Adventures in bike commuting

Riding a bike to work is a fun, beneficial way to foster personal & planetary health

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Jack Crowe

Cycling Columnist

I had an epiphany recently. Three things converged. I visited Amsterdam and saw how a bike-centric city operates. I saw a TV program about maintaining a healthy heart that recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day, and the U.N. came out with another doomsday report on climate change, finding that unless we end the use of fossil fuels by the year 2100 we will commit global hari kari.

This led me to think: I should start commuting by bike to the Loop. I had been thinking about this for years, but several things put me off. Killjoys in my office refused to let bikes in the building.

Another issue was riding next to gum chewing, texting nutso drivers. Is it safe?  Likewise, I was concerned about riding through neighborhoods where lads sell drugs.  Some years ago on the West Side, a bike commuting friend had a two by four swung at his head by some men who wanted to borrow his bike.

But everything in life has risks. Sitting on a couch at night with "Skinny" but buttered popcorn and Haagen-Dazs is at least as risky as riding to the Loop.

And I had this thought too: change occurs on a global scale through billions of individual actions. In the forties, nearly half the U.S. population smoked cigarettes and today less than twenty percent do. What changed? Millions made individual decisions to quit.

Bike commuting is my decision, my way of advancing my health and the planet's.

I did not want to commute on a fancy bike a thief might pinch, so I equipped my fifteen year old Schwinn Moab.

I added lights. Lots of lights. I bought a headlamp for my helmet with a blinding LED. I added a rear light which easily snaps off so it won't get stolen. (Don't ask me why but thieves are attracted by flashy bike lights). And I bought Bontrager commuting tires designed to ride through glass, nails, and Armageddon.

The first day I commuted it was 45 degrees and sunny with a breezy tail wind.  Perfect. I headed down Augusta towards the city. 

The ride from Austin to Pulaski was on new asphalt. I stopped at a red light where a group of young men, who looked up to no good, were on a street corner. As I pedaled, one mumbled "come back here and I'll kick your ass." Not today!

When I reached West Humboldt Park, there was a dedicated bike lane and I picked up speed as well as other commuters wending their way.

I hit Milwaukee Avenue -  aka the Hipster Highway - and was awash in a sea of twenty-somethings riding their bikes. They wore trendy boots and BMX helmets. I felt out of place with my grey hair. 

Even Dearborn Street in the Loop now has dedicated bike lanes, in the middle of downtown, and I thanked the biking gods for my good fortune.

I arrived at State and Jackson in one piece, locked up the steed on a bike rack and headed in to a busy day at work. And the commute time? Faster than my door to door commute via the Greenline. Take that global warming.


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Reader Comments

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Amy Paris from River Forest  

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 4:28 PM

Hi, Robert I am moving to River Forest in a few weeks and am a bike commuter and planning to commute from the 900 N block of Keystone Ave to the West Loop. I cannot find the Facebook page. I searched for West Side Commuters. Is there any other way to find it?


Posted: December 9th, 2014 7:33 PM

Jack, riding through River Forest at 4:45 AM on Monday, December 8th a guy walking on Lake Street threatened to kick my *ss. Should I presume River Forest is too dangerous to ride in?

Robert Zeh from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: November 12th, 2014 8:47 PM

Think about biking home with the West Side Commuters. We bike from the westside and downtown to Oak Park, mostly along Lake Street. We have a Yahoo Group named "West Side Commuters" that we use to match up departure times --- there are usually a couple of groups leaving at different times each night. Riding with a group is safer and more fun than riding alone, and when you get a flat the help is great.


Posted: November 12th, 2014 9:53 AM

Muntz, I've been riding it several times a week and love it. The village needs to keep the leaves and debris out of the bike lane. That's contributing more to me being in the road and out of the bike lane. It's too bad the bike lane stops around the church between Oak Park and East , too. But the green marking looks great and clearly shows cars that bikes will be coming over at the bump outs. I was skeptical, but it's fantastic.


Posted: November 12th, 2014 9:39 AM

Jack - What are your thoughts on the new bike path on the newly paved Jackson between Harlem and OP Ave? Looks like they kept the curb bump-outs and added a bright green strip where bikes and cars would share the lane. Do you foresee any issues w/ bikers weaving from bike lane to shared lane? Or nighttime vision issues?

Drew M from Oak Park  

Posted: November 11th, 2014 3:00 PM

Welcome to the ranks! I am on my 5th year of biking from OP to the Loop. Faster than the train, much faster than a car, and better for you. Although I have had my share of encounters on the west side, I still feel most at risk on the one mile stretch between Austin Ave. and my OP home. OP is making strides in improving its cycling facilities, but the biggest risk remains inattentive drivers, and they appear to be more highly concentrated in OP/RF than in Chicago.

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