The New Commute

Tomorrow is our one year anniversary of officially living in Batavia, Illinois. Navistar got me here by a somewhat indirect route (well, either it’s direct or it isn’t, there’s no somewhat) but we got here intact, nonetheless. This is our third home purchase and there were several important conditions the house had to satisfy, not the least important of which was location. Not only was it not the least important, it was also the most important. It was all about me- I simply wanted an easier bicycle commute.

My new bike commute is better than my old commute- eight miles shorter and decidedly flatter. I still ride on the road with four-wheel death boxes cars, even though there is a partial bike path option that adds a couple of miles. Great progress has been made in the development of multi-use paths in the last 20 years; unfortunately, none of them have been able to take me all the way from home to work.

I should clarify one thing- by “old commute” I mean the one I had between Waterford and Southfield, Michigan. There was an interim bicycle commute in Fort Wayne, but that was not the most scenic, nor the easiest. I should clarify another thing- by “easiest,” I don’t mean in terms of distance, but in terms of route complexity, proximity to traffic, and quality of surface. I should clarify one last thing (I promise)- the quality of the commute is in the eye of the commuter. Depending on your fitness level, your distance to work, and your thickness of skin, your commuting experience may vary. Void where prohibited. My ideal commute is 10 miles one way on 100% rail trail, no cars, and no horses. Yes, no horses. I happen to like horses, actually, but they don’t often mix well with bicycles (or is it that horse riders don’t mix well with bicycle riders?). For further exploration of this topic, go here.

Bison, on the other hand, could care less about me or cars or probably most things besides grass, watering holes, and a place to chill. The bison pictured here are residents of Fermilab  (the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory once the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, now the second most expensive tunnel in Illinois). About 1/3 of my ride is through Fermilab, and it is rather pleasant, with smooth pavement and light traffic. There is a bike path through Fermilab, but the road is less bumpy than the path. With government funding on the decline, I imagine replacing the bike path is low on the list of priorities. Drivers within the Fermilab boundaries are accustomed to cyclists, and they leave ample clearance when passing. I imagine the bison would leave ample room, too, if they were not imprisoned within a wire fence. Bison are cool that way. Fermilab also prohibits the general public from cutting through the grounds in cars if they are not actually visiting or working there (bicycles and pedestrians are free to cut through all they want). I like that.

Once I pass the guard shack at the east entrance, I’m back out in the real world with traffic on Batavia Avenue. Traffic volume increases slightly with each major intersection I cross as I make my way eastward toward work, but morning traffic is much lighter than evening. My destination is on the busiest road, most of which has a shoulder. 11 miles from driveway to employee entrance.

I have had many commutes, ranging from 9 to 19 miles, since I first biked to work sometime in ’90 or ’91. All of them forced me to ride in the street, to the consternation of many drivers I’m sure. I have had numerous numbskulls yell at me. If you do choose to yell at me, do it at a stoplight, because when you do it while passing, it just sounds like “ahyahyahyayooghlahyahyay.” I have only had one Slurpee™ thrown at me, but he missed.I have experienced fits of rage in response to stupid moves on the part of distracted drivers. I am guilty of stupid moves as well, and I have strived to be more cognizant of traffic laws and how I ride with traffic, while protecting my space and my right to be on the road. I don’t always stop at stop signs; I do stop when there are pedestrians and/or other vehicles (or if I am on the Fermilab grounds where I have observed cyclists pulled over by security, probably for blowing a stop sign but certainly not for exceeding the 40 mph speed limit). I will pass a quarter mile-long kerfuffle of cars in the gutter if there is no chance of getting up on a sidewalk. The cars are not in the gutter, I am. Congestion like that means there are too many cars for the intended capacity of the street, and they deserve to be passed by a bicycle for taking Batavia Avenue to get around construction on Butterfield Road. Really, you thought you were the only one to think of that?

Regardless of where I commute, inquiring minds are impressed that I ride to work, then think I’m crazy for how I do it. But, the more I do it, the more drivers become accustomed to me, and realize they spend more time at stoplights than they do waiting to safely pass me on a two-lane road. I can’t help it if you are afraid to pass me on a double yellow when opposing traffic clears- you just need a traffic law refresher.

I’ll just smile and wave when you eventually pass by.


Parade Days

I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon. That doesn’t mean I don’t act curmudgeonly, it’s just that I think few curmudgeons consciously choose to act that way. Other people apply the label, and curmudgeons could care less. Curmudgeons are notoriously apathetic.

You are the float in my parade.

So, call me a curmudgeon, I don’t care. I’m just not that into parades anymore. As a kid, parades were fun. Sometimes people threw candy to the crowd, but we went to a parade for the excitement of seeing those funny little Shriner’s cars, and maybe a clown on a unicycle. My kids, on the other hand, judge a parade by the amount of candy received. More candy = better parade. I would like to see more cool cars and marching bands that actually play when they pass by, instead of just walking to a cadence (although I can dig a good cadence).

I am at the Swedish Days Parade in Geneva, Illinois. Never mind that Geneva is in  Switzerland. And before any local history police call me out, I know that Geneva is actually named for Geneva, New York, which beats being called “Muck-Suck” like Lake Geneva, Wisconsin was before early residents wisely decided to also name it after Geneva, New York. I don’t live in Geneva anyway, but I go to church here. I have lived in nearby Batavia for about a year (named for Batavia, New York, which was in turn named for a region in the Netherlands which is thankfully the end of that) so I don’t have a lot of social investment- I may recognize some of the parade participants, but they won’t recognize me. I smile and wave, nonetheless.


