Tuesday, January 24, 2012

whitney, 2100 South Union Ave, Chicago,IL

whitney rides an early eighties burgundy and gold Raleigh road bike

What are you wearing? A thrifted coat I recently discovered wasn't actually waterprooof, some ridiculous purple spandex leggins I got from the H&M clearance section a few years ago, a wooly sweater, hand-me-down mini skirt that's short enough to ride easy in but better than wearing just spandex off the bike, fleecy cyling cap & neckscarf I made myself and LAKE cycling boots. I bought these shoes last Autumn and  for the first time in five winters my feet were actually warm during my long commute. They've totally changed how I feel about winter in Chicago. The company is run out of Evanston, IL and they've been making cycling shoes (and only cycling shoes) since the 80s. They know what they're doing and they know how cold this town can get. They may be the most expensive article of clothing I've ever owned, but I would have paid twice that for how warm they keep me. Wet or cold feet can really ruin everything.
Tell me about your bike, and where you got it? This lil' pack mule is a burgundy and gold Raleigh from the early eighties. She's steel & sturdy & been through a lot. I originally bought her from "Nearly New" bike shop on Halsted in 2008, but she's had a bunch of rebuilds, wrecks, and reincarnations since then.  At this point she's mostly my winter beater. I just got these handle bars installed at the uptown Johnny Sprockets for the winter. Upright riding seems to work so much better in the slush that Chicago becomes ones the snows hit.  Unless it's really gross out -- for those "oops-we-haven't-salted-your-neighborhood-yet" days I have a banana seat kiddie bike I like to ride - its so much closer to the ground that inevitable black ice wipe outs are easier to giggle through.
Why ride? It's the most incredible way to experience a city. You're going a little slower... you're seeing everything... Your senses are sharpened as you're focused on staying alive... and each neighborhood comes to shine and smell and feel different --  the chocolate aromas downtown, the doughy bread cloud over Augusta at Kedzie, the sweet mulch smell of Sacramento as you come over the pond in Humboldt Park... The view of the skyline as you hit the top of the Diversey bridge... You can't really get these things on the bus or train or in a car. Also, the camaraderie! Being not the only crazy person on your bike in a downpour or in the snow is an incredible rush. Making conversation at a stoplight, or saying good morning as you pass someone (or get passed!), stopping to offer tools or swap stories if you see another cyclist walking their flatted bike -- these are things you miss out on in the aloof fortresses that are automobiles. Also ... the days that I don't ride I sort of feel like I never actually wake up.
Favorite ride? Any time I can get someone else to ride on my tandem with me is a great ride, especially if there is some sort of musical instrument involved. But if I'm by myself, I'd have to say either the funky narrow bridge over the river at Wilson... or the huge empty boulevards down by my house... in Garfield Park there's rarely any car traffic on the side streets and when there is they're pretty nice to you... the streets are well maintained and the houses are old and massive and beautiful and I swear there's a new little garden or community farm popping up every month. Though I do also really like the views of the city from Elston -- both Elston and Grand are great for riding toward downtown -- there's almost no pedestrian traffic, no cars making really bad decisions while trying to find parking, and there's no bus to contend with... basically I just absolutely hate riding on Milwaukee more than anything.
While riding you …? signal, watch for taxis, try not to piss off pedestrians, dream about hitting certain cars with my sling shot, smile at other cyclists, plot to take over the world.
How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or make Chicago more bike friendly? I know this is going to sound extremely far fetched, but I would love to see whole streets taken away from cars and given over to cycling. In Portland the city planers are pretty great about making certain side streets much too slow for an automobile (with round-abouts, four way stops, etc) in order to keep cars on the main through-ways and let bikes have the littler ones. It's brilliant. Can you imagine if Damen or Jackson or Augusta,  or ANY streets were bikes-only arteries? Or if we could just get the Bloomingdale Trail built? I'd go miles out of my way on my commute JUST TO HAVE A CHUNK OF IT BE CAR-FREE.
But really, I do think Chicago is one of the better big cities for cycling. It's crazy flat and easy to navigate and I think a significant percentage of drivers here have ridden a bike at one time in their lives (or at least know what a "bicycle" is -- which is more than I can say for LA, where I am from). If we could just force everyone who lives here to ride a bike to work for one week in the summer I think every driver and pedestrian would be a ton better about being nice to cyclists all year round.
Until these sorts of lofty dreams come to life it's really up to us (especially us ladies), to convince everyone we know that riding bikes is totally rad, completely doable, tons of fun, and lets you eat everything you want all of the time. Because having people join us out there on the streets, creating converts for our cause, is really the best thing we could possibly hope for. Hand-me-downs help -- giving away your old winter jackets or cycling shorts or rain slickers or still-working parts to newer cyclist friends really helps them get more comfortable out there. I know, it helped me. I'm excited to return the favor any chance I get.
And other cool, funny tips or stories? Wool, wool, wool. It will save your winter ass. I can't tell you how much i wish someone had told me this earlier. And it sure doesn't stink after one ride like all that other expensive synthetic stuff on the market. And its like $2 a sweater at Villiage Discount. There's simply nothing else like it.


  1. Love her joy and energy and charm!

  2. Whitney, I feel like you are a kindred spirit. If we happen to come across each other in the bike lane, let's be friends. I'll be in the pink helmet with the star on the front. Happy riding!

  3. That's our Whit! Great interview - thanks for posting.

  4. Martha, I was kidding! Still love your site.

  5. The purple gyrl! Wyt fans are unanimous: she's our hero!

  6. Bravo! Many good and well-put points. ;)

  7. "How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or make Chicago more bike friendly? I know this is going to sound extremely far fetched, but I would love to see whole streets taken away from cars and given over to cycling." = not far fetched GREAT IDEA!!!