Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wilco, or Bob Newhart?

We took a coldish ride on Wednesday to the Field Museum and parked in a big fluffy pile of snow next to the museum. It was fun to get out on the box bike after days on the tandem. But that was the end of the fluffy snow...

Today we have a thaw just in time for the turn to the New Year. We couldn’t help but take an evening ride to dinner and around town to feel the warm breeze in our faces and enjoy being out together while the guys are still on vacation. It was surprisingly busy in town. We rode over the river to have curry just south of Printer’s Row, then had a turn through the center of town along the river and under the skyscrapers. We did a little mix of riding on the road and on and off the sidewalk through some of the big plazas that were almost empty despite all of the bustle. The bridges give a good view of the lights.

The kids enjoyed the lights and (for here) warm air. They ran circles on the river walk before getting in the bike to get home. We saw some other folks out riding in the fog and melting slush.

who says Chicago isn't beautiful?
Tomorrow is Critical Mass and it's supposed to be warmer still, before January brings another big chill. This may be the first year I can remember where the Polar Bear swim might be pleasant! Will we see you there?

Best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hubba, hubba!

You probably have never thought about the internal gear hub on your bike. I had a bunch of old 3 speeds when I was in school, and I know I never thought about them except to adjust that little screw thing on the cable. So you might be as surprised as we are to hear that hubs are actually really totally like, important and stuff?, and they make a big difference. On any bike. They are used on cargo and city bikes partly because they're reliable and maintenance free, but if they stop working, they've stopped being reliable and maintenance free too. So, when did you last grease yours?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

slush plus guitar

We have been out sporadically in the snow the last few days.  We put studded tires on the triple tandem for the first time this year. " Setting " the tires just before real winter arrived was a little nerve racking because of the noise and the change in ride. (we got the tires locally not through Peter White cycles. P.Whites does have an excellent studded tire primer on his site) I was especially careful to avoid bridges without plates! The kids loved the buzzy sound the bike made. We were all excited when the freezing and snow finally really started last week.
I tested the ride out with just one older kid. We tested how the studs might work on the ice with the extra length of the tandem and practiced braking and stepping off if we got too swervy. Mostly the ride has been very stable but we don't get too far from home yet. We rode with the whole crew and a guitar today- all made it out and back with out a hitch. Everyone has a thick fleece layer on under snowsuits the last two days. No one was cold and the front pedaler was not too hot-though he'd rather ride without a mask riding in the front.
The box bike had one front studded tire last week for the four miles out to school pick-up. It went really well and the back wheel gets the winter tire tomorrow.  The box studs will not be as well set at first but that just means we need to ride!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Our kids winter gear is snowsuit or jacket and snowpants, fleece or wool sweater under, long wool underwear, face mask,  goggles, windproof mittens, wool socks and a warm insulated snowboarding helmet. When they are actively pedaling we adjust the fleece underlayer or carry it along. We use fleece vests instead of jackets if the weather is warmer. Check out the post about keeping kids warm riding in Fall for more info about where to get them and how to choose and care for them so they last a long time.

We have a crush on Belden St. From De Paul to the lake, it's all stop signs and lights, trees, and no busy cars. We rode it today with our friend here. We love his red trike!
We couldn't help but stop and visit the horses and goats at the Farm in the Park. They were all wearing goggles, too.

Look, horsies!

Our pannier is usually full of extra layers just in case. We almost asked our red trike friend if he needed a hat!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dynamo (generator) lighting primer

I like modern generator lights better than the stick-on blinky lights most people use, especially for riding in the city and especially for riding with kids. They are a lot brighter than they used to be and let you be seen in traffic even during the day. They always are there, ready to go, and you don't have to change the batteries or charge them or think about them. Some you don't even have to turn on. The new LED ones have a "standlight" that keeps them bright for a few minutes after stopping, like at a stoplight. In general, a generator light is a great idea and really worth it for any bike you plan to ride for a long time in traffic, like your regular commuting bike. By the way, there's a technical difference between a generator and a dynamo but it doesn't matter to this application much, and the definition varies by the country you're in.

Let's say you live in Chicago and want to put these things on your bike.

