Thursday, December 29, 2011

In the Winter Pannier and Happy New Year

Winter has been tiptoeing in and out in Chicago this year.  The air has been balmy for a midwestern December, hovering around 40 degrees many days since before school vacation started. The long days of hibernating at home have caught us up and helped get our bike legs back under us. On two wheels to the Art Institute and the Nutcracker we were barely in our heavy coats and gloves. Usually in December we wouldn't leave the house without our snow pants and boots.

Waiting in the wings are the real cold days of this winter, and we are readying our winter pannier that was so disorganized this early winter and late fall. Last year's colder winter posts --Keeping Kids Warm Riding in Fall and Snow are good primers on how we dress the kids depending on if they are riding their own bike or passengers, where we get our favorite layers, and how we care for them so they last.
The Riding in Fall post is very detailed and has most of the information about winter, too, including caring for hands, feet and faces. The Snow post has good pictures of what the kids wear.

Our winter pannier is much about keeping hands, feet and faces comfortable. Having a good selection of supplies makes all the difference -- it lets you get out of the house without missing anything. This is what we keep inside ours--(toilet training toddler version- substitute wipes and diapers for your baby winter rider)

Hats and balaclavas or neck gaiters and extra mittens litter our pannier because they get lost, forgotten inside at school or drenched with snowballs. Windproof mittens can be cheap to find second hand (let's just say the ones in the pannier usually don't match) and we prefer ones with grippy palms. We never use wool gloves. Children's fingers get very cold very fast in them since they are neither wind nor waterproof. Mittens are warmer. We always try to have lip balm to avoid chapping.

Our school commute is about four and a half miles each way so we carry extra warm clothes too.  The early ride is in the coldest part of the morning and the afternoon commute can be with the sun down when we do errands on the way home.  Our small guy does two school runs since he gets picked up and later goes back out to get the big guys. On short trips we carry a few fewer extra layers. After two or three weeks of cold riding you figure out what everyone needs.

On the other hand, we bring extra things on longer trips. Hot drinks come along if we are going to see friends far away or will be out for a long time sledding.

Mostly our guys are used to the cold and are toasty but if not - we go in a coffee shop or bakery and make the most of it while we all warm up, then try again. Once we locked the bike up and took the bus.

Hands and feet really grew at our house this year and our eldest got his first pair of lobster style riding gloves for his birthday. He loves them so far. We couldn't find Smartwool long johns and used Icebreaker wool layers for the middle guy who grew out of the thick German ones.  The Icebreaker layers have lasted well, but it's important to try not to put them in the dryer.

We find that babies' bottoms heat up in all the extra layers and they need to be changed a little sooner than you might think sometimes. Our winter baby kit includes Balmex cream, a plastic ziplock bag for yucky clothes, and wipes (which can get very cold so don't just bring wet ones). A friend of ours kept the wipes in an inside pocket of her coat or under her daughter in the trailer to keep them warm. Toilet training toddlers of course need everything in multiples. Ugh. You can bail out and use a warm bathroom at a coffee shop or museum.

Happy new year and einen guten Rutsch!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mid Southwest Streets for Cycling Meetings Today, Tuesday and Wednesday

Our Mid Southwest CAG for the Streets for Cycling Campaign will be having a sort of not quite Christmas extravaganza week. We will be meeting tonight the 19th of December at 6.30 at Working Bikes Cooperative, Tomorrow again at Volunteer Night at Working Bikes and then Wednesday the 21st at Blue City Cycles in Bridgeport at 7.15 p.m..
Feel free to stop by and help us mark the maps for our region!
Here again is the basic place to find the information on Streets for Cycling and for our region as well:
Here is our particular section the "Mid-Southwest Side" (it is a 2MB pdf)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kids Bike Sale - $5 each!

Working Bikes at 2434 S. Western Ave (312 421 5048) is having had a children's bike sale on Saturday 12-5 pm for kids up to 6 years old - next time they have one you can bring your kid and choose one for $5! Here's the link again.

Go to the new Streets for Cycling meetings!

What destinations do you and other people in your neighborhood want to reach by bike? Where do you like to ride? Where would you want to go by bike if a safe lane were there? Do you ride to school, or would you like to? How about the supermarket?   If you don't ride your bike much, what infrastructure would help you change your mind?  The Chicago Department of Transportation, CDOT, is building new bike lanes all around the city. They are planning to put in safe new protected lanes for bicycles, away from pedestrians and cars, so an 8 year old or a grandma or a parent with a bunch of kids (or YOU!) can ride where she needs to go and still feel safe. This will encourage more widespread use of bikes for most city trips. The lanes should be similar to the ones used in northern Europe and Asia, with some kind of cement or tree barrier between bikes and cars, and with some special bicycle traffic lights, overpasses, or other shortcuts.                                                                            One of these meetings is NOW!, December 15th at 6:30 PM at Rapid Transit. Click the picture to read about two upcoming meetings in our area. There are many other meetings around the city. We'll try to put a calendar here for you to find them soon.

At upcoming meetings around the city you can learn about the options they are considering and put in your own ideas about where these lanes should be and how they should be designed. You get to suggest what is needed! It is still early enough to make a big difference.

A system of safe bike routes gets people out in the air exercising, cuts down on the number of cars since drivers will be on bikes, cuts car parking and gas or maintenance costs, and can make a stressful commute more relaxing and fun.

This is a great chance for families all around the city to share where they ride or wish they felt confident to ride.  Sounds kind of dry but this is really good fun! Find more information about the Streets for Cycling program here:

You can find your particular region in there, though most cyclists ride all over the city, so anywhere you wish to share input will be welcomed heartily. We are working with the Mid Southwest Side Community Advisory Group in our neighborhood to gather information for CDOT 's planners.  Here is the planning map of our particular section, the "Mid-Southwest Side" (it is a 2MB pdf)

Bring your friends. See you there!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Santa Loves Local Bike Stores

One of the best things about Chicago is the amazing local bike stores. We can name five or six we like without even thinking too long. Unlike those big box stores with untrained people selling low quality bikes and other junk, any good local bike store has experienced, skilled employees and a wide inventory. They have better bikes with more options, they can make sure you get the equipment you want and need, and they can keep your bike running well for decades. But (here's the catch) they can only help you if they 

Have you been wondering what to get someone, maybe yourself, for the holiday season? Well, the season’s commercial enough anyway so we don’t want to add to the clamor much, but please do think hard about doing your shopping at your favorite local bike store. They have all had a terrible year, with odd weather and declining sales, and keeping those employees and inventory isn't easy.

Remember when gas was going up a dollar every week? That was a good time to sell bikes. People were actively trying to stop taking the car everywhere and a bike was a great way to do it.

Remember when people had pretty solid jobs most of the time? That was a good time for bike dealers, too. Look at all the expensive Dutch imports that sold well then, along with the condos to put them in. But a bike just isn’t the first thing to spend money on if you lose your job. 

