Tuesday, October 1, 2013

No Trumpets, No Drums

Our nine year old decided to sit in the cargo box reading a book (for a change instead of pedaling his own bike) on the Critical Mass ride on Friday. The route took us through lots of industrial landscapes down to the Greater Chicago Food Depository on about 41st and Pulaski (http://www.chicagosfoodbank.org) and back. Beautiful weather and several families with cargo bikes, nearly no traffic on most of the chosen streets. 

He remarked on all the goofy things people say to him when he rides in the box. He’s been riding there since he was three so he has pretty much heard it all — he hopes to hear some new jokes,so get working. 

“Can I get in?”
“Hey kid, can I have a ride?”
“When does (s)he start pedaling?”
“Whatchu reading?”or “What’s he reading?”
“Hey kid, let the old man have a rest!” or, “Hey kid, let the old woman have a rest!”
“Hey kid, did you build that yourself?’
“How is it in there?”

He says, “People don’t usually talk to me because I am
usually hidden beneath a big pile of stuff”

Don’t forget to come out for the Halloween critical mass ride at 5:30 at Daley Plaza (leaving at 6) preferably with a bike and a costume...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Back To School On Two Wheels

We're actually cheating a little here. Our picture is from a spring dress-up
day. Note that's a terrific flamenco skirt under the vest.

Hello there again.
Looking for useful advice about about bike commuting to school? Check here. How Not to Bike To School".... is a long post about everything you might be curious about when getting ready to bike to school with your children.  A second helpful post, "Keeping Kids Comfortable Riding In Fall, about dressing kids well for fall riding is here.  It should clear up any questions you might have about dressing children from babies to big riders,  both as passengers on your bike and on their own rides from early fall to early winter weather transitions.

The essentials of a great children's bike commute? Blossoming biking skills, a good tested route, clothing that fits the weather, safely packed school bags (especially straps) so nothing falls in the wheel, and timing — start early and take it easy.

Wishing you all of these at this autumn turn. Happy late September! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Divvy Tour with Women Bike Chicago Tonight Thursday July 25th at 6 p.m.

It's been awhile since we have been posting.  We're hoping to be getting some writing done soon but before we get another post along there is a late bulletin about the Divy Tour Women Bike Chicago is hosting tonight starting at Randolph between Clark and LaSalle .
Response to the invitation has been great and this should be a really fun evening ride. Join us if you can! As copied straight from the Women Bike Chicago blog:

 Tour de Divvy

Women Bike Chicago is conducting a Tour de Divvy on Thursday, July 25, 2013 starting at 6:00 p.m. at the Divvy Station on Randolph between Clark and LaSalle.  Connect with other women cyclists on a casual ride to learn about Chicago's new bike share program.  Divvy is providing free passes and an ambassador to help us all figure it out.

We will check out a few stations, and end at the always wonderful Simone's at 18th and Morgan.  Even Divvy knows how wonderful Simone's is--there is a station right there

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Women Bike Chicago at Women and Children First Bookshop Thursday NIght! Then on to Chinatown.

Women Bike Chicago is swinging into the summer season with two great not to be missed programs this month. 

First, this Thursday, June 13th at 7:30p.m, Women and Children First Bookshop will be hosting a talk about getting back on your bike after a crash. Susan Levin and Leah Jones will share their inspiring stories of returning to ride. Rumor has it there will be very delicious refreshments on hand and good cycling books to peruse after the talk. Susan and Leah will share not only their stories but answer questions as well. A great evening at this venerable Andersonville bookshop!

Later this month, on Saturday the 23rd of June Jane Healy will lead a delicious ride from 31St. Beach to Chinatown. 4 to 7 pm. Kids welcome.

We'll be along for both events. Who did you think was bringing the refreshments anyway? Stay tuned for a Women Bike Chicago summer workshop on packing your bike with your food shopping (with kids too).

  Details from the posts from Women Bike Chicago are here: 

By  popular demand (really - you said so in the survey from our March 23 event), we're presenting an expanded version of the "Getting Back On a Bike" session, where Susan told of her experience getting back on her bike after a serious crash.  She'll be joined by Leah Jones, who also suffered a crash - coincidentally at the same intersection - about a year later.

Susan and Leah will share their stories - what happened on their respective fateful days and how they got riding again.  Remember, every story is different:  everyone heals at her own pace.   Learn how they did it.

Please come to Women and Children First,  5233 N. Clark St. in Andersonville on June 13, 7.30 PM

Refreshments will be served, and you'll have a chance to talk to the presenters as well.
The event is Free!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Biking Lakeshore Drive Again

Early in the morning last week, through the city...
one in the cargo bike, one in front

And they're off!

The bridge over the Chicago River is always our favorite part even if the
Active Trans people keep shouting at people not to stop

Rest area featuring water, welcome green bananas,  cookies and energy bars.
Uptown Bikes had a firepit going near their rickshaw.

There weren't many people with lights and fenders

A well deserved hot chocolate and
pastry for the pedalers

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bike the Drive is Tomorrow

Here is a link to our old post about Bike the Drive with the whole family.  It's May 26th this year, but not much has changed besides that. There are some new protected lanes in the Loop area to get you to  and from the start, Dearborn probably the most useful.
See you there!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Register Your Bike Yet?

Saw an online classified ad this week for a Winther child carrying bike, about half price! The same day, the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry listed a Christiania cargo trike as missing.  It’s the season for lots of flux, some legitimate and some not.

We are really sad about the nice missing cargo trike, which we have passed often on our rides. Its loss inspired me to actually organize the serial numbers, photographs and descriptions of our own bikes (yes, it seems we have more than one).  We already have the locks pretty much figured out — no cables, lock to some big thing at all times even at home — see our lock post, and Ding Ding’s take on the wave of Springtime bike theft. Often you can get the serial number of your stolen bike from the dealer who sold it to you, though not always. But lately a lot of people have been recommending that we register our bikes too.

