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. 

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