So for those of you reading this with the money to spend, why not go to the bike store for most of your purchases this season? 
Everyone can use a new seat, or tires, or brake pads and cables, fenders, or a winter tune up package. These are really useful. 
How about a cycling jacket? Or a set of panniers would really make it easier to carry your things on your bike. 
Do you have a heavy duty chain or a good quality U-lock for all your bikes? A cable won't do you any good in the city. 
You could get your bike cleaned, adjusted and lubricated properly, so it’ll last longer. Take in a dusty old "vintage" one from the basement and get it spiffed up properly (keep the old parts if it's really vintage). Get your wheels trued. You won't regret any of that.
Does your child need a new bike, or new components for that used kid's bike you are spiffing up? 
How about a bell or a mirror or a set of generator lights? 
And if you’ve been thinking of getting a new bike, now is a great time to do it. There are a lot of good prices on stock bikes, and many dealers have discounts on special orders, too. And you are doing something helpful for someone, so you don't have to even feel guilty. Get the nice one.

Buy a gift certificate if you don’t know yet what you really want — maybe in summer when things are going better for the shop, you or the recipient can cash it in on something you need. This counts double since the bike store isn't actually giving you anything right now in return.

So we'd like to ask you to go on out to your local independent bike store now, get the cycling stuff you’d like to have, and keep your best bicycle resource in work for another year. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Another Great Comment on Creating Better Streets and Cities from the NYT

We found another heartening piece- this time in the op-ed of the NYT about the "Death of the Fringe Suburb". It highlights the importance of walkability, cycling and good transit as it relates to real estate values. It's worth a read. Find it here.

Winter Gift Books for the Small Cyclists in Your Life

As we've mentioned often reading about or just meeting pictures of riders in children's books can be a fun way to share bikes with your smallest soon to be riders. We've talked about many of our favorites this year but want to mention them again since the season for sharing books as gifts for special friends and loved ones has begun. Here is a big mix of our reviews from the year.

Always at the top is the terrific Bear's Bicycle.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Christmas Market in Chicago! Kid's Lantern Festival on the 9th!

Hope you got those Pilgrims and turkeys out of your system because the German style christmas market / Weihnachtsmarkt / Christkindlmark(e)t just opened (actually Wednesday night) in Daley Plaza. So if you are riding your Fahrrad on Critical Mass this Friday (today? the 25th) be sure to bring cash and time for a sausage or some sugar glazed almonds and a mulled Glühwein / nonalcoholic Kinderpunsch or hot chocolate. They'll be open until 9 pm Fri and Sat, other days til 8. (For authenticity try to set up your bike to fulfill the German StVZO traffic regulations)

This year there are not only regular Bratwurst and the Nürnberger version that's thinner (and odd chewy rolls, but you can't have everything), but also a major North vs South German conflict with Weißwurst (south) for sale just next to Currywurst (north). Weißwurst is white sausage cooked in hot lemon water (that you don't drink), served with a pretzel and sweet Bavarian mustard and a wheat beer, best as breakfast. You suck the filling out (zuzeln) and throw away the skin, at least in Munich (video explanation in German here). Above the Weißwurst equator, the Prussians prefer Currywurst. Currywurst is a hot-dog-like Bockwurst cut up and drowned with ketchup and curry powder, with fries, eaten with a disposable fork while standing in front of a little shack. ("on my shirt, on my jacket, what kind of crud is this? All full of Currywurst." - Herbert Grönemeyer 1982). Both are perfect meals for your bike riding kid - bring some paper towels.

Beer and wine is for sale in several spots, good but unfortunately not cheap. There are a few vegetarian things to try like potato pancakes and possibly some of the soups and stews, but ask. I found ham in my supposedly vegetarian potato puff thing in Germany once and the lady looked at it and said "Meat? That's not meat! That's ham!"

There is also plenty of kitsch here, including wooden puppets and tree trimmings and, and, and...

One highlight for kids is the lantern festival (usually on Martinmas, Nov. 11, but in Chicago at 4 pm on Dec. 9), where kids WHO HAVE SIGNED UP AHEAD (this is the info link) (this is the email link) wander through the plaza with lanterns and sing songs. Make your own lantern -- a candle in a decorated jar hanging from a stick on a wire is basic, a papier mache animal is better -- or you can buy a premade beautiful reusable, battery powered German one when you sign up for the festival. They'll have it waiting for you the night of the walk at a booth near the north edge of the market. About half the kids know how to sing the usual songs. "Usual" for Germany - we make do with the little paper they hand out for people who don't know them. There are only a few religious references in the songs, like Xmas itself. It's fun and the participants each get a huge bag of great chocolate to take home. Last year our kids were still eating it a month later.

closing up

You can lock your bike across the street at a loop rack (look out for removable "sucker poles") easier than on the plaza itself. Daley Plaza is easy to find, just east of the City Hall on Washington between Clark and Dearborn, our routes to the Loop here. Bathrooms are portable ones on the west side of the plaza, and there is a great log cabin looking shed to warm up in on the north side if you can find a seat. We like going in the middle of the week when it's not so crazy. It goes from now until Xmas Eve (closes at 4 then). Look at the giant events website for lots more info.

Every little neighborhood in Germany has a little local version of this, with the neighborhood potters and glassblowers and knitters selling their entire year's production in a month and everyone meeting after work for a mug of hot mulled wine. We think they should have a month long one in a neighborhood like Logan Square, with local crafts for sale - they'd make a bundle, and we'd come! (especially to the Kozie Prery booth).

Edit: there will be something kind of similar Dec 3 and 4 at Pulaski Fieldhouse: the renegade craft fair holiday edition.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Guardian Bike Blog On Biking To School Again/CDOT's Streets For Cycling 2020 Planning Begins

Today the Guardian Bike blog covers riding to school  again. In a short piece they talk about a rise in cycling to school published by the charity Sustrans, a sustainable transportation charity in the UK that works with school children and basically supports a UK version of  Safe Routes to Schools. The piece discusses a rise in school ridership at schools in which Sustrans provides educational programming.
This is interesting in Chicago as the Active Transportation Alliance begins to develop in-school programs to grow the number of school riders here in our city.

The author does mention the need for infrastructure in the UK, which is a huge topic in our city as well now that the push is on to create new lanes, which leads me to...

...The Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan being developed this winter and spring by CDOT and you.  Family riders in Chicago have a great chance to share their input and grow lane networks designed for all riders by contributing plenty of input into the new Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan. The link has a detailed fact sheet to read. Please check out the great post by  Walk/ Bike Lincoln Park about how to be a part of the city plan. It's very useful even if you live in a different corner of the city. The Open House for Streets For Cycling will be December 10th from 10 a.m.- 4p.m. at 23 E. Madison. This is a great opportunity to come out and share your amazing ideas with the city for getting your family out to all of your favorite places on better streets. But this is just the beginning.

Each community in the city will have an advisory committee which is made up of basically anyone who has anything to share about how to get places on a bike here. Email to find out about how to find your advisory group and be a part of creating the neighborhood networks that the plan will hopefully be putting into place. The best way to get better streets for children and families in the city is to be a big part of the plan as it is being created.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bikes for lots of riders

Conference bike (red, looks like an octopus) in the back holds 7, two person 
romance trike (LoveBike) in front, a Gazelle Cabby cargobike and a regular bike. 