The Generator or Dynamo (Power Supply)
The cheap pretty good way to do this is get a standard bottle dynamo from the olden days at Working Bikes or old stock somewhere. Union, Soubitez, Sanyo are all good, but anything will work. They are all 
6 volt 3 watt units (with very few exceptions: one rare 12 volt version exists). Make sure the brackets will fit together and fit on your bike and that the old wheel spins OK. In general it's recommended that you put on a bottle generator with the tire moving away from the mounting part, toward the spinny thing part, so the generator can't get caught in your spokes or something and become an emergency brake instead. Many old bikes don't do this though. You can put these things on the front wheel or the rear, and they come in both right and left versions if you have a specific mounting location in mind. The axis of the spinner has to be exactly in line with the radius of the wheel to keep noise down. Use a string from the middle of the spinner to the axle to verify the angle. The spinner itself should be right on the dynamo track molded into most tire sidewalls. If the dynamo is designed for the rim, which is unusual but much quieter, make sure it isn't rubbing the tire at all. A thin rubber spinner is needed for rim mounting.
A dynamo hub is always there and you don't even notice it.
If you want to go fancy instead get a new Busch & Müller or Axa/Basta bottle generator - efficient, black plastic, less noisy - for about $50, or use an old quiet Sanyo under-the-bottom-bracket generator if your tires are smooth. For very fancy, next time you need a new front wheel get a dynamo hub for it. They start at about $45 for Sanyo, $65 for Sturmey-Archer or Shimano and go up toward astronomical (ca. $300) for hand-carved aluminum hub jewelry from Germany, they don't make noise and they don't cause noticeable drag, even the crummy ones, whatever you might read online. There are various qualities of prebuilt dynamo wheels to fit most bikes, available on order from most bike shop wholesalers.

If you look around and you're lucky you might find an old 1960s Sturmey-Archer Dynohub. They last forever if you don't take them apart (! there is a special tool and way to do it or the magnets lose their oomph) and they work fine with modern LED lights. They produce slightly less power (1.7 to 2 volts) than modern generators so if you use old fashioned incandescent bulbs you need special low-voltage ones. Dynohubs can unscrew themselves if you put them on backwards - wide part on right is correct, for most models. Some have integrated brakes or even hub gears in them.

There is a recent product that calls itself a contact-free dynamo where you put little magnets on your spokes and the light generates power from them; neat, but inefficient (and that's how the others work, too, only with many more magnet points). These lights are dim, in my experience, but better than nothing since you don't have to think about turning them on.

The Lamp Options

Then, once you have a generator, you can get old used lights with bulbs in them. Total cost for the system with an old generator: $15 or less. But you'll be happier with LED lights. And it's getting very hard to find replacement bulbs in Chicago, though you can look online. Boulevard Bikes, JC Lind and a guy in New Hampshire named Peter White are the go-to people I know about for LEDs, though many shops in town can order these things. Read the Peter White Cycles website if you want details, then buy it locally. He is the distributor, so he'll still get his cut even if you don't order from him. Or go talk to the people at any local place that has some in stock.

The cheapest Busch & Müller LED front light with a standlight and reflector that I've bought new recently was $28 on special, but the really bright ones go up to over $100. The $28 one (a Lumotec Oval Plus) is still quite bright, and it blows the doors off one of those blinky things. You can ride down a dark forest path with it. It has a reflector integrated into it too. The bright ones like the Cyo N Plus are even better for that kind of thing but may be overkill in the city. I like the Cyo without a built in reflector myself, though both are good. In fact, no model I know of is particularly bad. The Lyt is a recent one that seems OK - we have one on one of our kids' bikes. Get a standlight if you can, especially in the city where you will be easier to see at an intersection. We also have had good luck with Basta front LED lights, but they didn't have a standlight so we swapped them out. I think the quality has been better on the B&M. Surely, there are excellent Japanese lamps available — many dynamos are from Japan — but I haven't seen them in the US yet. Comment if you find a source.

The back light with a standlight (!) will also be about $20 to $40. I like the Busch & Müller Top Line Plus, or Seculite Plus for fenders, but any of them are OK. There's one that has a brake light function if you slow down suddenly - neat idea, almost works. Get one that mounts well on your bike - fender, rack, or cantilever brake nubbin with an adaptor. Other brands of these things include Spanninga, Basta, and I'm sure plenty of others. The back light connects to the generator just like the front one does (especially if the generator is on the back wheel), or it can connect to the front light itself if you want to turn the whole system on and off with a switch on the headlight. I just leave mine burning all the time and it doesn't ever need me to think about it.

Installation Tips
Deciding where to mount the lights is a big decision. Generally I attach the front light to the brake mounting bolt in the front fork, though there are lots of options. This is good unless you need the space for a big basket or rack. If you turn the bracket over 180 degrees you can bolt it onto a fender, too. I don't often mount the headlight on the handlebars but some people do, and the suppliers above carry adapters to make it simple. The taillight works best on the fender, I think, but my bikes have steel or SKS fenders that are sturdy. The rear rack is also a good place; you can use a strip of vinyl coated stainless steel with bolt holes at each end to attach it. They sell these in bike stores to mount racks. There are also good adapters at the light supply stores. If you don't have fenders or a rack, and you aren't planning any (why not?) you can often mount these lights on the seat post or on a reflector type hanger coming from the rear brake bolt or frame cross between the seat stays. 

