Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bike Picture Books For Quiet Winter Days Again

We have a little side bar that lists our favorite books for the smallest cyclists but often new readers have not found them yet. Here again, admittedly for the second winter season, are our favorite picture books brimming with stories and pictures of bikes. We haven't found good new books but the old ones are still worth a look!
On this rainy quiet Saturday here in Chicago we wish everyone time to sit down together with a good book. 

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.

The Bear’s Bicycle by Emilie Warren McLeod and illustrated by David McPhail is an absolute favorite. It is a wonderful book about biking from 1975 that is actually very current. It covers everything from making turns and checking tires to not getting doored, as a young boy (a clever rider) and his brought-to-life teddy bear (rather reckless) go off on their daily ride. Perfect for the learning rider, it says it all with sly humor and clever pictures. My kids crack up at the Bear’s cycling antics every time.  Though it’s pre-helmet era, the boy’s puffy cap looks suspiciously like a chic Yakkay hat helmet. 
You can probably find it at the library or order it from your trusty neighborhood book store — like Sandmeyer’s or Women and Children First.  (link to this book here)Usually there is plenty to watch on our wintery city rides, be it a new building going up or the perennial hit — some gigantic machinery next to a huge hole getting dug in the road. More than buildings grows in Chicago, and a nice trip game we play is to spy winter trees we pass on a ride and identify them from their shapes. Carole Gerber’s Winter Trees was our original inspiration for this game. A book perfect for the younger rider, Leslie Evans’s sweet linoleum block, watercolor and collage illustrations bring the shapes of winter trees to life. They especially piqued my middle guy’s curiosity about which trees we passed on our daily rides. It’s a nice counterpoint to the bulldozers and street cleaning machines! I like that Winter Trees gently describes the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees and gives tactile clues for telling seven different trees apart — a good number for the budding arborist to remember. 

Anatole by Eve Titus with pictures by Paul Galdone is a stealth bike book. It was the Caldecott Medal winner for 1956 and stands the test of time with beautiful line drawings washed with blues, red and black.  Anatole is a Parisian mouse searching for a way to take care of his growing family.  It just so happens that he and his mouse friends use their bikes to get everywhere. Their classic bicycles are sprinkled throughout  the book with cool bright front lights and bells on the handlebars. It's especially good for kids that like cheese.... 
Along A Long Road is a brand new book by New Yorker cartoonist Frank Viva. Our guys love the dynamic drawings that tell the story of a long fast ride through towns, tunnels over bridges. They don't pay so much attention to the words. Making up their own stories for where the rider is going and about the curious pregnant lady and her son who appear and disappear seems to be more fun. Just in case you are a stickler, the rider is not wearing a helmet...  but we love looking at the pictures in this book anyway. 
New Red Bike a new book by James E. Ransome is all about the story and pictures. Tom's new bike is beautiful and the swooping ride he takes to visit his friend Sam is a favorite especially with our youngest.The older guys have a running debate about Tom and Sam's friendship which takes a turn when Sam steals Toms bike and disappears.  Should Tom hang out with Sam anymore or should he just ride that terrific red bike off into the sunset? You'll have to choose your own side.

 Wheels of Change is a light hearted trip, for any age reader, through the blasting meteor landing of bikes in the lives of women at the turn of the last century.  Cycling changed everything from how women went out to what they wore.  Sue Macy's well researched book talks about why women first took to the road, then learned to race; and it addresses how the bloomer controversy shook the nation. Bloomers were more World Naked Bike Ride than Tweed Ride for the people of that era. I didn't know that at one time women actually cycled on bikes with both pedals on the same side of the bike. Great pictures of amazing bikes and bold women fill the pages.  
Elsa von Blumen looking great and going really fast! She's just one of the
many interesting women rolling through Wheels of Change by Sue Macy.