People often ask us about multiperson bikes. (I consider that to mean more than just a grownup and a few kids on the same bike, which you can do with many bikes in our About Cargobikes page.) I've seen a few, and brought together a few pictures here. I don't think they've really built the Cargobike Extra Extra Long. Know of any others?

The guy told me that the purple LoveBike in the picture is so hard to control with that long steering rudder that it is a real test of the strength of your romance. Apparently it keeps hitting the riders. I've heard better about the conference bike, though it doesn't look too practical for commuting either. (it's used for team building exercises and tours I think). They make them with variable numbers of riders. (The former importer, DBC City Bikes in Boston, is now concentrating on US made utility bikes instead.)

A kindergarten 8 kid transporter again from our Rolling Orange post:

Here's a link to the pedal pub in Chicago, yet another Dutch idea, but of course in Chicago you can't have an open alcohol container on it in public, like you can in Holland. I can't find my own picture of one but it looks like a San Francisco trolley and a bar at the same time, and everyone pedals from his or her barstool. The bartender steers while the trolley moves around, then serves when it's parked.

I think we're doing well with a maximum of 6 people on our big Bakfiets (only happened twice - you could do 7 in a pinch though, I'm sure of it!) How many can you fit in your car? 

Next step - clown car bike!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Revised balance bike post

We added crank removal pictures to the old post we have about making a balance bike out of a standard toddler bike. Have a look!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buying a bike for your child

This question seems to keep coming up, so here is our take on it. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Books and Bikes: To Book- A -Mania at the Harold Washington Library

This Saturday, November 19th, will be the annual Book-A-Mania Festival at the Harold Washington Library from 11a.m. to 3 p.m.. Book-A-Mania is a free spectacle of authors, performance and crafts held each year throughout the Harold Washington Library downtown. Take your bikes and go. It's just incredibly fun.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Winterish Ride and Birthday Greeting

We are still trailing behind other riders these days barely out on our usual routes. This morning was a spot of light as my middle guy and I spent the morning out for a ride on our own trawling Greek bakeries and chattering together as we spun along with the box.
Talking and riding with my kids are a secret dividend of traveling on a bike.
 Come home to find that Grid profiled the lovely Martha Williams and her special blog Bike Fancy! which turns one this weekend. Bike Fancy always has a surprise.  Old, young, every shape of woman and age, all riders out in Chicago on every kind of ride.
 Martha took our picture last year midway through the winter after we met at Dottie's (of Let's Go Ride a Bike) Women Who Bike Brunch. Dottie has been dubbed by one writer in Chicago as the Martha Stewart of the Chicago biking but I like to think of her more as the Patti Smith super punk rock godmother of the women's riding scene here and her brunch as a winter morning midwest CBGB's. She always tells it like it is her way when she writes and makes a place at the table for every kind of rider to find.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

( Overdue) Love Letter to Bike Lanes in the New York TImes Today!

What a surprise when I found this long piece "Pleasures of Life in the Slow Lane" stashed away in the Arts section of the New York Times. A two years long overdue love letter to bikes in New York. It holds true for Chicago as we begin to actually turn the clock forward to having real cycling infrastructure. Just read it. The prose will make you swoon. Everything they say about New York is true of the potential for bikes to transform Chicago- for family cyclists too! Link is here.
Micheal Kimmelman rides along with Janette Sadik-Khan (my hero) through the city. Just imagine how amazing it will be in Chicago when we have as much bike infrastructure here and the Sun Times can take a beautiful ride after ignoring all the benefits for years? Maybe we can just skip the ignoring/ heckling part and  create cycling infrastructure in Chicago soon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Raleigh Twenty Folding Bike

The Raleigh Twenty was a little sometimes folding, sometimes not three speed bike with 20 inch (406 or 451) wheels that Raleigh started building after they missed out on selling the suddenly very popular small wheel Moulton in the late 1960s. At one point in the mid-to-late 1970s it was the most popular bike in the Raleigh stable, which earned it loads of similar competitors during the era of Disco and Punk. It has that chromed steel look typical of 1970s metal products and came with a wide variety of load carrying options (which is how I can justify putting it on a blog about cargo bikes, I guess...)
1969-1970 North American Raleigh 20 folding  bike with a few new parts.
(seat, handgrips, bell, mirror, reflectors and lights - original seat was a black plastic
Brooks mattress seat; handgrips were gray white rubber Raleigh with fins but were unsalvageable.
Otherwise all is stock including the Vinylon red stripe Raleigh tires)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


OK, so it doesn't have much to do with bikes or Chicago or cargo but it was made by our kids...

We spent some time briefly on the East Coast again and got hit by snow a couple of times in OCTOBER. Also found a neat-o 1969 Raleigh Twenty which is in the process of getting cleaned and de-rusted now.

Time to pull out and brush off the ski/bike helmets, the goggles, the gloves, the wooly underlayers and fleecy top layers...

We have had a rather dismal fall, not on our bikes as much as we usually are.  Family loss, overscheduling and the addition of a second school have us disorganized and fumbling in the mornings through this beautiful fall season.

We got back up last week to the Film Festival at Facets and ended up riding two friends along with our usual three on the box to the movies. Four in the box and one on the rack plus me. I thought we were finally back on the road, but even on today's beautiful morning we were still trying to get organized.

For the next week we will try to get back out on our usual morning ride. We need to reorganize our fall/winter clothes, change our dressing organization and routine and get ready to ride even as the fall gives way to winter. Can we do it? Stay tuned. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

See you at the Movies! On Bikes to the Chicago International Children's Film Festival

From the festival web site linked below

This weekend kicks off the annual Chicago International Children's Film Festival. If you have never gone, you should — this is usually wonderful. They have films for all ages screened at theatres around the city from October 21 to Oct. 30. You should take a bike since parking is stressful and we love not parking. Even bike parking is sparse around Facets theater, where most films are, so leave yourself plenty of extra time to get there. The theater can get crowded too.

Commuting is fun!

Here comes Winter!  late Fall!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Come Meet with Bike Lane Planners

This weekend there will be an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the people who have been responsible for the most innovative new bicycle infrastructures in the country, and the cycling infrastructure master planner for Chicago, at Active Transportation's public forum. You have to RSVP but it will be worth it. These sorts of forums usually cost a bundle and this one is free!

If you are a family cyclist it's especially important to come and tell them about it, so cycling with kids gets more attention when they are planning new routes. Not many family bicyclists come to these things. Commuters and experts who don't ride with their families don't understand what works well for kids and people carrying kids so they need to hear your perspectives. Also, come get the nuts and bolts of how to advocate for better cycling infrastructure for you and your family from these experts. It's free and you can learn how to make a difference now.

