Roll Models: Melissa! Queen of the Suburbs

Today’s “Roll Model” is a familiar face here at LGRAB, our friend Melissa. This is a very special profile for me to post, not only because we’ve been friends since 3rd grade, but also because I feel a tiny bit responsible for putting this woman on the road. I gave her a vintage Bridgestone Kabuki (“Smurfette”) and talked endlessly about how much I love riding my bike. Then she started riding to work! She lives in the far suburbs (exurbs) of Chicago, so riding a bike around town is no easy feat.

Melissa and her bicycle

Describe your bicycling style in three words.

Defensive, chill, fun!

How long have you been riding your bike?

I’ve been commuting for about 2 years, off and on. But, you know, I had a bike when I was a kid. Aw, those days when we would just ride nowhere…

Why did you start riding your bike?

I first started when I was going to college. It was down the street and I rode my then-fiance’s bike there. I hadn’t ridden much since then, but I am a runner and I love pushing myself, so I thought that riding a bike would be good on my off-days. I bought a crappy Wal-Mart bike, but it started doing something weird and I didn’t know how to fix it. I freecycled it to someone, but it left me without a bike. Dot had an extra bike, so it was mine for my “19th” birthday.

I used to have this horrible commute on the highway. It was so boring and restricting (especially in the spring and fall) but we moved closer to my work, so the commute wasn’t as bad. I decided to start bike commuting because I wanted to be outside more, especially after reading one of Dot or Trisha’s blog posts – it looked so nice to start your day outside!

Melissa riding in a skirt

How does the bicycle fit into your life?

I love Smurfette. I love her because she is unique and I am unique. I love standing out from the crowd and Smurfette does that for me. In my area, there are mostly mass produced bikes or Lance Armstrong wanna-be bikes. Also, I like that Smurfette isn’t too complicated. I know some bikes have complicated gears or something but Smurfette is simple!

How long is your commute and what is the route like?

My commute is about 6 miles, a good mix of trail and street. I start on the trail, which is good because I can wake up slowly. Then I get on the street. There is a tricky part Where the Sidewalk Ends, with no shoulder and a curve, so it makes it hard for the cars to see me. That is the part that I repeat my little mantra, “I have a right to be here.” On some parts of the route, I am too scared to ride in the street, so I ride on the opposite side of the cars on the empty sidewalk.

How do you manage the clothing situation?

I sweat a lot, so I wear shorts or skorts and a t-shirt for my commute and change into my work clothes. I usually pack what I’m going to wear the next day and store it in my back basket. It’s tricky to pack the night before because I am moody, so I don’t always love an outfit I picked out the night before. Or sometimes the outfit didn’t look as good as I thought it did 11pm the night before. To smell fresh throughout the day, I have a whole bag of toiletries to help!

On the trail

What are people’s (friends, family, co-workers) reactions to you riding your bike?

Well, at first my fiance was against it because he thinks it’s dangerous. I don’t think it helps that I am a klutz in general: I fell down on my first commute this year. But he is starting to come around. He bought a bike and rides with me more. The other day, he proclaimed that he wants to try to ride to places more. I am definitely testing that!

My family is cool with it, too. They know I’m crazy and see this as another crazy endeavor. Funny story, when I was visiting my dad in Colorado, he mentioned that a lot people are all starting to ride their bikes now. He is a big Ford truck man, so I knew he wasn’t saying it in support. But I just said, “Join the revolution, Dad.” An awkward silence followed.

When my coworkers found out that I ride to work, they were really surprised. They think I’m crazy and that’s okay. During Ride Your Bike to Work Week, I sent an email out about it. I actually got a response from someone and we’re going to meet up on our commute soon!

You started a Facebook page to advocate for more bike lanes in your town, Aurora. What are the riding conditions like there and do you think it will improve?

Aurora riding conditions are not for commuting. We are lucky enough to have a bike trail, but that is really for recreation. It doesn’t go anywhere in town. There is one bike lane that lasts about ½ a mile. I still can’t figure out what the purpose of it is. It doesn’t go anywhere and it starts and stops randomly.

I am fairly confident that it will improve. I was interviewed by our local paper and the woman said that the mayor wants to add bike lanes but finds it hard to get support. I am thinking about planning a bike ride for some of us to ride in the streets. Maybe if we annoy the drivers enough, they will want a lane for us.

Aurora Commute Scenery

What do you like best about riding your bike?

There is so much to like, I can’t pick one favorite! I like the physical exertion, I like that I am lessening my global footprint, I like the wind in my hair on a hot day, I like seeing deer on my commute, I like high fiving the trees, whistling while I ride…

What do you like least about riding your bike?

I hate that it’s so dependent on the weather because the weather is so weird here. I also don’t like the lack of support from drivers. They can be such buggers! Lastly, I don’t like that the infrastructure of my town makes it difficult to ride into town.

Describe your dream bicycle outfit and destination.

I like to wear longer dresses that don’t fly up in the wind. I think it’d be cool to ride in New York City. I’d probably get in an accident watching all the other cyclists!

What advice would you give someone new to bicycling, especially women?

You just have to get out there and do it. You’ll figure out what works for you. Also, plan plan plan. You have to plan how you’re going because it sucks getting lost on your bike.

