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Green and healthy: Cyclists commute through winter

Michael wearing his full commuting gear. Photo: Marisa Naujokas
Michael wearing his full commuting gear. Photo: Marisa Naujokas

Michael Girard in his commuting gear.
Photo: Marisa Naujokas

Chicago winters dish out the most challenging of weather conditions, and some committed cyclists commute to downtown Chicago through it all. These commuters are committed to health--their health and the health of the environment.

This article is the first of a two-part series. In this article, we meet a committed bike commuter and learn about why and how he stays committed. In Part 2, we will meet another bike commuter and discuss gear for year-round commuting.

Michael Girard of Evanston is one of these two committed bike commuters. He bike commutes to his job as an architect in downtown Chicago year-round. I asked him about his experiences.

Do you remember when you first started riding every day?

I started riding every day in the spring, when it was just a bit chilly, around 40 degrees. If you have an interest in riding and want to make a commitment out of it you could start at any time but I would suggest the spring as it gives you the most time to get your skills up, before winter, in a temperature range that is not challenging.

What was your motivation then?

There were a couple of factors but mostly time for work and family left no time for me to stay fit. I was taking the kids to sporting events, trainings, and practices. I was not doing much for exercise. Gaining weight from age and lack of exercise was not my idea of how to spend middle age.

What are the logistics once you get downtown?

I ride to Millennium Park’s bike garage, called McDonald's Cycle Center. There is a mechanic, showers, lockers, and best of all other cyclist that make up a great community and support group. There is a waiting list for the men’s side of the locker, but once in, and finally an annual member with a permanent locker, your cost if you ride every day is about a dollar a day.

Now that it is clearly a part of your life, do you consider the fact that you have zero carbon footprint regarding your commute to be something that you feel good about?

I do. I would like to have a big tax credit for riding in addition to the employer benefits through work; most cyclists do not get such benefits. I would love to see a way to sell my carbon offset for cash. If you track your miles on Map My Ride, it calculates your CO2 offset.

How has your personal health been affected by your commitment to riding everyday?

The good part about riding every day is that I can eat what I want and the weight stays off. I eat sensibly, drink moderately, and love to have ice-cream every night. The best part is that I see the lake front every day, I get to be outside, and I get a great work out that is good for the mind and body. I find that when I ride thru the winter I am less affected by the dark months than I used to be. By riding every work day, I lost about 25-30 lbs in the first year and my weight has remained steady. I get a little faster and can push a little harder every month. I am more alert thru the day and evening after having pushed hard for 11-13 miles every morning and night. I am rarely if every sick any more. The list of health benefits could go on.

About how many days a year do you NOT ride?

For me, the worse the weather the better (I may have been wired backwards). The only days that I don't ride in to work are: 1) the night o the holiday office party; 2) when I have so much paper work that I could not carry it safely on my back (about twice a year); or 3) when I stay home to take care of someone who is sick.

What is your advice to people who might want to start commuting by bike:

Here is what I tell any cyclist who wants to ride in Chicago year round: Your first day is your hardest AND slowest. It will only get better from there. Ride every day. Make no excuse for the weather. Ride major city streets in the winter with a bike lane.

I ask you: What’s worse, waiting for the CTA (on their time) in the cold or riding your bike (on your time)? If we could get more bikes out there my commute would be more congested but the company would be welcome.

For more info: Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago.

Suggestions, comments, questions? Anything about environmental health that you would like to know about? Email your Chicago Environmental Health Examiner at Follow me on Twitter @chicagoenviron.


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