Some Costs Associated With Volunteering for Chicago’s Annual ‘Bike the Drive’ Event

Volunteering is something I firmly support and have structured some of my field of study around, especially when it comes to figuring out how to engage people in my age bracket with their Instagramming and networking and fast-paced outcome-oriented outlook (I’m only being a little facetious). Each Memorial Day weekend, Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance puts on a huge fundraiser for the organization and summer kickoff, Bike the Drive.

As an ardent supporter and biking fanatic, I love volunteering for them and have the T-shirts to prove it. In the past few years I’ve gotten to be a manager and like to believe that it has nothing to do with the need to be at your volunteer station at 4 a.m. and more to do with my grace-under-pressure and commitment to a cause.

There have been costs associated with my contributions. Here is a breakdown.

$48.95: Bike Tire and Tube, Shipping and Handling from Terry

Being a Course Marshal Manager means riding around Lake Shore Drive while checking on volunteers and people riding during the event. Bike the Drive clears the famous LSD of car-traffic for a few hours each May. Kids, families and Lakefront Lance Armstrongs cruise up and down, and I need to be able to ride and holler at them to move to the side, please. I also realized one morning before work that my non-beater bike had a flat on its front.

$42-ish: Used Wheel, Tube, Tire, Service, Wheel of Time

However, the previous online order did not fit my amazing yet totally weirdo Terry frame (with Campy components, boom!), which I discovered after arguing with UPS and getting things re-shipped. Given it was three weeks until the event, I figured I needed SOMETHING to ride on and of course I own two bikes, doesn’t everyone? My beater Varsity needed more work than I thought though and I walked out with a working single speed but whose gear-ratio would mean a miserable day of riding next week. I had to find a better solution.

$20: Tire and Free Tube, Blue City Cycles

After frustrating phone calls to other shops, I got a tip through a bike message board that the weird tire size was in stock a few blocks south of me! Because he hadn’t sold the tire in years, he threw in a tube, and I triumphantly marched up Halsted with the tire slung over my shoulder. Of course I got home and pitched a fit when it didn’t fit and continued riding my old beauty.

$16.70: Trader Joe’s, Streeterville

Every year we have mandatory volunteer training at the office in River North where I look around the room at people who will be reuniting lost kids on training wheels, ride marshals who will help fix flats, and the organizers. My ride to and from the office was super cold last Thursday, though, and to reward myself for my trek downtown I got red wine, Rebel Yell bourbon and candy to share with my roommate and keep him appeased while I walked around our apartment howling Billy Idol.

$2, My apartment

The candy was absolutely worth it. My incredible, wrench-wielding roommate said my new tubes, which would fit the weird tire, could be useful. We used the old trick of reinforcing the weak parts of the old tire with dollar bills and decided at least I’d have two bucks for CTA fare if I got a flat.

$5: Predicted Giant Yellow Vitamin Water and donuts at 7-Eleven

To get my tail up to the opposite side of the city I was going to need fuel. After stumbling out of bed and high-tailing it up Halsted, I broke for some caffeine. I then recouped this by shoving my backpack full of bananas and Clif Bars as I did every year.

$-10?: Burrito???

New this year is a corporate friend/sponsor in Chipotle. This was big news to the cadre of high school girls volunteering with me when we found out that if we wore any Bike the Drive swag to a Chicago Chipotle, we’d get a buy one get one free deal. “Do all the Chipotles know about this?” they demanded. I could make this worth my while, but it would involve wearing my T-shirt. Now, my Four Star manager shirt from 2011 is one of my favorites, but their recent decision to go with pastel green means I’m on the fence.

$0 or a value beyond compare! Pedaling on an empty Lake Shore Drive at dawn amongst a bunch of goofy cyclists.

There are minor annoyances every year I decide to do this, from fruitlessly but cheerfully calling out to please not exit the route down the hill and have everyone ignore me, or how long it takes to get to my position from my apartment. Still, most of the riders are excited, and as they start appearing they yell, “thanks!” Seeing the giant road cleared of traffic is also very cool. It’s a great cause and I can’t help but feel triumphant when I’ve crested over the Fullerton hill, turned around and listened to kids ding their bells, and watched the sun start to glow. It’s cheesy but kinda priceless. I skipped the Pancake Breakfast, grabbed a plethora of leftover snacks and rode back to my apartment to pass out for a few hours. I crossed my fingers and hoped the tire held.


Carmen Aiken is a writer and city policy graduate student living in Chicago. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: John Benson



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