Cycling

Shifting Gears: Becoming a Chicago Bicycle Commuter

Liz Baudler
Written by Liz Baudler

Part Four of Five

Ms Fit Mag, bike commuting, Chicago, cycling, Liz Baudler, feminist health, feminist fitness

7.  Girl With A Bike

Until I started riding my bike, I never considered myself a feminist. I still don’t, actually, but that’s another story for another day. And I know when I first starting toting my bike around public places I wanted nothing more than to have someone lift the damn thing up for me and put me out of my embarrassment and clumsy misery. Lately, the presumption that I need help with the bike, though, has just gotten on my nerves.

Often, when I’m ascertaining how to best attack a staircase, up or down, I’ve had men just grab my back tire. If you replace “back tire” with “boob” you can see why I’m upset. For one thing, I’ll never get muscles if I don’t carry the damn thing myself. For another, I am capable of carrying my bike for the most part; my hesitation is due to my desire to plan my moves lest I drop the thing on someone’s foot.

I resent the idea that just because I am a girl with a large heavy bike, I need help. Let alone, when in trying to let my back-tire knight know that I do not need his services, I said pointedly, “I’m good,” or “Thank you” or “YOU CAN LET GO NOW!” they often don’t let go unless there is repetition.

I also don’t quite get why I’m catcalled on the bike. While it doesn’t happen often—I’m not the kind of girl people catcall—a bike helmet does nothing for my hair and a crouch nothing for my figure. While riding, I often default to a comfy t-shirt that I don’t mind getting sweaty; therefore cleavage is not on display. My favorite catcall came from a guy going westbound in an eastbound bike lane at 10 pm, cooing “hello gorgeous” in a bedroom voice. There are so many things wrong with this situation I can’t even be upset.

Another place bicycle sexism raises its head is on the Metra. For whatever few reasons (perhaps because of the unwelcoming steep steps), very few women take their bikes on the Metra. So the train car becomes a boy’s club of guys who are too cool to tie down their bikes, or move them, or communicate. My favorite one of these was a possibly foreign type who I’ll call Dutch Boy because he was tall and blond. I’d seen him before, sitting next to his bike with a possessive hold on its beveled leather seat in a clear violation of both rules and etiquette. When told he’d have to move, he laid the bike down against its fellows like the others were contaminated.

The next week I had the misfortune of choosing to ride the same morning as 5 other people, all men, and Dutch Boy among them. When I told him I’d have to put my bike in front of his (not tied down), he actually took my bike away from me, turned it around unnecessarily, and positioned it nattily against his bike’s frame.

I then decided to park my bike elsewhere—which perhaps I should have done in the first place, but I wanted to punish him for the extra work—and seethed for several stops. Until, serendipitously, the train hit a bump, and his precious bike’s chain slumped off the gears with a clatter. I don’t think he noticed, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell him.

Of course, there are a few good men. I’ve had some come up and grab my bike off the bus rack when it was truly stuck and I was truly frustrated. I’ve had some think I knew how to ride and start discussing the finer points of tires and chain oils and locks and gearshifts with me.

Recently, when a distinguished gray-haired fellow noticed my Schwinn, he launched into a story about his college summer job at their old factory on Chicago’s Northside. Gentlemen, this is respect. And if you can’t have a civil conversation with a lady with a bike, then just keep your hands of her back tire unless she literally is about to drop it on you or a train platform. Thanks.

8. The Wind

bike arty

Cars are not the enemy. They are just simply not you, and occasionally they are careless, a fault you are equally guilty of. The bicyclist has one true enemy, and that is wind.

Every enemy begins as a friend, and if the wind is at your back, you can have the quickest rides of your life, surfing along with supreme balance, pavement spiraling off after you. You are in charge. A cross breeze too, may not be dangerous. While it may attempt to take away your precious self-propelled gyroscopicity, it is not actively attacking you. It may feel downright good.

A wind howling in your face, however, is deadly. Especially if you are a small person with a small bicycle. After about 8 months of riding and the nagging feeling that my bike should have a name, I dubbed it Sisyphus. Because the struggle to keep moving forward, the number of times it must be lifted—none of this will never end. Never is Sisyphus more Sisyphus than in the wind.

Riders of elite bikes test themselves in wind tunnels. This is some serious business. The entire goal of being on a bicycle is moving forward in a balanced manner, and if a gale is in your face, you will have to push harder and harder to get there. Watch the wind. If it’s blowing directly opposite the direction of your ride, curtail the ride. Maybe consider taking the bus.

Try to ride inland—Chicago’s lakeshore path is brutal when there’s wind, since there’s nothing to protect you. Allow for a little demoralization. Tell yourself one day you will ride into the wind, but today is perhaps not that day, and tomorrow the wind will turn around. As no one so far has written in a song, the wind can’t keep blowing against you forever.

Coming next: The Longest Ride and Addiction

About the author

Liz Baudler

Liz Baudler

If you ever hear a bespectacled girl in a camouflage helmet honking the horn of a bike that's much too big for her, you may have encountered Liz Baudler. She writes for Newcity, Chicago Literati, and periodically, Ms. Fit. Check out her stuff at www.lizbaudler.virb.com.

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