Sunday, March 31, 2013

Teaching Children About Dooring

New York street sign
Street riding with younger riders either on, in, or alongside a bike has many complications in Chicago. One of the most unpredictable yet frequent hazards is dooring. This is what happens when you or your child are riding along minding your own business and suddenly a car door flies open right in front of you, illegally opened by someone who didn't look first. The bike hits the door, you can sail over, and a lot of unnecessary damage is done.

Though it seems easy to stay out of the "door zone" to single riders, it's harder when you are responsible for a group of people of different sizes. Often the streets in Chicago are pockmarked with potholes, ruts, and work being done at the edges. These obstacles force us all as cyclists to move much closer to parked cars than we wish to ride. Also, staying far from where a door might hit you can be tricky when cars, or buses in particular, crowd riders into the edges of the lane and right into the door zone. Most safety guides recommend riding on the traffic side of a bike lane because of this.

Specifically teaching young street riders about dooring is essential to safe riding and the development of lifelong cycling skills in any American city right now. We teach our kids and kids on our bike trains about dooring from two perspectives: awareness of the mechanics of being doored, and the good riding skills that can lower chances of being doored.

Awareness of dooring
The Bear's Bicycle by Emilie Warren McLeod, Little, Brown, NY 1975
Our beloved book The Bear's Bicycle is our first step. When our kids were small we read the book and paid close attention to the page where the bear plows himself into an open car door. Sounds silly and the picture is funny but it is a great first step for balance bikers to begin thinking about doors. The bear is actually in the awful position, squashed by the door toward the traffic lane, that most riders are in when a door impacts a bike. Good to know. We look at it with our older kids too. Get a copy for yourself. 

The second step is to take the kids out on their bikes on our street during the quietest time of the day and open our own parked car doors to measure how far away from a car its doors will typically swing out. Two-door models are worst since the doors are longer. Truck doors are up high. Kids notice right away that the door zone is coincidentally just in the usual place where they ride to avoid traffic.

Showing children that they are less visible can reinforce to them that they need to be proactive with their own skills to ride as safely as possible on the street. We invite the kids to get in the car and try to see their brother "riding" behind them in the rear or side mirror. 

Now that they understand what the hazards actually are, we move on to ways to avoid them.

Skills to enhance safety from dooring, for kids and grownups who carry them

We practice riding a few feet out into the street, far enough not to be hit by opening doors. This is further into the main travel lane and closer to the moving traffic, which might be uncomfortable, but it's probably safer. 

We try to keep kids on their own bikes just in front of a grownup and a little to the right, so we can keep up the safe riding patter: "hey, that red car just pulled in, do you think the driver is going to get out?" "Ease on back to your left, OK? - you're in the door zone..."
Riding in the campus. Practice makes permanent.
We practice getting on our bikes on our own very quiet street and nearby university campuses and parks to test out ways to stay out of the door zone. Single file, traffic side of lane, etc.

Next, especially on our early morning rides and bike trains, we remind the kids that morning is a time when many people are sitting in their cars listening to the radio or drinking coffee. It's amazing how many people are just sitting in their cars. These people often open their doors without thinking. We practice looking ahead while riding to anticipate opening doors. We try to notice if a car has its lights on or just shut them off, if it has exhaust coming out, if the windows are steamed up or open at all, if a reflection of the driver's face is visible in the side mirror, or if it is a time of day when people sit in cars on our usual routes. These cars have people in them and their door might open soon.

We try to choose routes with less car parking and quieter traffic. For us this includes using Fulton and Hubbard streets - the packing district - as there are few cars parked on these routes when we use them to commute from school in the afternoons. The truck drivers there can typically see our kids better than the usual SUV or minivan driver on residential routes.

We try to ride a little slower ourselves, too, so if something surprising happens we have more reaction time to avoid it or brake. We try not to let cars "pace" us - hovering just behind and not passing. That would be the car that would hit you if you fell, and they distract you from the car door just ahead. Stop and let them by. We keep our brakes maintained well (especially the front ones that do nearly all the work). Sometimes we even move back onto the sidewalk with our kids, especially when a lane doesn't leave enough room to safely pass parked cars and avoid moving traffic at the same time. The kids' bikes have bright lights and we make sure they keep them on whenever they are riding, day or night, to improve their visibility. 

