My garage door opened the other day to reveal my neighbor’s 4-year-old daughter standing on the other side, bundled up to her chin in pink and grey.
“Hi!” she belted out in a raspy voice. It was a Monday morning and I was late for a meeting.
“What ah you doing?” she asked.
“Riding my bike.”
Billy’s family and I share walls. We go through this routine a lot – just not usually when it’s 25 degrees out. She appears in the middle of the sidewalk, always with the same question. “I’m out of pinot,” I’ll yell back, or, “I have a reflexology appointment.” I do not have kids.
I tugged on the tight scull cap and facemask that make my head look like a grey and black pool ball. Billy’s brow furrowed. “But, why? Why ah you widing youah bike?”
It’s a fair question. My mom is convinced I will be flattened by a semi every time I leave my house. Today I have other concerns, though. My nose runs nonstop when it’s below 40 degrees, so I’ll need tissues nearby. On truly frigid days when I can feel my eye ducts freezing shut, I have to choose between covering my face and being able to see. The face cover forces my breath upwards, fogging up the sunglasses that protect my eyes from the biting wind.
My biking obsession started years ago, initially as a quick way to get to my job downtown. Soon I became fixated on getting from point A to point B on two wheels, regardless of details like weather forecasts and clothing appropriateness. The unknowns just make it more enticing. What are the odds the storm hits before I get to the store? (Answer: 98 percent.)
I have a lot of company. Over the last decade, the number of people biking to work has grown by 60 percent. Mostly, they do it because it’s a fun and efficient way to get around. I have some additional motivations:
- Faster than alternatives
- Cheaper than Ventra
- Bad driving personality
- Maintain girlish figure
- Save environment
On my bike I feel free. Even when it takes me around potholes and under gritty viaducts, the lack of constraints makes it addictive. For safety, I try to stick to the city’s more than 200 miles of protected bike lanes. It’s thrilling to sail by on two wheels, heart pumping, past all the drivers stuck in traffic. While there’s nothing like a ride on a warm summer evening, winter cycling can save your sanity. You don’t need studded ice tires or special winter gear. In a city like Chicago, it’s one of the few ways to connect with the outdoors year round.
Billy stood her ground, watching me layer up and close off all possible sources of air. I strapped on a reflective ankle protector to keep my right pant leg away from the chain. My Electra Verse 2010 isn’t a bike for pros but it works for me. A cable held my bag on the rack in back, which would double as a fender in case I plowed through a slush puddle.
For the first time, I understood Billy’s question. Not where. Why? I shouted back, “Because it makes me happy.” She smiled. Finally, an answer that made sense.
I shut the garage door and took off down the salty road, a full view of treetops above.