If you are going to drill a hole in a fender to mount it, remember that the drill bit will go right through your tire, too, and either remove the wheel or put a drill-proof board under your drilling site. Otherwise you'll be patching the tube, too. Not that I ever made that mistake, of course. Make sure you are drilling low enough and straight enough to have your lamp even and vertical when you are done.

I prefer to hook them all together with double stranded cable (two wires) which is more reliable than the old single wire. One of the wires, sometimes marked with a lightning bolt symbol, goes to the bottom of the bottle generator (or the lightning bolt side of the hub connector). The other wire, often with a ground/earth symbol that looks like a T with 3 top lines or with a white stripe, connects to any screw or other part of the bottle generator mounting bracket. I usually put a couple of centimeters of bare wire around the bolt at the mounting bracket's elbow, between the two arms of the bracket. At the lamp end, if there is no terminal for the ground wire, it connects to the metal arm or screw that holds the lamp onto the bike. If you connect everything and it doesn't work, reverse the wire connections first - LEDs, unlike light bulbs, can be particular about which wire connects to which side. (with AC power sources like generators it shouldn't matter but sometimes the system converts to DC and then it does.) The lights can flicker a little at low speeds, more with hub than tire generators.

There are lots of ways to route the wireI sometimes run the electrical wire along an existing brake or gear cable, sometimes run it in a plastic pipe which looks less fiddly than the thin wire, sometimes I zip tie it to the frame. Be careful not to make it hard to take the bike apart if something like a tire needs repair. Leave enough slack in front that the wheel can turn fully or you'll rip out your new lighting system all the time. 
I prefer stainless steel zip ties that look better on your bike and last longer than the black plastic ones. Harder to get off but you can crush the connector with a pliers. I got mine at a giant orange home supply store. I prefer the look of zip ties to the old method of winding the wire around and around the frame.

Total cost: $15 (for old style) to $75-90 (new lights, old bottle dynamo) to $150-200 (new hub and lights) to $$ for a SON hub with Schmidt EdeLUX lighting. There's a guy in Boston at a place called City Bikes who builds his own US made metal and glass retro styled LED standlight system - toward the high end of the scale.

There are a few how to articles and videos 
I've seen about making your own standlight headlight. It's a good way to save money since the electronics cost much less than the finished lights, but I think it's a little too involved to get into here and I just buy the finished lights myself. But there is a do-it-yourself option if you want. 
The bluish colored dynamo light (Cyo N Plus) on our bike, left,
is pretty visible even compared to car headlights
It's a pain and it costs some money to plan a generator lighting system out, and it takes an hour and some zip ties to connect it, but then you never have to think about it again, and it always works well. We use them on all our regular bikes, including the kids' bikes.

We just added a post about lighting children's bikes.

last edit 3/27/12

Postcard from New York City

A two-way separated bike lane with parking spaces between
bikes and moving car traffic in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

So, we hear a lot in Chicago about how the Mayor is very interested in making His city a nice place to ride (or at least park) a bike, adding bike parking to the Millennium Park project and putting steel loops to park bikes on around the city. There's a nice lakefront path and a few little rides He and His minions permit, like the annual Bike the Drive fundraiser for the Active Transportation Alliance on Lakeshore Drive. 

He has a lot to learn still. So do the bike advocates in the Windy City. Maybe the new mayor can do more for bikes. And, how can we learn from the success of bike advocates in NYC? (See Streetsblog, for example. They seem more confrontational but also more transparent than here.) Better bike infrastructure could finally make Chicago my kind of town. It's separated bike lanes, and bike lanes in general, that make riding in the city with kids and their stuff an appealing transportation option for many people, including us.

We were just in New York City and we thought we'd have a look at the separated bike lanes we saw on a video linked from the Chainlink to see what they were like. The people we asked in NYC weren't at all negative, like the ones in the video. They were all really enthusiastic. The lanes were pretty clear of obstructions and well separated from traffic, with bike traffic lights and places for left-turning cars to alternate with bikes. Lots of pedestrians cross the lanes for a few blocks, but that's in Times Square where people look like ants crawling everywhere anyway. The rest is mostly clear sailing. We would love to ride on lanes like this every day. Unfortunately, we didn't get any good pictures of the lanes in midtown.  Above is an image of a separated double lane in Brooklyn with a different design. It looks like nirvana, seen from Chicago.

But the separated lanes, apparently popular and wonderful as they are, aren't the only lanes in NYC. In fact, they have a huge number of different kinds of lanes throughout the entire city. Here's a map site.
A typical side street bike lane - on the left of the one way car traffic
This is a bike lane like most in NYC, on the left of the car traffic lane. In theory, you don't get "doored" by a thoughtless driver as often then, since there are more drivers than riders in cars. Most of these lanes are kept pretty free, though the trash trucks creep down them and sometimes spill. Not all bicyclists go with the direction of traffic, either, and some don't stay in the lanes. In the night shot below, that's trash in the bike lane and a city bus blocking it as a delivery guy meanders the wrong way down the car lane in Tribeca.  Most of the delivery guys ride with no lights on electric powered E-bikes. They ride on sidewalks, too, with bags hanging off their handlebars. Don't be like them.