Streets with lots of car lurkers demand extra awareness. For example, Wood is fairly quiet and is a direct route for us, but it has lots of people hanging in their cars in the morning.  The kids try to glance ahead to scan for passengers in their cars to anticipate, ring their bells and move out of the door zone.
Could be doored by a cab on the left
or a parked lurker on the right...
Well designed bike lanes could make this safer.
(so could the kid keeping his lights on!)

Bike Lanes
Lastly we teach that bike lanes — even those with colors or extra striping — do not encourage drivers to behave differently, and that kids must use their skills and smarts to ride as defensively as possible. Even the newest Chicago lanes don't adequately address the problem. Car doors next to the new Dearborn lane easily extend into the bike path, for example. There's no substitute for teaching kids to use their skills and protect themselves. It enhances their ability to take good care of themselves on their own bikes.

The bicycle lanes that are now being installed in Chicago don't completely ignore the issue, though. Several are located on the left of the one-way roads, like many in New York, because while every car contains a driver who sooner or later opens a door, not as many contain passengers. Bicyclists are therefore less likely to be doored while riding on the left. 

Here is an interesting curbed lane we found
in a small business/residential part of Toronto
And many new Chicago lanes have a small painted buffer between them and traffic or parked cars that can give you a little extra space if anybody sees them. The lanes built between the curb and parked cars also address this to some extent because if someone opened a door into the bike traffic lane the rider would be deflected onto the sidewalk, not into traffic. However, cars basically ignore paint and we teach our kids to ride with this in mind. Car permeable protected lanes - the only kind here in Chicago - are only partially protected.  We teach our kids to stay aware of this on these lanes too.

Future lanes could be designed to support safety from dooring for children and all other riders. The two types of vehicle should be well separated, with different paths and signal systems, with impenetrable barriers like concrete or steel to keep cars out of bike space. This has been the only workable solution for pedestrians for years - they get at least a curb. Although even curbs and traffic signals don't always keep cars off the sidewalks, they are a minimum place to start. Bikes should have the same safety as pedestrians. As an added benefit, separated lane systems give car drivers one fewer thing to worry about, too.

We are lucky in Chicago to have a support system for riders who get doored or are involved in a collision. There is an extremely helpful crash hotline run by Active Transportation Alliance at 312-869-HELP (4357), and several law offices in town specialize in bicycle related issues - call the hotline, or look on the Chainlink links page for some of them.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Recall on Yuba Mundo V4 bikes

From the CPSC Website, Mar 20 2013: 

It seems that if you call them Yuba will install a wheel guard to keep people from  getting their feet caught in the rear wheel. Protect your kids' toes!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Women Bike (Your City Here)

Yesterday we held our first Women Bike Chicago women's bike conference. Our conference yesterday was plenty of work but well worth it. It was also incredibly fun, building fellowship and encouraging new women riders.  Find great pictures of the day on our Women Bike Chicago group blog.

My last post about getting the summit up and organized had helpful information to get started. I hope that post and this one can be a useful springboard for you to create your own women's bike gathering of any size in your own community.  If women riders are the key to creating more riders we need each other to turn the wheels. The best place to start them turning is together in our own backyards.

The genesis of our day was the community we already have as women transportation cyclists here in our city.  Chicago has an online cycling forum called the Chainlink that connects cyclists across the city. There are over nine thousand members. Also, we have robust Kidical Mass, Critical Mass and Critical Lass rides going monthly. We also benefit from a strong community of long term tenacious women cycling advocates ready to help out with younger women riders eager to make change.

You may have less of this going on in your corner so you would rearrange your women's event to encourage what you see missing for women around you.  Your community will probably be very different from ours and your organizers will find their own purposes and develop the special things that will drive your presentations and activites. We started small but mighty and the Women Bike Chicago conference took on a life of its own.  If we can do it so can you!

Feel free to steal what might work from our day below as you build your own.  For more inspiration, our organization has also found a wealth of information from the Washington Area Bicycle Association's Women and Bikes initiatives.

Activities and Presentations to take away from Women Bike Chicago

The Bike Testing/Woman Mechanic/ Skills Corral

We did not want our day to be only about visiting with women that know and see each other all the time and who are strong riders already. We wanted to use the power of our fellowship to help other Chicago women ride.  Our location this year seemed small enough to reach each of our attendees personally and allowed us to have a safe calm outdoor space for women to try out bikes we all brought to let other women try out. Attendees could check them all out and see what felt comfortable to ride. We called it the bike corral. Each of us brought one or two different kinds of bikes — step throughs, cruisers, old Schwinns, kid carrying set-ups etc.  Like a bike test potluck.

