Tag Archives: bike commuting in Chicago

Chicago’s First Protected Bike Lane + Bike Box

Yesterday, while waiting at a red light on my bike, a woman with a baby on the back of her bike rolled up and stopped next to me. I waved and cooed to the baby until he smiled. Then his mother said, “Say hi,” and he did, flapping his chubby little hand, eyes shining under his helmet. The light turned green, she told me to go ahead and I told her to have a good day.

My friend Ash's daughter, whom I photographed last week. Not the baby I saw yesterday, but equally adorable.

In an ideal world, sweet meetings like that would happen all the time. In reality, I very rarely see anyone bicycling on Chicago streets with a child. Even as more and more people, men and women, start bicycling for transportation, the venture still seems risky to most. The only way to get a substantial amount of people to bicycle in the city, especially parents with children, is to provide safe, separated infrastructure. Chicago needs protected bike lanes.

For 3 years I have been bicycling in Chicago on a daily basis. During this time, I have seen how easily and cheaply the city’s streets could be adjusted to accommodate protected bike lanes. (Easy and cheap relative to all the other construction projects going on. I know all of Portland’s bike infrastructure was created for the same cost as one highway interchange). This knowledge left me perpetually frustrated, because no one with power in Chicago seemed to care, despite the fact that bicyclists make up ~1/4 of the traffic along my commute route.

This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended. All in the past 3 days, new Mayor Emanuel announced the first protected bike lane, CDOT started construction, and the scheduled complete date is next week. The city’s first protected bike lane will be on Kinzie Avenue where it crosses Milwaukee Avenue, leading into downtown. Currently, bicyclists make up 22% of the traffic along this stretch.

There are a few different ways bike lanes can be “protected.”  For this project, the street pattern will follow this order: sidewalk, curb, bike lane, painted buffer zone, parallel car parking, motor vehicle travel lane. While visiting the construction site, Steven Can Plan noticed that they are also building a bike box (where bicyclists can wait in front of motor vehicles at red lights) and a bike-only left turning lane at a big intersection.  Those are also firsts for Chicago.

You can watch the Mayor’s press conference below:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com.

[You have to sit through a car commercial before watching the press conference.]

Some choice quotes from Mayor Emanuel:

I want Chicago to be the bike friendliest city in the nation.

Speaking of the role bicycling plays in the city, he pointed out three factors for the future:

1) another means of transportation
2) people can do it with safety
3) as we attract businesses to Chicago, an integrated biking system to and from work is essential to the type of workers I want to see in the city of Chicago.

He noted that bicycling is:

Both an economic development essential tool and it adds to a quality of life that is essential to the city.

This particular project is only 1/2 a mile. But the Mayor announced that Chicago will build 100 MILES OF PROTECTED BIKE LANES OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS!

Yes, you read that right: 100 miles of protected bike lanes.

Obviously, I am excited about these developments. My approval is conditioned on the city following through with its promises here, but for the first time since I started bicycling in Chicago 3 years ago, I’m seeing real and positive change.

I encourage everyone in Chicago to write the Mayor and thank him for his trailblazing support of safe bicycling infrastructure. Also, even more importantly, reach out to your Alderman to state your strong support for protected bike lanes and bike boxes. On June 21, I will attend an Active Trans Social with my Alderman Waguespack to voice my support. You can attend or organize a social in your neighborhood with the help of Active Trans.

{For much more detailed information on the Kinzie Avenue project, check out Steven Can Plan. He’s been doing an excellent job of reporting on this project and others around the city.}

{For more information about cycling with children, check out Kidical Mass.}

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June’s Women-who-bike Picnic Brunch!

Sun, women, bikes, brunch, sangria, fresh mown grass = a perfect Sunday morning.  This month’s women-who-bike brunch was a picnic on the lakefront, with everyone bringing a dish to share – and boy were there some delicious baked goods!  Although Chicago has scores of great brunch restaurants, the picnic was so much better than being cooped up indoors.  After about 8 months of cold, Chicagoans know how to enjoy the summer!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves now.













Thank you, awesome women, for choosing to spend your Sunday morning with the group!
As always, women in the Chicago area who would like to join the brunch (or one of the happy hours – next one on Monday, June 13) should email me at LGRAB@letsgorideabike.com.
Hope to see you there!  :)
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Summer Geek Gear

Summer heat has finally come to Chicago. Although fresh summer cycling is possible, especially if I ride super slowly, with temperatures in the 80’s F, riding in gym clothes is now easier than riding in work clothes. This week I traded my chic suits and tweed skirts for geeky bike commuter gear.