But in the 10 minutes I was on this block, most of the time it was wide open and being used about every 20-30 seconds by someone riding the right way on the path, swerving out to avoid the trash.

Is that a delivery E-bike with no lights coming the wrong way toward me?
The lanes are still really good, with markings across cross streets like crosswalks, even if the occasional cement mixer gets into the wrong place.

By getting most cyclists to congregate on the streets that have lanes, motorists see people using the lanes and learn to take cyclists into account more. Cyclists see each other, too. Messengers and grumpy fixie riders can choose the streets with no lanes and go as fast as they dare without any nasty other bicyclists getting in their way.
Bike box. No right turn on red in NYC.
And most lanes, like this one in Brooklyn, have an area in front of the car stop line for bicyclists to move across the street or prepare for a turn or just collect in front of other traffic to increase their visibility. Logically, they call it a 'bike box' (not a box bike, though you could have a box bike bike box, I guess). There isn't even ONE of these in Chicago. How about just a couple on Milwaukee Ave?

These innovations all add up to a city that works better for bikes than the City That Works. Anybody can get on a bike and feel comfortable using it to get where they need to go. The infrastructure invites all those New Yorkers who don't even have a drivers license to get up out of their train tubes and into the light, breathe the air, and smile at the people sitting in immobile taxis, as they pedal effortlessly through their newly accessible city. OK, lugging their two heavy locks with them, but still.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How can you move your kids and cargo around on a bike? A cargo bike primer, part 1

This post and its twin have been moved to their own page here. Unfortunately, though, I can't figure out how to move the comments too, so they are below. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How can you move your kids and cargo around on a bike? A cargo bike primer, part 2

This post and its twin are now on their own page - but the comments remain below until I figure out how to move them too. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Kids riding Critical Mass by a nine year old- part two of the two masses

Riding Critical mass as a kid is tiring but the end is always super cool party time. It is always better to ride in the front of the big grown ups because they ride too fast and if you need to stop you don't lose your spot and end up at the end.I think that you should eat before the ride and bring a snack on the ride to eat along the way if you get hungry and don't want to stop and delay yourself. You should always use the bathroom because if you need to go along the way there are not many places along the way,so to be safe not sorry use the bathroom. If you think you can't get home then I think you should get off the ride and go home from where you are on the ride.
 Some of the cool things about the ride are that you get to run the red lights,the police ride with you so that when the other cars on the ride crowd around and shout that they are going to call the police the police sometimes come and tell the car to get out of the ride and there's all different kinds of bikes ranging from cheap junky ones to really nice fancy bikes. A lot of times people dress up with masks make-up and suits. Sometimes people hook up music devices up to their bikes. The best people to ride behind are the people with techno music. There's also these people called the rat patrol with big tall bikes that they weld together and ones that are short and long.   And last but not least the cars, the cars on the ride are always or most of the time kept out of the ride by the other cyclists and if one happens to get in the ride smile at the driver.                

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Retuning our box bike review again!

Hi we removed our box bike review pending some tuning and will repost it again this week! The last comment on the post is still here. In case you have not seen the kidical mass post there is a lovely Madsen trolling around Chicago that arrived last month. They love it so far!  Just as before I'd say ride everything in town at the friendly local shops- J.C. Lind on Wells has lovely trikes and Kangaroos. Copenhagen has a Velorbis trike. Dutch Bikes has two wheelers. Safe riding!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to School on Milwaukee Ave.- love it or hate it?

Last Tuesday was a delectable day to go back to the school after break. Glorious weather to get zooming away with the guys into the West Loop, before I realized that I had forgotten my helmet.  Whoops, back home to get it.  My kids gonged me for making them late. 

Wednesday we hurried out under menacing skies with one raincoat. Just as soon as the older guys disembarked, fat raindrops waterfalled into a downpour and lightning flashed. I wrapped my small guy in his thick wool sweater and snugly into my raincoat for a mad soaking dash the four miles home. He was warm and dry as a bone under my jacket pulling into the garage. Not so lucky, I wrung myself out, rivulets of icy water streaming down my arms and legs.

By Thursday and Friday, we were back to pulling up before the other kids poured into school. It's been such beautiful cycling this week and last, I can barely get off my bike to go inside.

Our school ride is my daily rendezvous with Milwaukee Ave. Each day we rip west down Milwaukee from Noble to Wood in the last push before school.  It's a happy stretch to many a Chicago biker I know. For me, the beloved crossing guard at Noble and the folks (and food) at the Lovely bakery make it work. I have to admit I'm more a Milwaukee hater.

