Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Our Favorite Posts (as of 2024)

We haven't really posted on this blog since about 2015 - that's NINE years ago! - so a lot of the products and shops have changed, but there is still a lot of good information here. Look through the links to see everything, but this is a list of some of the posts that still seem useful and less dated. 

We still ride bikes. Our kids grew up and they ride bikes, work with bikes, bikes bikes bikes. But as we got older and more withered, we began to be more wary of the generally unsafe layout of Chicago streets, and of the maybe more aggressive post pandemic driving habits a lot of people developed. This blog overall viewed things in a more rosy light than we would probably shine on city biking today. So please, have a look, maybe learn from our experiences, but be careful with your kids and yourself and choose your routes carefully... There is a lot more in the blog, and we will try to update this page too.

Our Favorites

You're Not Too Heavy to Ride a Bike!

Blinky Blinky Little Star - Kids' Bike Lighting

No more big key chain for you - create a single key family bike lock system

Look out for Sucker Poles!

Making a Trailer out of Junk Parts to Carry your Kids' Bikes

About Cargobikes

Trying out Cargo Trikes

Make your own Balance Bike

Carry your kid on your old Schwinn, etc.

Carrying Kids on Folding Bikes

More on Folding Bikes

"Dutch" Bikes - build 'em yourself 

A Classic Loop Frame Roadster

Tom's Cargo Bikes — another option!

Dynamo (generator) lighting primer

LED Headlight Comparison

Fun stuff

Kids and riding with kids and teaching kids, with bikes

Teaching Children About Dooring

Biking in other places

Sunday, June 12, 2022

2022 Disaster. Don’t trust Chicago’s lanes

Most of Chicargobike’s information is now years old. It still holds up pretty well, most of it, but we haven't been adding to it or editing it. Most of us aren't riding bikes as much, anymore, either. We needed to get to places much further away, faster, and the kids got too big to schlep on a parent's bike. We are still riding, some of us more than others, and of course the kids are big and independent. Some of us have ended up at Stroger Trauma with serious injuries more than once after cars broke the law. We are still bike people, I guess. But we often use a car now. 

We stopped actively writing in 2015 for many reasons. The main reason, though, was that we didn't feel comfortable encouraging other families in Chicago to get out onto the street with their kids anymore. It seemed too dangerous. It also seemed too unfriendly to advise against it. 

At the time we stopped adding to this blog, CDOT and the city were well along putting in 'protected' lanes. We actively participated in the planning process but the 'protection' when the lanes were done was not what we had hoped and pressed for, and in the end it was not very safe. Only in a few places, to separate us bikers and our kids from the usual speeding vehicles and late commuters, has concrete been used. Mostly the city still installs plastic bollards that started to be plowed down as soon as the first rush hour starts or painted lanes. Look at the entire right hand lane of the westbound Roosevelt Road bridge from the South Loop, for example. Within a week it was back the way it started. The whole right lane was (and still is?) designated as a bike lane. It just isn't one. 

Amsterdam, the constantly cited model bike city, separates bike traffic from motorized traffic on a largely separated road system. New York City put in concrete barriers on many of its lanes, or moved parking into the street and allowed the bike lane to run between parked cars and the sidewalk. In Chicago, this approach worked OK in the few places like Lasalle downtown where it was separated by a concrete curb, but areas without the concrete barriers, like Lake Street, just became another 'express' lane for people in a hurry to drive their car past the traffic on the right. CDOT also added a designation for quieter streets with lower speed limits and speed bumps that were not protected by concrete or bollards, just painted "sharrows". The city of Chicago changed the international designation of 'protected' (which means concrete) to include paint and plastic. 

Now, this week, the worst fears of anyone who has taken their kids on these 'safe' bike lanes have been realized. From reading the news, it seems that a family of three riding on a designated low-traffic street with an official bike lane were moving past a utility truck parked in their bike lane, and a semi-trailer truck that probably shouldn't be on a traffic reduced street anyway apparently ran over the mom's bike, killing the toddler on the back. The mom and dad did nothing wrong. But it is not the semi truck driver's child or the child of the bike lane blocking utility truck driver who was lost. We can't imagine the grief.

Streets that allow kids on bikes and also allow semi trucks are badly planned streets. Bike lanes and city offices that promise safety but don't actually offer it are fraudulent shams. Laws that prohibit blocking a bike lane but that aren't strictly enforced are window dressing. And selling an insufficient scattershot bike lane system as a solution to Chicago residents who need to get around the city in a time of $5 gas is unjustifiable. 