I described my full “LGRAB team kit” last year and this summer it’s pretty much the same, albeit with new sunglasses (am I the only one who always loses sunglasses?).

When I arrive at work, I pop into the ladies room and freshen up with an Action Wipe before putting on my work clothes.

But – oops! On Wednesday I totally forgot to carry a change of work clothes with me! I rifled through my office and unearthed a wrinkled blouse and skirt that had been waiting for a trip to the dry cleaners. Crisis averted, although I looked like a ragamuffin all day.

Getting into the routine of packing extra clothes will require an adjustment period. :)

Has anyone else changed their bike commuting routine for the summer (or winter, for Aussies out there)?

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Wedding Anniversary Bike Date

Earlier this week, Greg and I celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary in a typical way for us: eating, drinking and bicycling. I ended up working late and took the fastest and most direct route from downtown to Lincoln Square. By the time I got to the restaurant (Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro) I was sweaty and amped from all the traffic, but after freshening up quickly in the ladies’ room, I felt great. Although for the life of me, I could not find my comb (don’t you hate it when that happens?). Having a date who also bikes everywhere and knows the deal is helpful. :)

The first dish pictured above is macaroni and cheese bites over goat cheese fondu. Yes, it was delicious and the start of a two hours of yumminess.

Okay, so this bike date was really just about the food and drinks. To see lots of bike dates that actually focus on bicycling, check out Simply Bike’s Bike Date Series. One of my goals this summer is to do a proper bike date for the series.

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Bike Fancy: Chicagoans Looking Good on Bikes

I am enjoying watching Martha’s Bike Fancy archives grow, with a new photo every day of the week showcasing Chicago’s “people looking good on bikes.” Chicago women are awesome and have an overall aesthetic that is very different from Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Martha on the left, a featured cyclist on the right

My favorite aspect of Bike Fancy is that all of the photos are posed portraits with a bit of information about the rider, sometimes a mini interview. Hearing from the women themselves and knowing that they agreed to pose for the pictures adds another dimension to the site.   While stopping a stranger on the street and asking if you can take her photo to put on the internet may sound awkward, if anyone can get someone to agree to this request, it’s Martha.  :)

Martha at work

In the photo above that I took after the last Women Who Bike Brunch, Martha is writing the contact information of the woman she flagged down. And this is the beautiful picture that resulted:

Image (c) Martha Williams of Bike Fancy

That’s how we roll in Chicago.  Check out all the rest at Bike Fancy!

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Little Miss Muddy: Coco in the Rain

Trisha showed you her Little Miss Messy coffee-stained Abici and now I’ll show you my Little Miss Muddy Velorbis. On Wednesday I rode Coco, my Velorbis, in the rain for the first time.  I discovered that the gorgeous cream-colored frame shows mud quite clearly.  I’m not good at keeping my bikes clean, but I definitely have to wipe Coco down after the rain.

Although Coco’s aesthetics suffer in the rain, her performance is top notch.  The substantial fenders, chain case, and internal brakes are perfect for keeping me clean and stopping on a dime.  The super cushy Fat Frank tires are a big bonus and make Coco the best among my bikes for riding in the rain.  Normally, I feel paranoid riding on slick roads and through puddles, but the stability and comfort of the fat tires made me feel completely secure. I love those tires.

As for myself, I dealt with the rain fine.  I wore my Patagonia trench rain coat (not pictured below), which caught most of the drizzle.  My wool tights and tweed skirt dried quickly and my helmet protected my hair.

So that’s it. I made it through a 30 minute drizzly bike commute a-okay.  By the time I got to work, I was a little bit more in love with Coco than before.

What aspects of your bike help (or not) when riding in the rain?

 

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Introducing Chicago’s Critical Lass Ride

I am pleased to introduce a new addition to Chicago’s growing women-bicycling scene: Critical Lass!  Every third Thursday, 6:00 pm, at the Polish Triangle.

The ride’s name is self explanatory: think Critical Mass but exclusively for women and with an extra dose of friendliness.

The Critical Lass concept was – I think – created last year by Loop Frame Love in Edmonton, Canada.   Girls and Bicycles and Breaking Chains Taking Lanes also participate in the Edmonton ride.  Now my friend Ash of One Less Minivan has picked up the idea and worked to bring the ride to life in Chicago.  As far as I know, Chicago is the second city to host a ride using the Critical Lass name (always the Second City).

From the Critical Lass Chicago Facebook page:

Critical Lass is a monthly 5-8 mile bike ride exclusively for women/trans cyclists. In situations where childcare is not available to you, children who can ride independently while maintaining a 10MPH pace and younger kids in bike seats/trailers will be welcome to join the ride.

