Share Your “Commuter Idyll” Story and Win Tour de Fat VIP Passes

The band plays
Mucca Pazza performs at the Tour de Fat. Photo: Steven Vance

Every year at the Chicago stop on Tour de Fat, the fantabulous bicycle and beer festival hosted by New Belgium Brewing, a gutsy “roll model” steps on stage to make the Car-for-Bike Swap. At the end of the fest, Saturday, July 12, in Palmer Square, a contestant will hand over his or her car keys, and pledge to live automobile-free, in exchange for a stipend to buy a new commuter bike. If you’ve been meaning to make the lifestyle switch yourself, can apply here to be this year’s swapper.

For the first time this year, New Belgium is also generously sponsoring Streetsblog Chicago’s Commuter Idyll contest. In last year’s contest, put on by Streetsblog USA, readers were asked to share their stories of how they changed their daily work trip from a hellish car commute to a relaxing stroll, pedal, or transit ride.

Since our city has some of the worst conditions for driving in the country — which is one reason this is a good city for walking, biking and public transportation — it was no surprise that the national winner was a Chicagoan. Engineer Jake Williams told the inspiring tale of how he ditched his nightmarish 26-mile drive to a job in Lincolnshire and started a new gig in the city, which he could walk to in 12 minutes, greatly improving his health and happiness.

Jake’s girlfriend and her co-worker at Sam Schwartz Engineering were so excited that he won Streetsblog’s “Commuter Idyll” challenge that they created this “infographic” of his commutes.

Did you make the change from a similarly soul-numbing auto slog to a fun, energizing bike commute? Did you switch to riding CTA or Metra so you could up on emails, reading, or sleep on your way to work? Did you move closer to your job, or take a new position closer to your home, so that you could spend less time commuting and more time doing the things you love?

Tell us your story in the comments section. The grand prize winner will get a VIP pass to the Tour de Fat, including two complimentary beer tokens, free food and access to the VIP area, plus a goodie bag with a t-shirt, bottle opener and pants strap for cycling. Three runners-up will get VIP passes.

If you’ve never been to the Chicago Tour de Fat, you’ve been missing out on a heck of a bike party, for a great cause. The free, family-friendly event includes a costumed bike parade around the neighborhood, live entertainment, a corral full of Frankenbikes you can test ride, tasty chow and, of course, plenty of delicious craft beer. Best of all, the proceeds go to West Town Bikes, a bicycle education center in nearby Humboldt Park. Last year’s Chicago fest drew 8,000 attendees, raising more than $40,000 for West Town.

Howard Wu and Reymel Matos at the Tour de Fat. Photo: John Greenfield

This year, highlights of the Tour de Fat will include a fashion show of the best costumes, a brewing education center, and a “Thousand Person Dance Contest” – the winner will get a 2014 New Belgium Cruiser Bike. Stages will feature everything from yo-yo performers to a vaudeville act, and the music will includes the local circus-punk marching band Mucca Pazza, and the groovy Venezuelan acid jazz group Los Amigos Invisibles, who’ll be in from Caracas to rock us.

The Commuter Idyll grand prize winner will get a shout-out during the bike parade and during the performances. While you’re at the festival, be sure to drop by the Streetsblog Chicago table to say hello and pick up some free schwag, including our coveted “I love bus rapid transit” buttons. Here’s the full schedule for the fest.

Revival Stage
11 a.m. — Bike Parade Launch
12 p.m. — Fashion! Best costumes of the Tour de Fat
1:10 p.m. — The Slow Ride Race
2:30 p.m. — Car for Bike Trade
3:55 p.m. — 1,000 Person Dance Contest (winner receives a New Belgium cruiser bike)
4:20 p.m. — Los Amigos Invisibles
5:05 p.m. — Finale

Variety Stage
1:35 p.m. — The Handsome Little Devils
3:00 p.m. — Yo-Yo People
3:40 p.m. — Mucca Pazza