Here is the information from the Chainlink (

Bikeways 101: Lessons from leading American cities
Sat., Oct. 15, 10am – 11am
Jak’s Tap (Green Room), 901 W Jackson
Free and open to the public. Please RSVP at
Want to learn how protected bike lanes, bike boulevards and other types of bikeways are increasing cycling and making streets safer across the US? The country’s top experts from New York, San Francisco and Portland are visiting Chicago to share lessons from their cities. Come learn what strategies other cities are using to make their streets more bike-friendly, and learn more about Chicago’s big plans to be the most bicycle-friendly city in the nation.
Speakers include:
Rob Burchfield, P.E., City of Portland
Jon Orcutt, New York City Department of Transportation
Mike Sallaberry, P.E., San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Douglas Adams, AICP, Sam Schwartz Engineering

Sunday, October 2, 2011

More Open Streets Please!

It's over for today. When can we do it again?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bundle Up for Open Streets this Saturday- A Weekend Family Ride

The Open Streets website has a lot more information.
The Active Transportation Alliance and the Loop Alliance are aligning this weekend and opening State Street for five whole blocks of car free fun. This is very exciting and worth bundling up to come and enjoy. Open Streets. Check out the link. My favorite things on the map are the construction playground and scavenger hunt. The map is here.

Dutch Bike Chicago As Dead As A Matjes

As we idled past the site of Dutch Bike Chicago today we noticed that it was empty. Totally empty.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Rain Can't Stop the New Bike Lanes

We went to the Bike the 25th Ward ride.

It was gray and drizzling a little today as we headed out. There was a good turnout nonetheless and the Mexican hot cocoa and fruit at the meeting point provided everyone a nice warm jolt of energy. The T-shirts were a nice bright yellow this year. Everyone signed up for bike info with Active Transportation and other groups. Raúl from Working Bikes brought his pedal powered record player for fun, though it played "Purple Rain." 

The ride was fun. We zipped through Pilsen up Blue Island and Racine to Taylor, across and down to Chinatown via the bridge on 18th. Many people chose to skip the wet, slippery gratings (there are no plates on the bridge) and went for the sidewalk, including several of the important folks. It's safer to be safe. We returned to Harrison Park via Cermak and through smaller streets in Pilsen. Our kids enjoyed zipping forward to the police car in front and back to us but one of them got upset on the slippery bridge and bailed out into our cargo bike sag wagon. Many thanks to the other riders who were incredibly kind to our middle guy furiously pedaling along at the end of the pack.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Come Bike the 25th Ward with Gabe Klein and Alderman Solis this Sunday! Check out the soon to be Protected Lane on 18th Street.

We live in the 25th Ward and there are some very exciting things coming up in our corner of the city this fall. There will be a new protected lane on 18th Street ( Clinton to Clark). This Sunday Alderman Solis will host a five mile ward ride celebrating this new lane and the culture of the ward itself. The 25th includes Chinatown, Pilsen, Little Village, the University and old Italian neighborhoods along Taylor Street. You don't have to live in the ward to enjoy this ride. Come on over from wherever your neighborhood might be!

We are excited that Alderman Solis has taken such huge steps this year to grow cycling throughout the ward. He has learned so much and the new lane signals this incredible change in our ward.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rolling Orange

We had the chance recently to visit Rolling Orange Bikes in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NYC. They have a big, bright space full of De Fietsfabriek, Onderwater, Gazelle, Batavus and Golden Lion bikes, with a few bits and pieces of other things. Kids' bikes, cargo bikes, classic Omafiets, wheelchair and preschool cargo bikes, even a bike garage for your apartment building. They were very friendly and patient with our many questions (and the kids frantically exploring the biggest bikes).  If you are far from Chicago but closer to New York, this shop is worth a look. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Revised "About Cargobikes" Page

Hi. We just finished revising our cargo bike introduction page. Have a look if you'd like. Send comments if you have anything that needs review or any suggestions. Thanks!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Morning Pannier

We had our windy chill this morning as we rode to school. It was time to bring the windbreakers even though it was so sunny and bright. Our post about dressing for the blustery mix of fall weather from last year says exactly what we like to bring in our panniers on these autumn days. It's very detailed and I'd suggest a look if you seek a solid explanation of what our kids wear at each age, from just not a baby on up, during mixed fall and early winter weather.  It also explains where we get clothing and how we take care of things so they will last. Lastly we touch on the difference between dressing a child who is pedaling -- like on the tandem or on their own bike -- and a child dressed to sit in the wind on the bike.

Today if I had packed right, my pannier would have held a windbreaker for each kid. I would have put each kid in a nice medium weight wool or polyester layer as well, as it got pretty cold in the wind. We actually left with a mix of heavy wool and hooded poly layers over long sleeves on, and a not so perfect mix of extra in the bag. I definitely could have packed more wind breaking layers!

We did not break out the under hats and gorgeous matching neck warmers that Erin made us over at Kozie Prery, but they are coming out this weekend for morning rides. (Peek for pictures of the hats and cowls that I should be able to put up at the end of the weekend, or check out their etsy shop at the link. They were worth every penny!) I will probably be breaking out the light gloves to at least keep in the pannier just in case.

Hope we see you out riding one of these beautiful mornings.

p.s. Check out our interview with Nick Wilson of Rapid Transit on the Chicago Parents Ride On page. I started doing interviews for the page in January and that is when we spoke. It's been a bit of a trick figuring out how to post them but now Blogger is upgraded to do it and we decided to go with audio. Our first talk is a pinch long, but Nick is a very experienced family rider and has lots of interesting things to say. Stay tuned as we get some other families up on the same page.

Many other family bike blogs also talk to other families about riding, which is very exciting and always fun to read! Two to seek out are Mamafiets and Simplybike.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mayor's Bike Meeting and .... A Total Streets Approach to Creating Better Neighborhood Riding Conditions for Children in Chicago

Parents in Chicago who wish to use bikes as transportation with their independent young riders are thwarted at every turn. Dangerous traffic uneducated about our youngest cyclists, terrible road conditions, lack of infrastructure for bikes, poorly marked and vulnerable bike lanes. All these factors add up to using public transportation or the car instead of a bicycle in most cases when families are often traveling less than two miles to reach school, shopping, parks libraries or museums.

How can we rectify this as a city? I'm sick of telling my sons they can't ride the four miles to school each morning they can easily pedal in no time because it just isn't safe period.

Today Pedestrian Observations published a critique of rails to trails conversion in the U.S. and separated infrastructure overseas. As a huge fan of well designed separated lanes and road calming here in Chicago I was particularly interested in the comment left by a Dutch reader describing how they use a variety of methods to create better cycling opportunities in Holland. I was interested as always in the mix used in other places both in the U.S. and abroad  and it is part of my solution to riding with children here in Chicago. The comment will be published at the bottom of the post so you can read it too.

Here's my prescription for Chicago.
Let's infrastructure "bomb" one or two neighborhoods here in Chicago in the next year to create cycling forward zones. We could target four-five schools, two CPL libraries, shopping and parks to create pathways that reach these key places designed specifically for the 8-80 rider. The infrastructure for cyclists could and should be a mix of traffic calming and separated lanes in a mix of styles. This would not be ward specific but cycling user specific designed to increase ridership to these most used places for families. Studying the families that use other kinds of transportation to get to school as is being done in Mr. Colon's ward could give some of the information needed to begin laying out lanes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cargo Cycles Take Over West Town Bikes

The Cargo Bike “Roll Call” was held this evening at West Town Bikes and pretty well attended by cargo bike aficionados and a few others. Nobody called the roll, and Cetma and Bakfiets were absent. It was an opportunity to meet people and ride fun odd bikes including many of West Town’s Alex Wilson’s small wheeled, heavy load carrying custom or rebuilt bikes (many a little like the Kemper Lorri).