At a Bike Swap presentation early this spring, for example, they pointed out that even if the police find a stolen bike, they won’t release it back to the owner unless the owner can prove it belongs to him or her. The advice was to register the bike and its serial number before it gets stolen and have a picture of it, preferably with you next to the bike, so you can demonstrate it’s yours. No written down serial number often means no bike. This is a stupid but apparently pretty common policy. What is more, the police databases don’t all connect to one another, so a bike stolen in, let’s say, Evanston won’t show up on a Chicago search. University, state, city, sheriff and other police departments are also all different.

So I made an account on a site called Bike Shepherd via the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry link at the top of their page and started typing. (Edit 3/2014: they now link to a noncommercial bike registry in Chicago called Bike Index, at bikeindex.org.) There are several registries, but this one, based in England, seems to get used and has a good reputation among bikey people we know. The site wants your name, address and email to start. So far no spam has come back, just registration emails.

The form you fill out for each bike records the serial number, purchase date and place, value, brand, model, color, frame size, description and photo. It accepts incomplete information and you can edit it later. Include anything only the owner might know (like the contact info labels you left in the handlebars or stuck inside the wheel rims).

The hardest part for us was taking the bikes outside into the light for their mugshot pictures and uploading the photos to the computer. The police officer at the bike swap suggested using an actual recent picture of your actual bicycle, not a catalog shot. Getting a version of a photo that fit on Bike Shepherd’s site (the limit is 1 Mb but smaller is apparently much better) worked best with screen shots of the photos.

The serial number can be hard to find on some bikes. Our old loop frame, for example, has such thick black paint that you have to look at just the right angle to see the numbers, on the back of the seat tube as with most Raleighs. Old Schwinns tend to have them on the head tube under the badge, or on one of the back wheel dropouts. Most more recent bikes have a serial number stamped underneath the bottom bracket — the part where the pedal cranks attach — or on a plate near the back brake. If all you find is a number sticker keep looking for a stamped metal one.

The site then sends you a PDF file with everything in one place, stores the data and prepares a “Pulse ID” number for you. You can print an ID from the PDF, or buy fancy plastic cellphone-readable stickers to put on your bike if you want. We decided to hold off for a bit on the whole Pulse thing. Maybe we’ll stick a printout in with the tubes when we fix the tires?

You can click on the record to delete a bike or mark it as sold or stolen. The data record is supposedly kept for many years, unlike police registrations which are apparently deleted after only a year or two, at least in Chicago (if you are interested, the CPD bike registration page is on the Chicago city website.)

That’s it. Put your password and user ID for the Bike Shepherd logon in a safe place or goodness knows what happens. Maybe send a copy of your bike’s info page to your insurance too.

Then, if your bike ever goes missing, you report it to the police, log on, list your bike as stolen, and, um, what happens?  Hmm. Bikes listed in the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry don’t seem to automatically appear in Bike Shepherd, or vice versa. You’ve got to do both. Is it worth the trouble?

Well, besides hiring an armed guard, there’s not a better option. And, apparently, police all over do accept the computer registration as proof of ownership. The Pulse ID might make your bike more traceable if a dumb thief leaves the sticker on. Some police departments, bike shops and used bike dealers even search the databases sometimes. This is good, but if our bike disappeared we’d surely hang flyers in local bike stores and coffee shops as well, along with ads to hire a new armed guard.

By the way, on a sort of related topic, I also talked with someone from the Chicago Transit Authority today who confirmed that a bike locked to a pole, sign, or anything that says ‘CTA’ gets cut off and taken to the clerk’s office in the garage at the end of that bus line, where it stays for an unclear amount of time. (Maybe until they decide to throw it out or ride it home?) More on our post about sucker poles. They don’t try to contact the owner or report the bike to the police. Look there, too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You're Not Too Heavy to Ride a Bike!

This Worksman Newsgirl bike is rated for 500 lbs / about 200 Kg capacity. We wish
they'd taken the picture with someone who demonstrates it.
most recent edit 7/16

Some people we know said they used to love to ride their bikes as kids but that since gaining weight as adults they don’t feel confident anymore. One worried that a bike wouldn’t carry the weight or be comfortable to ride. Another thought people would stare at a heavy person on a bike. One didn’t want to have to wear sporty biking clothes made of Spandex or sweat fabric. People worry they aren’t in good enough shape to ride.

This isn’t a site for health advice, but if you ask us, there isn’t much you can do that’s healthier than riding your bike, even if you weigh a lot. (Ask your doctor if you have any doubt, but didn’t they tell you to go out and get some exercise last time you saw them?) Aerobic exercise, like riding a bike while breathing, is supposed to keep you healthy, and pedaling doesn’t wreck your ankles like jogging might. Many people say it doesn't bother their knees either, especially if the seat is high enough and set right. By the way, swimming (without the bike) is also supposed to be really good to protect joints.

OK, it’s healthy, like kale. And you can move fast wherever you want. But most of all,

biking is fun!

And it’s just as much fun whatever you weigh. And practical. So there.

Nobody is expecting you to ride like Lance Armstrong on steroids and this whole blog is about not wearing Spandex unless you want to.  No matter how heavy you are, if you feel like you’re up for it, you can start using a bike to get around and even carry your kids around, instead of whatever you are doing now. Will people stare? They might, if they see how much happier you look on your bike. Probably they won’t notice. Get a cargo bike, then they’ll notice.

Don’t have a bike right now that you like? I spoke to lots of people and looked into the options for you a bit. Most normal bikes are rated to carry 220-300 lbs total but maybe your old bike is strong enough. Check the builder’s website or ask your local bike shop. Some old ones are really strong. But there are plenty of bikes available up to over 500 lb / 250 kg carrying capacity. Even heavier duty is possible with some thought.

