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Last night I swung by a Chainlink Biking Semester class on biking tips for women, “The Lady and the Bike,” taught by Let’s Go Ride a Bike blogger Dottie Brackett at next Door Café, 659 W. Diversey in Lincoln Park. The Chainlink, a social networking site for Chicago cyclists, is hosting the bike ed series at the café all summer.

Vanessa Buccella, who we interviewed last winter, is teaching “Racing 101” on Tuesday, June 19, from 6:30-7:30 pm. Future Chainlink classes include “Basics To Keep Your Bike Riding Through Summer” on July 10 and “How To Not Get Your Bike Stolen and What You Can Do to Get It Back” on July 24.

Steven and I are fans of Dottie’s blog, co-written with Trisha Ping, a great source of info, especially for women, about getting around by bike without sacrificing your personal style, including great photography and fun stories of the ladies’ two-wheeled adventures. Last year I interviewed Dottie for Newcity magazine and dubbed her “The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling.” She didn’t seem to mind.

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At yesterday’s seminar Dottie discussed types of bikes, useful accessories like lights, bells, locks and helmets and bags, plus tips on what to wear and how to decorate your bike. She opened the session by showing an old photo of herself with an American-style hybrid bike, wearing sandals, shorts, a t-shirt and a backpack, before she figured out that it was practical to bike to work wearing office clothes. After checking out women’s cycling blogs like Girls and Bicycles, she eventually learned, “you don’t have to dress in any sporty or weird clothes you wouldn’t normally wear” to ride a bike.

She recommended Dutch-style bikes with upright bars, racks, baskets, fenders, chain guards and skirt guards as being practical for commuting in nice clothes. “I can wear any kind of skirt on this and be fine, except for a pencil skirt,” she said. “So I don’t wear pencil skirts.”

As for accessories, she mentioned she’s a fan of springy Brooks leather saddles, rather than the big, cushy seats often sold on women’s cruisers. She also recommended Po Campo bags [a Grid Chicago sponsor], stylish, bike-friendly purses, handbags and panniers designed in Chicago by attendee Maria Boustead.

When the discussion turned to bike security, one woman present said she had just had her bike stolen that day by the Chase Tower, locked with a cable and combo lock. Chainlink owner Julie Hochstadter suggested she report the theft on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry in hopes that readers might recognize the cycle if it turns up at a bike shop or flea market.

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Photo courtesy of Let’s Go Ride a Bike.

Dottie discussed the so-called “Mary Poppins Effect” theory that motorists are more courteous to women who ride upright bikes while wearing dresses. “Maybe subconsciously when drivers see someone dressed like a biker they treat them like an impediment, whereas if you’re dressed nicely they treat you like a person,” she said.

She also mentioned that she decorated the basket of her Dutch bike with silk flowers from bought at a thrift store. “Maybe drivers are a little bit nicer because I have flowers on my basket,” she said. “Who knows? But it makes me happy.”

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  • Robert Kastigar

    What’s a ‘pencil skirt’?

    • MelanieK

      Poor Bob and his non-woman’s fashion sense. LOL.  A pencil skirt is a slim-fitting skirt with a straight, narrow cut. Generally the hem falls to, or just below, the knee and is tailored for a close fit. Since the skirt that gets a bit tighter as it goes by the knee area it makes it hard to actually lift your knees when pedaling. I tried to ride my bike in one and practically ripped it, so I don’t wear those types of skirts anymore either.

      • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

         Bob obviously hasn’t watched enough “Mad Men”.

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      Imagine wearing this while riding a bike – any bike.

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  • Jennifer

    Since when are shorts, t-shirts, and so-called American-style hybrid bikes “sporty or weird”? If that’s all it takes to look like a “cyclist” these days, then shouldn’t we be celebrating a successful paradigm shift or something?

    • Dottie

      Hi Jennifer,

      I agree that shorts are not weird and there’s no problem with bicycling while dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  If you had attended the presentation last night, you would have heard me say that such an outfit simply is not how I usually dress, as a lawyer, but when I bought my first adult bike, I thought I had to dress that way.  It never occurred to me that I could wear my dresses, skirts, heels, and business suits.  So the point is that people can wear on the bike the same clothes they wear for living their lives – whether that be a dress, slack, or shorts, and there should be no judgment against those who chose to do things different.

      Dottie

      • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

         Thanks for clarifying Dottie.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      I don’t think she meant that that attire is “sporty or weird,” I think she was thinking more along the lines of Lycra-Spandex bib shorts. But that photo of her shows that back then she felt she had to change her clothes to ride her bike, instead of “dressing for the destination.” And the hybrid she rode back then was actually a pretty practical commuting bike (in the seminar he mentioned hybrids as a viable option for commuting), although the chainguard and skirtguard on a Dutch bike makes it little easier to ride while wearing nice clothes.

    • Monkey

      Agreed. While I admire Dottie’s style and envy her bikes, I LOATHE the cycle-chic blog ethos that demonizes athletic and/or less-femmey clothing.

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  • Guest

    Ride wearing what your wear to work iss great advice if you live somewhere the climate permits this, and/or the commute is not far.  Oh you can ride to work in your work clothes in the south…just expect to wring them out when you get there. :)  Otherwise it’s going to be more like Dottie’s original wardrobe for cycling. 

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Oft-heard advice to combat sweating while cycling is “go slow”, although that isn’t an effective strategy in humid climes.