Friday, March 30, 2012

bringing your bike on the train - CTA and Metra

Have you thought about taking your bike on a CTA or Metra train but weren't sure how to do it?  If you live far enough from the start location for a club ride that you would ordinarily drive there, perhaps transit might be a workable alternative.

Up to 2 regular bikes per train car are allowed on CTA trains every day, except during weekday rush hours (7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.).   Folding bikes are allowed on the trains at all times, but need to be folded during rush hour. 

Do not try to get your bike into the old-style cars with folding doors (blue line only).  The doors don't open wide enough, and most bikes will get stuck.  Only use cars with sliding doors.  Look for the bike symbol next to the door, as shown in the picture below.

If you find it difficult to haul your bike up and down stairs, you may find this list of accessible stations useful.  You may find yourself sharing facilities and services with disabled riders.  Please give them priority.  Many stations have escalators (at least in the upward direction), which may be workable for you if your bike is not too heavy to hold in place. 

When you are entering or leaving the station, look for the disability access gate, if the station has one.  If it does not, look for a steel bypass gate, which may be next to the station attendant's booth.  If the gate is locked, the attendant will need to open it for you.  Do not try to lift your bike over one of the regular 3-legged gates, because you may get stuck. 

Access at most stations is workable using either a disability access gate or bypass gate.  Beware of the Irving Park/Pulaski station on the blue line.  Both the bypass gate and adjacent passageway are extremely narrow and difficult to navigate with a bike.

Here's CTA's info page for more tips about taking bikes on the train.

Metra's rules are a bit different.  Bikes are allowed on all weekday trains arriving in the Loop after 9:30 a.m. and leaving Chicago before 3:00 p.m. or after 7:00 p.m., except for the following blackout dates, when non-folding bikes are not allowed
  • All days during Taste of Chicago - July 11, 2012 to July 15, 2012
  • Lollapalooza - August 3, 2012 to August 5, 2012
  • Air & Water Show - August 18, 2012 & August 19, 2012
Metra requires the use of bungee cords to attach your bike to the seat rail and keep it from moving while the train is in motion.  If your bike is stacked against others, you'll need to secure it to another bike. 

When possible, it's not a bad idea to coordinate bike loading with other cyclists.  If other cyclists get on, ask them where they're getting off.  The bike getting off at the most distant stop should be closest to the outside wall of the train.  This means you don't have to worry about unburying your bike, or having to find other people to ask them to move their bikes when it's time for you to get off.  This isn't an official policy.  It's a system that many frequent Metra riders have developed to make their lives easier when getting off the train with their bikes.

As on CTA, you'll be sharing disability priority areas, so please give priority to disabled passengers.  Bikes are allowed on ADA accessible cars only, as indicated by the wheelchair symbol next to the door.  Folding bikes in bags are allowed at any time on any car.

Officially, the maximum number of bikes per train is as follows (5 bikes per accessible car, except for Metra Electric, where it's 2 bikes per car):

Union Pacific North, Northwest & West Lines20 bicycles
Milwaukee North & West Lines15 bicycles
Rock Island Line15 bicycles
BNSF Railway10 bicycles
North Central Service15 bicycles
SouthWest Service15 bicycles
Metra Electric8 bicycles*
However, this assumes that all available cars on the train will be open, which may not be the case on some off-peak runs.  Some conductors are more willing than others to help cyclists when there are only 1 or 2 accessible cars open. 

The rules ask you to wait until everyone else has boarded before bringing your bike on.  However, if you do this, you may end up asking 6 or 8 lazy, non-disabled people to move out of the disabled seating area to put your bike in the proper location.  Inevitably, some of them will be resistant, requiring the conductor's assistance, leaving you blocking the aisle until the conductor comes.  I've found that things usually work much more smoothly if I get the bike on early, and work out any needed space adjustments with anyone who boards with a wheelchair, large stroller, suitcase, etc.   I've often been impressed with how well people have worked together to accommodate many different types of users in the disabled seating areas.

I started taking my bike on CTA and Metra as soon as the pilot program began on each.  The experience has continued to evolve over the years.  As CTA station attendants and Metra conductors get more used to working with cyclists, they've gotten better at it.  Hopefully we will see spaces better suited to carrying bikes as new train cars are brought into service.

Do you have any tips to share about taking your bike on CTA or Metra trains?  Please share them in the comments.