I’m thinking in this post mostly about riders over 250 lbs up to 500 lbs (about 120-225 kg).

Features to Consider
see also the Bike Forums about this topic if you can stand the title.
A comfortable but not overstuffed saddle is a must.
This one is rather wide but many kinds will work.
  • A seat that’s comfortable and sturdy enough to make it fun to ride is vital. It’s usually more comfortable to have a stiff seat that lets you shift around to keep your bottom from falling asleep. Gel seats and other overstuffed options tend to press constantly everywhere and make you numb or, you know, worse. On the other hand, lots of people like them, especially for short rides, and they are cheap and easily available.
Does it need to be wide? Maybe not. It should be wide enough for your sit bones (ischia) to fit on well. These bones are like coins at an angle to one another like a V with the point in front, so the more upright your seating position the wider a comfortable seat tends to be.  Women’s bones are farther apart than men’s, so saddles are different.
So Dutch upright city bikes have a wide saddle, while narrow wheeled racing bikes where the rider leans far forward have titanium dental floss. A saddle that is narrow and short in the front won’t be in the way of your legs but a longer saddle offers more stability with something to hold onto. Some have cutouts in the middle that are supposed to keep pressure off, um, things. Weird noseless seats that look like benches or two sponges get either rave reviews or hate mail. Maybe try one?
Many long-term riders choose a stiff leather saddle — it molds to your shape after some time but lets you take the pressure off when you want. The biggest manufacturer, Brooks, makes some classic saddles 20-25 cm (8-10 in) across for upright bikes that might work. They come at a relatively high cost but may be worth it if you ride often. The manufacturer's recommendation for these bikes is a B190 or a B33. In Chicago, JC Lind, Blue City and Heritage have had the big ones in stock from time to time but any dealer can order them. Reinforcement with leather or shoelaces across the bottom of the saddle - you can pop lacing holes or have it done - can keep it from splaying wider with weight on it. You need to keep rain off leather saddles with a cover or they stretch.
The wide firm plastic mattress seat in the picture is another option, not sure of the manufacturer. Selle Royal makes good wide ones like on our cargo bikes. Look online for more suggestions.
Electroforged Schwinns
have these smooth frame
  • When choosing a frame design, remember your geometry and engineering. A standard men’s diamond frame is nearly all triangles and therefore the strongest common option. Some add a second top bar for added capacity. Unless the materials are specially chosen to maximize capacity, a step-through style isn’t as strong, so check it out carefully and don’t try to push its limits. We have a 1960s Raleigh ladies Sports with a frame bend from overloading. Exceptions include cargo bikes and industrial bikes, often made with very large heavy steel frames and reinforcement, and probably old mountain bikes and Chicago made Schwinn electroforged step through styles (since they were so overbuilt in the first place, though check it first if you have doubts). A suspended frame or fork will just give you trouble if you are over its design capacity. And who needs a suspended bike anyway in the city?
  • You can argue about the frame materials many ways, but in general, all things being equal, steel is probably the best for a heavy duty bike. Other materials are more prone to fatigue and sudden breakage. The carrying capacity is more important than the material, but if you don’t know the specs, go for steel. 
Assuming the frame was designed and built right, cheap high-tension steel tubing is just as capable as fancier alloys, but heavier. Lightweight alloy steel tubing (often branded — Reynolds, Ishiwata, Tange, Columbus, True Temper, Valite, etc...) is lighter for the weight it carries and therefore more expensive. But seriously, how light do you need your bike to be? A heavy bike weighs 40 lbs and a light one is 25? Big deal. Our cargobikes need 2 people to lift them and we roll just fine with up to 400-500 lbs aboard.  Once you are going it just doesn’t matter. In flat Chicago anyway. The other stuff is more important than the weight of the bike.
  • Wheels, chosen wisely, can save you trouble. This, especially the back wheel, is the best place to invest in quality parts if you need an especially durable bike. When a tire hits a bump, the air inside absorbs the shock and prevents the metal wheel rim from hitting the road or curb. So put a lot of air between the street and your wheel. Get wide rims with wide tires and keep them filled to the right pressure to prevent pinch flats. Common wide bike wheels should be fine up to about 350 lbs, if they have double walled rims and good quality. Like good wide mountain bike wheels, for example. Above that weight, spokes can ping and break a lot. If it happens it means that you should look into new, stronger wheels (properly tensioned, maybe with a bigger number of spokes) or at least stronger spokes. We have 12 gauge spokes on our cargo bike. Rims can also bend, though less often. Tandem components, made for high end bicycles built for two, are good options here.
Some people suggest making tires puncture proof with either a better than usual tube, or tire, or both. We like Schwalbe (eg Marathon, Fat Frank or Big Apple) but we’ve seen good wide options with nice street tread from Michelin, Conti, and Kenda too. The first thing we do on a used bike is take off bumpy mountain bikey tires and put on something that rolls well. Get the sidewall reflectors if you can. Many tires come in brown or cream too if you need that look. Probably there isn't much advantage to those plastic rings or things you put inside your tire to protect the tube. Spend the money instead on a decent tire.
  • If you are choosing/building your own wheels, talk to a good wheelbuilder about your needs. (Ask at your local bike shop or read Peter White’s site about wheels, tandem components and more high end products) Sun Rhyno Lite and Velocity Dyad and DT Swiss TK540 rims are double walled, strong, and available and keep getting mentioned by people I ask, though there are many other options. Our cargo bikes use double wall heavy duty aluminum Rigida rims. Smaller wheel sizes are somewhat stronger. Remember to choose a rim that will hold wide tires well. Consider building your wheel up with as many spokes as sensible. Wheels can be made with 40 or even 48 spokes instead of the usual 36 or racing bike 32, and you can choose thick gauge ones if necessary. You need more spokes in back than in front, like Raleigh used to use, but most bikes these days have 36 front and back. Go for stainless spokes if you can so the wheel stays shiny and new. Use tandem hub components if you need both particularly high weight bearing capacity and high performance: not cheap but extra heavy duty and often top quality, and you only want to do this once. And how about a dynamo or internal hub gear? Used on cargo bikes, these should hold up. You can’t break a pricey Rohloff hub, but a cheap Sturmey Archer AW 3-speed is nearly indestructible too. Even if you are planning a touring or racing bike, think about wider than usual rims and tires. Bicycle Quarterly, the magazine for touring bike obsessive-compulsives, has had a bunch of articles about the superiority of wide relatively low pressure tires that might add to your decision making. The BQ founder, Jan Heine, notes on his blog that "on real roads, wider tires are faster, period".
  • Brakes need to stop you in wet or dry, and they have got much better in recent years. This (and maybe badly tensioned thin spokes) is the main disadvantage of a vintage Schwinn or Raleigh. While any properly adjusted brake should be able to manage almost anything, if you have the option, think about hub braking (discs, drums, roller brakes, coasters) or even hydraulic brakes instead of the usual cantilever or V rim brakes. Coaster brakes are pretty strong and not affected by wet. They are used on many cargo bikes but can overheat on a long downhill stretch for example. The better roller brakes (like IM81 not IM41) are probably fine especially for the back wheel (due to the power modulator on the front ones). Tandem components like other drum brakes may be another option. We strongly recommend Kool Stop or Mathauser salmon pads for regular old rim brakes, especially for old steel rims or junky components. Test any brakes out before buying them if possible.
  • Some other sites have pointed out that handlebars and stems break with very heavy riders.  I think they are talking about those mountain bike racing "80 grams" aluminum components being used for something like mountain bike racing, and if you get normal ones I doubt it will be an issue, especially since you shouldn't be putting that much of your weight on the bars anyway. But, if you are concerned about the weight you plan to carry on the bars and stem, get (European-style stainless) steel or heavier duty good quality aluminum ones. Ask at your local bike shop if you are not sure.
  • Gears are helpful but you really don’t need as many as they sell. A 3 speed, maybe with a slightly lower-geared (more teeth and a new longer chain) replacement back sprocket, is fine in Chicago and most places.  Up to 7 or 8 still make sense, like the Nexus 8 on our cargo bikes. The NuVinci hub is like a dimmer switch instead of gears and they use it on many cargo bikes too though it is reputed to be inefficient. The fanciest and most expensive and probably most durable is the 14-speed Rohloff with a huge wide gear range. Basically anything will work, but you might want a slightly lower gearing than usual to get up hills or fight the wind slightly more easily. Most people do. We tend to prefer internal hub gears that don't get messed up in slush or mud and that allow us to use a chainguard more easily, but a good derailer system is fine, too, and easier to find. Again, if in doubt, think about tandem components.
  • Lighting - everybody forgets lighting (our post here). Spend the money, get the generator hub (or tire dynamo) with LED lights, whatever your weight, and use them day and night so traffic can see you well. Really. They are getting cheaper and better all the time.
  • Accessories - Metal pedals you can put your weight on are worth the extra money since many common plastic pedals won’t hold up to the rare need to stand and pump hard. The central post should certainly be metal, and go all the way to the end of the pedal. Fenders, chain guards, a strong rack and pannier bags if you are the kind of rider we are. A strong U lock or 9-12 mm hardened chain with big padlock (our post here). Don’t waste your money on a cable lock. All of them are as secure as a piece of string.

