Cycling

Shifting Gears: Becoming a Chicago Bicycle Commuter

Liz Baudler
Written by Liz Baudler

Part Five of Five

9. The Longest Ride

bike route

A friend suggested we do Bike The Drive, the one morning every year Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive is closed and bicycles spill onto its pavement. Lakeshore Drive is one of Chicago’s most iconic ways of getting north to south in the city, and one of its most scenic, being—well—along the lake. The only things that I know of capable of closing Lakeshore Drive are massive snowstorms, international summits, the passage of a 693-ton WWII German submarine, and apparently a bunch of bicyclists who can afford a registration fee.

To celebrate this out of character event, I myself did two uncharacteristic things by spending over $50 and waking up at 4:30 am. It didn’t bother me. As soon as I saw my brethren on wheels, I was ready to go. Some girl with flowers on her handlebars had my same camo-monkey-skull-and-crossbones helmet, and we waved, and I nearly rode with her, a stranger, but fidelity bound me to the friend.

When I had a car, I’d driven the Drive. I knew where the traffic bunched, where the potholes were. To be pedaling in between its lines seemed a true sign that I’d moved on. My friend was a nervous biker, afraid he wouldn’t make it up a hill or keep a pace. He rode slowly and I suddenly realized how fast I had gotten in a year of commuting, how the twitch of my legs was automatic and regular.

We made it up the hills: the giant one right by Navy Pier, the man-made peninsula with a giant ferris wheel that lures tourists like a lake-front siren; the littler ones by Fullerton, the privileged Northside neighborhood it serviced indicated by a zoo, a nature museum, a rocky beach, and a lakefront theatre. We enjoyed the view and loudly conversed about his ex-girlfriend and my current one.

He left me at Belmont, where Cubs fans exit to go drink beer and stare at ivy, and I was proud that he’d made it so long. I took our leisurely pace as a gift that let me face what was ahead. I had never ridden for this many miles before: let alone before a workday.

I made the U-turn at the Drive’s northernmost end, where Chicago starts to flake into strangely urban suburbs, then went back all the way south to the Museum of Science and Industry (aka-where I work) pumping past the leisurely families, and making way for the spandex-jerseyed skinny-tired speed-demons. I stopped for a water break at Grant Park, the purposely-planned front lawn that lies city-center, separating the buildings from the lake. As I remounted, a woman rider next to me yelled, “I love this ride,” and I agreed.

On the front lawn of the museum, with a WWII German Submarine slumbering five stories below us were bite-sized apple cinnamon muffins and a metric ton of bananas. I peeled away from the teeming chrome mass and waited on the nearby beach for my workday on that very submarine to start.

Twenty-five miles had not yet reached my legs, just the feeling that in some ways, this was no special occasion. This was a possibility of the everyday whose surface I had only started to traverse.

10. Addiction

bike traffic sign

Biking is an addiction. You will feel itchy when you are stuck on a bus full of grouchy people who complain about twenty-somethings taking priority seats. After biking for eleven miles in downtown Chicago’s humid swamp, your body will cry for more, for no halt to the glorious rhythm, and you go five miles more.

Sometimes your legs will be more about pushing, sometimes they will be more about traveling in the continuous circle and really feeling that circle until you realize you are going faster than ever. You will explore a neighborhood because you don’t want to get off your bike. You will jump on the lakeshore path at 10 pm when you told your friend you’d be taking the bus home, and revel in the loneliness while wishing you knew whether this was risky behavior.

The hum of traffic is a murmur, the shadows fall through the trees, the familiar monument and sculptures are even more welcoming, and you watch for blinking red lights on the night-dark path as if you were all a bunch of desperate fireflies.

You will be able to show up the hotshot guys in the wife-beaters who slow down when you’re far away and pedal like hell when you pull up. You will do whatever you want to do.

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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