- Anne Alt

Thursday, March 29, 2012

tech tip - reducing your risk of flat tires

Every year, as we start riding with the club again, flat tires become an issue. There are a few simple ways to reduce your risk of flat tires.

First, check your tire pressure. Feeling the tire to see if it's soft helps somewhat, but you'll want a bit more accuracy if you really want to protect your tires.

Having a floor pump with a built-in pressure gauge is ideal. If you don't have one, or the pressure gauge no longer works, a handheld gauge is useful. Make sure that whatever you buy fits the tires you use, whether you have Presta valves, Schrader valves, or some of each. This video has some very helpful tips about valves and pumps.

Do you know where to find the recommended tire pressure range for your tire? Take a look at the sidewall until you see something like the images below.  In the first example, there's a range of 46-100 psi.  In the second example, it simply gives a max inflation pressure of 120 psi.  Inflating your tires at or near the max pressure gives them the maximum resistance to flats and reduces rolling resistance for street riding, making your ride a little faster.  The ride will be less cushy than at lower pressure, but the higher pressure makes it easier for your tire's tread to repel broken glass.  (Note: If you're using a mountain bike for off-road riding, softer tires can give more grip on soft surfaces - a different world from on-street riding.) 

Have you inspected the condition of your tires recently? If not, it's worth a few minutes of your time. Does the sidewall of the tire show lots of fine cracks? If it does, and you've had the tire long enough that you're not sure how old it is, it may be time for a new tire. Inspect the other tire and see if it's in similar condition. Fine cracks all over are a sign of dry rot, which happens to aging rubber.

Next, look at the tread of each tire. Do you see lots of cuts and gouges? If your tire does not have Kevlar reinforcement built in, or a Kevlar liner strip between the tire and tube, it's effectiveness in protecting the tube from punctures may be compromised. 

If the tire tread is somewhat compromised but it doesn't show dry rot and you don't want to spend the extra $ for Kevlar belted tires, there's an intermediate option - tire liners.  You can fine a few helpful tips here on the pros and cons of liners.  I've used the Mr. Tuffy liners, which are available at many bike shops and are relatively inexpensive ($15-25 or so, depending on size).  They are VERY effective, but only if you are absolutely consistent about checking your tire pressure regularly (at least once a week).  If you let your tires get soft and ride across railroad tracks, potholes, steel plates at road construction sites, etc., you will get pinch flats.  I've ridden thousands of city miles using these (over all of the above hazards, plus lots of broken glass) and gotten only 2 flats - a pinch flat when I was too lazy to check my tires before a club ride, and a drywall screw that punctured the tire at the edge of the liner strip.  (This is not a specific endorsement of Mr. Tuffys, just an account of my experience with them.)  If you're not confident in changing tires, you may want to have your shop install the liners for you, to ensure correct placement and minimize the risk of pinch flats.

A Kevlar belted tire is more expensive ($50 or more) but more foolproof, because it does not have the same vulnerability to pinch flats as a tire liner.  It does add more weight, but greatly reduces your risk of a flat tire.  I ride regularly in areas with lots of broken glass, across railroad tracks, etc. and tend to go all year with no flats on the road.  I also learned my lesson years ago about keeping my tires pumped up at or near the max pressure specified on the tire.  If you have many flat tires in a year, and go through a lot of tubes (at $4-5 or more each), it may be less expensive to buy Kevlar tires.  I'm not trying to sell Kevlar.  I just really enjoy not having to change flats while I'm out riding.

Wishing you a riding season free of the hassle of changing flats on the road.

- Anne Alt

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

classic bike auction on 4/1

Are you looking for a classic ride to restore?  Working Bikes is having an auction of classic bikes from the 1950s, 60s and 70s this Sunday morning.  It might be your lucky day.

Riding with the Reptiles or Up to Our A**es in Alligators

While visiting South Florida to attend the wedding of Phyllis's cousin, we had a truly unique cycling experience.  Rather than fight city traffic or ride on shore line bike paths that (except for palm trees) are not appreciably different from those here in Chicago, we headed west into the Everglades. 

The road known as 8th Street in Miami becomes the Tamiami Trail - also known as US 41.  (Yes, it is the continuation of our own Lake Shore Drive).  About 20 miles west of Miami is the Shark Valley entrance to the Everglades National Park.  At the end of the parking lot, a 15 mile paved loop trail heads into the heart of the park. Designed for motorized trams to take tourists into the interior of the park, the path is open for cyclists and hikers.