Types of Bikes to Consider

Department Store Bikes
Most bikes are legally supposed (in Europe, but it's an international supply chain) to hold about 220 lbs/100 kg without any modification. Target lists capacities between 250 and 300 lbs on most, Wal-Mart doesn’t list them. You do see some big people on these bikes. But did the manufacturer skimp on materials or quality control to meet the price point? Be careful. The weight limit includes the entire load, the weight of the bike itself, rider, cargo, everything. And the bike itself can be heavy to start with, cutting a lot into your cargo capacity. So a basic department store / big box store bike probably isn’t ideal for heavier people. Or for anybody who likes riding for that matter.

Dutch Style Bikes
Workcycles Fr8 cross frame, one of many options
Many, many Dutch bikes will hold hundreds of pounds without complaining. We have heard in particular about Workcycles Fr-8 (carried by JC Lind in Chicago) which is apparently designed for 250 kg = 550 lbs but there are many more. They already have most of the features above. They are also available in very tall sizes for those who are heavy and tall. (lots of other so called XL bikes or XXL bikes have the same weight capacity as the smallest ones - check!) There isn’t a lot to add about these bikes — you should definitely look at some. Pricing can be high but not all are.
Again, the diamond or double top tube steel frames would be strongest. A strong rear wheel is good to look for. The EU capacity rating should be easily available from manufacturer websites or the dealer.  All that stainless steel will hold up. This is a great way to get a heavy duty, normal looking and very versatile bike that really fits you. And  a lot of these can be arranged to carry your kids or your stuff, too.

Regular City Bikes and Cruisers

A 7-speed Chicago Bicycles city cruiser at Working Bikes
Used ones
The 7 speed Chicago Bicycles cruiser in the photo was built for a heavy rider, with wide rims and tires, drum brakes, and a firm very wide seat (detail in the picture above). These frames were made in Chicago from higher than usual quality steel. Look: 40 spoke wheels. Capacity? Probably more than just good, but no guarantee.

