Free Tune-Ups and Balaclavas at Annual Winter Bike to Work Day

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano on January 18, 2013 4:13pm 

THE LOOP — If you had to blow out your shifter while cycling downtown, Friday morning was the best time to do it.

Adam Clark from Pedal to the People, a mobile bike repair technician who tools around with a cart full of wrenches and pliers, was on site at Daley Plaza for the annual Winter Bike to Work Day rally, and was able to help Oak Park native Michael Stewart with his busted gear as the rally, which started at 6:30 a.m., wound down close to 9 a.m.

Stewart doesn't work in the Loop, but he said he's been making the journey twice a year, for the Active Transportation Alliance's winter and summer meetups. He said the winter gathering commemorates the coldest day in Chicago history, and, perhaps as a nod to that origin, coffee, hot chocolate and hot cider were on hand.

"I bike in every year to support this," Stewart said. A daily bike commuter, he was decked out in a reflective winter coat, with a dental-sized rear-view mirror mounted above his left temple.

The Active Transportation Alliance has hosted bi-annual meetups in Daley Plaza since 2003, spokesman Ted Villaire said.

For many of Chicago's winter cyclists, biking to and from work is more than just transportation.

"It's the best cure for seasonal affective disorder," said David Barish, an attorney who stopped by Daley Plaza Friday morning on his way to the office. "I find that when I get outside and when I ride, even if I'm in the dark the whole time, it's better for me physically and mentally ... I'm looking forward to my ride home today already."

The Chainlink, an online cycling community maintained by Julie Hochstadter, also had a table set up at the event, where they passed out homemade fleece balaclavas — hood-like head coverings that leave only the wearers eyes exposed — to encourage warm and safe cycling during Chicago's coldest months.

"You have to want to do it," she said, about biking in the winter months. "It takes some more effort, but it's actually a lot easier than you think. It's mostly trial and error ... [and] definitely more than just a way to get to work."

The site's message board includes photos of dedicated cyclists modeling their winter gear, and advice on how to stay warm and safe navigating icy roads.

"You have to think about layers to help you stay warm and dry, and avoid the wind, but most people here will tell you that they're warmer than you think," said Etahn Spotts, a spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance on site at Daley Plaza Friday morning. "We're probably the warmest people on the streets ... It just takes a little bit of know-how."

The event doubled as a registration drive for MB Financial Bank's Bike the Drive May 26, a once-yearly event where Lake Shore Drive is closed to car traffic and overtaken by cyclists.

The Active Transportation Alliance raffled off ticket to the ride, which also began accepting registrations at 9 a.m. Friday morning. Participants can save $8 on the registration fee, which starts at $45, by registering online before Feb. 1. Signing up inside an MB Banking Center will shave $10 off the price and includes a free CamelBak water bottle.

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