Toolin’ Around Chicago

by nicole on 2011/09/30

chicago

My rental bike hanging out in my hotel room with my Fluevog Tavs. I called her Creampuff.

I have an unpredictable travel schedule. Some times I will be gone for nearly an entire month. Other times I will go months without traveling at all. A majority of my travel is on short notice and requires long work hours. Ah, the glamorous life of a consultant.

Earlier in the month I traveled to Chicago for work. I have been to Chicago often enough to have the lay of the land to a degree. As long as I am not doing the crazy work hour thing I end up walking around the city a lot. For this trip I knew my hours would be moderate and would allow me some free time. The idea of being bike-less for a week was definitely a depressing thought so I decided to look into a rental bike. Since the office and my hotel were both in The Loop I was going to use the standard big city tourist rental option. However, being a LGRAB reader for a little while now made me hold out, hoping that one of the many marvelous places Dottie frequently writes about might have a more interesting rental option. And my optimism was rewarded in the form of Dutch Bike Co. Chicago.

Dutch Bike Co. is closed Sundays and Mondays. On my first day in town, Tuesday, I talked to Vince at the shop and made arrangements to pick a bike up on Wednesday. Dutch Bike Co. is located in Wicker Park, a short walk from the Damen stop on the blue line of the L and convenient to reach from The Loop. Save yourself the money and traffic hassle- the L will get you there much faster than a cab most times of the day from The Loop. Dutch Bike Co. rents a couple of different Linus bikes and I opted for the 3-speed cream colored Mixte for a few reasons. First, while somewhat familiar with Chicago from a walking perspective I had never ridden a bike there. I reasoned that a more upright bike would put me in a different frame of mind than I typically adopt on my morning commutes. I was hoping the bike would directly effect my riding style and I would adopt a less aggressive posture in a city where I was unfamiliar with how drivers treat cyclists. Second, I was relying on the cuteness of the bike to convey some of that Mary Poppins Effect I read so much about again because I was in unfamiliar surroundings. The last reason I chose the mixte was because I believe if I am going to rent something, I might as well take the opportunity to try out something that is different than I already have or is like something I think I might want one day. The mixte satisfied both of these requirements. It is not much like my current ride (I have a 2011 46cm in Blacktacular) and I have it in my head that I would like to build myself a mixte after my current project is complete.

The rental includes a lock and helmet. I had brought both with me but took them up on their lock anyway. I am not sure how much of a deterrent two locks is, but with one loss already under my belt for the year I did not want to take unnecessary chances with a bike I didn’t own. A credit card, proof of identification and signature later, I was on my way with Creampuff.

I headed over to North Milwaukee Avenue, a sharrowed road, to make my way back to The Loop. I did have to make a quick stop at the Fluevog shop when I spotted it though since I was prettily pedaling away on Creampuff with my Tavs (they make awesome cycling shoes). The ride was calm and uneventful. And the bike style did impact my riding style. I did not ride as fast nor as aggressively as I tend to at home and I felt comfortable just taking it all in. I did not feel unduly put out by any drivers along my route.

I cannot say I had complete 100% Mary Poppins success during my full rental, however (I returned the bike Friday afternoon). Riding within The Loop itself was not nearly as calm. A majority of Chicago taxi drivers seem to have little regard for the 3 foot passing requirements. I do not think that will be the case for long though. Chicago managed to snag bike-lane powerhouse Gabe Klein recently, much to the collective disappointment of the BikeDC Community and Dottie already has two recent entries on the new bike lanes popping up in Chicago. Safer city cycling is on the horizon.

The block I was working on had ample bike parking. There were standard street racks and an alley full of bike racks. I did not notice an alley of racks anywhere else, not that I was looking too hard. I am not sure if it is standard or a result of the gym nearby. I felt comfortable locking up there. When I talked to my hotel, the Kimpton Allgro, to see if they had a garage or other recommended bike parking I should use they completely shocked me by telling me to bring the bike in and they would secure it in their locked luggage room! I was fine with just keeping it in my room if it was allowed in the building. In retrospect, I probably should not have been that surprised by their offer. Three Kimpton locations in my city have partnered with out bike share program so they obviously have a bike friendly slant.

Overall, I had a great time biking in Chicago and look forward to doing it again, hopefully a bit more extensively. I never did make it for a ride along the lake. And the rental experience was fabulous too. Even if you aren’t looking for a bike rental, check out Dutch Bike Co. They are very friendly and have some great accessories and bikes available.

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