The Underbelly of Winter Bike Commuting : Chicago-style

Background Reading


Chicago winter bike commuters are once again dealing with the inevitable fact that theirs is not the same position as that of a motorist. The North Shore area is full of evidence that motorists actually “get it“. Urban Cyclists not so much. When you ride through the finest communities on the North Shore you always are struck by the preponderance of 4WD vehicles. Why you ask yourself would folks this wealthy ever need anything but a “rear wheel drive sedan” when their municipalities have enough money to hire poor folks to lick the streets clear of snow and ice? But the truly rich have a clearer understanding of the realities of this world than do the less affluent “elites” who bicycle.

Let’s listen in (to the Urban Cyclists “Whine and Jeez” Club Forum) as they moan about the conditions they face during winter:

Has there been some sort of decision that secondary and residential streets will no longer be cleared of snow? This winter is off to a very bad start for Chicago cyclists. Would be interested to hear what you’re seeing in your part of town.

Okay, let’s not ask why in a city with some of the finest (and newly redesigned) train and bus facilities would you even consider riding a bicycle? But hey, let’s just assume they have a reason:

Has it been that bad in your neighborhood this week? We’ve seen some plowing on side streets in and near Beverly, but not as good as in recent years.

Evidently these “swells” are given to rating the quality of their snow removal. They do know for instance that where they ride (e.g. Protected Bike Lanes) special equipment is often required due to the narrower dimensions provided. And besides I would imagine that most of this crowd is riding on narrow road bike tires rather than something much wider. In fact it would not surprise me to find that fenders and chain guards and even kickstands are in ver short supply. They really do need to take a lesson from the North Shore Realists who despite wearing fur coats when it suits are not dumb enough to get caught without snow tires and all wheel drive:

Money is tight, and snow removal costs a lot.

Hated hated hated using the CTA this week, but my usual route in is too dicey right now. Sheridan rd is supposed to have a snow-route parking ban, but has yet to be ploughed to the gutters, especially northbound.

Back when i lived in Rogers Park, the side streets were never properly cleared. The N/S streets eventually became passable after the sun shone on them for a week or two, but the E/W streets were always shaded by buildings and never really cleared until spring thaw. i imagine it’s the same city-wide.

One of the weaknesses of placing bikes in the gutters on either side of a street is that plows actually direct their effluenence into the gutters. This is often why by spring anyone riding on skinny tires is likely to spend a good deal of their time walking. All of the debris tossed into the Protected Bike Lane (and not removed) contains glass and metals shards which as you probably know are the mothers milk of skinny tires.

What’s funny this year is the only company not pushing snow into the Dearborn bike lane is the Goodman

This is a reference to conditions along that best of all bike lanes in America (according to one magazine) known as Dearborn PBL. Last time I rode it there was still that wonky area along the curb just in front of the main post office. Courtesy of it are sure to be ice and water year round. How did the reviewers miss that? Oh, yeah they had their heads up their butts ogling the nifty bike-specific turn signals. Nothing like decorating your office so that the nasty bits are less obvious.

Don’t think there have been plows on the side streets in the Ukrainian Village. There certainly have not been any yet today/last night. I’ve given up trying to ride in the Augusta Blvd bike lane and take less traveled streets where I can ride in the middle of the road, pulling over for the occasional car. Augusta never gets fully plowed and all the ice and snow sits in the bike lane.

Whoa! Did you just read that bit of unconventional wisdom? Here is a cyclist doing what Vehicular Cyclists have done for decades, taking the lane and riding along the crest of the road where the crap does not usually dwell. Of course a “knucklehead” who takes this sort of thing seriously is not a “real cyclist“. That moniker is reserved for the folks who still ride their fixed gear bikes sans freewheels all winter long. People like this who are knuckling under to the Right Wing are probably just fine with having bicycle registration and classes to teach them strategies for dealing with winter riding. Heck that sort of lane thing is going down in New York City right now, ugh! Who needs a Winter Riding 101 course?

I’ve only seen a small snapshot but my sense thus far is that streets with major bus routes are getting priority (and other streets are getting nothing.)  Although riding home from picking up some packages last night in the wee hours I had an idea I’d take Roosevelt to Blue Island, and Blue Island was not touched even though it’s a 24 hour bus route….

I took 18th to Oakley and had my first bail-out of the year on Oakley last night.

