Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mama Chari ( ママチャリ ) in Chicago!

We found ourselves this afternoon at Working Bikes again, where there is a glut of great bikes now that it’s winter. In addition to the usual Schwinn/Raleigh/etc offerings, there were a few very unusual ones today, including a couple of Japanese bikes rarely seen in the US. If they had been (a lot) less than $300 each we would have had to run off with both of them!

We see Fujis in the US pretty often, since they have been (or were) sold here. They were more commonly imported to the Northeast than to Schwinn headquarters, Chicago. Working Bikes has an odd one now, an Avalon Sport — Japanese market? Not sure. Looks like it.

There was a good 3-speed Panasonic too. The picture didn't come out. You'll have to imagine it.

When was the last time you saw a With? Or is it a Pets With Kids? Not sure of the manufacturer’s identity. Some common ones for bikes like this are Maruishi/Frackers, Bridgestone, Sogo. Look at the link at the end for more. If you know what this one is and when it dates from please let us know. It’s a (1990-ish?) Japanese Mamachari - a mom chariot. Here are a few pics:

The Pets With Kids is a low, three single speed bike with a full chaincase and a step through frame. The kickstand locks open and holds the rear wheel up securely. See how the front wheel is small, with ape hanger bars surrounding a child seat / carrying basket? Even a small-framed person can easily move 2 kids and/or groceries or tools or whatever they want with something like this. Because the weight is distributed directly over the steerer tube, the child or load in front doesn't mess up the handling of the bike much. And they can talk to you easily and get a good view. There are windshields available on many of these bikes in Japan to keep the child comfortable even in a little rain.

 The little smoked orange colored plastic
footrest is down for a child to sit.

You can strap one kid into the front seat and one into the back, or use both baskets for carrying things. The back cushions on this one are a little old and messy (they need new upholstery or replacing) but everything still works fine. The plastic OGK basket on the handlebars sports a fold-down section for little feet to stick out the front when it's not full of groceries. See how the seats fold to turn into baskets?

This person raced to the store to
get the mama bicycle when she
heard about it!

The front fork can be locked in position so the bike doesn’t get knocked over by wriggling children (or wriggling groceries). There is a generator light — but only on the front wheel. The back has only a fender reflector. Look at the Japanese domestic market generator with a plastic guard to prevent splashing muck and to keep fingers clean! Modern mamachari bikes link the kickstand and the front fork lock automatically, but good luck finding one in Chicago. There are apparently one or two more of these bikes in town. Are they yours?

The back wheel has a cheesy ring lock, nearly enough to keep a bike safe in Japan except from the bicycle cleanup crews that toss them in the backs of trucks if they're illegally parked...  Always a good idea to lock your bike TO something, even there. This one even still has its key and keychain!

I love Japanese bicycle names - I once had a one speed "Fantastic Milk" with odd leaping monsters shaped like the word for mountain on the chainguard. Do you know of any other fun bicycle model names?

Here's a domestic Japanese market Bridgestone that someone donated or found:

The Bridgestone Starlight is not intended for carrying kids, but it has many similar features to the Mamachari. It has a 3- speed Nexus hub and a Bridgestone rear band brake. The sign says "this will give you a smooth trip for a long time". 

There is an older Nexus generator hub, the front lamp has a green blinking standlight-type thing, and the rims are stainless steel. 

Look at the, um, are those pressure indicators on the rims? This bike has some quality features I haven’t seen before.

(Other Japanese related stuff in Chicago, if you are looking, includes the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Old Town, Mitsuwa marketplace on Algonquin Rd in Arlington Heights (from kotatsu tables to Japanese thick bread to the only delicious ramen in Chicagoland I think), Kawaii housewares on Halsted and Maxwell, Toguri on Clark and Belmont (closed), Sunshine Cafe on Clark and Catalpa, and JASC, the Japanese-American Service Committee, also on Clark, a cultural institution with many families that moved to Chicago after the US government displaced them from their land to nasty camps in the second World War. Now we need Muji and Uniqlo like New York already has. And a ママチャリ bike store!)

There are really good city and utility bikes in Japan. People use them every day in all kinds of weather. Just look at pictures of a Japanese train station to see the ocean of cycles waiting for their owners to return and ride back. There are also several interesting sites about mama-chari out there, including mama bicycle.  Best of all, though, this excellent post, full of great pictures, on Katesensei, a Japanese language learning site, gives you an idea of how great the infrastructure and bike options are in Japan - really, they don't have half this stuff in Copenhagen or Amsterdam. (Anyone interested in starting an Osakaize blog?)  There's a bike storage option for train stations you won't believe. Look at the link and drool!

oops - one followed us home...
what on earth will we feed it?
Looks like it'll be a kids bike. Maybe.
You can still find more good bikes there...
... like a lugged frame double-butted cr-mo
Schwinn superior for only $210, and a
triple butted Miyata mixte, too!

