birthday and took public transit home. But then I had to lug my bike up and down stairs through trains and buses, and it was just a huge pain in the ass. I shouldn't have ridden in the first place.

4. Looking ridiculous keeps you warm. Early in winter, a veteran biker suggested wearing ski goggles to protect my face. That sounded needless and stupid. And then one month later, I was wearing ski goggles to bike to work. They kept condesation off my glasses and blocked wind from the upper part of my face. I ultimately didn't care about looking non-human. I was warm(ish).

5. In bad weather, remember you're not the only one having trouble braking. Being a smart biker means watching out for yourself by watching out for everyone else. I slowed at green lights and paused longer than necessary at stop signs because I assumed the big bad cars might not be able to stop in time to avoid killing me. And I'm still alive, which is nice.

6. It's nice that winter doesn't last forever. As proud of myself as I am for bearing it through some pretty low-temp days, I'm glad to be seeing a change of seasons. Changing in and out of three shirts, two jackets, one hat, two pairs of gloves, one balaclave, one pair of tights, one pair of pants, two pairs of socks and one pair of boots several times can be exhausting. Nice to make your reacquaintance spring!

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