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.