Friday, December 24, 2010

Yuletide tumble

Yes, I go out in public like this.

Went for about a 10-mile ride on Christmas Eve. Originally planned to hit the Fitness Center, but the place was slammed -- the lot was full, with cars roaming the aisles waiting for a space. That meant I’d probably have to wait for an elliptical and the pool would not be an option.

I’d noticed that the DuPage River Trail had been plowed. I’d rather be biking anyway. Went home and layered up as a light snow began to fall. Very pretty.

I jumped on the trail at 87th Street and headed south. The asphalt trail hadn’t been plowed edge-to-edge, but there was a four-foot cleared area mostly down the middle, probably done by a skid-steer loader (“Bobcat”). Not a great job of clearing the path, but any effort in that direction is much appreciated.
View from the DuPage River Bridge, looking east.
Used my Motorcycle Safety Foundation training to stay upright: gentle back brakes, brake before the turn, not through the turn, etc. The only surprise I had on the outbound leg was climbing a grade approaching the bridge over the mighty mighty DuPage River. The extra torque caused the back wheel to lose traction, so I fishtailed a bit. Recovered quickly, downshifted and finished the climb a bit more slowly.
Amazing view from the bridge. The river was partly frozen and the scene was blanketed in white. The photo doesn’t show the gentle snowfall. Magical.

(I hasten to note that the postcard-worthy scenery is meager compensation for living in an arctic hellhole that’s uninhabitable for seven months out of the year.)

At the five-mile mark, I decided to head back. The snow was falling a bit more heavily, and the trail was getting slick. As I pedaled back through Knoch Knolls Woods, the front wheel started coming out from under me. Sheer ice under a film of snow. I surrendered to the inevitable, and did a credible tuck-and-roll to my right, although I banged my knee pretty hard. My GPS,
extra headlight and pepper spray (dog repellent) skittered down the path ahead of me.

After rubbing my knee, gathering up my belongings and re-attaching the chain, I set off again. I got 50 feet before taking another dive, this time to my left. Decided to walk the bike for a while until the path got a little less hazardous.

Strange that I had passed over that very stretch on the way out without any problems. The surface must have reached some critical temperature/snow-depth combination after I had rolled over it the first time.

Once I reached Knoch Knolls Road, I decided to take the streets back home, since they were merely wet. Took the relatively long way home, stopping for a Diet Coke at the corner store.
Supposedly, we’re in for a thaw next week. I hope some of the snow and ice melt from the trail. Felt really good to get out this morning, and I need the exercise.

dsj 101224 

The mighty DuPage River, at about Ring Road.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bike commuting

Bridge over the east branch of the DuPage River,
Greene Valley Forest Preserve.
Haven't blogged much lately because I haven't really done much riding, other than commuting to work and back. I usually post about trail rides, but there's some trail involved in my one-hour, 13-mile ride to work (26 miles round trip).

I start out at about 6:30 a.m. I carry my work clothing and my ride-home shorts and T-shirt in a nifty suitcase I found at Bicycles Etc. It's essentially a standard roll-on suitcase with a pair of hooks designed to attach to a bike rack.

The first third of the ride is through suburban backstreets, where I wave to people walking their dogs. It's surprising how many of them -- men and women -- are out in their bathrobes. (Sorry, no pictures.)

There's a downhill run on 79th Street into the Greene Valley Forest Preserve where I've gotten up to 30 mph. Unfortunately, I have to bleed off all that good kinetic energy when I arrive at Greene Road. Why is there always a cross street at the bottom of a downhill stretch?

Sunrise over Green Valley Forest Preserve.
About 1.5 miles of my commute cuts through the forest preserve. I've seen deer, sandhill cranes, herons and egrets as I roll through the prairie and oak forest and over the east branch of the DuPage River.

A short, sharp uphill on 83rd Street is the real test of the commute. I always have to wait to cross Rt. 53, so I can't build up any speed before I attack the hill. When I started, I had to walk my bike up the last 100 yards. Now I can get all the way up without hitting the granny ring. Very proud the first time I made it to the top without touching the left shifter.

83rd Street and Woodward have off-street bike/pedestrian paths. I'm not sure they're an improvement over riding in the street, since there are cross streets seemingly every 50 feet. And of course, the drivers -- especially in the morning -- are sleepy, distracted, on the phone, or just looking out into the main street and not at me coming up the bike path. I've taken to riding in the street in the morning.

I may be cold and sweaty (yes, at the same time),
but at least I'm not doing this.
Two miles along the I-55 frontage road and through the Pleasantdale subdivision, and I'm through the gate and ready for a shower. There are some grungy but adequate shower facilities where I work.

I'm usually behind my computer and ready to go by 8 a.m., more than a little pumped by the exercise and feeling smug for having saved a gallon of gas and 19.2 lbs. of carbon dioxide.

But sigh, winter closed in. I have excellent clothing and feel that I could get to work without suffering frostbite or hypthermia, or even the occasional broken bone from sliding on the ice. However, I've learned from rides around the neighborhood that drivers (a) don't expect to see a bicyclist in December, and (b) won't move over for a bicyclist forced to ride around piles of snow along the road.

I eagerly await the usual "January thaw," where the snow melts away and the weather turns cold and dry. I'll give it another shot then.