An easily available old Schwinn Suburban or similar might also be perfect. Though you have to guess at weight capacity again, they were awfully sturdy welded bikes. A Schwinn frame with new wheels and brakes might be great. Raleigh Sports men's roadsters, especially those older ones with 40 spoke rear wheels, might also be a good used choice. The limiting factor is the quality of the wheels with both these bikes. They will have poor braking with their steel rims and the spokes can tend to break. You can improve braking by getting a coaster brake model or new salmon color pads. It might be worth getting new (aluminum) wheels for the indestructible old frame - choose hub components and gears you like and get the wheels done right or find a prebuilt double wall 40 spoke wheel that will fit. If you stick with the usual old 3-speed hub, lower the gears by changing the rear sprocket out if 3rd is too high. Sheldon Brown has instructions.

Photos from Worksmancycles.com

Model MG-R, also rated to 500lb.
This one looks a lot like one from other
brands like Torker. Same bike?

New ones
Most commonly available bikes in this class, like let's say the Surly Long Haul Trucker, are rated to about 300 lbs again. This is probably conservative but maybe not. There are higher capacity options, though. Nearly all Worksman bikes are made in New York City and with a few options they can support up to 500 lbs starting at about $400 new, maybe doubling that price with options. They have a lot of options.  Anyone dealing with bikes for big and tall people seems to recommend this brand. Cruisers, step through cruisers and step through industrial bikes are all there. They are practical in the city, often very basic but durable and strong. Classic US delivery bikes are often from this company. Call them for bikes that will handle more than 500 lb, and get a model with a front drum brake option. We like that these are made in the US by grown ups in a factory with environmental laws. They mail them to you or a local bike store to adjust and set up. We have ridden some Worksman bikes and the ones we found are simple, heavy, but sturdy and reliable seeming.

There are some more up-to-date multi-gear options that your local bike shop can put together.  One very heavy duty model that a local shop in Chicago can build has powerful disc brakes and a custom rear wheel made with tandem components and can be built with derailers or even a Rohloff hub.

Torker for medium duty at
Ciclo Urbano for about $500
You could contact Alex at West Town Bikes, Owen at Blue City Cycles, or Jesse at Comrade Cycles in Chicago about special frame building locally.  Lots of local shops have assembled heavy duty bikes like these in many varieties - talk to one where the owners know about bikes instead of a huge bike warehouse with teenagers running it.

There are online retailers we don’t personally know whose sites offer other options. Do a web search and you’ll find many. Generally we strongly recommend that anyone who is in the market for a bike better than the cheapest Wal-Mart one-speed should go to a local dealer or two and see what their options are. One online dealer/manufacturer we just found in Vermont but haven't tried called Zize Bikes has several interesting looking options for tall or heavy riders up to 550 lbs, with prices starting in the $1000 range. They offer city bikes and a mountain type 29er (the new name for 700c) and they carry their own Super Sized Cycles,  Worksman and other brands as well. But as with most online suppliers, there are positive and negative reviews of the bikes and the customer service online that are worth reading. We haven't ridden one of their bikes yet.

Worksman M2600 here, men’s cruiser at left,
photos from Worksman's web site.

Old Mountain Bikes
old Hard Rock mountain bikes at Working Bikes, about $200
These could be a suprisingly good option for people on the lower end of heavy. Though impractical in the city with no fenders or chain guard, the real ones (all cr/mo tool steel, preferably no suspension, Deore level components if possible) have frames built for abuse, wide tires and good brakes. A reader comment below notes that the spokes are possibly the weak link, so you may want to look into the cost of a new set of wheels, or a new tandem level rear wheel at least, or just spoke replacement. Fake mountain bikes (mountain style bikes) are less ideal but still can be OK. Don’t get a suspension frame, and swap out the handlebars, stem and seat post if needed for something stronger. Did you see our post about turning one into a city bike? Totcycle apparently did one before us too.

Cargo Bikes and More
Our cargo bikes hold the grownup rider, 3 kids, backpacks, groceries, locks, and the weight of the bike itself. It all adds up to 400 pounds often enough and sometimes 500. A rider in this range plus kids and stuff might exceed the official rating on our Bakfiets but I doubt there would be much problem. In all this time, we have only broken one spoke on a Bakfiets so far. The Onderwater can probably take even more than that. Ask the dealer about it - JC Lind has lots of options for you and there are others linked on our cargobike post.

These things are incredibly practical and you can use them for errands and shopping really easily in addition to carrying kids. Most on the market, with a good seat, will be fine. The manufacturers do list the weight capacities and the dealer will be able to find out.

Depending on your needs, you may prefer a two wheeled bike like our Bakfiets Cargobike, which feels like riding a normal bike, or you might choose a trike instead, which is odd to ride over anything but perfectly level ground but holds itself up better while stopped. Look at our About Cargobikes page and our Cargo Trike post for most of the information we can offer about these bikes.

Worksman's idea of a cargo bike
isn't our favorite but it’d work maybe
Yuba Mundo longtail, similar
to Surly Big Dummy, rated at 440 lbs.
Carry your kids with you!
A longtail like a Yuba Mundo or Surly Big Dummy (which has large frame sizes) might work well for many since it is easy to find, like a regular bike but rated for 400-440 lbs, used for more than that, and you can carry kids or stuff.

Main Street classic pedicab, $3600, probably more than you need but it’s another option.
Worksman low gravity
A ‘low gravity’ baker’s bike may also manage your needs well. Many builders make them; see our About Cargobikes post.

Other cargo bikes are still available from many, many dealers, including JC Lind in Chicago, Clever Cycles in Portland, and Rolling Orange in New York. Again, the About Cargobikes post has information about many options including trikes.

Worksman has some options in this market as well. Their bikes are  clunkier than the Dutch ones and they have fewer comfort options like hub dynamos or wide gearing, but they are less expensive and very durable. Look at their industrial and recumbent trikes and cargo hauler trikes with quarter ton capacities. They have a pedicab like option if you want to carry 2 other people around with you. Their website is awful though — use the navigation at the top or search.