Women mechanics from both West Town Bikes and the Cal Sag youth bike club shared basic maintenance advice at the corral too. Alta Bike Share brought one of the prototype bikes for Chicago's soon-to-be bike share and let us all ride it around.

Lastly we had certified cycling instructors on hand to help teach basic bicycling and city specific riding skills. Most women stuck to the testing and mechanics though.

Ride Buddies and Quieter Route Maps
Indoors, we had a registration table, coffee, two presentation rooms and a kids' area. In our hall between the registration table and the coffee, Julie hung maps of the city and brought colored dots coded to each area to stick onto attendee name tags. The colors let any woman know which other attendees ride in her area and facilitated an ersatz ride buddy meet-up at the conference. The dots got snapped up immediately and plenty of women found potential ride buddies.  Some women dotted their tags with a mix of colors since so many of us ride throughout the city.

The maps were also marked with less trafficked alternate routes to busy streets. This way attendees could find a quieter commute if they wanted one. Attendees wrote on the map where they wanted a less car trafficked ride and others highlighted their favorite quieter streets on the map.

Our Unique Presentations
The three national women's bike forums we researched had their own unique presentations. As we wanted to reach out beyond the existing cycling community, our forum reflected the idea that many of those coming to our day might need a fresh look at what the rest of us are used to doing every day already. We organized seating so questions were easy to ask, since we imagined they would be a big part of how the presentations worked.

Here is a list of our presentations:

Getting Back Out on the Bike at Any Age
Our keynote was given by Lisa — an amazing Chcago rider who spoke about her own experience returning to riding last year after decades off her bike. She made clear that every women in the room could too, if she could!  Our attendance really reflected Lisa's experience. The majority of our attendees were women from age 55 to 80 who wanted to get back out and ride for transportation. 

Practical Advice for Using Your Bike To Commute In Chicago
This presentation included using the bike not only on the streets but as a multi-modal tool with trains and buses. Given by Anne, a total expert who is also funny and compassionate.

Dressing for Comfort and Work Realities
Nuts and bolts advice for dressing for the work commute with comfort and work practicality from Julie and Cynthia, who are professional women well-versed in riding to work in all kinds of unfriendly weather and serious traffic.

Women Owned Bike Shop Owners Demystify the Bike Shop Visit for Women
Shop owner Justyna answered questions and gave advice for getting the most out of a bike shop visit including clues to knowing if a shop is friendly to women.

A Family Biking Sit Down
A roundtable with bike moms visiting with other wanting-to-bike moms to answer practical questions. Kids climbing all over were included.

Good luck creating your own Women's Bike gathering in your own town or city.  Reach out to me here at Chicargobike or to us all at Women Bike Chicago if you think we might be able to provide any encouragement or information from our own experience. Happy planning!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Latest bike hazard statistics available

The latest Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics about bikes are available:

(edit 3/2014: now all these fatality fact sheets are under

Riskiest riding seems to involve men over 20 years of age, riding at dusk, urban areas, being drunk, or riding without a helmet. So the impression you get of who is a dangerous rider when you're out on Milwaukee Ave seems to be accurate. Notice that although the demographics of riders have changed a lot over time, the absolute overall fatalities have remained relatively constant. Are there more riders total now than in the 1970s and 1980s? Was there a group of especially unsafe boys growing up in the mid-1970s who are still getting into accidents? Interesting statistics.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mayors Make It Happen

I was reading the Guardian Bike Blog today about London Mayor Boris Johnson's huge plans to create everyday cyclists- to create "delycrafication"  through the creation of new cycling superhighways and enhanced quiet cycling routes through smaller friendly streets.
Click the picture to get to the Guardian blog article

In addition to the announcement by the mayor himself the Guardian has a great column by Bella Bathhurst about being a  brave London city cyclist or wanting to be one in London.  The column here carries a link to Boris Johnson's announcement.   I especially liked a comment she makes near the end of her piece that despite changes in London's infrastructure what potential riders need is a good mentor who already rides to help learn to navigate her city's streets. This rang true to me as well, as I feel the same in Chicago.