There was a Rhoades car quadricycle and a steampunk homebuilt wood and iron contraption with huge Fat Frank tires.
Babboe City
Bikes at Work trailers
The Babboe City box bike, several Madsens and Xtracycles, a Winther trike, a Human Powered Machines Long Haul box bike, a Christiania trike, several Yuba Mundos, a JC Lind trike, our Onderwater tandem and Haley trike, a Bullitt delivery bike, and a set of Bikes at Work and homemade trailers with boats on them all made an appearance and most were ridden by everyone who wanted to.
Whole Foods delivered some yummy things with a bike trailer. A guy with a Chinese made Fietsfabriek-trike-copy with electric drive that was entirely covered with gray fake fur came by too with a small child balanced on top. Jon Lind was there but Copenhagen, Dutch Bike, and other dealers weren’t. Most people didn’t wear helmets.


A lot of people liked our Onderwater Tandemtransporter, and rode it with two grownups though it's better with kids on the little seats. Nobody wanted to get off.  Though nobody currently stocks them in Chicago Jon Lind has said he would be willing to add one or a few as a special order to one of his regular shipments if given enough lead time. I think after riding many of the others it is one that is worth considering strongly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cargo Bike Rally is Monday 6-9 PM

* we got an update from Ash this morning that the snacks and finger food should be pretty kid friendly! J.

Come to West Town Bikes between 6-9 pm Monday 9/12 for a chance to see and try out
several picnic (and other cargo) carrying options. We will try to be there with a few of the
bikes from this blog for you to check out. And if you miss it why not come to Kidical
Mass next time, where a lot of other cargo and kid carriers will be glad to talk with you.

There will be beer and wine and finger food (which means: pack some dinner
and kid snacks). We'll bring some bike books for kids to enjoy.
Here's the link to more info about the event.

The address again:

West Town Bikes/Ciclo Urbano
2459 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fewer Cargobike Options in Chicago

EDIT 9/30/11:
Dutch Bike Chicago is out of business.

I recently noticed that the website for Dutch Bike Co has eliminated new cargo bikes, the only ones they carried, from the online catalog, both in Seattle and Chicago. They have a 2009 left online. When I dropped by the store, they had their orange and red advertising Bakfiets but that was it. Had they sold out of all their stock? Were they going to get more? What about all the people who ask me about the Bakfiets - do I have to send them on a trip to Amsterdam or recommend a Madsen? Even after chatting with them, much remains a mystery.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cargo Bike Roll Call Next Week September 12 from 6-9p.m.

It's been a busy few weeks here and we are doing more riding than writing. We wanted to put a little note up about the Cargo Bike "Roll Call" at West Town Bikes next week. There will be lots of different kinds of carrying bikes there and it will be a good place to visit with other riders of every kind about carrying things on your bike.
It's at the dinner hour and the food options aren't quite set yet so we'd suggest packing a little dinner  and snacks if you are loading up the kids.
We will be there with some combination of bikes to share and look forward to seeing how everyone stays on two wheels too. Come ride some bikes and have some fun!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trying out Cargo Trikes

A few weeks ago we posted a pic of a little ride around the block with some small friends. Bike buddies Danielle and Roxy from Born in Japan spotted our newest arrival — a result of bike love gone mad that is now in our garage.
The three trikes we compared all together - the turquoise Haley
Model 1, the white Christiania, and the Triple Lindy. The only one
that's not ideal for carrying kids is the one with the kid in it...
We found an ad on the Chainlink forum, a nearly-never used Haley model 1 tricycle for a tiny price. We made a pact to ignore it for a few days but then when we looked back it was still there. Here in Chicago it’s good to recognize an offer you can’t refuse, so we rushed to the guy’s house, tried it, and the kids rode in it, actually rode it, shouted a lot, and wouldn’t get out of it. When we woke up dazed we were home and it was in the garage with the children refusing to get out of it.
For other posts on these and other cargo trikes look at Family Ride (reviews JC Lind), Totcycle (Christiania and Nihola) and  Let's Go Ride A Bike (Winther), not to mention Dr Mekon, (Christiania and Bakfiets trikes), BikePortland (Haley) and others linked from these. 
Then we started riding it in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t fun (for us — the kids loved it) since it had never been set up and some components needed work. On the Critical Lass ride the pedal fell off and Dottie had to carry me on her handlebars to the bar. Well, almost. Now that all is taken care of, it’s much better, but it had us wondering for awhile what the appeal of trikes was for grown-ups. 

Then last week we took some highly refined European cargo trikes, the JC Lind Triple Lindy and the Christiania BoxCycles trike, for a test ride to compare. To cut to the chase, the more expensive trikes are in a different class. They have a lot of features that make them more durable and comfortable, more stable and easier to ride, and unlike the Haley they work well with kids. You get a lot for the extra money.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Getting Ready to Bike to School on the Guardian Bike Blog

The Guardian Bike blog has a nice little piece today on cycling to school. Though it is from England it has great suggestions for anyone. Check it out here. Our own post on Growing School Bike Trains and the Portland site about their network share information and inspiration too.
Our family had a wobbly bike-to-school start this week. (Our school began last week.)  Organizing to have all three kids in school for the first time I struggled with getting organized and out the door every morning.

To the Ginza Holiday at the Midwest Buddhist Temple

Click to see it larger, or find
the info at the link above
Each year our family makes our way to the annual Ginza Holiday at the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Old Town. The festival ran this weekend Friday through Sunday at 435 W. Menomonee St. Cash only in years past, but they took credit cards for most things this time. There is a discount entry coupon at the link above. Maybe you missed it this year, but you can go next time!

As you may know there is a very large and vibrant Japanese American community here in Chicago. Many Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes in other places after being imprisioned during the second world war and came here to make a new start with friends or family that had already returned. The peace and joy of the first Ginza Holiday, held 56 years ago in Old Town to great success despite fear of rejection from the white community, echos on through this celebration every year. A bike is the best way to get to this wonderful time!  Please try it if you've never gone. Your kids will love it. Check out the link to see all the neat things going on.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A bad, bad inner tube gets what's coming to it

fixed, a bit later in the day
Tried to take 2 kids out with me on the old Schwinn tandem and pulled it out of the garage only to find that the front wheel, which had been fine the day before, was utterly flat. Great!, I thought. A maintenance task for the LGRAB games! Out came the old metal tire irons and patch stuff. Off came the front wheel.
Tire coming off

Rrrgh. The hole wasn't in the tube itself. It was in the rubber surrounding the valve stem. Rubbing on the steel of the rim for years had done it in. Even with a patch over it nothing would hold it closed. Any patch just blew off with no tire behind it holding it in place. Tried it a couple of times, even.