Friday, February 17, 2012

kidish made safe streets message

Streetsblog carried a sweet kid- or mostly kid made video about safe streets in New York.

The antidote to that sometimes-when-you-are-raising-kids-in-the-city feeling, that you should move far away into the country to homeschool your kids and go to the beach a lot, is to watch other city kids talk about living in their city. ( visit  beautiful SouleMama for her long running Friday moment for the country mouse heart tug)
Our children were pretty rapt watching this, partly because they love New York. Especially the Broadway traffic free zones because you can ride almost the length of the island (well, half of it) on a totally protected traffic free lane. On visits to New York we have whirled down Broadway together on the tandem, stopping in Times Square, at parks and snacky places all the way from Central Park to Battery City.

Partly the guys loved the video because they spend so much time on city streets here, and that city kid sense of being able to really get somewhere on your own on two wheels or two feet is so familiar to them.  And the ghost bikes. And the traffic.

The city is so messy and full of every kind of surprise. Cranes, deep holes in the street. Busy mornings flying out the door hopefully on our bikes. Maybe on the train.  Sometimes (alot) lately neither. It's what they know and they like seeing other kids talk about their messy busy crowded place. And the bike lanes that are coming. Really.

So instead of feeling like I should get out of here and find a big house with a barn I'll just try to remember that having a public school kid who knows where to find the best handmade tortillas at Maxwell Street Market and trawl Working Bikes for used lamps is kind of living the life too.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

70 year olds ride bikes too, and you'll be one of them

We think bikes are great transportation for families with people from young childhood to old age. In a city that sometimes seems full of young adults on fixed gear bikes riding on "sharrow" lanes it's often easy to forget the other, bigger part of the potential bike riding public. You, for example. 

Today Jane Brody of the New York Times wrote a brief post about being a 70 year old woman who rides her bike regularly. She has tips for new riders as well. 

We all want to be 70 year old (or older) bike riders, too. And guess what? Now is a great time to make the streets better for when we get older (and for our kids now and in the future, too...)

Thinking about young and old riders is increasingly important as the City of Chicago continues to seek input for its Streets for Cycling campaign in order to plan new protected bike lanes that will be safer for everybody. People can click the maps on the site to enter their own suggested routes or contact the local community advisory groups. You again, for example. 

Don't be fooled by all the healthy looking young adults on bikes in Chicago. Think about all the other people who are already making it work, riding where they need to go. Then go to an upcoming community meeting, look at where the city is planning to change streets in your neighborhood, and make your own suggestions so the new lanes will make sense for everyone.

Then when you wake up decades from now you can zip off to ride with your grandkids to school on that old neighborhood greenway you suggested yourself as a young whippersnapper.

See you there.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Do studded winter bike tires make sense?

Studded tires came in handy on our trip to the suburban mall this weekend - nobody shovels the walks, there is no bike infrastructure, and car traffic is fast, multilane, and irresponsible. We turned a lot of heads, but never slipped on the ice.
For the past couple of years we have been riding with studded winter tires on our big child carrying bikes. The tires seem to be as much a topic of conversation as the bikes themselves sometimes, so we thought we'd share our experiences so far. Clearly, this winter has so far not been the worst ever in Chicago (temperatures between 30 and 60 F or 0 and 15 C roughly, and not much snow or rain), but we still have had a bit of ice on the roads and about a week of normal winter ice and slush. Maybe this information will be handier later in the season or next year...

First off, studs are little points of metal poking out of the tire which are intended to get a better grip on slippery surfaces, much like ice crampons for hiking or studded snow tires for automobiles. They come on tires with various designs for various uses. Just as there are narrow treadless tubular racing tires and off-road knobby mountain bike tires, each for different purposes, snow tires also vary. Most are knobby and 'aggressively' treaded for off road use but others are more like a tire for an old 3-speed, with only a little bit of tread. The first kind is not very popular among regular riders we know since the aggressive tread is noisy and slows you down. Ours are the second variety, like a slightly knobby all purpose tire with lots of metal bits sticking out. They are Schwalbe Marathon Winters. Another similar one is the Nokian A10. We chose the Marathon because of our good experience with their other tires and because they are available in a 20 inch size. Most aren't, and if you need anything other than 26 inch or 700c/29er it can be hard or impossible to find studded options.