This solution keeps being suggested to us. They have the advantage of not needing to throw your leg way up over the bar and they have a big plush seat with a backrest. Hard to carry in or on your car anywhere. Worksman has a semirecumbent trike that is rated for weight, but many recumbents are rated only for a few hundred pounds. There are specialty recumbent shops about one per state that can help you. A good option for comfort. Are they as safe in traffic? Probably yes, but they always make me a little nervous. And not all of them are rated for much weight.

Look at our trike page and the trike pages above. Regular trikes like the ones you imagine rolling around Florida are OK but many are rated only to 250 lbs and they are clunky. Cargo trikes or industrial trikes are a better choice here, I think.

Here is a German made recumbent cargo trike that is certified to 300 kg/650 lbs and configurable in many ways: trimobil concept page. The more well-known Greenspeed recumbent trikes can also build versions up to about 200kg /440 lbs but they don't carry cargo well. We have a Sun EZ-3 recumbent trike that is OK for getting around; not much room for luggage on this one either.

Adaptive Bikes 
If you can’t find something that meets your needs there are plenty of options and custom builders. Ding Ding has a source page which concentrates mostly on therapeutic bikes but the same companies can put together many customized options, JC Lind still can get adaptive bikes from Holland, and Worksman (again) builds custom jobs. Give one of these companies a call - you won't be the first.

More Info
We searched online again for 'heavy rider bicycle' and 'xxl bike' and similar terms. One blog post that popped up is this one from isolate cyclist. Another blog is all about this, Big Boned Biker. And the Bike Forums noted above are still active. Add more suggestions below - we will try to let real links (not ads) get through the filter.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lulla-bikes at the Humboldt Park Lagoon

The Lulla-Bikes led the audience around the lagoon
to discover its mysterious scenes
Opera-Matic had a performance at Humboldt Park last week called New Moon On the Lagoon, featuring these "Lulla-Bikes" built at West Town Bikes, the Moon, a downed pilot, many flashlights, and a lit-up whale. The Moon snoozed and the audience sang it lullabies. Later the Moon sang back. 
Follow the Lulla-Bikes and the lullaby leader, and sing your way to each lost light station. At each station, the parade will join together to help each lost light find its way with a flashlight serenade. 
The performance made slightly more sense at the time, but the main event was a big walk around the lagoon led by lulla-bikes while singing and playing with flashlights. Some of us got pretty wet in the lagoon, too. 

If you get a chance to see Opera-Matic turning a public space near you into a community spectacle, it's worth a visit. Look at their upcoming events.

Hop! Hop! Hop!
Coquis in Humboldt PArk!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mothers Day to all moms today — on two wheels and none.

I had the typical perfect moment on my bike downtown last week speeding along on the black loop frame with my youngest in the child seat. I  pulled off of the pedestrian choked Riverwalk onto Wacker a block before my turn onto the Dearborn lane.  I'd ridden/walked a good part of the sidewalk west but took the short block in the street knowing that even walking my bike in the cramped lunch crowd was stressing both me and plenty of the other pedestrians around me.

Taking my turn north onto the thankfully somewhat protected and now incredibly wonderfully plated Dearborn bridge I spied a favorite veteran bike advocate rolling along south right next to me. He gave me a cheerful smile and little wave.

In the minute after he passed me, a woman driving a huge SUV hurriedly pulled as close to me as possible and rolled down her window to shout angrily down to me that I belonged on the sidewalk with that child.  She then hit the gas and aggressively accelerated away. Just so I'd get the message. Mom to Mom possibly.

This combination of affirmation and slap in the face is not usually so well timed. Curiously most of the moms I know experience a variation on this theme in and out of their days on a bike with children (though of course these things can happen sometimes not on a bike at all). The experience of getting yelled at on your bike with your kids can be especially painful, funny, or both depending.

Trading stories when other riding parents find each other at the park, as happened this week, takes the sting out of the bike shouting. The SUV lady was a whole lot less scary on the other side of the admittedly tiny flimsy plastic bollard that separated us. She might have been far more terrifying on Wacker if she had been able to catch me sooner in the traffic.  She was definitely much funnier described in retrospect in the sunny park with friends days later.

If you happen to meet my SUV lady this week in some form riding or just struggling in the grocery store know that if I can't meet you in the park to laugh it off I definitely wish I could.  Yay for moms --rolling and not!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How Not to Bike to School on National Bike to School Day

In honor of Bike to School Day on Wednesday our school bike train will take an extra trip this week. A friend emailed me today asking for suggestions for a video she is doing with a company here in Chicago to promote cycling to school. Her note put me in the mind of how annual bike weeks and days can encourage new riding and I must admit made me a little grumpy. Grumpy, because every day should be bike to school day. Except that no one will make a commitment to change the streets to create a place for children to actually ride to school. I think that any company or entity promoting Bike to School Day should be putting their energy into creating safe separated infrastructure for children to use in Chicago and everywhere else. 

Failing that happening this week here is our list of ways to begin to bike to school if you are out for your maiden voyage this week. If you are not really prepared consider taking your first ride a day or so after Bike to School Day and make it your own personal holiday. You will see our tips involve simple but purposeful planning ahead a few days. 

Don’t take a broken or untuned bike out yourself or put your kid on one to go to school.
Instead, in the days before heading out, check all bikes fit and are tuned.

Don't take out a child who has unpracticed riding skills

Children biking to school should have a decent command of stops and turns and basic bicycle handling. Practice in an non trafficked park or campus to give your child a chance to practice. Practice street riding before taking a school trip on a weekend to time and anticipate any problems with your route.  See below!