Eventually gave up and put in a new tube. The old one, it turned out, had been the wrong size and was folded over itself inside. A neat trick if you don't have access to one that really fits, but not ideal.

Finally got it redone, headed off and had a nice afternoon, with the big kid actually pedaling along!

     To do this yourself, get your patching tools together, with a tire patch kit, tire irons (plastic ones are nicest to your fancy aluminum rims), a wrench or other tool to take the bike apart and put it together (often 15mm on newer bikes), a new tube to fit your wheel that has the type of valve you use (Presta is skinny and Schrader is like the ones on a car) and a pump or compressor. A new tube is fast but if you can fix the old one it will be just fine and it's a lot cheaper. The whole process takes only a few minutes. Need a new tire? Now's a good time to change it. If your bike is Dutch, internal geared, or otherwise very difficult to take apart, and you can fix the old tube well, you can do the rest of this stuff without removing the wheel and without a new tube.
     Notice where the washers and nuts all go on your wheel compared to the fork ends, and unhook any safety thingies. This bike has screw on wheels, but if you have quick release levers you'll probably notice they're not that quick, really, since you probably have to undo the lever, then unscrew one side or the other, for the nuts to fit over the "lawyer lips" you likely have on your fork, or unhook any little tabs from the slots in the fork. The brakes should fit over the flat tire as you pull it out, or you can loosen them if needed. If you have a classic Raleigh you have a special case, and you need to put the wheel back exactly right. Mark the right side and the left side of the wheel, or, better, read this first. Some tires have to go in a certain direction - check yours.
     Take the wheel off the bike, then use the tire irons to gently lever one side's tire bead (inside the metal of the rim) up and over the rim toward the outside. Continue along, levering more and more off until the entire side of the tire is off the rim, leaving the other half still attached, and pull out the flabby flat inner tube. At this point you can fix the tube, usually, following the instructions that come with your patch kit. Pump it up, find the hole, use the kit.
     Check for bad things inside the tire or rim. If you find a piece of something sharp or a rough spoke end sticking through the rim tape or rubber rim band, you can remove it now or smooth it and cover it with new rim tape or a tire patch or thick duct tape. If there is a hole in the tire itself, it has to be pretty big to cause any problem. If you need to you can use a tube patch on the tire, or a stiff piece of paper like a new dollar bill can cover a big weak place until you get a new tire.
     Insert the new tube, slightly inflated, into the tire. You put the stem through the hole first, which should traditionally be near the brand marking on the tire, then stuff the rest of the tube into the tire. Even it out without too much twisting or pinching.
     Write in your contact information and put it in on a piece of Tyvek from a FedEx pack or similar including your name, telephone number and instructions to call you if the bike is taken for service (theft protection), write it on the rim tape, or Sharpie marker it onto the inside of the rim or tire. Rough notes can eat into the tube so make yours small and smooooooth.
     Reinstall the tire. Start near the stem and go around both ways to click it in. Often with mountain bike tires you can do this by hand, but these old Schwinn Westwinds needed a little oomph from a tire iron. Be careful not to pinch the tube (jab it in before levering the tire bead) or you'll be popping holes in tubes and doing this again and again.
     Put the wheel back with the tire mostly flat so it fits in between the brakes (assuming you didn't unclick the quick release on them - the old Schwinn doesn't have any kind of quick release). Attach the various lawyer safety things and washers just the way they were and screw everything in properly (or use the quick release. Put it in the loose way then move the lever to tighten. Too tight? Loosen the screw a bit and try again. Make the lever point back so hooking it on a bush won't drop out your wheel.)
     A back wheel is similar but more complicated to remove and replace. Make sure a back wheel is even so it doesn't drag on things before you tighten it down.

Did you enter the LGRAB games?

Bike luau

What fits better with bikes than a luau? Our niece couldn't think of anything else, either, so she had a luau bike party with bikes, grass skirts, authentic-ish Hawaiian pizza (the park wouldn't let us dig a hole for a pig roast), and pineapple juice and coconut drink (ahem). It was fun for everyone. And nothing says summer and bikes as well as tropical fruit (and frog catching in the park's nearby pond...)
The bikes were fun to decorate and who can resist a grass skirt?
The cool surfer-on-a-bike look
Even the bikes were wearing grass skirts (don't do this - it took
forever to peel the grass out of the sprockets so the thing would
shift properly again)
er, Aloha!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another Little Postcard from NYC

Well, we had another chance last week to ride around New York. A post we did earlier described some of the bike lanes they've been installing there in the last few years, concentrating on Brooklyn, and this time we had almost a full afternoon to ride up and down between Soho and into Central Park.

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

Viro Blocca Catena large - my favorite bike lock
This will be the most fun you'll ever have locking your bicycles!

If you have a bunch of people in your family riding bikes, as we do, you have probably had a time or two where somebody's bike key has gone missing and you've been stuck, unable to unlock a bike you wanted to use or to lock a bike when you're out (usually with a kid needing the bathroom). This can be even more complicated with lots of bikes in a family who rides together. If that hasn't happened to you yet, you are better organized than we are. We found out how to minimize the problem, though!

This one key will open all of these locks.
I don't need a big key ring to manage the
bikes and neither does my spouse.
Abus 34CS/55 and two 34/55 models.
Having a single key system for all your bike locks takes the hassle out of locking up. It's great for family cycling and it's easy to arrange. If you have a bunch of bikes to lock up, it's easier not to have to search your pockets for the right key for each lock while the kids distract your attention. You can get everything unlocked or locked in much less time. It's especially handy if you lock a bike where your kids are at school or daycare that your partner needs to pick up later. Everyone has the same single key on their chain. You can grow the system from before your first baby to herding 4 kids around as your needs change.

This is good for kids too. Kids love to take responsibility by carrying their own locks and keys, yet parents can still open the locks if needed. There is no need to sacrifice security to do it either. If you want, you can also put together a lock system that is keyed so that all the grownups can open every lock, while the kids can open only their own locks. Then if the kid loses a key your grownup bike is still secure. Options for your family key system follow in a minute. First, you should choose the general type of lock you plan to use.

Kinds of Locks

U-Locks (also called D-Locks) - a solid steel U that hooks into a thicker bar
These are strong, pretty lightweight and small for what they offer but I prefer a chain and padlock. There are lots of different levels of quality. A small sized well-known-branded lock with thick steel parts and a locking connection on both sides of the shackle is safest but expensive. Cheap ones are cheap steel and don't protect well.

By 'a locking connection on both sides of the shackle', I mean U-locks with a little bite out of the metal on both sides of the U (instead of one side with a bite and one with a bent end or hinge or something). They are locked by a steel ball on BOTH sides of the main lock body, and they are MUCH better. It takes one cut to break a U-lock that only locks on one side, but may take TWO cuts to open one that locks twice. Twice the protection!

I am not aware of any rekeyable U-locks. But if you like U-locks, there is one way to get them keyed conveniently. Contact the manufacturer, either directly or via a locksmith or dealer, and order new locks you want all keyed alike. Sometimes they'll key new ones the same as one you already have. We did this once and Kryptonite didn't even charge extra to do it. It takes a few weeks for them to ship your order. Then all the keys fit all the locks. This is kind of expensive since good U-locks are not cheap, and kind of inconvenient since many of the things a U-lock will fit around are easy to remove (street signs and 'sucker poles', for example), but it's simple since you only need one key for everything and all the locks work the same. The same special order method applies for any non-rekeyable padlocks including Abus folding bar locks and chains with integrated padlock ends.