From reading the news, we think the two truck drivers, their companies that apparently permit unsafe practices, and CDOT and the city are all responsible for this disaster. It is not at all the fault of the family who were falsely reassured by promises of safety. 

Until the concrete infrastructure and the will to make change at the highest levels of planning are there to make bike transportation in the city truly safe, is it safe to family ride in Chicago?  There it is. Sorry. We applaud the "Walk and Roll for Safe Streets” event organized by Better Streets Chicago and Chicago Family Biking. We also support the work of Active Transportation Alliance in combination with Better Streets Chicago and especially Bike Lane Uprising who have all been raising voices for better lanes long before this awful month.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bike Store Changes in Chicago

J C Lind Bikes in Old Town, the cargo bike and Dutch bike specialist, let us know that they will have at least one Onderwater family tandem in the shop soon to try out before you and your kid(s) fall in love with it and buy it. See our tandem page about it, possibly the best kid and parent bike ever. That's 4 of us on one in the picture. Maybe you can still get an order in fast if you call now.

And Rapid Transit Cycleshop, a 21 year veteran of the Chicago bike scene and good place for recumbents and folding bikes but not cargo bikes, is closing its doors. You still have a couple of weeks, probably, to get a deal on their inventory or get a last minute repair, but only at their North Avenue and Wolcott branch. The one on Halsted and roughly Maxwell is already closed. Last chance for Brompton or tadpole parts! 

Comrade Cycles still stocks Brompton, and you can find parts they might not have from Harris Cyclery in Newton, MA. Check out the Pere/ItChair, still only (as far as we can tell) available from Milian Parts, the manufacturer, in Catalonia. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Heavy Riders on Bike Share Bikes

Bublr Bike Share in Milwaukee has no weight limit
We used to think the Divvy bike sharing program in Chicago was a good option for anybody, including heavy people, who wanted to ride a bit without making a huge commitment to purchase, storage and maintenance of a bike of their own. And it is - but there's a potential risk you should be aware of if you weigh more than 260 lbs fully dressed. Oddly, the same issue affects some other bike sharing programs worldwide while many others are not affected at all.

A few bike shares are listed in this blog, but not all of them!
Here is a list and map of bike sharing sites around the country and the world.

Many bike share systems enforce a weight limit:

Chicago's Divvy officially limits rider weight to 260 lbs with 17 lbs cargo in the rack. We called Divvy about it and they admitted the bikes can hold 'a whole lot' -- but there in the contract it says 260 lbs. Probably, realistically, even the Divvy people seem to admit that there is not much of an actual technical problem with higher weights (look at their sturdy bikes!) but it would violate the contract and certainly lead to liability if there were any issue.
"You must not exceed the maximum weight limit for the Divvy bicycle (260 pounds) or the cargo carrier (17 pounds), and You (sic) must not otherwise use the cargo carrier improperly with regard to type of contents or any visual obstruction or riding impediment."  (user agreement)

Boston's Hubway, like Divvy, limits riders to 260 lbs.
So I looked into similar bike share programs.

The same 260 pound weight limit was criticized in the New York Post among others in 2013 when New York City started its Citi Bike sharing program. In the end, the Department of Transportation said they wouldn't enforce it strictly, but it remains in their terms and conditions (see below) to limit the program's liability.

Most other programs that are run by Motivate (formerly known as Alta Bike Share)
, as Divvy and Citi Bike are, and that use the bikes from PBSC Urban Solutions Inc (Public Bike System) also have similar contractual restrictions, while other providers don't. Why would some programs limit rider weight while others don't? Motivate's programs include:
They all seem to contractually limit weight to 260 lbs, or its equivalent 115-120 Kg, which is no surprise since the manufacturer apparently warrants the bikes only to that load.

A few PBSC  or Motivate sites have no apparent limit, though they appear to use the same bikes:

Ireland's CocaCola Zero Bikes in Galway, Limerick and Cork are not Motivate brand, but also limit to 175 lbs/125 Kg.  (The CocaCola bikes in Belfast (Northern Ireland) are part of the Nextbike system and don't.)

Many many other sites worldwide have no weight limit: 

Trek's B-Cycle has many sites in North America, apparently without contractual weight limits (the contract comes after the website privacy policy on these sites):

The Nextbike system does not list a limit in any of the terms and conditions I've reviewed, and is used in

and about 125 other places throughout Germany, other parts of Europe, and worldwide.