Often, riding west between eight and nine in the morning is fairly quiet, until just before and after Ashland, through the Polish triangle. But on a rough day there, it's hard to decide which is the worst. The sadistic bus drivers? Reams of parked cars waiting to royally door you? Yellow light jumpers trying to kill? Psychotic taxis? The potholed bottleneck of the Polish Triangle? You have to ride fast and stay alert. The catch is that if that stretch of Milwaukee were not so fast I could not get the guys to school on time as easily...

Probably my most important practical considerations on this stretch are the right-hand-turning drivers at Ashland, and the buses. I need to keep my eye out and place the bike between the straight going cars and the right turning drivers, because they are in such a hurry they will either cut me off or almost hit me if I end up on the far right side of the lane. I also often cross into the triangle across Division on the pedestrian light that changes before the green light turns. It saves me from the buses.

The buses have a tendency to sandwich us at the triangle if I am not out in front of them at the first light at the Division intersection. If I am behind the bus I tend to let it get across the intersection and wait. If I am a little ahead I keep going if I have the light and try to pull up to the cross walk at Ashland way before the bus can get across the Division intersection.  The lanes between Division and Ashland are potholed, narrow, and parked full of cars waiting to open the door until a cyclist is within range.

We don't sidewalk ride unless we are stopping at Lovely bakery, which just happens to be on the south (wrong) side of Milwaukee. We cut down the alley from Noble just behind Milwaukee and hop on to the sidewalk at Milwaukee going the wrong way slowly for about thirty feet, run into Lovely, and pull across the street and back onto the bike lane. The kids sitting in the box start in on their muffins or croissants. The bike lane is safer and much faster that the sidewalk on that northwest stretch for us because of all the cars pulling out of garages. The car drivers see us on the road, but absolutely not on the sidewalk.

I wonder if the ride on Milwaukee would work with a separated bike lane that isn't just paint on the road -- a heinous thought to some Chicago riders I know. It has enough bicycle usage that it could be a great place for a bike commuter lane with its own signals and protected from the other traffic.

Not to worry if you love Milwaukee as it is. The current CDOT project there won't change anything if you're on two wheels. 

So I'll have my crazy ride and the guys can eat their chocolate croissants. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kid Carrying Bikes from the Kidical Mass

Besides the kids themselves on their own bicycles, the Kidical Mass last Saturday was a festival of adult-driven, kid-carrying bikes.  Have a look at our earlier post for some pics of the kids, or look at them on the Chainlink, the chicago bike blog. Here are some pictures of carriers from the ride:

They like the seat, though.

Kid seats and a trailer. The white seat has plastic boxes like panniers behind
the foot rests.  They looked clever, but the family hasn't found much use for them.

Ibert, and an Xtracycle kid seat on back, pulling
the child rider's  bike (it's tied on). That's
Todd's main bike speaker system on the right.
This combo holds a lot and carries two kids
and a bike.  It was my favorite except
for the 'man in the yellow hat' hat.

Chicago's first Madsen! Now that she's drilled drainage holes
in the bucket it's perfect. 

and a sag wagon for tired kids and their bikes.

Todd is everyone's hero!
The Kidical and Critical Masses need a
source of music and spectacle...
Box bike with the middle seat pulled out. The bike trailer is on the back, without the
kids' bikes on it. They're riding them!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

To the Super Playground- five kids on three bikes

Have you seen the new "Sangamon and Adams Park 542" playground in the West Loop?  Our kids don't even think about calling it that. Here it's just known as the super playground. It's chock full of ropes and climbing triangles, and deep bouncy floor trenches to climb and roll down. There's a series of arches in the park too with cool mist clouds if it's warm enough. We are still trying to figure out how to make it go. The park and playground just opened in August and I have to say we just can't stop going! A site that almost captures Park 542's super glory is here and there's a Tribune article here.  

It's just north of the highway near the UIC/Halsted Blue Line stop and there's a ramp there to Morgan you can roll up if you are coming by train. To get to the playground from there go north on Morgan. Look out for traffic coming off the highway at the first light it comes right up. We ride in the road by the apartment building that is right after the light so cars pulling out of the garage can see us then back up to the sidewalk, cross the street and go right on Van Buren on the left side of the street sidewalk . We ride east to Sangamon, turn left and ride until we can see 542 at Adams. We  cross and enter the park, then ride through the park to the play lot on the east side along Peoria. The bus on Halstead stops east of the park on Adams and you can ride west straight to the park. Two bikes only on the bus- we have taken a bike on the bus and collapsed a trailer and taken it on the bus before. There is also a bus on Jackson going west.

The mist is still on as of Oct 11!
Friends we had over last week voted to ride bikes across the highway there so off we went. We have extra bikes in our garage from the trash and Working Bikes so we had enough for the two nine year-olds to ride.  The two six year olds wanted to ride with me and our small guy. 
The quick ride we took highlighted three of the tricks when we're out with a solo kid rider at intersections with or without a stop light.

