Winter Cyclists Woo New Recruits

  • During the warmer months, this free bike garage near Chicago’s Millennium Park is filled to the brim, but on this winter day, it has room to spare. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

There are some people so determined to fight pollution and traffic congestion that they bike instead. There are even some brave souls who bike year-round, come good weather or bad. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee meets one woman who wants to join them:


There are some people so determined to fight pollution and traffic
congestion that they bike instead. There are even some brave souls who
bike year-round, come good weather or bad. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Shawn Allee meets one woman who wants to join them:

For a lot of people, transportation’s more than just a way of getting from
point A to point B. They take it personally. They want to cut air
pollution, use less energy, or they want to save money on commuting.

For those kinds of reasons Julie Lenfest doesn’t own a car. For years, she
relied on buses, but she hated them. They ran late. They didn’t go
everywhere. She was fed up, so she tried biking.

“I hate to beat down on the buses, but I got really frustrated with the
buses and it made me want a car, and then having a bike made me not want a car
anymore … it took that whole frustration away.”

For a while, each ride was a kind of … personal triumph.

That was fine while she lived in California, but Julie’s routine hit a snag
after she moved to Chicago. She was used to mild, Californian winters,
not blustery, frigid Midwestern winters. Sometimes the cold here gets so
bad it brings tears to your eyes. No wonder Julie chickened out last
winter. She stayed off her bike and hopped the bus instead.

“I don’t know, just, ah, talked myself out of it, but we’ll see. Now, I need

Julie started thinking about winter biking weeks before there was any
snow. She needed advice. So, she came to a seminar on how to prep
herself and her bike for winter. She’s come to the right place.

“I’m Alex Wilson. This is my shop, West Town Bikes … (continue)”

If anyone’s capable of teaching Julie and the other folks here, Alex is.
He’s more than just a winter biker and expert repairman. He’s a bike

“I just can’t find any inherent bad in bikes. Plus, bikes are fun, you know.
What better reason to be interested in bikes than, bikes are a lot of fun?”

Alex starts the class with how to keep warm. The trick’s not to get too
warm, otherwise you get drenched in sweat. Layering’s good, but
there’re no hard and fast rules about which long underwear goes with
what rain gear. Alex says trial-and-error works best.

Then there’s safety. Alex suggests putting reflective tape on your bike as
well as your jacket.

“Motorists are not looking for cyclists in the winter, so you need to be

The next lesson’s about street salt. Salt corrodes your bike and can make
it hard to peddle.

“After after you’ve gotten to your destination, do this:”

(Sound of a bang)

“Bounce your bike hard and knock off all the stuff that’s built up on your

Alex says all this mechanical advice is important but misses the point.

“The biggest thing that holds people back from biking in the winter is not
any gear or special equipment. It’s having the will to do it or having the
courage to do it.”

And there’re plenty of things to be scared of. Everything from being seen
in geeky winter outfits to more serious stuff, such as frostbite, but Julie’s
encouraged and she peddles out of the seminar, with her resolve intact.

(Sound of bike wheel)

A month later, I meet Julie to see whether her determination was a match
for the weather. Today, she’s biked to an outdoor ice rink. Snow’s
heaped along the sidewalks and we can see our breath. While she laces
her skates, she tells me the good news first. Turns out, she hasn’t been

“There are other people winter biking, I thought I’d be the only person.”

These strangers offered useful tips on clothes and safe routes.

There have been problems, though. Early on, Julie was looking for
adventure, but she changed her tune after the season’s first major storm.

“There was snow and it was slippery and they hadn’t put salt down yet.
So I decided I would walk on the sidewalk because I didn’t trust my
brakes and I didn’t trust other people’s brakes.”

That day sapped the fun out of winter biking, but she realized something
else. She’s kind of over the thrill. She’ll keep biking, but more and more,
it’s just the way she gets around. She doesn’t have to prove anything to
her friends.

“They just don’t understand how you can live without having a car, and
I’m just tired of explaining it to them over and over. So, I just say I can be
there at this time and I don’t tell them how I’m getting there; it’s my

So, she doesn’t talk about it so much anymore. It’s good to cut down on traffic or
save energy, but winter biking’s not so easy. If she chooses to keep it at, it’ll
be because she enjoys it, not because someone’s convinced her she has to. That’s
to say, it’s personal, and, to her, important.

For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Drawing Up an Energy Efficient Mortgage

  • A mortgage program through Fannie Mae can help people buy older homes and make them more energy efficient with one loan. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Winter is here, and homeowners are preparing for another
round of expensive home heating bills. The U.S. Energy Department
says depending on the fuel you use, home heating costs will rise between
nine percent and 30 percent this winter over last. The high cost of energy
has prompted at least one family to go deeper into debt to save on energy
costs in the future. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has


As homeowners face another winter of rising heating bills, one loan officer in the
is promoting energy efficiency when people shop for a mortgage. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

The government and government-chartered companies such as Fannie Mae offer Energy
Efficient Mortgages. But relatively few homeowners take advantage of them. Under the
program, new or existing homes are inspected and rated for energy efficiency. The
homeowners decide which energy-efficient improvements to do, and then roll the cost of
them into their mortgage.

Joel Wiese is a loan officer. He recently closed one of the few non-governmental
efficient mortgages in the Great Lakes region.

“When you start looking at the total housing expense, utilities on top of the rest
of what
you’re doing, you’re basically going to spend less money than you normally would.
Because you’re reducing your utilities. Even though you’re increasing your mortgage
slightly, you’re reducing your utilities significantly. It’s a win-win.”

Wiese says there haven’t been more energy efficient mortgages in the region because
realtors, loan officers and lenders know how to use the program.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.

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