  • Social_werkk

    I don’t drink and never will but I am trying to attend as many outdoor fests as possible during my first full time in Chicago.
    I was born and raised in Arkansas, the Little Rock area to narrow it down a bit. I love my state but the whole population can fit into Chicago. I love big cities AND I love the environment. I was tired of feeling guilty every time I start my car up to go out and run errands. I looked up a list of cities it was possible to live in without a car. Aha, Chicago! Affordable, good public transportation (I soon found out this varies drastically by neighborhood and of course density), and lots of options for vegan eating. Sold!
    Well, my internship for my MSW required me to have a car. It wasn’t what I wanted but I took the position. Great organization but driving in Chicago has taken a toll on my health. I recently took a position that doesn’t require a car and I couldn’t be happier. I’m moving in a few days to be a 5 minute (if that) walk to work versus the hour and 15 minutes it takes by public transit. Sure I could drive but for now I tell myself the days of a long commute are almost behind me. Chicago has a long way to go to improve public transportation, bike lanes, transit-oriented development, and equity when it comes to quality and realizable public transportation. I first moved to the South side and the difference in the transit options versus the north side makes me angry. The South side needs transit-oriented development and sustainable development. Maybe that’s a bit redundant, but I digress.

    Cool contest. I hope within the next year i can call myself car free.

  • ML

    So the thing is, if you’re
    genuine about your commute – you don’t obsess over it, you don’t really even
    talk about, and you just do it. It
    becomes a part of you. It’s like
    getting up in the morning and brushing your teeth. So when it’s February and it’s 10 degrees below zero and
    you’re the only one on the Lake Front Path and you start to lose the feeling in
    your toes you just keep peddling on your ten-mile commute. You figure that if you stop you’ll just
    get colder, so you keep going. And
    eventually you get to your office.
    And you know that as cold as you were that anything is better than the 40
    mile car commute to Elgin that you used to have – and the mind numbing return
    trip in rush hour that at best would take an hour and at worst 3. So you think to yourself – yeah, maybe
    I’ damn cold but my mind is alive and I’m free. And you’re right.
    And you realize how lucky you are that you can freeze your ass off for
    ten miles rather than be miserable and comfortable in your car with the light
    poles flitting past every few seconds.
    Nothing like a great commute, nothing.

  • Great story! No permanent frostbite damage on your lakefront commute, I hope.

  • David P.

    When I decided to move to Chicago from Detroit in 2008, I also decided to commit myself to using my bicycle for all of my daily transportation needs year-round, and saving my cars for out-of-town trips, fun drives in the country (I have an old convertible) and other special uses. In Detroit, I had a 33-mile commute from Grosse Pointe to Auburn Hills; it took me 45 minutes in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. I could bike many other things, but there was no practical way to bike to work. When I moved, proximity to work was one criterion for where I decided to live, and I have had a 4.5-mile ride to work, mostly on Milwaukee and Cortland, for 6 years now. I ride everywhere, all year, for pretty much everything. Now, rather than having to fit getting my energy out and my fun in when I get home from work, it is a part of my daily routine. No matter how bad of a day I may have, I’m guaranteed that at least an hour of it (and often much more) will be good. If I commute from my girlfriend’s home, it’s even better, allowing me to ride most of the northern half of the LFP. Better yet, I am free to ride, rather than drive, to other locations when needed during my work day as long as the travel time is not unreasonable (and it is often shorter than if I had driven). I love my cars but I absolutely do not miss driving in the city – I am not free to drive when, and because, I want to, rather than because I have to.

  • Another good commuting story — thanks for sharing!

  • Billy

    I’ve been involved in no less then 8 bike accidents since moving to the city in 2007. The one that sticks out was New Years Day of 2012. It was a nasty, snowy day as usual in Chicago. For some reason, I was under the impression that I had to work that day, where I commute from Logan Square to the loop. After a cold, slippery trek to the city, I manage to get doored for the first time by a passenger door of a taxi. I was a block away from the office, and felt compelled to make it to work after exchanging info with the taxi.

    I arrive light-headed but determined to find a completely empty office. CLOSED FOR HOLIDAY!

    What felt like a small cut to the forehead, caused by diving headfirst into a parked bumper, was in fact a large, gushing wound that required care. I cleaned up and made it to the nearest Urgent Care unit. After a 1 hour wait, and 8 stitches later, I rode home in the snow and took a hot bath.