I was not able to find any limit for Paris, France's Velib bikes.

The CallABike system used by the German railways limits items carried to 20 kg but has no apparent limit for the rider. This system is not active in the USA but encompasses bike share programs in Germany:


In general, it seems unlikely to us that any of these heavy duty bikes can be damaged by a heavy rider. But our opinion is not important -- look carefully at the user agreements and terms and conditions if you plan to ride while weighing over 260 pounds, and be ready to accept full liability for any problems if you weigh more!

If you do weigh more, we have a post on bikes for heavy riders on this blog.

See you out there.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Perfect City Bike Tour Weather

Ride your bike to Pilsen and check out the sights (here, a birria taco) before the weather changes!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cargo Bikes in the New Year. Last day for J.C. Lind 2015 Pre-orders

Just in time for winter, there are a couple of new cargo carrying bikes on the horizon in Chicago and Bike Friday left a comment sharing that they are trying to develop a new longtail.

Bike Friday has a new Cargo Bike that is light, agile and easy for smaller, lighter riders to carry loads. We have a Kickstarter Campaign going on right now to support increasing our production capacity since they are so popular. Check it out onAbout Cargobikes
Grabbed from the above link, Green Gear Cycling's Kickstarter project

The Workcycles KR-8, about $3300, is a full sized box bike like the Bakfiets. Workcycles is selling only the KR-8 from now on. Jon Lind is taking orders for 2015 until... today!  We have not had time to ride the new bike but Jon has them.  We hope to get a chance to ride one as soon as the madness of the Chicago high school application season has passed. Jon can also order Onderwaters as well.
The KR-8 is sold by JC Lind in Chicago

Of course Chicago is lucky to have a few shops where families can try out a cargo bike. Green Machine in Ravenswood also has bikes to try if a kid carrying bike is on your holiday wish list.

Our favorite for children's bikes used is of course a refurbished Working Bikes Cooperative bike shined up for more use.

We love the small local bike shops in Chicago.  You can't go wrong seeking anything bikeish for the holidays in a small shop. They can help you find a something special whether you are thinking small to fill a stocking or splashing out for a big gift.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cut to Winter. About Clothes, Breakfast and Time


Thank you to all the readers still tuning in after a season of quiet from us.  It seems the weather has turned in Chicago. It isn't even late fall anymore. The skies cut to Winter this last two weeks with a tiny rainy thaw this weekend. 

Dressing for these days is all about layers, of course. Not so much difficulty for grown ups but tricky most times when you have a small person, or more, to get outfitted for the morning commute on a bike.

We have an excellent post that we don't really edit much about dressing here. It holds steady with some pretty good advice...

Aside from getting dressed, how do you feed a bunch of kids, get them dressed, and leave on time to get to where you need to go? This is not a perfect art in our household. Especially not these days, when our oldest attends a school completely the other direction from the others. We seem to have clothing sorted but our big problem is time.
Our biggest challenges seem to be getting everyone fed a decent breakfast and out the door dressed. The place I tend to gain time is on breakfasts that they can carry in the box bike and eat even with their glove-covered hands and goggly faces. (It takes too long to get to school with the kids riding their own bikes as we have a four mile commute.) Forget eating at the table before unlocking the bike to leave. Morning food has to travel or I am late.

Here are our survival  strategies for homemade breakfast running out the door.  Substitute pop tarts, or any other favorite carry-along that works for you, and then tell us what it might be in the comments please!

Mugs of instant oatmeal, warmed biscuits, waffles without toppings, a thermos of not-so-hot chocolate and/or a dashed-in stop at a favorite bakery have all worked in our daily pinch.  A jelly sandwich is fast and OK but not warm for winter. Bags of Chinese bakery pork buns are great, too- just steam or microwave the number you need. Of course, it's better fresh but most bakeries we know that bake buns sell them in bags of a dozen or so as well.

We use quick cooking oatmeal that can be finished with boiled water from the kettle in a cup that can travel without having to cook on the stove.  I turn on the kettle, then pour the water into the loaded cups before we get the shoes and clothes on to ride. A spoonful of topping sugar, maple or raisins on top. Then everyone grabs their cup and a spoon and runs down to the garage. We use metal insulated cups that don't burn gloved hands and cheap metal spoons from a restaurant supply in Chinatown.

