Fair Weather Cycling

View south toward the Mag Mile

View south toward the Mag Mile

It’s crowded on the Lakefront now. I left work early yesterday and was foolish enough to think that the middle of the work day would be passable on the path. It wasn’t, of course. Passels of teenagers–stretched across the entire path, joggers in pairs, folks with strollers, cyclists so unfamiliar with their bikes that they can’t ride in a straight line.

I’ve seen it worse, but it was bad enough to know it’s over for the summer.

I’m a little sad that it was certainly my last non-early-morning ride on the path until the late fall. I need to start leaving for work earlier, as well, or start riding in traffic both directions.

I’ve been in a couple online conversations recently about bike commuting in skirts, in heels, in make-up, with girl hair. And I realized that no matter what I was saying in those conversations, what I was really thinking about was: “biking once it gets warm”.

My commute becomes such a different thing once it gets warm. Less solitary. Slower. More burdened. Messier.

In the winter, I put on extra clothes to ride. I put them on over my work clothes, hang them on my coat rack in my office, work all day, put them back on, ride home. The path is sparsely populated, rarely impassable. It’s dark and cold, but so is walking to the bus. In the winter, on my bike, there’s no waiting and getting cold standing still. There’s no being too hot on the bus in my coat.  There’s no need to carry anything other than my wallet and my keys.

In the summer that all changes. I may have to take a shower when I get to work. But there are no lockers, and the showers are in a different building than my office, so I need to bring a towel and soap with me on my ride if I plan to use the showers. Because the a/c in my office is so cold, I need to wear more clothes during the day than it is comfortable to bike in. I have to carry those layers in a pannier or a basket. If I’m riding somewhere socially, I need to carry wipes and probably water to cool off when I get there, even if I ride slowly (pavement radiates heat terribly). If I’m going inside, again, I’ll be cold from air conditioning, so I need a wrap. Suddenly, riding means carrying all sorts of stuff, juggling it while I’m locking up, and keeping it with me all day.

Last June at the underpass near the beach.

Last June at the underpass near the beach.

The Lakefront is full of joggers, beach goers, dogwalkers, and other leisure users once the weather turns nice, and I am simply not comfortable riding the path with them. I’m generally comfortable riding on the roads but it’s quite different. The routes on city streets are longer, not just because the path is a straight shot from my office to my office, but also because there are stop signs, stop lights, left turns to make against traffic. People yell at me from their cars. I have to be more vigilant about driveway exits, drivers who don’t signal, people who open car doors into my path.

It’s an adjustment, in other words.

It’s good for my patience. It’s good for helping me control my anger. It’s good for mindfulness. I lose the solitude, the canopy of quiet, but I also lose the disengagement.

So, last night was my last ordinary evening commute home by the Lake, until it cools off, until it gets dark early, until the winds and frost come again. I think I need a ritual to mark the occasion.

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