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Cargo Cycling Moms Give Tips on Hauling Kids and More at Workshop

By Patty Wetli | January 27, 2015 1:34pm
 Andrea Newberry, who gets herself and her two kids around Chicago on a cargo bike, will be one of the panelists at Green Machine Cycles' workshop on family cycling.
Andrea Newberry, who gets herself and her two kids around Chicago on a cargo bike, will be one of the panelists at Green Machine Cycles' workshop on family cycling.
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Andrea Newberry

RAVENSWOOD — Kristin Hovious has hauled 80 pounds of peaches on her bike, Andrea Newberry has schlepped skis and Liz Durham pedaled her seven-foot Christmas tree home.

But their most precious cycling cargo? Their children.

As cargo bikes gain traction in the U.S., moms are increasingly driving the adoption of this alternate mode of transportation. While Chicago is no Copenhagen, where nearly 30 percent of families of four own cargo bikes, parents are using them for everything from school runs to trips to the farmers market with the kids.

Newberry, who's originally from Michigan, said she grew up in a "car family" — half her relatives, it seemed, worked for Ford, Chrysler or General Motors.

Yet in the 15 years she's lived in Chicago, Newberry has never owned a car, initially for budgetary reasons and then as a lifestyle choice.

When she and her husband first became parents four years ago — they now have two children — the couple opted to purchase a "Dutch"-style box bike instead of a minivan. (Box bikes are sort of like ice cream carts — the cyclist peddles from behind, with the cargo in front.)

"It's our only vehicle," she said, noting that both her youngsters began "riding" when they were 1 month old, their infant carriers strapped inside the bike's box.

To get more moms on board with the concept of family cycling, Newberry, along with Durham and Hovious, will share experiences and tips at a workshop at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Green Machine Cycles, 1634 W. Montrose Ave.

All three women acknowledge that navigating urban streets with a pair of toddlers and a week's worth of groceries in tow can seem intimidating. Concerns about safety are one of the most common barriers to family cycling.

Baby steps are key, according to Durham, who lives in Lincoln Square.

An early proponent of family cycling, Durham bought her cargo bike in 2009 when "there were probably only a few in Chicago."

At the time, she said, "There were streets I wouldn't ride on with my son."

As her confidence level grew, those same streets became less scary, she said.

"It's about understanding the rules of the road really well and you need to be familiar with alternative routes," said Durham. "Obviously, I'm not going to take him on Ashland."

Mapping out a route in advance — side streets and streets with bike lanes are a family cyclist's best friends — can provide peace of mind, said Hovious, whose most frequent trip is from her Ravenswood Manor home to Ravenswood Elementary, where her kids go to school.

"The idea that there's anyplace you can't go ... you just have to have a little more time," she said.

Contrary to what one might expect, Newberry, who lives in West Town, said sharing the road with cars is actually less stressful when cycling with her kids compared with riding solo.

"On the family bike, I feel like 95 percent of our interactions with people are positive," she said. "People are waving and honking, giving us the thumbs up."

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice the women have for anyone contemplating family cycling is that one size does not fit all.

"It's something you don't have to do all or nothing," said Durham. "You can dip your toes or dive in."

Hovious, who still has a car, hasn't ridden this winter because she's waiting on a canopy for her bike's box to protect her children from the elements. Newberry has added a battery-powered motor to her bike in order to increase the radius of manageable trips.

From choice of bike style — Hovious and Newberry have box bikes, Durham rides a long tail, with the cargo in the rear — to decisions about whether or not to go completely car-free, each individual needs to decide what works best for their family, they said.

"I'm not going to lie to you, there are times when I say, 'Why don't we buy a car?'" said Newberry, who was featured in DNAinfo's winter warriors of cycling.

"It can be limiting. I would never say, 'I'm going to ride up to Ravenswood for fun' in winter," she said. "For us, we just choose our priorities, with the understanding in winter it's going to make it more difficult."

Given the expense of cargo bikes, which tend to cost upwards of $3,000, there also needs to be a base level of commitment, she added.

All agreed, though, that the benefits outweigh the challenges, some of them big-picture, like having a smaller carbon footprint, but most of them more personal.

Hovious said she never could have anticipated what it would mean to have her kids, age 6 and 7, riding in front of her in the bike's box.

"Having the kids facing me is such a big deal. We're constantly connected," she said. "There's this whole different way of being with kids when they're in front of you. I love, love cycling with them."

Newberry said she's more in tune with her environment than she would be in the "bubble" of a car.

"When you're a cyclist, you're more at the whim of Mother Nature," she said. "You're very aware of weather."

Health and fitness are other pluses to biking, they said.

"I get to incorporate exercise into my day-to-day life," said Durham.

Making it over the Wilson Avenue bridge hauling 90 pounds of kids and 80 pounds of peaches without resorting to walking "was my finest moment," Hovious said.

Finally, Newberry offered up a scenario every Chicagoan can appreciate:

Last summer, her family had tickets to a White Sox game and biked to U.S. Cellular Field.

"The game got out and everyone was stuck in traffic," she said. "We just rode away."

Meet Durham, Hovious and Newberry at the "Kiddy Cartage" panel discussion at 7 p.m., Wednesday at Green Machine Cycles, 1634 W. Montrose Ave. Refreshments will be served. Children are welcome as long as they are respectful of the adult conversation.

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