Waffle mix is made at night with the dry half measured out into a covered bowl and the wet half of the recipe in a cup in the fridge. I turn on the waffle iron just after I get up and mix the batter fast, fill the iron three times while I yell at everyone to get dressed and then pack the waffles in wax paper bags to be eaten on the bike.  We use an old Alice Waters recipe for whole grain waffles from our (covered with years of kitchen grunge) copy of her first Simple Food book. You can add crunchy sugar chunks to the batter when you cook it - Belgian sugar for this is at Ikea, strangely.

Biscuits work because they don't have to rise and they bake fast if cut very small.  Dry and wet mix measured the night before speeds things along. Muffins tend to need to bake just long enough that I get crunched for time and can't get out of the house quite fast enough.  Biscuits, again, get packed in the bags to run out the door. Sometimes they stand in for bread in lunch sandwiches if I forgot we were out of bread! We put ham or jam in the biscuits, or bake them with candied ginger sometimes. We use an old Martha Stewart recipe from her Baking Handbook.

Hot chocolate goes in a small thermos for each kid - not hot so it will burn anyone's mouth, but warmed through to be nice moving along in the box. We just play that by ear. You can make great hot chocolate with just hot milk and dark chocolate;  it's less sweet than a mix and more chocolaty. If the milk is warmed the chocolate will just melt in it while we run around. I mix it with a whisk once before pouring it into the thermoses.

Sometimes we stop at a favorite bakery on the way.  We try to stop at a place with enough people at the counter so we don't get snagged in line, in a neighborhood spot safe enough to leave children out front in the bike while one of the children or I run inside. 

A really nice end to the hectic commute is finding ourselves at a great coffeeshop, with every child safely at school, watching the sleet outside through the steamy windows.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


the curious half smile came from the snorkel

Happy Summer!

We have been riding a little more, writing a bit less. Many exciting developments have come our way this summer in Chicago.  We rode Wood as the new green pathways for bikes were painted in and finished, there are lots of ersatz new protected bike lanes in our neighborhood as the El construction on the blue line at Morgan is completed and concrete barriers have made bike and pedestrian only pathways enhancing our commute over the bridges. and Go PilsenGo Pilsen has launched practically in our back yard.

  Go Pilsen is a partnership among Active Transportation Alliance, Chicago Department of Transportation, and Pilsen community members  intended to foster walking and biking among all residents of the neighborhood and anyone else who wants to take part!. It follows quickly on the heels of last fall's success of a similar group, Go Bronzeville.

This Saturday, July 12, the Ciclovamos riding group is hosting a  Bike Treasure Hunt through Pilsen. Tricky clues and many surprises are in store for anyone venturing out to join the fun. Details below.
It is on our to do list for the weekend!

We will be walking along co-hosting the Ping Tom Park family walk from Pilsen to Chinatown on July 19th. There is an old post of ours about the water taxi here, but the park was recently at least doubled in size and it now has a fieldhouse as well. Keep your eyes open for the August calendar - we are in Go Pilsen's August events too.

Ciclovamos Bike Treasure Hunt
Saturday, July 12, 7pm-9pm
Dvorak Park (behind the field house) @ 1119 W. Cullerton
Do you think you know Pilsen? How about by bike? This Pilsen-wide treasure hunt will test your local knowledge with riddles and clues showcasing some popular spots as well as unique hideaways. Learn more details here and be sure to RSVP for this free event.

Ping Tom Memorial Park Family Walk and Picnic
Saturday, July 19, 11am-2pm
Plaza Tenochtitlan @ 18th & Blue Island
Bring your family and join our group walk to Ping Tom Memorial Park where kids can play and adults can relax by the beautiful pagoda and bamboo gardens. This event is BYOPB - bring your own picnic basket. Find updates about this free event

"We'll never get to Pilsen from here if you don't get your foot off my bike!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Family Folding Bike from Taiwan in Chicago

As I rode past a playground on my way to work today I came across a great bike for carrying two kids and an adult. SRS is a Taiwanese manufacturer of folding bikes and this one is their family model. The owner was there and explained he had bought it in Taiwan and that he carried his two children on it, ages 3 and 5. It rides well, he said, and was not too expensive. And he told me that bikes like this are common there but unavailable here.  With some lights and some way to carry a backpack or two this could be the perfect bike for the school run.  There are other manufacturers of similar bikes and even electric drive options.

basic 21 speed Shimano Tourney derailer gear system, hi-ten steel frame,
small wheels for easy storage and transport. The rear wheel
is suspended almost like a Brompton or similar folding bike but the hinge
is in the frame in front of the bottom bracket and the bike folds like a Dahon.
The front wheel has a simple suspension at the top of the fork.
The front child seat has footrests and is height adjustable,
with a little handlebar to grab attached in front. 

