I’m finally on a bicycle again, free to go almost anywhere in Buffalo. The experience of cycling in Buffalo, though, is proving even more different than cycling in Chicago than I thought it would.
I always had the nagging feeling that riding a bicycle in Chicago was a little different than riding one in Buffalo, and with the differences so fresh in my mind now, I can finally place my finger on it. It isn’t just the cosmetic, man-made atmosphere that’s different, but the natural environment as well.
Chicago is in Illinois, a midwestern state on the northern end of the great plains. New York is a lot more mountainous, with long expanses of road that dip and swoop through the rural areas, and Buffalo sits at the edge of Lake Erie as a small cranny at the foot of one of the many mountain ranges in the northeast. The artificial surfaces in the cities themselves reflect the general terrain – Chicago with its slightly tilled land slants and Buffalo with it’s numerous hills.
It’s easy to alternate between pedaling and cruising in Chicago because a cyclist can cruise for however long he can stay on a bicycle. Once you start forward, there isn’t much to stop you. In Buffalo, how long you can cruise depends on how much velocity you can pick up for an uphill ride. The land layout means you can potentially cruise for longer, but you also have to ride up the occasional slope, which means pedaling well after your legs are tired and aching, when you would like nothing more than a decent slant so gravity can take over and you can give your legs a brief respite.
Buffalo and Chicago are also both well-known for their extreme weather. Chicago was nicknamed The Windy City back in the 1870 for good reason. (The nickname even picked up an acquisition myth of its very own which is officially taught and widely believed in Chicago.) But Buffalo’s wind isn’t without punishing hardships of its own. The wind on average is actually faster in Buffalo by about 1.5 mph according to national weather statistics, but that doesn’t mean Chicago goes easier. The wind in both cities just plain hates your guts. It will attack you differently in both places, but it’s similar in that it does everything it can to discourage even a staunch cyclist.
When the weatherman on TV tells you the wind is coming from a certain direction, that has no application to anyone outside. Wind swirls and gusts all around on the ground level, and what this means to a cyclist is that it will always feel like you’re riding against the wind. On numerous occasions, I’ve likened going into the wind in Chicago to casting a spell that allows you to walk through walls, then attempting to walk into a cliff just as the spell is beginning to wear off. Chicago’s wind is more focused and relentless, always blowing at your face with a fury, and it will never, ever let up. The closer you get to Lake Michigan, the harder the wind blows. There is a very small pocket in Chicago at the intersection of Franklin Street and Jackson Street – right where the Sears Tower sits – that acts like a giant outdoor wind tunnel, even on days when the wind is blowing at barely a whisper everywhere else in the city.
The wind in Buffalo does let up on occasion, but unless your timing is always in tune with the weather, it will be blowing at you pretty hard when you’re trying to climb a hill. When the wind does let up, it usually does so to switch the angle it’s hitting at. The wind in Buffalo slashes and cuts from every conceivable front angle, like it’s researching you and changing attack strategies like a professional boxer. Like Chicago, it blows harder the closer you are to the lake. When you get to downward slopes, however, the wind can act as a brake.
Cycling in both cities has different obstacles – I’ll be writing more about them in the future – but like everywhere else with a bike path, you just have to adapt as best as you can.