Ya, think! Who unleashed this bit of wild-eyed thinking on the part of Urban Cyclists? Look, news flash for the clueless. You represent less than 1% of all the travel in the city each day. Okay, I’m being stingy. Let’s double that to a full on 2% of traffic. Why would you suspect that major bus routes are being given priority over your sorry arises? Of course they are plowing bus routes first. These are main arterials and each bus carries 50 times what your single bike does (assuming you are not riding a tandem or a triple or even a quad). Gosh it would be delightful to see a quad carrying a gaggle of hipsters down Milwaukee Avenue while they try to run each red light possible.

What would be howling funny would be seeing that long bike trying to come to a screeching halt in the middle of an intersection because their Idaho Stop Law Two Step resulted in them staring down a semi hauling butt to amber gamble a changing signal.

Snow removal on the LFP seems to be pretty lacking as well. There are some areas left over from the LAST snowfall that still haven’t been plowed away. Can’t wait to see what the path looks like today. I drove into work yesterday because I knew the path wouldn’t be totally cleared and that side streets would probably be dicey as well. At 7:15 AM I could tell the LFP hadn’t been plowed at all from 57th as far as 35th.

Again news flash! The City of Chicago is like all the rest in the kingdom, cash strapped. Snow removal on what is essentially a promenade for tourists and beach combers is hardly at the top of anybody’s list of places to clear snow first. After all there are still kids just west of you who are trying to walk to school. Clearing the streets for them to safely walk is of greater importance. And in case you did not know Chicago students walk down the middle of the street regardless of the season. It makes them feel safer when the bullets start to fly. Seriously, this is fact.

I disagree about the  LFP removal, it’s been pretty good.  There are places that have snow drifts but that’s more due to wind blowing the snow.  As in, I’ve ridden past a spot that’s been clear and salted in the morning but in afternoon, that section has been covered with snow.  There is a glaring exception at the bridge over the chicago river just south of navy pier.  There’s been no snow removal their even though everything up to it has been cleared.  There’s literally been a cleared and salted path that just stops in a stretch with that’s covered in snow.  Not sure why this is though, possibly some sort of issue where Streets and Sans is supposed to do the work but doesn’t?

Hmm, disagreement in the kingdom. Sorry when when you write their when you should have written there I can’t help myself. But getting back to ridicule, why would anyone think that a path intended for sunny weather use would get a great deal of snow removal in the dead of winter? Sheesh!

Commuting from the Lincoln Park area, our route down state st and wabash towards Navy Pier has been in good condition. We agree with “S” that the LFP for the most part has been in good condition!

See. The “elites” are having a better time of it than first suspected.

This is probably considered a bridge sidewalk and falls under CDOT’s area of responsibility, while the rest of the path is the park district’s responsibility.

Uh oh. Looks as if someone is trying to foment interdepartmental frictions. Avert your eyes.

See the problem is not that there is drifting snow, but that NO ONE is going back out with a plow to do anything about it. The best I can is that plows run through on the path only starting around 7:00 AM or so and once they’ve gone over it once that’s it until it actually snows again. Also, why the hell isn’t anyone clearing that damn path from the bridge over the Chicago River all the way down to Illinois?

Aw! See I knew someone could tell us what is happening. Those nasty snow plow people are not coming back and re-plowing the snow that fell once they have made their first pass. How inconsiderate! Well there really is only one solution to all of this:

Surly Bikes Moonlander

Surly Bikes Moonlander

Moonlander runs 4.8˝ tires on 100mm rims. Such a large footprint allows you to ride them at very low pressure, which (as with a snowshoe) enables unparalleled traction and float over all kinds of terrain…wet stuff, roots, rocks, pebbles, gravel, sand, and many types of snow. Moonlander, like its name implies, is meant to go beyond where normal bikes, even normal fat bikes, can go. It is designed from the ground up to ride where there are no roads, no trails and no people.

Like all of our framesets, Moonlander is made of 4130 cro-moly steel, with tubing designed specifically for this frame. The frame’s geometry is not unlike a standard mountain bike, with a bottom bracket height that supplies plenty of clearance for bushwhacking and monster-trucking while remaining low enough for a stable ride. The toptube maximizes standover height while keeping the headtube fairly high so you can set up your rig with a comfortable, all-day-grind riding position.