Don't strike out with your child on a totally untested route to school

Instead, take the time to create a safe and realistic route. 
Here are our tips for organizing a good long term safe route to your child's school:

  • Choose a quiet less trafficked route to your child’s school and test it out on a couple of rides without your child. 
  • Note that traffic can vary and you want to scout out potential hazards before you go.
  • As you create a route choose crossings that have stoplights and four way stops to optimize safety crossing the street
  • Keep your eye on places that might have broken or choppy pavement.
  • Spots with lots of parked cars can be more apt to have people in them getting out in the mornings so be on the lookout to prevent dooring.
  • Note that the best route home may be totally different in terms of traffic. Try to test your route both ways.

Remember that sidewalk riding has its own hazards and that children are unexpected in intersections as they come off of the sidewalk onto the street. We have a tidy little post on sidewalk riding that has lots of information about ways to safely move from the sidewalk to the street.

We usually ride behind and slightly to the left of our children so that we can see them ahead of us and can be aware of cars passing before they pass our kids.

Don't ride with your kid's backpack straps hanging in their or your wheels

Organize a packing strategy in the day or so before heading off
When packing up school bags, mind hanging straps and close packs so everything doesn’t fall out
Prepack the night  before and have a good plan for breakfast (maybe pack those lunches too)

Don't park your bike poorly  
Create a locking strategy a few days ahead of taking your bikes to school. Get a solid lock and make sure you have your key, plan how to safely lock the bike to prevent theft, and practice a few times. Don't let you or your child lock a bike through a wheel or outside of the frame of any bike.

Don't forget to stay out of the door zone and have fun

Taking the first ride can be a little nerve wracking but hopefully with good planning you are ready for the best ride possible. Have a great and safe time. Bon Voyage

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Make Your Old Bike Ready for Spring

Spring is here again and the roads are filling with bicyclists. People on bikes have stopped waving and ringing bells at each other already. It’s like an island beginning to fill with tourists, where the locals stop greeting each other from their pickup trucks, though they did all winter. 

Are you starting to feel like Pee Wee Herman when he finds his bike missing?  Left out with everyone riding past you?

We love our local bike stores and one near you probably has just the right set of new wheels for you, ready to go. But bikes aren’t school sneakers - it’s hard to fit a new one into the budget every year. So what do you need to change on your old bike to make it into a new friend?

If you haven’t been riding it much and you’re generally happy with it, maybe all it needs is a little dusting, some oil on the chain and air in the tires. If the valves are crooked after you roll it with flat tires out of the basement, before you pump the tires back up, push down on the seat, roll it backwards a few times and wiggle the valve stems straight to prevent leaks. Check that your helmet fits, the seat is high enough, and the brakes work, and off you go.

But what if it kind of needs some work?
We have a couple of heavily used bikes that didn’t get ridden all winter and a couple that did. The ones that missed the salt still look like they did in fall — dirty and grubby. The shifters are off a bit, the brakes only sort of work and the tire dynamos buzz.  The winter ones are rusting already. So guess what we are spending the weekend doing.

That local bike store with the tempting new goodies can also lube and realign and readjust your old bike. We sometimes have done this and it’s like being a millionaire for a day as they take care of all the twiddling, but scrubbing isn't what they do best. If you want the best finished job, you should clean and polish your old bike first, think about upgrades you’d like, and then lube and adjust. You can do this yourself or let a bike shop finish the job.

Spring cleaning 
Start by writing down or photographing your serial number and take a picture of the bike with yourself in the shot, in case it gets stolen in the future. 

You might need some supplies:

chrome cleaner if there’s rusty chromed steel
Citrus oil solvent, other degreaser or car tar and bug remover
car buffing or polishing compound to shine dulled paint (gently)
car wax to keep cleaned areas from rusting again soon.
a cheap electric toothbrush to do the scrubbing for you
Sno-Seal or Brooks Proofide for your leather saddle; these two don't stretch it
touchup paint to match your bike (from car parts store) or clear nail polish
naval jelly for any really badly rusted places. It's phosphoric acid gel, dissolves rust.
super fine steel wool (not for aluminum, use fiberglass scrubber pads instead)
your pump and tools
eye protection for using the naval jelly and impact tools
mechanic’s hand cleaner gel
chain oil, maybe other oils and grease and degreasing solvent if you need them
paint dropcloth or newspapers
lots of rags or paper towels or both. 
Don't use water displacing (WD) solvents. They remove grease that you need.

Note that oily rags can actually catch on fire easily if you leave them lying around. It happened to people we know. Soak them in a bucket of water, cover them with sand in a fireproof container, burn them, or put them where a fire won’t cause damage.

When I clean up an old bike it takes a lot longer than you’d think. 
I start with detergent or degreaser and a rag and remove the easy grime quickly. I repair very rusty areas with naval jelly and abrasives and paint the spots. Then I get out the chrome cleaner and the toothbrush and scrub every bit of chrome on the bike. You can use car cleaner/wax if your bike doesn’t have chrome. You apply the cleaner with a rag, buzz it with the toothbrush if needed, keep rubbing until the rust and grime is gone, then buff off once it’s dry. Afterwards wax or finish the area to prevent re-rusting. You can get some very brown parts back to their jazzy chromed 1965 glory without too much work. It’s a little easier to clean wheels if they are off the bike with the tire removed. Spokes are hard to make look good. Shine them too if you want to, but it adds hours to the job. Maybe use a buffer? Try not to get the cleaners on rubber since they leave white stains. It may take a day before your brakes are at full power again if you wax the rims. Do the same car cleaner/wax treatment on the painted areas but use rags on paint, not the toothbrush. Compound shines old paint but removes decals too — careful.

Scrubbing and polishing is a great job for enthusiastic youngsters (if available) while you relax and supervise. Get them to shine the paint while they’re at it. Good luck. 

