Chicago-area residents offer tips, share benefits for cycling year-round

Chicago-area residents offer tips, share benefits for cycling year-round

As a year-round cyclist, I leaned my Schwinn daily against the math blackboard, tallying another successful commute to school on non-icy roads.

Now retired, I'm lower on the year-rounder spectrum, pedaling only for errands and fitness, still avoiding winter's treachery. "Commuting" now simply means pivoting from breakfast table to laptop.

In Texas, where I'm writing, bicycling year-round is no biggie. Excluding occasional severe disturbances, weather beckons daily. Compensating for the Chicago area's latitude, however, requires attitude. Year-rounders are positively brimming with it.

Eberhard Veit, McHenry County Bicycle Advocates president, started biking year-round at age 3.

"In Germany, either walk to school or ride a bike. Same for sports. No soccer moms back then."

He's been cycling ever since.

Best transportation

"A bike has a car's advantages without pollution. I leave when I want. It takes me right where I need to go, unlike buses or trains," Veit said. "It's great to clear your head in the morning and de-stress on the way home. Besides, I get a workout. I don't need a gym membership."

Commuting 10 miles round-trip, Veit also bikes for errands, meetings, recreation, even band practice with his trombone! Of 3,000 miles logged yearly, 2,500 are purely for transportation.

His bike?

"Nothing special - standard hybrid tire bike, 21 gears, fenders, lights, rear rack, front basket. Lights are key, as I ride after dark almost daily," said Veit, who relies on a hub generator to ensure lights stay lit.

For safety, he follows Cycling Savvy principles: Reading traffic patterns, positioning strategically, communicating clearly with motorists.

Donning helmet and reflective vest, Veit eschews special clothing, dressing for the office.

"OK, when it's really cold I wear insulated boots, headband, good gloves and face mask. Long underwear is a must."

Advice for wannabes?

"Take it easy at first. Ride longer into the season. You'll be amazed what you can do, how physical activity warms you. Suddenly, you're riding at 20 degrees. Surprise, it's not that cold."

Mental health bonus

Gina Kenny attacks the Palos Forest Preserve single-track trail in 2018. Courtesy of Neil Barnish

Willow Springs cyclist Gina Kenny missed only two days biking in 2021, blaming thunderstorms. Year-rounding since 2006, for her "it's just enjoyment of riding. Physical activity helps my mental health. Reasons have varied, but it's mostly for recreation," chiefly mountain biking.

Working from home as communications and project coordinator for Ride Illinois, statewide nonprofit bike advocacy organization, Kenny "rides first thing in the morning. Clothes are already set out. Energy gel packet is out. I decide which bike to ride, what route to take. All done the night before."

Safety items include lights on the rear, handlebars and helmet, and reflective strips on ankles, arms and main winter jersey.

"I don't ride the same trail every day. I'll ride five miles to another trailhead, or pavement when trails are too wet. Bulk of my miles is on paved roads, mostly single lanes, with minimal shoulder and higher speed limits. I want to be as visible as possible."

Kenny, whose lowest riding temperature has dropped until it vanished, recommends, "Don't go out first time at minus five. Try 30 degrees, then 25. Be willing to adjust."

For cold weather cycling information, Kenny recommends year-rounder Sheri Rosenbaum's 2020 Cold Weather Cycling webinar, recorded by Ride Illinois.

Cargo bike faster

As a stay-at-home dad, Parker Thompson began year-rounding in 2016. Previously a Berkeley bike commuter, he found a cargo bike beat walking or stroller-pushing two young boys.

"We live near downtown Elgin. Many things were close. A bike made more sense given the scale of our experience," he said.

Biking for daily errands is normal, with his car a last resort in extreme weather.

Biking safely means beefy tires, hub-generator lights and an upright biking posture. No special bike kit for him, just dressing for weather, including bar mitts for the cold.

Thompson expanded his year-rounding to involve others.

"I leaned into it to prove something to myself, that it was possible. I started Elgin Community Bikes with a convert's passion. We launched our first community ride with full moon rides in summer 2016," Thompson said.

These monthly slow rolls depart at 9 p.m., even in snow and cold, with 50 to 100 riders not uncommon. ECB also hosts family rides, plus a nonprofit, full-service bike shop offering repaired and recycled bikes to the community at discounted prices.

Electric assist helpful

Streetsblog Chicago assistant editor Courtney Cobbs practices her beliefs: Better public transportation and biking can create positive environmental and societal change. She's been year-rounding since 2018 for "convenience, flexibility and fun factor of cycling."

Streetsblog Chicago assistant editor Courtney Cobbs enjoys year-round biking on her electric cargo bike. Courtesy of Courtney Cobbs

Cobbs rides her electric cargo bike for her Chicago writing/editing and cat-sitting jobs, and for errands in Rogers Park.

"Electric assist is definitely helpful," Cobbs said.

Though individual trips aren't long, she accumulates about 75 miles weekly.

What keeps her safe?

"My level of confidence, to some degree. My bike is electric, reducing the amount of harassment I get. I play music from a speaker. With drivers, it helps make me more conspicuous."

Her bike has a built-in light. She wears a reflective jacket and takes side streets wherever possible.

For clothing, "I typically wear what I normally wear, though I pay attention to wearing the right gloves."

She also enjoys palm-size rechargeable hand warmers for inside or outside gloves.

Echoing its mental benefits, Cobbs uses biking to help her de-stress.

"I can channel some of my frustration as a cyclist into my advocacy work. Many a time when I've felt stuck, I've thought 'why don't I go for a bike ride?' "

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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