Life as a Bike Commuter: What I’ve Learned

This week is Bike to Work Week in Chicago. Ironically, I’ll be driving to work this entire week for two reasons. It’s also Men’s Health Week, and Near North Health Services Corp (where I serve as Medical Director) is hosting free screenings at all its sites and I need to be mobile and get around the entire city.

And, also, I have a flat bike tire which still needs fixing since I was out of town all last weekend. Luckily, the flat tire happened on my commute to work on Thursday last week. Something small, I suspect, had deflated the tire slowly during the course of the day, because I got to work just fine. But as I left to go home, I noticed the deflated tire immediately. I walked a half mile south and hopped on the CTA bus straight west back home to Oak Park.

On most days, however, my bike to work is a great experience. Do you ride your bike to work? If you do, you probably relate a lot to the joys and frustrations of bike commuting. If you don’t, you, like most of my staff as I enter the health center bike in hand, think I’m crazy.

Most of us who do ride have the same motivations. Great exercise. I’m able to sleep in later since the commute time is just slightly more, if not the same, as driving, and I don’t have to wake up earlier to work out the mornings I ride. I same a ton of money on gas and racking up miles on my car. It’s better for the environment. I love the endorphins released by a good ride. And I’m just one of those people. You know, who drink craft beer and eat vegan food and bike to work. Those people.

I started bicycling to work my intern year of residency, and I’ve learned a lot in the last 8 years doing so.

The wind matters, and is likely to blow against you

I never really noticed the wind speeds and directions on weather reports before I started riding regularly. Now, even when I drive I notice which direction the flags blow on banks and government offices. I’ve noticed that the wind direction changes in the early afternoon on most days in Chicago. That allows Mother Nature to give me a strong head wind on both the commute to work and the commute back home. Thanks.

The hazards of buses and taxis

I’m not sure which are worse, buses or taxis. Don’t get me wrong, drivers of normal sedans and other vehicles are bad enough, neither paying attention nor sharing the road when they do. But nothing beats the taxis swerving all over the street without a care in the world, or buses changing back and forth from the curb to the main lanes without signaling.

The hazards of glass bottles

I’m assuming a shard (or two or three) of glass flattened my tire last week as it did last summer. Last August, it took four visits to the bike shop down the street from my home with the same flat tire until I finally had a working bike again. When I went there the first time, they changed the inner tube. I went there a week later, the same tire flat after a few minutes on the road. They changed the inner tube and looked through the tire and removed a shard of glass. I went there another week later and, after changing the inner tube, they took a closer look at the tire and removed another shard of glass. And finally, another week later they replaced the tire completely, unsure how many semi-hidden shards were there flattening my tire. Suffice it to say, the bike shop down the street is no longer open.

Since last summer, I’ve been more tuned in to the prodigious amount of glass shards on streets in certain neighborhoods. I only see the shards; where is the rest of the bottles? Is there another source of the shards? Why can’t we switch to plastic beer and liquor bottles?

Chicago can get really, really cold

I’m a Chicago native, experiencing one blistering cold winter after another. But nothing really educated me on how cold things really are until my eyelashes froze shut.

I had just passed Wrigley Field on my way to my continuity clinic in residency on a sunny but chilly February morning. The high that day was 7 degrees F, and it was even colder on that morning commute. Bundled up like an Eskimo, I thought I would be smart and wear my contacts instead of my glasses to avoid the perpetual fogging from my scarf. The condensation, however, collected on my eyelashes, and as I got closer and closer to my clinic, it became more and more difficult to open my eyes as the water vapor quickly turned to ice. It was really, really cold that morning.


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