Two other things struck me — that our own mayor speaks out so often of the same de-lycra-fied riders and has the same drive to create better spaces and draw out everyday riders — and that he is also a Mayor.  I could not help but think also of Mayor Bloomberg and his commissioner Sadik-Khan.  It's the Mayors - they seem to be the ones making new lanes happen and growing ridership!  Why is it the Mayors who have the courage and the insight into how transportation needs to evolve to include cyclists in their cities?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tom's Cargo Bikes — another option!

Today at the Chicago Bike Swap one of us met Tom Labonty, a cargo bike builder from Portland, Oregon, who was in town to personally deliver a Creamsicle bike (which I think is the one in this picture cribbed shamelessly off his website). He and the new owner told me about the bike, which Amtrak had unfortunately delayed, made from most of a women's 26 inch frame and the front parts of a child's 20 inch bike. He uses sheet metal for some of the boxes he makes; I think this is one of them.  They are all different.  Unfortunately, since the bike was stuck in Amtrakland I was unable to ride it around, but I was told its handling was as good as some of the other cargo bikes that were shown at the Bike Swap.

Looking at the pictures, it seems to be a cruiser frame in back with a mountain bike derailer on it, making for maybe 7 or 8 gears, a similar choice to the back of our Haley trike. There are no fenders or lights or back rack, and the chainguard is partial, but all those features can easily be added, changed, customized, or put off til later. The box and the kickstand look to be well thought out and durable from the pictures.

He builds each bike according to what is available or what the customer is looking for - look at his website to see some of the amazing creations he has put together, including cargo bikes, themed bikes, advertising or promotional bikes, and the occasional bike shaped sign. In our brief conversation he repeated what his website points out — that these are simple bikes that inexpensively do what they need to — but he clearly takes a craftsman's pride in making everything himself and not outsourcing a mass produced model to someone else. And it looks like customers are able to provide their own favorite bikes to build from, so if the derailer gears or something else bother you on this bike, you could order one made from an internal hub donor bike or ask for a different geometry as you wish. He noted that all his bikes ride slightly differently, but he has a good understanding now of how to bend the steering linkage and plan the angles so the bikes don't steer badly when they're finished.

In the world of cargo bikes there are very fancy rides, custom made without many compromises by small manufacturers, pricy but mass-produced utilitarian indestructible Dutch models, inexpensive Asian imports, and there is a niche for inexpensive, custom US-made bikes like these. It is easy to talk to Tom about his bikes and you might find just what you are looking for, especially if you have a special idea in mind. I enjoyed meeting him, hope he has a great visit to Chicago, and if I'm lucky I'll run into the new owner again for a spin on the bike itself.

Bike Swap Today

logo stolen from Chicago Bike Swap website
The Chicago Bike Swap is HAPPENING TODAY! Quick, take all your money out of the bank (IN CASH- many vendors are normal people and don't take credit cards) and go have a look what you can buy with it. Who wants to pay the gas bill?  Bring a big pannier to carry your treasures home. And a good lock for your bike if you're leaving it on the street while you are inside.

It costs $10 to get in for regular people, $5 for Active Transportation members or UIC i-card holders, but you're likely to make it back on your first impulse buy. This year it's in a NEW place - the UIC athletic department at 901 W Roosevelt near Halsted.

In past years, there have been really good deals on oddball things you didn't know you needed, like formerly-$200 lightweight 2005 model stem extenders or something for $5, and pretty good deals on great things everybody needs like hardly used Continental tires, 10 for $20, or Brooks leather saddles for the same price as a Wal-Mart model. I have no idea what exactly will be there this year but that's a start. Many people sell bike parts, reflectors, buttons, memberships in bike clubs, rain gear etc., and there will be many many bikes to try out, ride and maybe buy. Shops and private owners bring bikes to sell that are often interesting in some way.

There will be a collection of CARGO BIKES to try out, possibly some for sale but many that you can compare, probably most of which you can read about on our site here. Presentations and demos are planned as well, with Bike Polo, the bike-dancing Racketeers, discussions about taking kids on bikes, and more.

The whole event is planned by and benefits Chicago Bike Winter and Active Transportation Alliance.

There is food there and in the nearby area, but it's a quick bike ride to Chinatown or Pilsen or Little Italy-America or Greektown if the mood strikes you. (And if you'll be back in the neighborhood on Sunday the Maxwell Street Market will be taking place, the best place for Mexican street food and trinkets. But not today. ) So we'll be looking for you there - we'll be the ones carrying armloads of something like $2 reflector generator hub titanium rim tape . . .

