commute comparison

well, good weather has finally settled for good and that means that I’m able to get out and ride a bit more. Rain looks like it will be my biggest challenge during the warm months. I mean, it rained in New York, but here in Chicago it RAINS. Big wind, big wet.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to compare commutes, old & new. Up first, my old commute in Queens.

commute2About a 12.5 mile ride through some of the crappiest, densest and dirtiest surface streets in New York. Full-on offensive riding, but with drivers (mostly cabbies and trucks) that are somehow aware of your presence. Once you got used to it it became a type of odd dance. Full riding time door to door was about 50 minutes with a shower waiting for me at the studio.

Up next – the new commute.

commuteCan you hear the birdies? So, the stats… Total distance one way is 4.03 miles. WAY too short, so I usually extend it in the mornings, heading North for 10 miles before heading to the office. That gives me a round trip of about 25 miles – almost identical to my NY distance. So, how are they different? Well, to be honest, this photo is a bit idylic. Most of the ride is under a run of powerline towers, arrow straight. Flat, but so is pretty much all of the Chicago area. It’s a bike path that gets a fair bit of traffic come Summer, but never gets too busy. About 2 miles from the office you switch to the road, and that’s where it gets interesting. Remember when I mentioned how NY drivers seem to have a sixth sense of where bikers are? Yeah, none of that here. Drivers here act like they’ve never seen a bike before and have no clue what to do. Do I give him room, or just plow him down??

The other big hurdle is the roads themselves. Chicago loves concrete. Most road surfaces are concrete slab. That means hard surfaces with BIG gaps. When not in great shape it means big, razor-edged potholes. Cap that off with little to no shoulders on many roads and I sometimes feel like I’m riding with a target on my back.

One thing I realize is that the right bike for NY is not really the right bike for Chicago. In NY, the Redline makes sense. 21 gears because you have bridges to climb, and lots of stop & go. Disc brakes to haul you down from speed quick in panic situations. Here it’s different. Flat terrain makes gears overkill. Bad weather means that the more mechanical parts you have the more goes wrong. Simple is key. The right commuter bike here? I’m picturing a singlespeed cyclocross bike. One gear (not a fixie), center-pull brakes (simple), big tire clearance (700×38 + studs), and a high bottom bracket. With a low enough standover height it could probably serve as a 4-season commuter and a trail bike as well.

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