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Young, confident and committed to biking

Emily Thornton is a confident young woman making her way in Chicago - literally by bicycle. Last summer, she relocated to Chicago from central Missouri and has embraced bike commuting. This past winter she averaged 20 miles per day biking to her job in the Streeterville neighborhood.

Her no-nonsense approach to biking "it's a great way to maintain a budget" reflects the practical attitude of the Midwestern city she now calls home. I recently met with Emily at a nearby Whole Foods coffee bar to hear her story.

Bike Commuting in Chicago

Originally from Columbia, Missouri, Emily grew up trail riding at the foot of the Ozarks along the famous Katy Trail. Getting around by bike was a necessity - she rode to her first job in high school since she needed a way to get there. Later, she developed a love of riding trails.

Emily with her Schwinn Le Tour

After moving to Chicago, she was excited to be part of the bike community given the city's reputation as great place to bike. Coming from a small town, she points out the roads are wider and there's less perceived need for bike lanes. Whereas in Chicago, she likes the abundance of bike lanes and the flat terrain especially after coming from such hilly country. Soon after moving, Emily used to talk about how easy it was to ride in Chicago and then discovered the wind - which is our local version of hills.

One thing she has noticed about many riders in Chicago is they don't warn when passing, She has seen near collisions because bikers pass too closely. For Emily, always calling out "passing on the left" is something that comes naturally.

As part of her daily bike commute, she integrates side trips such as running errands or visiting friends. Her preferred commuting route to work takes her down Milwaukee Avenue which is the busiest bike route in Chicago. She keeps a car to visit friends in the suburbs, and on rare occasions when there is too much snow and ice she will ride the bus. However, she loves biking especially since she's in control of her own schedule with the bike.

Emily believes it's important to develop self-sufficiency regarding bike commuting. She would like to get bike smarter, like learning to change a flat tire more quickly. Looking back on her move, Emily offers the following advice to her younger self. "Get a bigger lock and learn how to take care of your bike such as keeping your chain and gears clean." It's good advice for all of us!

An Artist at Heart

Emily is also involved in a poety-jazz-collaboration project. She wants to make the spoken word more accessible to public listeners. In her words,"I think listening to poetry is considered boring, unless you write, so with this project I hope to give writers better exposure. And of course, recording with music is so much fun!"

​An avid photographer, Emily is always looking for great photos while she's on the bike.

I starting taking photos from a young age, I think in 2009 when my mom found and gave me her old Polaroid camera. I like to take photos and capture the prettiness of everyday things. Shadows, buildings, nature. I usually bring my camera on bike rides because it's easier and faster to find the best angle and to cover more ground. ​

Below is a sample of her photography and you can see more here.

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