By Krisann Rehbein
A friend recently mused that the new sign of spring in Chicago is the proliferation of Divvy bikes. After months of the polar vortex, any sign of movement is progress, but to see people on bikes is especially hopeful. We know that spring has come to Dearborn Street when suited men pedal to meetings on massive, baby-blue step-through frames. Years of topnotch cycling advocacy have paid off and the city’s rider numbers have been in a steady climb for years.
Try as we might, Chicago is still a far cry from Copenhagen, where hoards of beautiful men, women and children ride through streets with incredible fashion prowess. We know this because we are a big city with big, open data. In February, Divvy issued a data challenge to inspire programmers, graphic designers and the like to create infographics, visualizations, and websites that interpret a year’s worth of rider data. Perhaps the most surprising fact is that a whopping seventy-nine-percent of Divvy subscribers are male.
Those of us who ride in the city know that it takes a certain amount of fortitude. Twentysomething men have a sense of invincibility, which could explain their disproportionate representation. I used to count myself among the smaller ranks of female riders, living a car-free lifestyle in the city. I was so into biking that when my husband proposed, he bought me an “engagement bike” in lieu of a diamond ring. Now that I have a child, Chicago’s bike culture leaves me wanting.
Boldly crossing into motherhood has been the single most significant demarcation in my life. In the BC era, Before Child, biking was my primary mode of transportation. After child, I awake in terror and anger at Google maps: “Google! How could you call THIS, the busiest street in the neighborhood, the best biking route?” The previously unseen terrors of Chicago streets have become, post-child, starkly visible. And yet I miss riding so much that I can’t bear to let another year pass without my bike.
It has taken nearly three years of research to find a solution for riding safely with my child. I researched extensively, attended workshops at bike fairs, and went to bike shops for test rides. Eventually, I met Ezra Hozinsky from Green Machine Cycles. Ezra got me and my family back on the road again. Ezra’s specialty is the heavy, fortified cargo bike—the bike I’ve been pining for. A Dutch-style machine with a lovely wooden box aft of the front wheel seems like the right step. In my bike-owning evolution, it would follow a Specialized mountain bike, a custom Waterford RS, and a vintage model Electra Ticino. Alas, my high-rise apartment doesn’t have a garage to fit the Dutch delight.
So, to meet my kid-friendly biking needs, Ezra transformed my Electra into a family ride with an $80 Italian kick-stand and a cute, black Yepp Maxi child seat mounted with an adaptor to a sturdy rear rack. The kickstand, designed for cargo bikes, fits on by bike’s super-long frame and is so rock solid that I can use it to easily take my kid in and out of her seat. The fit of the child seat is very snug so my daughter’s knees are at my hips, making for a cozy ride. A bonus is overhearing her contemplation of the passing city life. Riding with her, I keep the bike seat lower than I would normally, allowing me to put both feet on the ground quickly for safety. It is a solid, stable ride and we’re both thrilled about it.
Achieving an equitable bike culture is what they call a chicken and egg problem. It is hard to cultivate a diverse bike ridership until we can all look around and see people riding on the streets who look like us—or, more to the point, like the Dutch. Already, advocacy organizations such as Red, Bike and Green are working to address a part of this issue: they lead rides for African-American cyclists on the South and West Sides of the city. And groups like Kidical Mass organize family rides that celebrate younger riders. In my case, I will do my best to bring a bit of Copenhagen cycle chic to Chicago. We’re back in the saddle again.