Tag Archives: Chicago

Whoooah, we’re Halfway there!

For about 2 years I’ve been periodically going into Spin Doctor Cyclewerks, my local bike shop, and looking at a bike that I thought would be a great addition to my morning commute. In late June I went in one last time, and Greg, the owner, told me to just buy it already since its been two years. 🙂

When I went in, it was for one final “do I still want this” before Sarah and the kids got it for me for my birthday. I decided I still wanted it, and the next week, I got it. What is this it I keep talking about? Its the Giant Halfway folding bike.

I was back in the store a few weeks ago to get a minor part replaced, and Greg said I should post on the store’s FaceBook wall about my experiences. Since I don’t do FaceBook, I told him I’d write a blog post and get him the link. So, here it is!

Let’s start with the bike itself: The Giant Halfway is a folding bike that folds down to 32″x30″x14″ which is pretty close to as small as you’re going to get. When assembled, it feels like an adult version of a kids BMXish bike. The ride is nice and quick, and thanks to the small tires, it feels very responsive and nimble on turns. The bike seat is a standard bike seat, so the first few weeks hurt a bit as my doughy ass got used to it. The bike is only about 30 pounds, so its very easy for me to carry with one arm. It fits nicely into the trunk of my Ford Fusion with some room left over for other cargo.

The bike also comes with soft carrying case with a shoulder strap. Its good for storing the bike, but for my and my 5’7″ frame, its actually more cumbersome to carry in the bag. I’ve managed to rip a hole in the bag already where the seat meets the ground in the folded position. It happened about three weeks in, and it may be a combination of the bike not fully being on the reinforced bottom along with the gritty ground it was on, but I was disappointed that happened so fast. (And really, that’s been my only disappointment really.)

As I mentioned earlier, my main goal for this bike is for my commute. I take Metra Milwaukee District West Line from Bartlett to Union Station. Before I had the bike, to get from Union Station to work I would take either the Chicago Water Taxi or CTA Bus 121. My goal is to replace waiting for and then sitting on the vehicle for a total of 15 to 20 minutes with 10 minutes or so of exercise. And if gets me to/from work faster than the vehicles, all the better.

What one should do before they take a bike on the train is something I hadn’t done until I was writing this, review Metra’s rules for taking bikes on the train. I took it on faith that the Spin Doctor people knew what they were talking about (and they did) but I still should have read it myself. Anyway, there is one specific rule that applies to the folding bikes:

16. Folding bicycles in protective covers are permitted on all trains at all times but should not block train aisles or doorways.

Reality has shown that you can often get away sometimes with it not being covered. In my experience it depends on who the conductor is and what their general mood is that day and how much they care. But by the letter of the law you need the bag. Experimentation has shown that if I drape a cover over it, they’ll let that pass, so I’m thinking about making a “quick-release” cover for it since I want to be ready to ride when I hit downtown or I have to walk 2 blocks to my car in Bartlett.

The biggest trick I’ve learned is to just go to the handicap cars and try to get on either end of the 4 person bench or the two person bench. Those usually have enough room to sneak the bike in. At worst, you have to put it in front of you. As long as the aisle is clear and everyone else around you is comfortable, you’re usually left alone. I’ve been lucky enough to fit into those spaces, I haven’t yet had to come up with a backup plan for when I’m not there. In any case, though, those cars are your best bet.

When I hit downtown, I then walk to the Madison Ave exit of my platform and carry the bike up the long stairs. This is where the bike only weighting 30 pounds really pays off. If it was any heaver, I don’t think I’d really be able to make it up because I’m weak. Luckily, my children are around 30 pounds, so I’m used to it. If I had gotten the bike pre-children, I might have a tougher go. Doughy computer guy here, remember?

Once I hit the street I unfold the bike, snap on the helmet, and head off to work. The google map below has the route I take from the train to work and back again. Its only about 1.3 miles, but its 1.3 miles where I wasn’t exercising before.

Canal is a nice street because it has an official bike lane for most of it. Kinzie doesn’t a bike lane, but is known to be a bike friendly route. Usually in the morning on Kinzie if I’m stopped at a light, I’m usually one of at least 5 bikes waiting to go, if that doesn’t say its the way to go, I’m not sure what is.

View Morning Bike Route in a larger map

Once I get to work, I go in via the loading dock, fold my bike up, and take the elevator up to my floor. I keep the bike in my office as I’ve got space to do so, and its also makes a nice conversation piece.

Due to travel, weather, and some other misc. stuffas, I’ve been averaging about 4 days a week riding the bike in. I’ve been doing it for 5 weeks or so now, which tells me I must like it to be keeping it up like this.

On days when I don’t have to drop the kids off I also bike from home to the train station. That gives me another 2 miles in the morning and evening. Again, a small distance, but exercise and fun riding.

All in all, I’ve been terrifically happy with the bike and with biking to work. I’m getting to work earlier then I would have, I’m a bit more awake from the brief exercise, and I’m feeling better over all. A win all around.

A documentary on the southern suburbs wherein my in-laws get the shaft

Tonight, during their pledge drive Channel 11, WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station aired two very cool programs put together by Geoffrey Baer. Sarah and I ended up watching both of them.

The first was called Chicago’s Lakefront that was filmed 5 years ago or so. It covers the lake front of the city and many of the sites and pieces of architecture along the lake. It was well worth the time to watch and I recommend it if you get a chance to see it.

The other was called South of Chicago: Suburbs, Steel Mills, and Shorelines. It started in Gary, Indiana, and traveled up Lake Michigan, and then down the Calumet river, to the Cal-Sag Channel, and then south when the Channel starts to cut west. It was really interesting and I know a lot more about the southern suburbs then I did before I watched it. I also recommend watching this one if you get the chance.

One reason we decided to watch this one as well was to see if it mentioned South Holland and its history. We were interested in South Holland for a number of reasons. One reason is that South Holland was the onion set capital of the world . The most important reason is the fact that the Peter Peerbolte Company was there. The Peter Peerbolte Company was an onion farming company. They even had their own train cars, which you can now find as models.

In any case, Sarah is a descendant of Peter Peerbolte. He was her great-great grandpa. What we’ve been told is that with the onion company, he owned most of the land that is now the town of South Holland. Unfortunately, the Great Depression took its toll and he had to sell everything. Its worth nothing that he did not end up buried in debt as he managed to pay back everyone he owed money to with the proceeds from selling off the company. He had enough money to buy a farm in Kankakee, which is how my wife’s mom’s family ended up there. But I digress…

In any case, during the discussion of South Holland, the Peerbolte family wasn’t mentioned. Sarah was upset about that. However, its caused us to question how big the farm was, and if they were the only farm in South Holland. I think we may be visiting the South Holland historical society to do some research as we’re both interested. Why are we interested? I’m not sure, it might be only so we can tell Dinah more of her family history when we get that far.

Baer is currently working on a new documentary about the North-West suburbs that I’m looking forward to seeing when WTTW airs it.

[Update 5/26/2011: Sarah was doing some web searching and came across some found film footage of Peter Peerbolte and his family in 1929.]