Tuesday, September 30, 2008

South Side History Bike Tour

This one for local readers:

Come explore the South Side of Chicago on the ideal exploratory vehicle. If you're a newcomer to the city and want to learn more, or an old hand at this Chicagoan thing (Eric and Jennifer!) and want to get a deeper bite of it, you'll have fun. And though Dean Boyer's been giving a bike tour for a few years now, this year we'll also benefit from Terry Nichols Clark's and Mark Hansen's good wisdom and knowledge.

This is one of the kickoff events for the new Chicago Studies program (academic and 'experiential learning').
Here's the blurb from the Chicago Studies web site. Sign up info is at the bottom--you can also sign up on facebook here.

Whether biking for recreation or transportation, sticking to the same tried and true route can become a force of habit. But on Saturday, October 4, participants in the South Side History Bike Tour will take the “road less traveled” through historic neighborhoods.

Even long-time South Siders are likely to discover something new about events and people that shaped Chicago-both the city and the University. Tour guides include John W. Boyer, Dean of the College; Terry Nichols Clark, Professor in Sociology; and J. Mark Hansen, Dean of the Social Sciences Division.

Bikers will get a first-hand look at historic Bronzeville, sneak a peek at the residence of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, admire the rugged limestone Union Stock Yard Gate, and learn about the Settlement House movement at the Jane Addams Hull House.

“We want our students to be in touch with the city, to learn from it and enjoy it. This cultural and architectural bike tour is a good way to kick off the 2008-09 academic year for the Chicago Studies Program,” Boyer said.

Participants, who must have their own bike and helmet, will meet at the Quad between Bartlett Dining Commons and the Regenstein Library at 10 a.m.

Register for the Bike Tour: Email dhays@uchicago.edu or call 773.753.GIVE (4483).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


OK, here's a race report. Unstructured and incoherent, perhaps, but a race report nonetheless. It betrays its origins as a personal email, cut and pasted for the benefit of other personal persons.

I was not the only one to go down, and that was not the only time I went down! In fact, in the spot that that photo was taken I went down on three or four of the six laps. It was downhill to a 180-degree turn to the right and then back up the hill. Short and steep.

On the first lap, the field hadn't yet spread out a lot and I made the 180-degree turn--taking it quite wide and was charging up the hill faster than my competition (heh heh heh) around one particular fellow who lost momentum and was waggling around quite a bit trying to stay upright. He swung left as I came around him; we hooked handlebars and we both went down.

The second lap was my fastest, through that bit at least--I took it fast and wide and didn't go down. After that, each time, I hit the dirt with my right (uphill, inside of the turn) pedal on the dirt, knocking my rear wheel out from under me. Perhaps proper cyclocross tires would have caught the ground again--but I think that more knobby tires would have slowed me down on the non-technincal half of the course. At any rate, the whole bike went out from under me. And there was a great fan there, shouting "Go singlespeed" (and later, "Go fixed!") which was a great boost (though I felt like I was letting him down as I crashed!).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The course was pretty easily divided into the technical half--with lots of twists and turns, and several barriers--and the non-technical half, racing around big grassy fields, with some fairly tight but not extreme turns. The race started in the middle of the non-technical half, with a short straightaway on grass, crossing an asphalt path and doglegging right, then circling a softball field, then going down a shallow hill to a slight basin--meaning softer wetter ground---and then some slightly muddy ("peanut butter," not splattery wet stuff) hairpins and squiggles (this is where the 'technical stuff' begins) up, then down a hill. The second time back up the hill (we're talking 50 foot hills) was on foot: there were barriers to clear at the bottom and the top. Remount, then downhill across the soft 'basin' and up, then down the aformentioned crashing hill.

Then a few more loops on dirt and some more paved path riding, this with a 150-degree dogleg in it. My first two laps I hit my inside pedal on that turn, but with the pavement, the only result was a skip of the rear wheel and a skip in my heartbeat (the laps I didn't have pedal strike I cursed myself for not taking the turn fast enough, though, truth be told, halfway through the race I probably wouldn't have had the reaction . Downhill on the paved into where most of the spectators were, and some more turns and a barrier. I think I crashed at this dismount once. Then back through the spectators to a double corkscrew (turn left left left left and then right right right right) and a straightway on grass, slightly downhill, to another barrier. Then out into the fields.

So that's the field of battle. Here's what played out, at least what I did well and what I did poorly.

I started middle of the pack (of forty), and spent the first lap passing people who slowed down too much for turns. On a fixed gear, you know just how expensive acceleration is, so the important racing lesson of "Don't slow down!!!" is at the forefront of your mind. Many people were riding their brakes into fairly shallow turns and I blew by them. I didn't wipe out on any turns and I considered my most successful ones the ones where I had enough speed to stretch the course-marking tape on my shoulder coming out of the turns and even brush the tape stanchions with my handlebars (wheels never went outside any course markers!).

The one thing I kept in mind through all this was what one of my favorite bloggers, Kent Peterson (http://kentsbike.blogspot.com) said a few weeks ago: Having multiple gears doesn't make you go faster, it makes it easier for you to go slower. So I figured I had to keep the speed up.

And so I attacked, attacked, attacked.
One thought occurred to me several times during the race: "Why are all these people going so slow?" On the first lap it was their bad, for sure--too much timidity going into corners, too little fitness on the straightaways. I realize now that one fellow in particular whom I passed on each of the last three laps going into the grassy half was just using me. As a rank amateur I wasn't even thinking about the fact that he was just drafting in the fast bits and would blow by me at the finish--as he did. Very much the beginner's mistake. There was some consolation in the fact that the guy who outsprinted me for the finish made something of a goof of himself by crashing into the guy who'd finished ahead of him after the line.... (

More on Oct. 5.