Chicago like other urban cycling areas has lots of ways for cyclists to stay connected. But there is at least one that might have been overlooked. The Bike Bus.
What The Heck Is It?
A Bike Bus is an organized group of cyclists with a common destination.
Think of a Bike Bus as a mashuup of your daily ChainLink Forum fix along with a class or two from notoriousDUG all rolled into a group ride the size of a very small Chicago Critical Mass.
What Needs Does It Fill?
What does something like this provide? Well for starters if you have ever envied (and you should) the camaraderie of a roadie cycling group then you will instantly “feel the love” when you join your own bike bus. Suburban club level cyclists have known for decades that if you want to be safer then ride with others. There is indeed safety in numbers.
You really cannot be ignored when your presence on the roadway is enhanced by that of a dozen or so others. But besides safety there are lots of other benefits:
- Clothing tips are easier to be see and understand when you watch a person of your age, gender, size and body type using a specific clothing product. While someone behind a keyboard might describe a “wonderful set of gloves or mitts for winter riding” you can tell if they are exaggerating by simply watching them ride in cold weather with that particular bit of gear in place.
- Nefarious evil-doers beware! Let’s face it, there are more things to be concerned with than errant automobiles. You have thugs who want nothing better than to relieve you of your property. And that is dangerous when it strands you in sub-zero weather. Bereft of your smartphone you may not be able to call for aide. Pay phones are a thing of the past. So having more than one rider along with your can literally save your life.
- Who needs a keyboard fix when you can chat alongside a friend each morning? No need to compare notes on how cold it was on your commute into work. You will have done all the chatting face-to-face or perhaps more aptly balaclava-to-balaclava or better yet goggle-to-goggle. You get the idea.
- You have your own roadside assistance team. Even if you are cruising along in the nicest part of town, nothing says a “bad hair day” like getting a flat. Now in the summer that can be inconvenient. In the dead of winter that can be deadly. Not certain how best to repair or replace an inner tube? There is sure to be someone in the group who can give you a field demonstration. Besides, even if you have a pump and patch kit, what is your backup plan if the pump turns out to be broken or the glue in the patch kit has dried up or your spare inner-tube has a defective valve stem?
- Learning bike-handling skills. As a suburban rider the one thing I note amongst urban riders is their basic lack of group riding skills. You simply do not develop a feel for how you should behave around other cyclists, when you ride alone most of the time. Riding in a group means that you really do have to get in the habit of using hand signals. That in turn makes you better prepared to deal with motorists who cannot hear you calling out a command.
- Newbies would love this sort of thing. For all the blather about pretty green bike lanes making newbies feel safe, a group shouts safety like nothing else. All that you have to remember is to post your route, maintain an agreed upon speed and enjoy the company.
ChainLink or Active Transportation Alliance Should Facilitate
Check out the link to the Central Florida Bike Bus site. They have loads of information and can give you ideas on how and whether a bike bus here in Chicago might make sense for you. I see commuters leaving for home on a regular basis along various routes leading out of the city. There must be folks who would relish having a meet-up on a Friday night on the way home for the weekend. You could discuss perhaps retracing your steps in the morning.
If the group publishes its bus schedule others can decide whether to catch the bus on days when they need company. And who knows this might turn into a life-long friendship for folks who would otherwise never have met. Who knows, it might be fun to wear matching t-shirts in summer months.