Inspect, clean or replace the tires, and if you take the wheels off do the inner tubes and rim strips too. If you had to put air in your tires often last season install new tubes now. Put a paper with your contact information inside the tires in case the bike is stolen and a thief brings it to get a flat fixed. This would be a good time to put on nice city tires to replace the bumpy fake mountain bike ones your bike came with. The ones with reflective strips on the sidewalls aren't much more expensive. Slick or slight tread are fine.

Clean the inside of the fenders (mudguards) with silicone spray or wax — keeps snow and maybe mud from sticking — and remove rust if needed.

Use a hair dryer to warm up the leather on your saddle and melt Snow Seal or Proofide into it until you can’t get more to soak in. Let it cool, then buff off excess. Easier off the bike. 

Greasy Mechanical Bits
Now that your bike looks great, it's time to make it run well. This is where you can stop and take the whole thing off to the local bike store to adjust, relubricate and regrease all the mechanical parts. Your bike will come back clean, shiny AND fully functional, with a warranty on the work. But if that feels like overkill, you can also keep going:

Remove the muck on the chain and all gears.  I often just replace the chain if it looks old and rusty. It’s often still the original one from the 1960s. If you want to clean the chain instead, you take it off the bike with a chain tool (don’t pop that rivet all the way out — just enough!) and shake it in a can of solvent for awhile, then dry and relube it and reinstall onto the cleaned sprockets. If it’s not so bad, try the same thing with rags while it remains on the bike. Some people clean chains in a bunch of crazy ways, for example heating wax or oil on the stove, but this is a bad idea; you’ll burn down your house and you’ll never get it as clean and lubed as a new chain. Just put some simple chain oil on it and work it in, or swap it for a new one. If you feel fancy buy fancy chain oil like Phil Tenacious Oil; we just use non-detergent SAE-30  (or chainsaw oil - thicker and stickier, good for chains, bad inside hubs) from the car parts store.

There are several widths and types of new chains, so if you don’t know what you need take the bike or the chain to the bike shop and they’ll get you the right kind. Usually it’s a good idea to have the exact same number of links that the old chain did. See Sheldon Brown for tips if you think you need more chain advice. Use your chain tool to size and install it. Lately I’ve paid extra to get more waterproof chains — "Rustbuster" galvanized Z chains mostly, but one fancy, stainless Wippermann Connex. They all work the same. 

The gears usually need a big going over with the electric toothbrush or strips of rag and some citrus solvent. Over a dropcloth. Sometimes you need to take the thing apart and soak the individual pieces, but usually you don’t. Check the sprockets for wear (the pointy parts get asymmetrical — see Sheldon Brown again) and replace them when you replace the chain if they’re worn. Replace any unsealed hub bearings, repack with grease, or take to the bike shop. If you have a derailer this is a good time to scrub and relube it, too, maybe replace the idler wheels if worn.

Adjust the cable tension properly — see Sheldon Brown for still more tips — so you can reach all your gears and avoid that buzzing, clacking sound.

Attention Internet: They’re Brakes, Not Breaks
These things come in a hundred variations, but they all have one thing in common in springtime: they look grubby and they don’t work perfectly. Grit, salt and muck get into the things that move, and the rubber brake pads wear down and get shiny or hard. Think about getting new brake pads (we like salmon Kool Stops especially on steel rims) or at least sand down the old ones a little, clean and lube the moving parts, and if you have cantilevers or V-brakes think about taking them off the frame to scrub and relube underneath. Adjust everything or have the bike shop do it. 

Cables or cable housings might need replacing if the brakes are sticky. Usually a cheap (but always stainless!) cable can solve the problem. I’ve seen but haven’t yet used the Teflon coated ones, maybe they are even better. When you change the brake cable you can easily adjust the brake levers to fit the rider’s hands better — tighten the little teensy screw to move the lever closer to the handlebars. Important for kids’ bikes. We bought a real cable and housing cutter a few years ago and we use it all the time — get one if your clippers just mash the cable into a fray.

More to Lube
Bottom brackets on old bikes and headsets on most bikes are unsealed and would like to be opened and regreased every now and then. While we do this from time to time it’s generally because something else is happening. If you want to be complete, go ahead, and repack the front hub too if you want. Or, again, save it for the bike shop. If any of these things are loose, grinding, making noise or rusting maybe you should take care of them now. 

Vintage Raleighs have some peculiarities
The front hubs use oil, not grease, and have to go on the right way — the side of the axle with the flats goes on the non-drive side. Hardly anyone ever gets this right at a bike shop.  
For a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub, once it’s cleaned, you can pour some SAE-30 non-detergent oil (or Sturmey Archer oil if you still have it) right down the tube that the little indicator chain comes out, or into the oil port if you prefer. Some people like automatic transmission fluid for this; we haven’t used it yet. If the oil you choose is too thin it will leak out of the hub all the time and leave a spot in your garage. Too thick and it will take forever to shift into third gear. The non-drive-side bearing is the adjusting one, so if the wheel seems wobbly side to side tighten it a little, or if the pedals spin as you walk the bike, back it off a bit. Lube the bearings. Adjust the shifter so it just barely takes all the slack out of the cable but doesn’t yet move the little chain when the shifter is in 3rd gear, and lock it with the other nut.

Fix up your lighting, maybe replacing single wires with double stranded cable, adjusting generator angle to be exactly along the wheel radius, or installing a new  LED lamp with a standlight. Replace last year’s broken reflector, mirror or bell. Rethink that old cable lock or bad U-lock. Now that your bike is shiny someone else might want to have it.

Now put on your springiest outfit, put some daffodils in your teeth (careful, toxic) and head out on your shiny new wheels like you are ready for a Cool Folks On Bikes blog photo shoot. Bring a raincoat in your pannier.