Getting up close and personal with nature

Within the first hundred yards of the trailhead, we saw our first alligator in the bayou that ran along the path.  Over the next several miles we saw literally hundreds of his (her?) cousins, along with turtles, all kinds of birds and a profusion of plants and wild flowers.  Around the halfway point is an observation tower that can be climbed to get a panoramic view of this unique environment. 

Observation tower
The return trip traverses a drier part of the park, but multiple culverts passed under the road.  One or more alligators were in residence in nearly every culvert, seemingly enjoying a beautiful day in the sun and wondering what all those crazy humans were doing. 

A view from the tower
For anyone looking for something to do in the area, I highly recommend this trip.  Don't have your bike?  No problem - rentals are available.

- Joe Dickstein

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

paceline riding 101

Years ago, I was slogging through a uncomfortably hot century ride with one friend when a 5 or 6 person pace line breezed by us.  They made riding look effortless.  My friend explained that a group of
riders taking turns at the front of the line used less energy than we did, riding side by side.

Now I ride on Monday nights with the Chicago Cycling Club.  These guys started the Monday night ride to recover from weekend races. For some folks it's a recovery ride, and for other folks its a training ride.   They're very friendly to newbies and eager to teach the basics of group riding.

But even though I was a strong rider, it took me a while to work up my courage to just show up for Monday night rides.  So I've decided to spend a few weeks in April teaching the basics before Monday night rides start this year.  I've recruited a few of my usual riding pals to make sure we've got plenty of folks to help. We'll practice single and double line riding.  We'll help you build up your confidence to
ride close enough to benefit from the group, and ride smoothly and consistently to be safe.  We'll keep a nice steady pace, probably around 15 miles per hour.  Road bikes are strongly encouraged and helmets are required.

I'm always eager to get more women into riding, so I'm especially encouraging women to join us.  It's also a great idea for that boyfriend or girlfriend who already rides and wants to learn what the heck a group ride is all about.

The first ride is scheduled for Saturday, March 31 at 1:pm.  Let's hope this lovely spring weather holds!  We're meeting in the parking lot at Northerly Island, so you can ride or drive to our ride.  We intend to practice a bit on the island then head south on some bike lanes and ride around Washington Park.  The whole ride should take about two hours.  I hope you'll join us.

- Jen Welch

Monday, March 26, 2012

changes on the border

Those of you who have done rides through the Illinois-Indiana border area may be interested in this news story about the imminent closing of the State Line power plant in Hammond, a landmark on some of our rides. 

Openlands, a local environmental organization, is pursuing the idea of a new multi-use path connecting Illinois and Indiana.  Sounds like a great opportunity to me.  What do you think?

- Anne Alt

CCC on Twitter

We've been experimenting with Twitter for a while for ride and meeting announcements and sharing relevant info. If you want to find us there, look for @ccc_scoop or the #chicycling hashtag. If you want to share info with us, please include @ccc_scoop in your tweet.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

new rides this season - series and one-offs

We've got a few new series and single rides on the schedule this year, as well as some old favorites.

Sharon Kaminecki just debuted the monthly Breakfast Club ride.  The next one is happening on 4/29.  Howard Lo starts his Monday night South Shore Fitness Ride series tomorrow night.  Jen Welch is leading Group Riding 101, a season warm-up/intro to paceline riding.

Next Sunday Steve Kramer continues a longtime club tradition with the Champagne Ride.   Monday and Wednesday night training rides will start in April.  A monthly TGIF social ride series will begin soon - stay tuned for details. 

In May, we'll have Beverly Gardens & Architecture,  an 1893 Columbian Exposition tour, the return of the Thursday morning senior rides, George Vrechek's Hegewisch ride series (of various speeds and distances), and more.

Want to submit a ride to the schedule?  You can develop your own new idea, revive one you've led before, or consult our ride library.  And you may wonder "how do I access the ride library?"  If you are a current member, just log into the club web site, go to the Member Home page and click on Ride Library.  If you use a ride from the library, you are encouraged to test ride it in advance and update as needed, since roads and destinations change over time.

See you on the road! 

- Anne Alt

Sunday, March 18, 2012

CDOT video - please use a headlight at night

Do you use lights on your bike at night?  Do you know that it's required by law?  You don't need to be able to light up the street, but you do need to be visible.  It can make the trip safer for you and others you may encounter on your journey - pedestrians, other cyclists and drivers.