4/13: Someone recently noted in the comments that not all manufacturers can key new locks to your old one anymore. You have to buy all new ones. Too bad - try asking anyway and maybe they'll do it again.

Folding Bar Locks
These fold up like an old fashioned carpenter's ruler with a lock on it. Abus makes a lot of them. Word has it that the best ones are good, but the cheaper ones can be opened fast. They can be special ordered alike I think from the manufacturer.

Padlocks and Chains
With a padlock and chain you have a lot more freedom to change things or lock anywhere. A chain fits around large and unwieldy objects and allows you to lock your bike a small distance away from an object. Generally speaking, you want at least a meter of chain ($25-$100) and a heavy duty padlock ($15-80). This is heavier than a U-lock but more versatile.

A chain that's locked with a good padlock needs TWO cuts to get through it. Look for a padlock that also does, like the ones recommended below, with a sliding shackle or with a locking point on both sides. Try to maximize the number of difficult cuts through steel that a thief would need to make to get your bike.

our favorite locks are usually found on Italian mopeds
It's good to get a padlock that's at least as hard to open as your chain itself. A (10mm +) thick, special alloy shackle is a good idea, as is a shrouded shackle (like the biggest silver Abus 34CS/55 in the picture at the top - same lock as the others but with a shroud) or monoblock design (like the Viro locks pictured here). If a thief can't reach the shackle with a saw or other tool, the lock is safe. Lock picking is uncommon, takes time and anything of good quality is probably fine in this regard. (More pins, mushroom pins, or anti-bump pins = better anti-picking protection.) I recommend getting a rekeyable or KnK lock (see below) so you can rig up your family key system. Here are links to a Dutch cycle club site and a German test magazine that tested locks for strength.

The chain should be as thick as you can stand to carry, 10 mm or so, and in a city it must be very strong hardened steel like the Abus, OnGuard, Pewag and Kryptonite chains in the pictures. They won't cut with a normal chain cutter or hacksaw. Some people say you can get away with 8mm chain but we don't. 6mm isn't enough.
Chain length: The standard 3 foot (ca. 94 cm) chain will just barely fit around most of the big streetlight poles in downtown Chicago with room for your frame, but you would be happier with 4 to 6 feet of chain. This gives you a chance to use one lock on your bike plus a couple of kids' bikes or your partner's bike too. A short chain will fit on a sidewalk bike loop or rack easily though. Some chains have a ring on one end that seems handy; you can also loop it around a streetlight pole and use a U-lock to connect it to your bike.

A thick chain from the hardware store will work in low security settings - the red one in the picture down below is one of our kid's locks with normal chain in a tube of climbing tape (about $1 a foot at any rock climbing supplier) - but don't follow our example. It can be cut in no time with hand tools. The advantage is that it's cheap enough to use on a toddler bike.

Ready Made Chains
One easily found model we like pretty well is the Abus 10 KS chain, 110cm, with a 34/55 padlock, (34/55/10KS110) last seen by us for about $80 altogether (marked down from $125) at  a local bike store in Chicago in 4/13. It can also be supplied with a shrouded padlock, the 34CS/55 in the top picture, and both can be rekeyed by most locksmiths. The 110 cm chain is long enough to lock to a streetlight pole and a little longer than the similar Kryptonite chains. 
We have had good luck with the 10mm Kryptonite chain that came with a small Kryptonite Evo padlock but the lock itself froze up eventually and had to be cut off by the locksmith, so now we use the chain with a Viro lock. If you get one keep it oiled. They make bigger chains too though they get to be too bulky for us.
OnGuard also makes good 10-12mm chains. The plasticky parts fall off the padlocks but they are supposed to be secure. 
If you can't find these options in a bike or lock store look in a motorcycle or scooter shop.

Chains with integrated padlocks
These can be quite good - they are usually made of a 6 to 10 mm chain about a meter long with a big blocky plastic shrouded lock permanently attached to one end of the chain and a shackle-like rod on the other end. With a 10mm chain they should be fine, and some have won certification from ART or SoldSecure, but they can't be rekeyed as far as I know so you'd have to order them all keyed alike like the U-locks above.  I'm not sure exactly what the advantage is of having everything attached, and they are, if anything, bulkier than the chain-and-padlock version of the same idea.

Other Locks we don't like
We don't recommend any of these as a first line of protection. Spend the extra money on getting a better or longer chain and a better padlock or U-lock (or both!) instead.

Cables of any kind can be cut with very simple cheap tools. Don't waste your money. Thick, thin, armored: doesn't matter, easy to open. (remember this if nothing else!)

Café locks or wheel locks, those rings that click around the wheel while you just run in to the cafe, are pre-installed on many European style bikes. Axa and Abus make a lot of them and many older models can be opened very simply due to design errors. I think they are only useful to keep the wheel attached while the metal recycling guy picks up your whole bike and throws it in his truck to go sell to the Prolerizer. Maybe manufacturers can special order them keyed alike. Some may be useful to lock the wheel to your (well-secured by another lock) frame - look for the Sold Secure or ART certification for good ones - but I'd still rather have a better chain or U-lock for the extra money.

Special locking skewers, seat chains, etc, have serious drawbacks and even the good ones can be opened simply. Get plain hex bolt fasteners for hubs and seatposts to replace the quick releases but that's enough. If your seat or wheel is so nifty that someone will steal it, remove it every time and lock it with the chain, or change it and the seatpost out for a cheap set, or be willing to replace it. A cable or a bike chain through the seat can be cut easily, so they work only to prevent drunken vandalism, not real thieves.

How To Set Up Your Family Key System

Most padlocks, U-Locks, or similar non-rekeyable locks
You can get several copies of any nonrekeyable padlock keyed alike from the manufacturer for a basic but not very versatile single key system. This is hard to alter as your family changes but everyone has the same one key and it may be all you need. 

Rekeyable Padlocks
These have huge advantages over non-rekeyable systems, especially as your needs change, or if you lose a key that someone might use to take your bike. They can be set up and changed locally at any locksmith. And you can use them to make a custom key system. For example, a lock shop can key them all alike (easy and cheap) or set all the locks to open for, say, the grownups' keys while each kid's key only opens his or her own lock. That would be a variation of a master key system like those used in buildings or institutions and costs in our experience between $15 and $20 per lock if you have someone do it for you.  For one cheap alternative to this fancy master keying, costing maybe $5 per lock, you could use a full 6 pin cylinder in your grownup locks and only fill 5 pins in the kid's lock, giving the kid a shorter key that has only the first 5 pin spaces. The extra parts of the grownup key just spin in the empty space in the kid's lock, but the grownup key opens everything; the kid's key only opens the kid lock. The kid lock then has somewhat less security against picking than the grownup lock but most house keys have only 5 pins so it's not that bad.