First, just like nobody expects the Spanish inquisition, no driver in Chicago imagines a child out on a bike, ever. Kids on bikes are also short, even if they have a flag.  We tell the guys to remember that they are really invisible when we are out on bikes -- like a super hero that can get squashed they have the power to stay safe and take  good care of themselves on a ride. 
Next, cars in a hurry to overtake us and make their right turn don't look out when we get to an intersection. They can easily almost hit us so we try to ride to the absolute top of the corner in the road, or if we are on the sidewalk we stay on the sidewalk until we make eye contact with the driver. Cars are always surprised to see a child on a bike but they are usually really nice when they see us.

Lastly, when we sidewalk ride, cars turning left do not anticipate us moving off the sidewalk and into the road and can also easily hit us.When the guys are on their bikes  we usually ride the sidewalks in the West Loop. Sidewalks are usually deserted on the roads we take. We do do a little riding in the road so its good to know that traffic is very busy in the morning, quieter in the middle of the day and busy later at rush hour. Peoria has stop signs at most major streets and is fairly quiet- north/south.

We rode the three turns and two straightaways from the UIC campus to the playground in no time. Bike parking at the super playground is not super yet, so we took our bikes into the play lot and locked them inside the fence. This is a pretty safe place for bikes! When everyone had to go to the bathroom we went to the Merit School of Music which is just north of the play lot across the street on Peoria. They don't mind at all if you use the bathrooms or get a drink there.

We took a picnic. For other snacks, Greektown is just east and has a couple of nice bakeries -- there is a sweet family owned shop on Halsted with baklava and spanikopita they will happily box up for you.  Also nearby is a coffee shop on Morgan. Wishbone restaurant is close north on Morgan and has a 15% off deal at all meals for cyclists, and a kid's menu.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Masses- Kidical and Critical.......part 1

Kidical Mass meets one, two, or three times a month in various parts of the city, depending on the month and how everyone that organizes each separate ride plans the month. The second Saturday each month there's always a ride in Palmer Square (near Logan Square). Meet at Palmer Square (3100 W. Palmer) at 10:30. Ride starts at 11.

Here are some quick thoughts on the kidical mass! 

It's very fun. If you are a family that has not spent much time in the actual road this is a good chance to give it a try. Finding a comfort level with being in the road can be easier with a nice group of people, with your kids on decorated bikes, with music, and with plenty of other grown-ups around. There are plenty of cycling families that show up that ride in their everyday lives to ask questions of and just feel less weird with. There is a nice playground in the center of Palmer Square, too, so you don't have to feel bad talking away with other parents and riders while your kids whine about needing to leave. Bathrooms are tricky at the start point so Go At Home. Snacks are good to bring.

If the group is small and you don't put your kids in the road much, it can be a new experience to feel the cars going by while you are riding with your family. Hang in there... the rides are usually just long enough to let you feel like you are actually getting somewhere. Routes are usually a mix of quiet and less quiet roads that the organizers ride during the week or so before, to gauge the safety of the traffic and the quality of the road specifically for each ride.

On big and small riders...
Everyone is welcome on Kidical Mass. The rides, though, are geared for kids who can ride. Smaller toddlers and like-a-bike sized kids should be on a bike with their parents. Kids that can roll along on their own bikes are encouraged to take their own vehicles. Perfect for my six year old but tricky with my nine year old, as he is used to moving places under his own power. He needs a little encouragement to keep the speed down and enjoy the ride, welcoming the smaller guys along. I think it's great for a kid of any age to give it a go. 

Which brings me to my favorite topic... taking the bike to the Kidmass itself!
Some kids have the chops to ride to the ride, others need a lift but then will be able to get on their bikes to ride themselves. How do you get your soon-to-be-riders and yourself to the ride, on your bike, with their bikes?  And more importantly, how do you all get home? 

Some mixes that could work:  Kid on a seat if they still fit, and bike in or on a trailer or well strapped to a ride along. Kids in trailer and bikes strapped on. Kids on their own bikes. Go there the day before and lock your bikes up, then take the bus to the ride.

We ride with kids in the box bike or on the tandem and use a wacky bike trailer D. rigged out of parts of an old kid trailer, with car roof bike carrier racks bolted onto the frame, that holds two kid bikes. Any other ideas out there?

Another option is to take public transportation. Palmer Square is a short short ride from the Logan Square Blue Line Station and Kidical Mass is on Saturday morning, so you can take all your bikes on the train (or bus) and get off there, then back on bikes down Kedzie or one of the very nice little side streets south to Palmer. Tricky on the steps but possible. Buses only hold two bikes each.

