1) How/when did you get into cycling as a profession?
Starting in 1992, I’ve worked a number of bike jobs in Chicago, from messenger to mechanic to managing the City of Chicago's bicycle parking program, which coordinates the installation of on-street bike racks and helps set up indoor parking. For the past few years I’ve been freelancing for various local publications, specializing in articles about biking, walking and transit issues. I’ve also published in most of my favorite North American bike magazines and helped edit the Chicago edition of Momentum.
Last year I self-published Bars Across America, a travelogue of my coast-to-coast cycling misadventures. This year I wrote a chapter about West Town Bikes for a new book about ways bicycles can change the world for the better, edited by Momentum’s Amy Walker. When you factor in my experiences working with the Active Transportation Alliance, Critical Mass and Bike Winter, and all the miles I’ve spent touring the city, region, country and world by bike, I’ve been exposed to many different facets of cycling. That puts me in a good position to write about it.
2) How does your organization directly benefit cyclists?
The Chicago Department of Transportation’s (“CDOT”) bike program and Active Transportation Alliance are great organizations that have done wonders to improve cycling in Chicago in the past twenty years or so. They also have a very cooperative relationship, with CDOT paying Active Trans to provide consultants to the bike program.
So, whenever there’s a major problem in the cycling world, like the city’s removal of parking meters for pay-and-display units, which eliminated 30,000 bike parking spaces, the Tribune or Sun Times contacts CDOT, who tells them they’ve got the situation under control. When the reporter calls Active Trans for a different perspective, Active Trans usually praises the city’s plan and the article basically paraphrases CDOT’s press release on the subject. I try to provide other perspectives on bike issues, and I like to shed light on problems that may be off the mainstream media’s radar.
For example, last year CDOT tested traffic calming measures on Humboldt Boulevard, which were supposed to enhance safety, but actually would have made the street impossible to bike on. After my Time Out Chicago piece on the subject came out, cyclists approached Alderman Maldonado to request a design that would make the street safer for all users, including bikes. It's very gratifying to me when my articles help make a difference.
3) Do you specialize in a certain type of cycling?
I specialize in a few different types of bike-related articles. I try to keep my ear to the ground about Chicago cycling by showing up for rides and events, attending meetings, reading papers and blogs and, of course, checking out the Chainlink forum daily. The result is pieces that celebrate exciting initiatives and organizations like the Navy Pier Flyover and Working Bikes, and explore issues like the nearly two-year delay of the Bloomingdale Trail design contract, or the alleged cover-up of a hit-and-run on a cyclist by a Pritzker.
I also enjoy interviewing movers and shakers in the bike scene, like WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer, Lucy Gomez from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and Phyllis Harmon, the grande dame of Chicago cycling who co-founded the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now known as the Active Transportation Alliance). Some of the most fun articles I write are guides to cycling hotspots in various neighborhoods, and travelogues of my Midwest bike journeys.
4) What are your "must-have" items for cycling (this could be a tool, an accessory, a food, etc.)
I always carry a flat-fix kit, a raincoat, the Chicago and Chicagoland bike maps, water, and my favorite anti-bonking snack, cashews. If I’m on a reporting gig I carry a notebook, camera, mini recorder and my super-heavy, Soviet-era laptop in my pannier. I recently got a five-hour battery for my computer, which makes it possible to work in one of my favorite cold-weather hangouts, the Harold Washington Library’s ninth-floor winter garden.
5) What do you see as the biggest area of opportunity in your niche market?
This is a great time to be a bike writer. It seems like every week there’s an exciting new development or burning controversy. If the Chicago Velo Campus is built, that could have a huge impact on the local scene and really make Chicago a world cycling Mecca. And if soon-to-be-mayor Rahm Emanuel keeps his campaign promises to stripe 25 miles of bike lanes per year and build the Bloomingdale Trail in his first term, cycling is really going to blow up here in the next four years.
6) How do you think the cycling community has changed in the last year or two?
Are you fishing for a compliment? The Chainlink has had a powerful effect in connecting local cyclists, helping to publicize the ever-increasing number of rides and events, and serving as a bulletin board for discussions and problem solving on ways to improve conditions for biking here. As the Facebook of Chicago cycling it has really sped up the pace at which ideas are shared, in keeping with the social media revolution.
7) If you could go on a bike ride with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?'
My mother Diane. She was an amazing lady who taught writing at Penn State. For better or worse she taught me to speak the Queen’s English at a young age, which explains why I sometimes struggle not to use too many big words in my articles. When I was little she used to carry me on the child seat of her bicycle. But in the mid-Nineties when she was riding on a trail along the Juniata River her chain caught and she fell over, badly injuring her knee. That ended her cycling career.
A few years before she passed away, Mom visited me here and I offered take her on Critical Mass via pedicab, but she was having back problems and worried that the ride would aggravate them. The following year, my parents visited and my dad pedaled in Bike the Drive with me. Afterwards the three of us got brunch at the Handlebar and Mom saw a pedicab parked in the beergarden. She said, “Oh, that would have been no problem at all – it’s just like sitting on a couch.” So I wish I’d had a chance to give her that pedicab ride. I think she would have really loved seeing our beautiful city from the seat of a bike.