The frame features 135mm-spaced horizontal ‘dropouts’ with a derailleur hanger, meaning you can set it up as a singlespeed, with an internal gear hub, or standard derailleur drivetrain. The rear end is offset 28mm to allow the drivetrain and wide tires to play nicely together. Moonlanders come with a 135mm O.L.D. non-offset fork, but if you like being able to swap front and rear wheels you could get one matching the rear offset. In fact, all of our fat forks share the same axle-to-crown and rake measurements, so they’re all interchangeable. The fork sports a 51mm I.S. disc caliper mount designed for a rear brake, and mid-blade thru-eyelets and lower rack barrels for mounting a fender and rack (you’ll probably need to alter something to fit, but the option is there should you choose to).

We offer the Moonlander as a complete bike, with components chosen for their durability and their suitability to the task at hand. Parts include our own strong, light Clown Shoe rims and gnarly Bud and Lou tires. It also comes with our O.D. crank, which supplies plenty of room for the fat shoes while supplying all the gears you need to crawl through muck and fly down hills. Moonlander is also available as a frameset if you would rather kit it out yourself. Frame sizes range from Small (16˝) to XLL (22˝ Extra Long).

Now (said in my best John Kass voice) the “little bike people” came remove that bug up their skirts and get on with their lives. Here folks we have the North Shore Liberal equivalent of an AWD SUV. And it works rain or shine, snow or no. Heck you can ride right up and over those nasty mounds of unremoved snow. Of course I would not suggest it if you are riding in high heels and a sheath but hey, if that is your style (Goodness knows that being Urban Chic is so very important) then by all means rock and roll.

And the 55 West Wacker building is the absolute worst!  It is obvious that the Dearborn lanes were cleared, but that the building people shoveled what looks like all of the snow from the sidewalk back into the PBL.

In my neighborhood, Paulina is not too bad, but the rest of the side streets–meh!  I am not sure if the city is doing worse than usual or that we were just so spoiled by last winter.

Aw! Here we go again, those “little building people” (who probably hail from the South and West Sides of the city, and you just know how they are) are clearing the walkways for pedestrians of all things! Doesn’t anyone understand that the entire length of Dearborn up to Kinzie is meant for the “elites” of Urban Cycling? This is so very disturbing. I’m gonna have to grab a Venti 8-shot espresso with soy milk, just to regain my composure. Oh, wait! Could you add in a Cranberry Bliss bar too? My blood sugar has dropped precipitously from that ride in from my condo just a couple of miles to the north.

Whoa! Did she just accuse the City of Chicago of being spoiled? Nah, I must have misread that.

If there are specific buildings dumping snow in the PBL we need to get some collective action going.

Again, I only see a small snapshot, so I’m relying on others to find out what’s happening city wide, but last year secondary and residential streets got plow attention, this year they’re not, plain and simple.

Ah, this is more like it! We Liberals need to stick together and get some collective action going. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of “the little snow removal people” than having us phone their crew chiefs and complain about the snow in the streets. And we could probably let them know that we will whip out our cellphones and capture them in the act of desecration of the Dearborn PBL if we cannot get them to “cease and desist“. We think this is certain to get them to “jump” because having our pictures plastered all over websites in unflattering situations is troublesome, especially if they don’t get our “good side“.

Some days it really does not pay to carry the burden of the “elites” upon our shoulders as we single-handedly display how people concerned with the environment should be behaving. Wait a minute while I grab a cigarette to calm my nerves.

Now where was I? Oh my, did I just crack a nail? And would you look at this, some nasty person has decided to park their wheelchair right here where I left my U-Lock last night to reserve my free on-street bike parking space. Next thing you know they will want me to have to walk a few block over to the McDonalds Center and pay for parking there.


This is the city of Iron Mike and Big Shoulders. Sissies are not allowed. Suck it up folks. If you choose to ride all year round on some of the worst tarmac (even in summer weather conditions) then at least come prepared. Stop the usual Liberalwhining“. Here’s what you want to do:

  1. Check over your shoulder, right now. Don’t think about it, just do it.
  2. Did you notice a brightly lit spot on the floor or pavement behind you? No?
  3. Great, then we have confirmed that the sun does not shine out of your arse.
  4. This is a relief! Now you can buy a “real winter bike” without having to shoulder the burden of “bike activist guilt” for not being better than everyone else.