Routes to ride from other parts of town, anyone?  We would go Morgan north to Lake westbound -- look out for road work at the intersections -- to Wood, north to Armitage west, then north on small streets parallel to Kedzie to Palmer Square. We usually find the small streets and little side boulevards in Logan Square to be really nice riding. Coming from the North the intersections in the area of Elston and Western are not pleasant- it's a sidewalk ride for me with the kids.

Remember that Palmer Square is only one of several places that will host Kidical Mass each month. There's often one in Pilsen, Rogers Park, and other places. Look at the Kidical Mass group on the Chainlink for info. 

Part two later!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Keeping kids comfortable riding in Fall

So today was chilly and blustery – a big change from the balmy skies we've had the last week. We went on our Alderman's ward ride – the first ever in our ward. It started at 10 but we needed to show up early, so we had to get our mice ready to roll in the windy, cloudy morning with rain possible and sun later on. Here are our suggestions for getting kids ready for the heady mix of early to late fall weather with a whisper of winter.

We dress our kids differently depending on if they are going to ride or not.

If they are going to be a passenger in the seat or box instead of pedaling they can't stay as warm, and the wind blows on them even if they are in a kid seat on the back rack behind us. (The people at Bike Winter have more good information about kids in trailers here.)

Kids on ride alongs or pedaling on the tandem have a pretty wide range of activity, when they are moving and not, because they don’t need to pedal to move. Check in with riders and almost riders to see how comfortable they are. If they are complaining, listen, because they are usually right about being cold or too warm, and help them adjust accordingly with what you’ve got stashed in the pannier or carry bag or whatever. Keeping kids comfortable and hearing out their complaints goes a long way towards growing a bicycle lover. We have learned a lot from each of our kids about what keeps each one comfortable by listening to their complaints and observing if they are a warmer kid in the cold or a kid that needs a little extra layering. They are all different!

Passengers (not pedaling) in the fall require:
a soft under layer- cotton or, even better, a wool t-shirt
a medium wool or fleece layer, long sleeved
a heavier sweater, again wool or fleece
a definitely wind proof shell
extras we take are gloves and a very thin fleece cap to fit under helmets. We often bring an extra layer for each kid in the panniers.
Later fall can require long underwear on legs too, maybe an early appearance of snow pants! (Winter is a different post but we tend to have our guys in layers under a hooded snowsuit that is one piece and windproof, goggles and a fleece face cover, boots and wool socks.)

Fall is a tricky time of year with hats under helmets as the weather changes, even during the day, and sometimes a helmet needs a little adjustment with a hat underneath. Some folks use balaclavas made of fleece. By and large we have used fleece hats with the rain jacket hood pulled up over the hat and under the helmet in early and later fall. If your kid switches out of having their head covered check that their helmet is well adjusted and try not to leave it loose.

When the kids ride – on the tandem, a ride along, or their own bikes – the mix changes a little. Kids need clothes that can be comfortable as they heat up and cool down through the ride.

Our riders (pedaling, not sitting) wear:
wool or polypropylene – cotton can get sticky and then make them cold
a heavier fleece layer
really wind proof jacket ideally with a hood
gloves that are not slippery on the handlebars if it is that cold
hat again and hood (or balaclava )
extra layers for each kid spend the fall and winter in our panniers
again, later fall can require long underwear on the legs as well as early snow pants

Just a few words on bottom layers and paying for riding clothes for kids! Thrift shops are a major boon for gearing kids up for fall and winter rides. Most have an overflowing supply of perfect heavy and medium wool and fleece layers, gloves in all sizes that won’t slip on the handlebars, and hats. Sometimes there are terrific wind proof jackets. Unique in Chicago has a half price Monday at their stores that is a great day to stock up. They put the new stuff out that day so the pickings are good.

We mention wool underclothes, which our kids wear.  Please remember that we use these layers as commuter wear and not just for fun so sometimes we have invested for the long run. We have three kids so whatever I buy for my oldest really passes down. Two years ago we bought Smartwool long johns for my oldest. It was a big splurge but we use them all cold season, biking, sledding, snowshoeing or taking walks around the Arboretum. Wool has made a big difference in his winter and late fall bike comfort but we still rode before we had it. It is just about to pass down to my middle kid and the heat is on for me to decide if I can afford to get a new pair for my oldest. Washing has been a big issue in keeping them in good shape and I can machine wash the smartwool on a cold delicate setting but keep them absolutely out of the dryer. After two years of every other day wear they are as good as new. Other, european brands of wool undies must not go in the wash as they will felt very nicely very fast.

Patagonia, REI, Sierra Traders and Erewhon in Chicago have some nice and cheaper-to-more-expensive wicking wool and nonwool bottom layers. The capilene and polypropylene layers also benefit from careful washing. Our have gone into a cold wash and hung dry and had really long lives. Good undies tend to be really cheap in late spring when they are trying to clear the decks so good planning can really help out in getting supplies for fast growing kids.