Monday, March 4, 2013

Grow Your Own Local Women's BIke Summit (or come to Women Bike Chicago)

As you might have heard, building on the women's cycling forums in the winter and fall of last year The League of American Bicyclists is hosting a third all out National Women's Bike Conference tomorrow in Washington D.C. This is of course completely exciting news. But...  If for you, as for many cycling parents, this is not the optimum time for you to be traveling to D.C., don't despair!

Click here for what I found to be one of the best aspects of the page about the fall forum. That's right... a link to the Women's Cycling Project, with a how-to-grow-your-own-local-forum guide. I just love it. Er, loved it.

I think the whole idea of growing your own local forum taps right into the power that many cycling women, parents and otherwise, have found through their local connections.  Many of my favorite Chicago women attended the forum last September, presenting and attending the forum in California which was very exciting.

 A small federation of local Chicago women riders has been plotting away this winter on our own local women's forum and what we have cooked up is Women Bike Chicago- A day of Dialogue and Demonstrations.  To be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago the 23rd of March from 9am to 1pm. Coming up very soon. Please grab a women friend (or three) interested in learning to get out on two wheels and come.  Email us at to get our Eventbrite link and register.

  Our space at the University is not huge so we have room for  70 women to pre-register and come.  Inside will be a handful of sessions, a short keynote, coffee, refreshments and a place to try and meet to chat with other women about bikes. Please come and bring a wanting-to-ride friend along.

An unoffical program of sessions so far includes information on getting back on a bike over 50, using bicycles to create community, practical tips for dressing to ride to work or anywhere, and how to make the most of a trip to the bike store from women shop owners.  In the halls, we will have a chance to meet up and talk with women city riders about finding quieter routes to some of your favorite places to ride.

Outside, there will be bikes to test and hands-on city riding demos.  Experienced women riders will  coach ladies who wish to learn about using a bike as transportation in Chicago techniques and skills key to starting out in our city on two wheels. We can help you figure out the right size of bike you should be riding too. West Town Bikes and some of the Cal Sag program will be on hand to teach basic maintenance.

Afterwards, we would all like to have a celebratory meet-up at Simone's in Pilsen, just a short ride south.

How did we grow our own small forum and how can you grow yours?

The link to the Women's Cycling Project guide is very helpful and our progress followed much of their outline. Without the fashion show.

Getting Started

First, we met as a very small handful of riders to see what we might want to have and how much energy we could pour into it. How big, and what-do-we-miss-here that we felt women could bring to each other in a Chicago-focused Women's Forum. We felt that women of all ages are sometimes left out of images and left out of any idea of them as riders. Women over 50, trans and younger riders are not always clearly represented at forums. We hoped to have women speakers of all ages and cultures here in Chicago.


We brainstormed what time of year is getting close to when it's warmer to ride but still when weekends are not filling up with springtime fun. In Chicago we figured that would be... late March.


Finding a solid location took time as we knew that a hands-on area would be really important. One of our main goals with the confab is to help women take the lead to try growing their trips around the city even just by a small bit.  The University of Illinois offered us generously a small set of locations that we checked out and tried to match with our goals- a place to ride, space for kid care and enough room to meet.  Other options were Park District field houses or other small cultural non profits with goals similar to our small forum.


Our publicity is just emerging. We have a twitter feed@wbechi and blog at  and are on the Chainlink which is a huge platform for the Chicago cycling community.  With the kind help of Active Transportation Alliance we will be publishing fliers to post around the city in places, not only where current women riders go but also where potential women riders may be.

As we struggled to find a good location we drew in more help and began to brainstorm about some sessions and deeper goals. Women Bike Chicago falls shortly after the annual Bike Swap and we hoped to take a fresh tack with our sessions to create something unique to Chicago women, both potential and already-riders, and we reached out for volunteers to help with the demos and riding opportunities.

Sewing the last weeks together

We are now sewing together the last weeks before Women Bike Chicago happens and we need you to help, volunteer, come and be part of the day please!  You can reach us at Chicargobike will carry updates as the program of sessions becomes official and we get close to the actual date. Please stay posted to progress on our little forum and let us know if you create your own!