Being visible doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.  You can find inexpensive solutions (from this manufacturer or others) in your local bike shop or online.  Be seen and be safe.

Monday, March 12, 2012

good news about the Bloomingdale Trail and more

I heard some good news today about the Bloomingdale Trail, Chicago lakefront and parks, and wanted to share it with you. Here are a few highlights from the Mayor's press conference today:

"The Bloomingdale Trail will begin its final engineering and design phase this week, with construction to begin in late 2012 and completion by fall 2014. This next phase is made possible by the first round of private donations – $5 million from Exelon, and $1 million each from CNA and Boeing, which made the first donation. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has established a Leadership Council that will continue to work with the City to raise $35 million in private support for construction and stewardship. The City has also secured $37 million in federal funds and $2 million in Park District funds, for a total of $46 million.

The Bloomingdale Trail will be a 2.65-mile multi-use recreational trail built along an elevated rail line atop Bloomingdale Ave. on Chicago’s northwest side. The Trail will be the world's longest elevated trail and a major tourist draw, but more importantly it will significantly increase transportation options for residents on Chicago’s northwest side.  The tracks, which are currently unused, will be converted into a safe greenway that accommodates both pedestrian and bike travel, and connects the west side to existing bike lanes that feed into the Loop.  There will be multiple access points that double as neighborhood parks and link the trail to existing bike and transit routes.  The Damen and Western stops on the Blue Line, the Clybourn Metra station, and the North Avenue, Fullerton, Western, Kedzie, Kimball, California, Milwaukee and Ashland buses all pass under, over or nearby the Trail.

Projects expected to be completed this year include the 31st St. Harbor, 180 acres of new acquisitions, ... and Garfield Park Conservatory restoration.
The new $100 million 31st St. Harbor is scheduled to open in May and ... will feature a green roof parking garage, ... underpass to separate vehicular traffic from cyclists and pedestrians on the Lakefront Trail...

...four new Chicago River boat houses will increase recreational opportunities along the river and will provide community rooms, concessions, fitness centers, restrooms, storage and direct river access. River Park and Ping Tom Park locations will open in 2012 and Clark Park and Park #561 at Eleanor St. and 28th St. will open in 2013.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bike 45 ride today

Would you like to take a short, easy ride on the northwest side today?  Our own Alice O'Laughlin will be leading a Bike 45 (45th ward) ride starting at NOON at Onahan School, 6634 N. Raven.

Whether you're riding there or elsewhere, we hope you're able to enjoy some quality outdoor time on this beautiful day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

riding with little ones - Kidical Mass

Perhaps some of you have heard of Kidical Mass, a family friendly Saturday ride that started here a few years ago.  If you're hesitant to get out and ride with your little ones, you may want to visit a Kidical Mass ride and ask questions of the other parents.  There's a wealth of knowledge and experience about family riding in the city,

The next one is happening this Saturday 3/10, starting 10:30 a.m. at Palmer Square. Please click here if you're interested in more information.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bike Swap follow-up

Thanks to everyone who came to see us at yesterday's Bike Swap.  It was a fun event and we had a lot of great conversations.

Welcome and thank you to all who joined or renewed as members yesterday.  We're looking forward to riding with you soon.

CDOT videos - ride on the street, not the sidewalk

A few years ago, the Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) worked with Active Transportation Alliance to produce an excellent, informative series of educational videos for various categories of road users about sharing the road safely and laws regarding bicycling.

More videos from this series will be posted here soon.  Please feel free to share this link with friends and family members who ride.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Welcome to our new format!

We've decided to relaunch our newsletter in blog format.

As always, we welcome submissions from all CCC members - about recent rides you've led or attended (whether they're CCC events or not), your experiences riding in the Chicago area or while traveling, cool bike-related stuff you've seen or heard about, bike humor or any other bike related topics you think would be of interest.

This may be a little rough around the edges at first as we're getting it up and running.  Since we're no longer bound by the limitations of assembling a print newsletter, we also lose the limitation of deadlines, so we're happy to get your submissions at any time, including photos.  If your photos are on Flickr or other publicly viewable site, you can send a link instead of needing to attach files to your email.

We're looking forward to hearing from you.  See you at Saturday's Bike Swap - and on the road!