On Patagonia... they have a major more-than-half-price sale every spring on their winter stuff. We have saved up in the past during winter and bought some nice things for the kids for the following year at the Chicago store. The big Patagonia sale is usually in early-to-mid February online and in stores. A neat layer they make is a windproof pullover outside attached to a thick shag rug like fleece inside that is very useful in the mixed weather of fall. We have used it as an outer and deeper keep warm layer in the past. They have some jazzy jackets and snow stuff too – best saved up for and grabbed at the sale. If you lose your mind and buy something full price, if you have even a shadow of a problem with it they will trade you out the bad stuff for good with few questions asked.

Again this is about getting daily commuter wear for biking in extreme weather with small people, so if you have decided to go completely carless you'll need to do some good thrift shopping and savvy sale work to find the good stuff to keep rolling. Thrift stores are really useful so don't give up on them!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Welcome to Chicargobike

Is it possible to stay on two pedal-powered wheels in the city with three children? How can you go from being a fixie hipster or a cute Schwinn girl to a kid-schlepping grocery hauler? Can you keep yourself and the kids safe in city traffic and warm in any kind of weather as you live your daily life with a bicycle in Chicago? We think so since that"s what we do. To school, to the park, to the supermarket, to the play dates, to work… 

We are 2 grown ups with 9, 6 and 2 year old small people. How do we stay on 2 wheels? 

OK, our deck is stacked. We do have two kid-carrying bikes - a tandem with a jumpseat and a baby seat, and a box bike - that both steer from the back and put the kids in front. Both our older kids can ride their own bikes and the 2 year old likes riding anything. Most of our bikes are used, many from Working Bikes Cooperative, including the kids bikes, but the tandem and the box are both Dutch. The tandem is an Onderwater with space for 3 and a baby seat. It is a model used a lot for summer beach bike rentals in Holland - heavy and indestructible but very family friendly. I’ll get a post up about it later. The box is a Cargobike Long from and it took a lot of cajoling to get it here a few years ago. Now, you can find both of these bikes and others like them in at least a few places in the US, including Chicago. The cargobike can hold about 4 elementary school kids in the front plywood cargo box with their backpacks, and the adult rider sits behind with the pedals and a linkage-operated steering handlebar that turns the front wheel. 

For us, the bikes themselves are the easy part. The hard parts are surviving the weather as Chicago gets cooler, surviving the uncooperative morning traffic, and surviving the natural craziness of getting everyone out the door with enough time to get where we’re going on our bikes. ( We still have a car- my dad has a wheel chair)

We’ve been doing this for a few years, but let’s call today Day 1. I headed off to Oz Park from our Little Italy home since the kids are on school vacation, and the day was perfect. My wonderful husband slugged down coffee and headed off on his bike to Pilsen to work. I took a roundabout route across some quiet traffic zones because I wasn’t in a hurry and the weather was beautiful. I rode through the UIC campus dodging students on ipods and cellphones and north on Morgan over I-290. Through the West Loop to Lake. We rode under the El tracks (and on the sidewalk) into the industrial zone west of Ashland. I love riding through the industrial zone. There is almost no traffic, the road is really wide, and it’s very quiet. Perfect for family riding. We went north by Goose Island Brewery where you can smell the wort cooking and the Intelligentsia Coffee warehouse which sometimes smells like they're roasting. We always ring our bell and wave at the coffee packers. We rode under the train bridge and continued through the East Village and Wicker Park on Wood Street all the way to Cortland. The side streets through here are usually really quiet and they usually have traffic lights at the main traffic arteries. 

Cortland is our main route from Bucktown into Lincoln Park. There are lights at Ashland and the whole way, there's a bike lane on part of it, and the kids love to zip past the Finklmobiles carrying huge lumps of new steel and look in the open doorways to see if Finkl is pouring steel. The Prolerizer at General Iron grinds cars up near there too, which is another big hit with the kids. The Cortland bridge has plates, which are key when you are riding with kids. The last thing you want to do is wipe out on a metal grate bridge with a kid on the bike. A few more blocks and across Clybourn at the Webster, Armitage intersection-  and  left onto Webster straight to Oz Park.  We cut through the center of the city to come home. Mostly through the center of the loop, under the El tracks down through Greektown and onto the UIC campus home. We don't ride the sidewalks in the loop unless it's later in the evening as they are too crowded. Or walk our adult bikes on the sidewalk with our older guys on their bikes at times. 

Our route today avoids Halsted, Ashland, Michigan or North Avenues and their aggressive traffic and bad bike lanes. It hits two really good bakeries, which keeps the arguing in the front down (Floriole and Hannah’s Bretzl). We cross the river two or three times, which is always popular because you can watch the water taxis, but we don’t ride on the grating of the bridges if we can help it. We take the sidewalk on the bridges most often when there are no plates. It’s a slowpoke route that we don’t always have time for but it was fun on a sunny day.