Ask them to use the special high security pins when they rekey your lock if possible to limit picking. The cost difference is slight if any. 

With standard rekeyable padlocks you are pretty much limited to the single keyway (keyhole shape) that that padlock company uses - American, or Master, or Abus, or whatever. They can be versatile, secure and comparatively inexpensive but can't match your door key and might not let you change things as much in the future.

An even more flexible route is to use KnK (Key in Knob) padlocks.  You can match your bike locks to the door to your garage or basement with these, so one key opens the door, unlocks the bike, and fits easily in your pocket when you go out.

KnK lock cylinders - the thing your key fits into in a door handle - are usually used in buildings, but some special padlocks can use them. I listed some below. Prices vary, but start at about $10 for a common house key shape like a Schlage C or Yale, on up to maybe $65 for a really odd high security cylinder with restricted duplication.  You can have a bunch of different models that all use the same key, too. This is probably something to talk about with a locksmith. If you have the cylinders you can get a rekeying set cheaply at Menard's or other hardware stores for a few key types including Schlage C and Kwikset and rekey it yourself. No special antipick pins in this set. KnK padlocks are usually going to be from a good lock shop; some models are listed below.

A lock with a key in knob (KnK)
cylinder like a regular house door lock
this is a small KnK padlock for medium low security

Suppliers and Brands:
  • Your Local Locksmith
    A good choice for the fiddly work of rekeying everything alike, but not usually a good place to find a chain. Maybe they can order you one. Local locksmiths will be able to make all kinds of things work together if you tell them what you want.
    This internet site from Texas sells - or used to sell - great PEWAG brand chain and good Abus locks at an incredibly affordable price. They had bulk chain for $7 a foot, a complete chain and lock was about $38. Try the link, maybe they have it again.
  • sells bulk chain and locks, haven't tried them myself but look OK.
  • Irv's Bikes in Pilsen always has a bigger than usual variety of Abus, Kryptonite and Onguard chains and U-locks. Many are rekeyable, especially the Abus, and they often have low prices.
  • Your Local Bike Shop
    They will sell the usual U-lock and Kryptonite or OnGuard chain options. Go see what they have. Stay away from the cables. If you like folding ABUS bars this is the place to get them, though they are not rekeyable and the cheaper ones open easily. Nothing in a bike shop will be keyed alike, but maybe you can order it through them that way. Compare prices well.

Padlocks that seem pretty good (not a complete list)

Look for the UK's Sold Secure gold or silver or Holland's ART **** ratings on bike-related lock packages or look at their websites for independent evaluation lists of many locks. Some of the following locks aren't tested since they aren't sold specifically for bikes but your locksmith will probably know. Bike locks come with extra insurance sometimes but you pay for it in the high initial cost.

If I had to choose one new lock for all my family's bikes, I'd choose the Viro Blocca Catena, all keyed alike, since it's not as heavy as the other options, if I could find it. It's simple and not rekeyable but its design compensates for that for me. For a more complicated key system I'd go for the Abus 83CS/55 (or the American A748) and maybe use my house key in the plan.

  • Shrouded locks like the American A6360 or A748 seem to be good nontraditional bike padlocks and they are easily available in locksmiths shops. Others include ABUS 34CS/55 (often sold with chain as here) which is in the top picture, and Master 7045KA. None of these are KnK but all are rekeyable.
  • good locks but this is low security
    chain for a toddler bike
    Abus 83CS/55 has a steel body, is shrouded, and takes KnK cylinders. The 83/55, 83/60 and 83/80 are big steel KnK locks without a shroud. Abus makes some monoblock designs that are a good alternative. Here's a link to the ABUS page. There is a Schlage/Kryptonite KnK lock, the KS72 pictured above, that looks like the ones on truck trailers - it's kind of heavy but works OK and it's cheaper than the others. There are some small Abus 83/45s on junk chain and the KS72, all keyed alike, in the picture here.
  • VIRO was an Italian company, now part of Assa/Abloy, that makes the locks the City of Chicago uses to boot cars. One excellent but not rekeyable model for bikes is the Monolith, a cheaper alternative is the Panzer.  The large Blocca Catena is on nearly every moped in Italy and it's not easy to break. I don't know who the Chicago locksmith dealer is; I got mine pictured earlier very inexpensively from a hardware store in closeout. Order them special to get them keyed alike since they aren't rekeyable.
  • Fancier Expensive Padlocks
    I don't think it is worth the money to get a restricted unpickable keyway on a bike lock but if your needs are different (to make it match your house, for example) you could try Mul-T-Lock or Medeco. There are a few locksmiths in Chicago with these including the Security Shop, with whom I've always had good luck.

Lock Terminology 101
  • SHACKLE - the bent U-shaped thing on a padlock or U-lock that holds what you're locking
  • CYLINDER - the round thing that you put your key into and that can spin if the key fits
  • PINS - the metal rods inside the lock that keep the cylinder from spinning unless the key fits. There are usually 5 or 6 of them in most locks.
  • KEYWAY - how the zigzag slot in the cylinder is shaped. You can't stick a key with the wrong keyway into a lock at all.
  • SHROUDED padlocks have a steel thing all around the sides of the shackle so it's hard to get cutting tools close to anything important.
  • MONOBLOCK or SLIDING BOLT padlocks have a straight bar for a shackle that pulls in and out of the lock body, which itself is shaped like a squarish U. The ends of the chain fit in the U and then the bar goes through the links and clicks closed, which keeps the business end of the lock hard to reach with cutting tools. This is what they usually use on car wheel boots.

Bike Locking, in General (stuff you already know)

No bike lock is perfectly safe, no matter what. But if your bike is locked better than the one next to yours, maybe it's safe enough. Good U-locks, high security chain and padlock combinations, and folding bar locks are usually enough. Cables, combination locks, weak chains, padlocks or U-locks aren't worth the price. When in doubt, ask a lock shop. Here's a Slate Magazine review that's not too old. 

Get insurance if you really can't afford having your bike stolen. 

The most important thing to think about when locking your bike might not be how super impenetrable your awesome locks are, but rather how well you are connecting everything together. Be SURE that your lock goes around a major part of the bike frame and can't be removed, like one or two of the main tubes, and through the (preferably back) wheel too. (A back wheel costs a lot more to replace than a front one.)

Be extra careful about locking through the front wheel - people always do this and miss the frame. Often a thief could disassemble the headset or wheel and take the rest of the bike easily. The stem is also a bad place since the handlebars can be taken off. 

Also, ALWAYS keep the bike LOCKED TO something that's hard to cut, not just to itself, even if it's inside your garage or stairwell. You can get an "anchor" at the locksmith to facilitate this if you need it. Note that many poles on sidewalks can be unbolted and removed, so find a better place. And try to avoid leaving your bike out somewhere for very long (especially regularly in the same place). It doesn't take long to steal a bike. Sheldon Brown has his own strategy for locking here.

Oh, and a cable lock is as secure as a piece of string, even for a kid's bike, so never ever use one for anything important. Look at the statistics on Chicago stolen bike registry to see why (and for more tips).

updated 4/14