    What a start to the year.

  • Mishellie

    Mine’s not from switching from a car to a bike, but switching from pub trans with an inconvenient transfer to a bike.

    I live in Logan Square and work at Lurie Children’s Hospital. I was taking the fastest commute I could. (Not the Chicago Ave bus, that’s FAR too slow. I was taking the Blue Line South ALLLL the way to Washington then transferring to the Red Line and heading north for two stops to get off at Chicago/State.) It was taking me OVER an hour to go a 5.5 mile distance (and that’s the Google Maps estimate, so that’s by driveable street, not as the crow flies,) once I counted my transfer. I was angry, I was getting “pedestrian rage” on escalators and train platforms. I was running so fast to catch the next train I thought I might trip down the stairs. Once or twice a week a delay would have me late and apologizing to my manager on the phone. It was terrible.

    Then I bought a bike.

    It was a Diamondback Hybrid, nothing fancy at all. I started riding it around the city for fun, but then thought “what if… I got a backpack… and rode to work?”

    Magic. It took 36 minutes.

    I’m on my 3rd bike now (and DONE buying them – settled for a beautiful baby blue steel road bike. It’s my love. I never want to be separated.) And I’ve almost gotten all the accesories that I “need” ( jk, they’re just bells and whistles – awesome seatpost bag, wireless bike computer, one well-ventilated helmet for the summer and one more insulating helmet for spring/fall/winter, gloves, etc…)

    I really only meant to commute. But now? I’m going ride a century in the fall, and I do a training ride on some weekends with a local team. It’s become my hobby.

    And now when I think “I’ll just take the train today,” and it does happen, I get to work and wish I had just sucked it up and pedaled in. It’s just so much more pleasant. No more being at the perfect height to be sniffing armpits among the other sardines.

    I end up getting to work more energized, am happier and more productive while there, and get a lot more exercise. There are days where I have run ins with cars and get upset, but they’re few and far between compared to the days I used to be late and running and upset.

    And my coworkers seem to think I’m some kind of crazy athletic person, which is amusing because I’m really not :)

  • I don’t think mine qualifies as a commute, and I’m late to respond, but I figured I’d share anyhow- we went car-free in August last year. This was part of a complete lifestyle overhaul. I used to commute across the city to my job teaching middle school with two kids. Mornings were a struggle, getting them ready for daycare was stressful and every day started in a hurry to get on the road, only to crawl along once we finally got on the expressway. Then, I woke up before 6:00 and got the little ones dressed and buckled in. Now, I wake when they wake, drink coffee, apply sunblock and pick out which playground we’ll go to so they can play and I can work (WiFi hotspot and sandboxes help a lot.) I quit my job last year after starting my own business, and I stay home. I put a portion of the energy into my own venture I used to put into our daily grind, and we made some sacrifices, and we are surprised at how much happier we all are. My husband still works full time, we moved closer to his job in the loop so he can walk or bike there, and I work from home. We settled on a much smaller living space to pull that off, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Another part of the change was selling our car and buying a Yuba Mundo. Our bike has opened the city up for us- living near the Loop, it makes a lot of destinations accessible that weren’t before. Navy Pier, the Zoo, anywhere on State or Michigan, museums, playgrounds- we see it all on the cheap and often on a whim. We do use Zipcar, Lyft, and rent cars to see family, when we need to. This Winter required a lot of patience and planning, and we bought snow pants for the first time in years. We’ve gone Greyhound, used Amtrak, and explored Metra destinations. If someone told me three years ago I’d leave my career (I have two masters degrees in education) start a business, and homeschool my kids, I’d say they were crazy. Now I can’t believe we stayed the course as long as we did! I may return to work when the kids are a bit bigger, but a car commute won’t be a consideration. I feel sitting in our car sucked up time. You can read or visit while riding a train. You can get some exercise and experience the city on a bike. The few times I’ve been stuck in a car since last year were… intolerable. Swapping car for bike was a wise decision for my family. My kids are getting to know the city well, even by smell (the Lake, Blommers, the Curry House) and I’m really getting to know my kids.

  • Thanks for sharing!



Tell Us About Your “Commuter Idyll”

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