The whole top bar with seat and handle pops off to fold the bike.
The bike maker provides a LED light/horn combo to entertain the rider.
The second child sits on the rear rack seat.
From the manufacturer's website,
this is what it looks like in your car trunk or closet.
If bikes like this are available elsewhere I'm not sure why they are not sold in Chicago. Simple, practical and inexpensive, with basic but functional components, this kind of bike could make transportation easier for plenty of Chicago families. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We Updated the Cargobike Page and the Link to Buying a Bike for Your Child

Just so you know, the Cargobike Page has been updated a bit today. The Cargobike's main distributor in the US, Workcycles, will stop shipping it and instead will offer a new modular cargo bike of their own this year.  The Fietsfabriek bikes appear to be unavailable in the US now. Urban Arrow and electric assist bikes are here, and JoeBike's cargo bikes are gone.  There are a few other updates. Have a look.

Buying a bike for a child? Here's our post about it. And look at the other posts about kids in the archives.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Do they ride bikes in Italy?

Our family in Florence chose our first stop - the indoor market. 

Many bicycles both inside and around. And hardly any mopeds this time!

We note that Florentines love an enclosed chain case (to protect those spiffy trouser cuffs?).

We liked the big cargo bikes inside and the fishmongers unlocked bike. 

Most bikes had some way of carrying groceries or work bags or children.

Not as many heavy duty locks as you'd think,
and not always locked to something immobile.
Who would have thought?

mom and kid on his own bike traveling up the Arno

We were very surprised by the number of families riding with their children and new bike lanes we found in Florence compared to our last visit eight years ago. Lots of double kid carrying bikes were parked everywhere, in the city center and in the outer city near the old city walls across the Arno. Outside the city center in the part of town where we were visiting our family we found functional separated bike infrastructure and people using it (even if we didn't get pictures of them).

Pee Wee Herman's bike?

Nearly all step through frames.
hilly to ride here but bikes everywhere
December roses

al the racks in residential parts of town were full

highbrow graffiti

€1 for the most delicious morning pastry (rice and pastry cream filling) 
and €1 for a cappuccino or latte macchiato  to go with it!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tief ( -Garagen) in Bayern

We visited in Holland, Germany, Italy and Switzerland this winter for the first time in eight very long years. We got to return to visit old friends. Babies born but never met are now in elementary school, new buildings everywhere. 

We took a pile of pictures we will be publishing in a short series this week. Thank you again to the beloved friends whose houses are in our pictures. 

Today it's all about the tief (deep) garage!

Here are pictures from two of our friends' neighborhoods. Though both friends live in small cities - one a small university city in Germany, the other a small town about 10 minutes from Zurich on the above ground street tram. Both neighborhoods are created with an underground garage for cars for each neighborhood instead of personal driveways, parking pads or garages.

Personal garages are replaced with small yards and front sheds for bicycles. Removing car parking spaces from the front of the houses created beautiful walking and play spaces for residents. Both neighborhoods had bike pathways and generous sidewalks, well separated from traffic, that gave comfortable access to the city centers and shopping on foot or bike.

These first pictures are from Northern Bavaria

Picked up at the train with the brother of our box bike. Here in
the city shopping pedestrian zone with a Christmas tree
carried from Munich catching a ride on the back.

Out of focus but shows
separated bike lane well

Here is a view of the road, curb separated lane and sidewalk in the city center. The deeper grey center path is the bikeway. The grate indicates the area of the walking way.

A hairsbreadth from the center of Zurich each townhouse has its own bike garage outside the front door protected from mountain snow and rain. Car free paths lead to a network of off street foot paths throughout the village to schools and shopping with street crossings mixed in.

Here are more views of the same front gardens and walkway. Below the houses and gardens are the buried garage- "tief garage". Residents' cars are parked down here under the small private backyard gardens adjoining the houses.

Footpaths are marked with signs noting they are for walking only. Below is the path off of the Blumenstrasse. The building just visible on the right is an elementary school. The path can be used by walkers or those on bikes and allows children to travel to school  on foot or bike well separated from car traffic.

We love the small girl and her dapper companion.