Tillie the Terrible Swede 
by Sue Staufacher and illustrated by Sarah Mc Menemy is a terrific kid's book about Tillie Anderson, the Swedish transplant to Chicago who took the 1890s bicycle track by storm. She eventually set four track speed records and became champion of the world. Our guys love the bright clear illustrations and solid story. Tillie stands up to family and friends who discourage her. She builds her own strength and rides on. She even finds love with the friend who turns her on to racing, and then totally supports her rise to the top. 
Spoiler alert: The only downside to either of these books are the last pages where cycling fades to the car. Even our dear Tillie turns to the motor car on the last pages. Hey, you could always glue those two closed!In Chicago Tillie is a staple at the gift shop at the Swedish American Museum and at Women and Children First.  

Jonathan London's Froggy Rides a Bike is a last read that we came across this fall. It's good for kids who love the Froggy series. All about Froggy getting his new bike but struggling to get going  on two wheels. Bring on the pedal bikes!
We hope you find a book here to delight a small cyclist in your life. What could be as fun as bikes -- well really besides something delicious to eat maybe it's got to be books.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What makes a bike lane good?

After news of a handful of heartbreaking cycling accidents here in Chicago, a little pneumonia (but still plenty of riding), we have been thinking a lot about what is it to be a family rider here in Chicago.  The city now promises huge changes and brings a new rush of lanes and plenty of boasting about how many miles they are building.

Family riders, the older and the not bold have a different need for what makes a bike lane safe and usable than a hypothetical 22-38 year old male strong rider. Attracting this huge segment of bike traveler - people like us - is the constant mantra of the major cycling organizations in the country— including in Chicago. It follows that lanes which comfortably accommodate the largest swath of potential riders are the best long term investment for our city.  Good lanes speak for themselves. They get used without fanfare all over the United States.

In honor of the debut of the Dearborn Lane tomorrow here is our own yardstick from a family rider perspective for measuring the new lanes erupting in Chicago. It just so happens that we really do have riders in the family from 8-80!

Is the new lane...
     Protected enough?
     Likely to leave you hanging?
     Connecting useful destinations?

A protected lane should be so protected from other traffic (and car doors) that your 8 year old nephew can ride it with you and tell you all about Star Wars without making you nervous. In other American cities (except e.g. Washington DC) and in other countries, this usually involves concrete. A concrete wall, car-proof barrier, or at least a curb keeps the teenage texting driver away from your kid, and vice versa. This is much better than a little plastic bat or simple paint as generally used in Chicago. Trees or planters or steel barriers are also strong enough to protect lanes.
Here in Chicago the gold standard protected lane is the Lakefront Path, which is separated by an entire park from traffic along much of its length.
A truly protected lane is also durable enough to last for years without much upkeep. If the bike lane is divided from the other traffic with concrete Jersey highway barriers it'll last a lot longer, be safer and be cheaper than one divided by paint or plastic bats, even without upkeep. You can't see paint under dust and snow or after it's worn away. You can see concrete.
Summary: Lanes get full marks if drivers can't drive into the lane; plastic bats and bollards are, um, protected-ish? Paint is just, well, paint.

Won't leave you hanging?
If Grandma and Junior are headed off to school on the bike lane and it only goes halfway before stopping and spilling them out into car traffic, like (among many examples) Kinzie at Wells, the lane doesn't make riding easier; it increases their chance of scaring them off their bikes. Lanes have to go the whole way somewhere without stranding riders in the middle of nowhere. A lane that is hard to get on and hard to get off is not helpful.
Summary: No good lane is an island.

Connecting useful destinations?
If a lane doesn't go near where normal casual family riders need to ride, it isn't that useful. A lane on Elston is nice but few families can use it to go anywhere efficiently. Why not put car traffic back on Elston and block off half of Milwaukee for bikes instead? Schools and shopping and train stations and so on should all be linked by the bike path network, not just factories and empty lots.
Summary: Simple routes to popular places.

All we wanted for the holidays was a nice bike lane in the Loop. We can't wait to try out Dearborn tomorrow and see what is in the box!