Bicycling in Chicago is as much about having cheap transportation* as a thing to build new and maintain existing social relationships. And sometimes everything can come together in such an awesome way that you build a freakin’ business on the back of a bicycle.
Such is the case with many of my friends, including Jana Kinsman and Brandon Gobel. Jana created Bike-A-Bike and got several thousands of “startup” dollars via her Kickstarter. Brandon uses his sweet Bullitt to deliver odds and ends around town. And on April 3, 2012 (and other days), Brandon got to help Jana deliver beehives. They were empty that day but they went out on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, with real, live bees in his Bullitt’s aluminum box.
Here’s a 22 photo slideshow of the April 3 trip. Brandon sent me a bunch of photos from the April 18 trip and I’ll add those to the slideshow soon. Just come back in a day and they will be on this page, and on my Flickr.
You’ll find the bees buzzing in East Garfield Park and at The “Awesome” Plant (er, just The Plant) in Back of the Yards.
* I’ve seen a lot of polls ask, “Why do you bike?” and they always have answers I don’t care about. Like, “for fun”, or “for the environment”. Yeah, right. The most significant motivator for why people do anything is how much it costs them. Bicycling is cheap, nearly free. The bus is downright expensive compared to it, and driving a car everywhere (like 60 miles round trip to work) is personal economic suicide.
Two Mondays ago someone on the sidewalk yelled “Happy birthday” to me while I was riding to Bridgeport through University Village (UIC’s south campus). It was my birthday. I turned around to identify the shouting person. Joe was a classmate and now I most often see him at a local bike shop or playing bike polo. We went inside the store and chatted for awhile.
The bicycle is an extremely social tool. While it helps me get to the places I need to go, it does so in such a way that fosters community and interaction. As I ride, I’m exposed to the whims of the street: the noises, the chatter, the honks, the people, and the people I know. But it also helps me get to know new people.
I met some new people on the Zombie Ride in October that started at West Town Bikes in Humboldt Park and finished at Johnny Sprockets bike shop in Lakeview.
I participated in another bike light distribution with Active Transportation Alliance on November 17, 2010. I photographed a previous distribution in Wicker Park a week earlier. This time around, at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt at the UIC campus, I took a more direct role by flagging people riding bikes without lights to pull over and stop. I would then attach a brand new headlight to their bicycle, courtesy of customers of Groupon and the law office of Jim Freeman. During the two minutes I had their undivided attention, I told them about the state law requiring a front light and the role of Active Transportation Alliance in the city and suburbs.
This time I wanted to record more information about all the people I helped and talked to. I kept a little note card in my pocket and recorded the revealed reasons why the person didn’t have a headlight, how many men and women I helped (I only recorded two categories), and some select quotes.
I think six people refused my offer for a free headlight – this is because they couldn’t hear me (several wore headphones), didn’t understand our intentions, or both. Also confused, a man driving a car said, “You little bastard with your bikes,” but I won’t let anyone distract me.
Genaro installs a headlight to someone riding on Halsted Street in University Village.
Of all the people I stopped, I identified 21 men and 11 women (32 total). Four people said they lost their lights or had them stolen and hadn’t yet replaced the lights. One person forgot their lights. 27 of the 32 people riding bikes didn’t know it was state law to ride a bike with a headlight on at night. Here’s what some riders had to say:
“No one told me that!” I suspect this is an extremely common explanation. This is definitely an opportunity for local bike shops to educate their customers, but there are other places people can get this information, like resident advisers at dorms, churches, and workplaces. The Active Transportation Alliance fights tirelessly to instill basic information into the minds of people riding bikes around town.
One person I was talking to hadn’t heard of the Active Transportation Alliance and after I explained to him what the organization does, he said, “My friends and I want to start our own group.”
Someone on foot asked me, “How long are you going to be here? I want my friend to get one.” This guy came back with his friend and they both got free headlights.
Speaking of the bicycling leading me to meetings with people I know, three friends were walking by and said hello. I had met one of them, Andrew, at the same spot, in front of the UIC Skyspace as we both raced in an October 2006 scavenger hunt.
Walk under the Skyspace to get a direct and undistracted view of the sky and space.
Stefano and I are on our way to AMC East (Streeterville) from Pilsen to see the Japanese movie, “Sword of Desperation” (ask me about it).
As I silently predicted, Stefano’s bike got a flat, in Greektown, less than half of the way to the theater. (I predicted this based on my knowledge of how little he cares for his bicycle.)
Immediately, our plan was to fix the flat. I’m the only one anyone can trust to carry tools, but I forgot the wrench to remove the wheel* (actually, the Transportation Security Administration stole it from me at O’Hare airport). So, I proposed to Stefano two choices:
Take two buses, 8 and 66, meet me there and be late for the movie
Take a ride on the Yuba Mundo and we’ll arrive at the same time and probably be on time for the movie
Stefano chose option two and locked his bike to a bike rack. I gave him the rules and he hopped on.
The rules of Yubering are:
Sit as close to the operator as possible. This brings the center of gravity closer to where I’m used to it.
Try not to move – you can affect my balance.
Hold on to the passenger’s handlebar – this helps keep you from moving, and falling off.
Stay in constant communication with the operator – I like to know what’s going on. This is mainly just for the sake of conversing and to be lively, happy, and social.
Use your hand to signal turns on my behalf. I have a lot of weight to handle so it’s best if I keep both hands on the handlebar.
A slightly drunk woman in a taxicab at Lake Street and Canal Street said, “What happens if he [the operator] farts?” Uhh…
So we got to the movie theater at 9:59. Stefano ran in to buy tickets. As this movie was part of the Chicago International Film Festival, there were no previews. I locked up and went inside. We missed about four minutes of the movie.
Now, for the ride home.
Stefano’s bike is still locked up in Greektown and he lives in Pilsen. Knowing that the Yuba Mundo has no cargo limits, I propose we go pick up the bike and I take him and the bike home.
It was a rousing success!
And the commentary didn’t stop. After a two-hour visit to Timothy O’Toole’s, around 3 AM, a young man in a sports car on Adams Street slows down to match our speed and says, to Stefano, “So are you really riding his bike carrying a bike? Wow”
YES! That’s exactly what’s happening. Not sure what he said after that. I had to concentrate on riding the bike. This was the highlight of my night.
It took a while to get home as I had to go slow, but it was fun. We were able to have uninterrupted conversations. Bicycling is The Real Social Network. Carrying a passenger makes it just a bit easier to communicate. The Yuba Mundo makes every ride a blast.
*I now realize that removing the wheel to fix a flat is unnecessary, but I didn’t think of this at the time. If we did repair the flat, this whole experience never would have happened.