See the little carbide studs, like gray dots?
We rode for years with regular tires without much difficulty, but occasionally a quick slide on black ice would surprise us, so we decided to spring for studded tires before last year. We kept them all winter long, from late fall to mid spring, to cut down on the risk of sliding on ice as we ride in busy traffic in a city with mostly painted lanes up to now. The people who suggest putting them on only for bad days and using other tires other days have never removed and reinstalled a wheel on a cargo bike.

They give an extra level of confidence in traffic. Even on a good day it can get colder or dark and puddles or slush can freeze into ice. We chose to put studded tires on both front and back since a skid of either tire on ice in traffic is unacceptable. I don't see much potential benefit from only one studded tire, and I haven't tried it. All in all, we are quite satisfied with their performance - they pretty much eliminate sliding on ice. You could ride your bike across an ice rink if the Zamboni guy would let you. They don't slide on pavement, either, but they offer no improvement over regular tires for slippery steel things like expansion joints, metal plates in the road, or train tracks. They don't affect steering. The ones we use have reflective sidewalls, which we like.

They do have a few small drawbacks. The studs make a sound like riding on gravel as you roll, and there is somewhat more friction slowing you down than with summer tires, especially on clear pavement. They don't hum as badly as mountain bike knobbies, and they don't slow you down as much either, but they aren't as nice as a lightweight bike with full tires on a warm day. They don't do anything for steel in the road, as I mentioned, and they don't work any better than other knobbies with thick slush, though they're better than regular summer tires for that. The studs can be twisted out of the little hole in the tire where they sit if you ride over a rut or something, though that has only been a problem with one tire so far really. And they cost money, which is unfortunate.

Sunny day, but perfect
for studded tires
One wholesaler of these tires has more information about them than you can probably read in one sitting at this address. He recommends carbide studs, which last much longer than steel ones, among other things.

In the end this winter, after putting the tires on one kid carrying bike and not the other, we were relieved to have the studs on as winter has blown back in and some serious ice is back on the streets. They do take a little more effort to push, but not really much, and they really work well on ice. Don't expect them to solve every possible problem, but they do let you stop thinking so much about the icy road surface and give you time to concentrate on the cars.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Streetsblog D.C. Reports that Suburban Chicago Republicans Refuse to Support Transportation Bill! Hooray!

"Three Chicagoland Republicans Defect on House Transpo Bill" is being reported today on Streetsblog on the D.C. page. Sorry we are behind on our blogging! (5th grader homework crunch anyone?) Please stay tuned on our other projects but definitely check out the story on Streetsblog. A possible light at the end of the tunnel on the terrible Transportation bill creeping to a vote. Yea!

This is just great news and hopefully shows not only the growing awareness of our leadership on the importance of thinking beyond just roads for cars around Chicago but a big success from Active Trans and Bikes Belong as they helped share important legislative information with us all so we could work those phones too.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Longer School Day Could Squeeze Funding for Chicago Afterschool Bike Programs

The citywide discussion of the extended Chicago Public Schools (CPS) school day is making waves on playgrounds and in coffee shops this otherwise mild winter. You can overhear parents everywhere arguing about the pros and cons of the potential 7.5 hour day for their kids.

Love the plan or hate it, a less noted effect of the longer day is the possible loss of grant funds to nonprofit afterschool programs. To be eligible for many sources of funding they have to meet specific criteria, including a minimum number of afterschool program hours for our city's neediest children. The longer school day may make them no longer able to reach their minimum hours in the time remaining. This is a less talked about but potentially grim byproduct of the proposed 7.5 hour day.

Many nonprofit afterschool programs receive grant contracts to provide a specific number of hours per day or week for public school kids in Chicago. Afterschool basketball, biking and tutoring programs now facing a shorter timeframe to work with students are grappling with a risk to their funding that could result from shorter times providing activities to students of CPS.

Youth bike programs like West Town and Blackstone, afterschool tutoring and bike clubs (among others) could feel the squeeze on both grant funds and teaching time from the shorter hours. West Town and similar programs keep young people out of trouble and teach cycling skills and mechanics to kids of all ages. Everyone in the city from the mayor on down values these programs. What's more, in this year of phenomenal leaps forward in public input into our city's 8-80 network, we need these afterschool organizations to grow, in order to help families and kids learn to use the transformative new Neighborhood Greenways and protected lanes emerging in Chicago.

What does the prospect of the longer day mean for youth cycling education in Chicago? This week Chicargobike will explore how the longer day could help and hurt the free youth cycling programs in our fair city and how families might be able to help our bike nonprofits weather the potential changes coming to CPS next year.