The weather's getting cold and soon all but the most die-hard bike commuters will put the 10-speed into storage and get back on the L. I'm one of the wimps -- I'll bike when it's cold, but not when there's snow on the ground, so I'm relishing my last weeks of bike commuting. Sometimes it's the best part of the day. It provides free exercise (I'm too cheap and busy for the gym) and saves money on transit.
That doesn't mean it's all good. Here are a dozen things I hate about bike commuting. Tomorrow I'll get cheerful and write about the best things.
12. Grit in my eyes. I wear contacts, and need to wear sunglasses or goggles to keep flying dirt from getting into my eyes and making me miserable for the trip. Sometimes, grit gets in despite all precautions. I keep eye drops handy, just in case. I've tried wearing glasses, but they fog up or get rained on.
11. Left turns. I know bikes are supposed to be "part of traffic," but I hate boldly crossing lanes of car traffic to get into the left turn lane. Usually, I just act like a pedestrian and cross first one street at the crosswalk, then the other, to turn left. It's slow, but safe.
10. Early darkness. It's getting dark fast, which means the ride home gets scarier. I have a good light, front and back, and wear a white jacket so I'm visible, but I see a lot of goofy bikers out there without lights, dressed in black. Maybe they're immortal. Or they think they are. When I'm driving, barely visible bikers really make me nervous.
9. Wind gusts. If you're on the thin side, you start feeling like Dorothy Gale about to take off for Oz, especially at six-corner intersections.
8. Heavy rain. Light rain's OK, but heavy rain makes visibility difficult and the roads slick. I also look like a flying grape in my big plastic rain cape.
7. Wandering pedestrians. We're not supposed to ride on the sidewalk, so why are you wandering between parked cars into the bike lane without looking where you're going? This happens a lot on Friday nights around the chic areas -- like at Halsted and Armitage, or Milwaukee and Damen. A pack of Brads and Trixies will walk between parked cars into traffic so they can jaywalk to the next club, bikes and cars will swerve to avoid hitting them, and the Trixies will swear at them. "Those bikers are CRAZY -- they never look where they're going," I've heard them say. If we didn't look where we were going, you'd have a tire track over your mini-dress, honey.
6. Getting yelled at by people in cars when I'm following the rules. I've been yelled by a driver for going the wrong way, when I was going the right way, i.e., with traffic.
5. Daredevil bicyclists who don't know the rules of the road. This morning, on Milwaukee, I was the only bicyclist out of eight who stopped at the light at Division.
4. Bus bunching. Getting stuck behind a CTA bus is annoying, but usually temporary. Since a bike will almost always go faster than a bus, you need to get around the front of a bus at a light and ride like fury when the light turns green, hoping that the bus will get stuck picking up passengers and you can leave it a few blocks behind.
It's necessary to do this, because it's tough to ride a bike BEHIND a bus -- you keep getting stuck as the bike makes stops. I also like to get way ahead of a bus because it helps the bus driver -- he or she has enough going on without having to pay attention to bikes. But the bus problem is made much worse when there are two or three buses in a pack -- and you never know which one is going to the one picking up passengers.
3. Not being able to read. One of the best parts about riding public transit is being able to read -- newspapers in the morning and books at night. I usually have a hard-cover book to read in bed, and a paperback to read on the train. When I ride my bike, I often can't find any other time during the day to read books.
2. Cars and trucks parked in the bike lane. This is a big hazard in the morning, when beer trucks are being unloaded into bars and restaurants. Open car doors are also a problem, so you have to pay attention to whether a car is occupied, to avoid getting "doored."
1. In general, trying not to die. Riding a bike is a pleasant activity. If you follow the rules and pay attention, you should be OK. But there's always the element of randomness -- what if somebody in a car isn't paying attention? Or is drunk? You're pretty vulnerable out there. I think on balance, considering the history of heart disease in my family, I'm better off cautiously riding a bike then getting no exercise. But there are risks, and some days I'm gloomier about them than others. My mom will never get used to this.
This isn't a complete list, of course. If you have something to add, please share.