Have fun with it. You aren’t in a race, so don’t hesitate to stop and smell the flowers. For women especially, don’t flip off anyone that honks at you. You don’t know why they’re honking or who they are.

Also, learn how to work on your bike.

Smurfette – Melissa’s loyal Bridgestone Kabuki

How did you get so awesome?

This is a silly question, Dottie! But I shall amuse you.

When a strict man and free-spirited woman love each other, they make a strictly free spirited baby. Haha!

I just try my best to be who I am. I have really great friends and family that amuse my whims. They are all really supportive of me and I’m really lucky. I haven’t had a friend who puts down any of my silly attempts to do something different and that’s really great because if they did, they’d be out anyway! Mostly, my fiance is my biggest fan. He’s the one who holds me when I cry and claps when I dance. If it weren’t for him, I’d be a lazy, chain-smoking slob. (Love you, boo. Can’t wait to be your wife.)

Pop quiz: I was with you the only time before adulthood I fell off my bike. What were we doing at the time?

Riding our bikes! Hehe. Honestly, I don’t remember. I remember when you fell but I can’t recall what we were doing. I know that my first memory of when I first fell off my bike, I lost my big toenail. [Editor’s Note: we were selling Girl Scout cookies!]

Melissa and her bicycle

Thanks, Melissa! You’re an inspiration to all – living and riding with class, style, humor and fun. :)

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27 thoughts on “Roll Models: Melissa! Queen of the Suburbs

  1. Randall says:

    A terrific inspiration, indeed. Great story! Thank you, Dottie.

  2. Steve A says:

    I want to know how she changed those outfits all in one post!

  3. Love the bike! I want a blue vintage bike of the same colour so badly ;)

    But please, Melissa: Reconsider riding on the sidewalk “wrong way”, as it is very dangerous, even if it might feel safe. Drivers don’t expect you there, and therefore you are in high risk of being run over.

    The diagrams look scary, don’t let them discourage you from riding, it is not as dangerous as looking at these diagrams makes you feel ;)

    • Dottie says:

      While generally riding on sidewalks is dangerous, it really depends on the particular situation. I’ve ridden with Melissa in her town and the sidewalks she rides on are safer than riding in the street. Imagine a solid four-lane road – no side streets, parking lots, alleys, driveways – with cars going 50 mph. Now imagine a sidewalk in the grassy shoulder that looks an awful lot like a separated bike path, completely free of pedestrians. As long as the cyclist is aware of potential dangers at the few conflict points, the sidewalk is a perfectly logical and safe choice.

    • Melissa S. says:

      I’ve seen that diagram and I do try to ride in the streets when possible. However, most of my commute has a 45 mph speed limit which means drivers go 50 and up. I can’t stomach riding in that!
      For a while, I rode with traffic on the sidewalk, but that depends so much on the drivers seeing me. I found that they never do. So I ride against traffic so that I can see them. This is why I listed my riding style as defensive.

  4. welshcyclist says:

    It simply isn’t fair, it would appear all the beautiful girls, on bikes, are to be found in the U.S.A., and it’s so far away, from my beautiful Neath valley, here in Wales.

  5. Simply Bike says:

    Yay, Melissa! You and Smurfette look great!

  6. NancyB says:

    Melissa, you rock! I live in Will County and know exactly the kind of roads you ride on. I ride on them myself and for some of the same reasons you do, it’s great to start the day outside! Safety first!

  7. Melissa S. says:

    Girl Scout cookies, of course!
    Great post, love the subject matter! ;-)
    I actually saw a huge deer and a bright blue bird on my commute today! Glad I rode. Pretty soon I’ll be working 9-6 every day so I hope to ride 5 days a week!
    Thanks for the interview, Dottie!

  8. My favorite comment?
    “I like high fiving the trees…”

    Meeee tooooo!!


  9. neighbourtease says:

    I am so impressed that you cycle in that environment, Melissa. I don’t think I could do it.

    • Melissa S. says:

      Oh believe me….it was very hard at first. Heart pounding, actually! But I got used to it! As would you if you had to!

  10. dukiebiddle says:

    So you thought you could capitalize “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and no one would notice, huh?

    …And before the street begins,
    And there the grass grows soft and white,
    And there the sun burns crimson bright,
    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
    To cool in the peppermint wind.


  11. Chelsey says:

    It is awesome to see another Bridgestone bike.
    I really like the mantra. I am going to remember that next time I get yelled at for riding on the road.

    • Melissa S. says:

      It totally helps! I’ve gotten more comfortable at that spot.
      My new mantra, when drivers piss me off when they’re mad at me is, “Your anger is your problem.”

  12. Trisha says:

    It’s nice to see journalists these days asking the questions readers really want to know! I have been wondering for quite some time how Melissa got so awesome. ;)

    Great pics and profile.

  13. maureen says:

    Roll On Melissa! Love the bicycle and the dresses!

  14. What a great interview; it gives a real sense of Melissa as a person. I can just imagine her riding around on the Smurfette with that orange basket, and the people of Aurora looking on with wonder and amazement : )

  15. redbike says:

    like the sarah connor look of the last photo! :))

  16. […]  I am just back from a quick trip to Denver this weekend to visit Melissa.  Yesterday she and I grabbed bikes out of the garage (I rode her husband Chanh’s Huffy and […]

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