Swedish Days is the one big event that kicks off the astronomical summer in the Tri-City Area. Even though Memorial Day is the traditional start of summer from a state of mind point of view, Geneva’s parade on that day lasted all of 15 minutes. Quick and dirty. Stand when the veterans pass with the Flag, hope in vain for the marching band to play something as they saunter past, mouths firmly not on their mouthpieces, and thank you, ma’am, that’s it. A quarter hour, and back home in time for lunch.

Well, you don’t know what / We can find / Why don’t you come with me little girl / On a magic carpet ride

The Swedish Days Parade, however, went on for two and a half hours. 180 minutes of all manner of floats and cars and politicians and local establishments and marching musicians (I only assume they actually could play). 1/4 of it was Shriners.

45 minutes of Shriners? Really? Is that necessary in any parade besides one held exclusively for the Shriners?

Ten days later I find myself in that jewel of the Pacific Northwest: Ashland, Oregon. Longtime residents of Ashland regard their Fourth of July Parade as sacred birthright and stake their claim to their God-given viewing spot on Siskiyou Blvd. (near the Safeway) with righteous fervor and all manner of picnic blankets, camp chairs, and stretch golf carts. Visitors and natives alike embraced the Red and the Blue, the Left and the Right, Christian and Pagan, grape vine and hemp cloth. But no Shriners! They must have been doing the Medford parade. Honestly, I’ve seen at least seven parades’ worth of Shriners, so I’m set for the foreseeable future.

OK, that’s just derivative.

My nephew Chris marched with the Boy Scouts (who were having a rolling war between troops using water balloons and catapults) so we had some personal tie to this particular parade. There was occasional candy distribution to the kids along the route, and my picky kids rejected at least half of it. If it isn’t a Tootsie Roll®, Double Bubble®, or a roll of Smarties® it gets donated to a charity (me). By the time the requisite 15 minute-long gap appeared about 3/4 of the way through, we were toast and so made our way downstream to the festivities at the end, which eventually led to food and beer.

I’m not eschewing parades altogether. Too many in a short span of time just dilutes the novelty. Okay, the Shriners riding around on the motorized coolers was amusing.

Ten or fifteen years from now, I may find them amusing again (especially if it’s the same old guys riding them).

My Bikes, Part 1: The Early Years

Me and Katina, the "girl next door." I guess I thought riding with the handlebars backward was pretty funny.

I have been cycling since before I can remember. I can safely say cycling is my oldest athletic skill, followed by swimming and downhill skiing. There have been brief forays into golf, tennis, sailing, baseball, basketball, and volleyball, but nothing really stuck more than cycling. Any of my close friends will tell you I really suck at football. I’m okay with that.

Most athletic pursuits pose some risk of injury. I experienced my first “endo” at two years old, resulting in thirteen stitches in my lip and the premature loss of my two front teeth (next was a trip down the basement stairs, but that is another tale).

Following the tricycle incident, I sat with Uncle Jack and read technical publications.


I have no recollection of the incident, but the general consensus is I stuck my foot in the front wheel of my tricycle as Dad was pushing me. The front wheel stopped moving, but Dad, the rest of the tricycle, and my face did not. Our collective linear momentum was converted to angular momentum, and this wondrous ballet of kinematics came to a screeching halt at the sidewalk. In a twisted way, this was my first physics experiment.

Following the infamous tricycle was not a bicycle, but a pedal car I was particularly fond of. Chicks dug the car. I think my earliest memory is one of self-awareness, when I recall thinking “I am three years old” as I was sitting in my pedal car at the back door of my best friend’s house. I don’t remember anything else from that day (or year, for that matter), but it probably involved playing with matchbox cars, getting dirty, and watching Sesame Street, not necessarily in that order. I moved from the pedal car to a hand-me-down Huffy convertible with training wheels that belonged to one of my sisters. It was a “girl’s” style frame with a removable tank to make it look like a boy’s. Initially, I rode without the tube (because it was easier to get on the bike that way), until a friend pointed out the whole “girl’s bike” thing, and yuck, I didn’t want that. After mastering it without training wheels, it became my primary mode of transportation until Tim or Jack Carey from across the street broke the frame while riding down the front steps of St. Mary’s Church. I’m not mad anymore, really.

Chicks dig the car.

For my tenth birthday, I received a bike with curvy handlebars. “Ten speeds” had curvy handlebars, and they were pretty fast. Never mind the fact mine was still a single-speed with a coaster brake- I felt like I was going faster than a bike with straight handlebars, and that’s what counts.  I don’t recall the brand, but it served me well for several years. Then I started upgrading things.

I began tinkering with my bikes, making incremental improvements instead of asking for a whole new bike. Or, maybe I asked for a whole new bike and was shot down, so had to do the next best thing. I took things apart, put them back together, sometimes successfully, and discovered how difficult it was to put the ball bearings back in the hub of a bicycle wheel without using grease (in case you’re wondering, they will fall out and roll around your father’s workshop floor). This was before the common use of sealed cartridge bearings, or at least before using them on the bikes I disassembled. According to The Beloit College “Mind-Set List,” as far as the Class of 2015 knows, there have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, women have always commanded some U.S. Navy ships, and bicycles have always had sealed bearings. Honest, it says that.

No photograph exists, but I found a pretty accurate artist's rendering of the "curvy handlebar" bike.

Next: John goes multi-speed!