We meet on the third Thursday of each month at Polish Triangle (Division/Ashland/Milwaukee) in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Begin arriving at 6pm for a 6:30 departure.

The route will change monthly, always ending at a restaurant or bar for drinks, nosh and conversation.

I’m excited!  Hope to see many of you Chicagoans there.  If not this month, then June, July, August, September, etc.  :)

{p.s. Wondering how to find – or create – a bicycling community in your own town?  Check out Simply Bike for some great tips.}

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A Lovely Bike Commute?

My bike commutes this week have been lovely, full of sunshine and flowers and blue skies.  That’s what I was thinking, anyway…

Then I read Sam’s “Bike to Work Week” post, which is hilarious (as always), but sadly too true.  You gotta read the post yourself, but basically it has me wondering how lovely my bike commutes really are – objectively.

I have so much experience riding in the city now, the stress mostly rolls off my back: speeding SUVs buzzing me, car doors flung open in my path, cabs idling in the bike lane.  All of that craziness is a dim hum in the background for me, but a new bike commuter would be totally freaked out – and with good reason.

But there’s a lot to be said for sticking with bicycling long enough to get over those initial freak-outs.  Because, as Sam discusses, once you move beyond all that, bicycling “will be the most blissful state of existence you will ever know.”  That’s where I’m coming from when I rhapsodize about my lovely bike commutes every day.  Totally subjective.  :)


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May’s women-who-bike brunch

May’s women who bike brunch last Sunday was great fun, as always! It marked our first outdoor dining experience, on the rooftop of The Twisted Spoke.

There was plenty of bike ogling and shop talk, of course.

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Also lots of general hanging out, which is the main purpose of the brunch.

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One lady showed us this awesome pannier that she sewed herself. How cute!

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And finally, good drinks and grub.  Yes, I scarfed that entire platter down.  I need my energy for biking!  ;)

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See you next month? Hope so!

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If you’re in Chicago and would like to join our next brunch – or if you’re in a different city and have questions about starting a similar get-together – email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike.com.

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The Lakefront Trail in Spring

When I got on my bike Friday morning, I made a last-minute decision to take the Lakefront Trail instead of my usual street route, since I was not feeling up to car traffic and was not in a rush.

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The Lakefront Trail in spring is totally different from the Lakefront Trail I wrote about in winter.

First, getting on the trail was a challenge, as recent thunderstorms created a moat in the underpass access. The water was very deep, so I backtracked up the ramp and biked three blocks south to the next access point, among heavy car and truck traffic merging onto Lakeshore Drive. Not my ideal route, but I managed safely by acting like a car and taking the lane.

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I was annoyed by the difficulty, since the whole point of riding the trail was to take it easy due to my illness. When Coco and I made it to the lakefront, though, my annoyance dissolved. The cool air was refreshing off Lake Michigan, a huge improvement from the hot-sun-on-blacktop feeling of the streets. Lots of people were out enjoying the beautiful Chicago morning.

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A couple of miles along, I encountered heavy trucks working on the trail. This was a pleasant surprise because they had paved over all the chunks of missing concrete and horrible craters that formed during the winter. Smooth sailing!

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I enjoyed my easy ride so much, I totally forgot I was sick until I tried to sing along to my fav Kate Nash song and couldn’t make it through one line without losing my breath. So it’s official: riding Coco slowly is less taxing than singing along to my iPod.

After emerging from the trail for the final 1.5 miles on downtown streets, I popped my helmet back on, blew my nose and said “cheese!” with Coco.

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Looking back on naive, Friday morning Dottie, I almost feel bad for her. She had no idea that she’d end up working late and then biking home along congested streets in a harsh headwind and temperatures that fell 30 degrees from the 70’s to the 40’s, without the benefit of gloves or earmuffs and with a hacking cough. But at least she could go home and sleep 12 hours, dreaming of her ideal Chicago spring morning ride.

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Bicycle Favoritism

Like a parent, I really can’t choose a favorite among my three bikes Oma, Betty and Coco. But I do go through periods when I heavily favor one over the others. Right now, it’s Betty’s time in the spotlight.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been riding Betty Foy exclusively. (April 7 was our 2-year anniversary!) I missed her so much during winter, as soon as the ice cleared and I got her tuned up, she became my ride of choice day after day. She’s so fun and breezy. I haven’t ridden Oma since the weather cleared two months ago because she still has studded tires and I hadn’t ridden Coco since…let me check the archives…March 31.

That changed on Wednesday, when I pulled Coco out for the day.

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And boy, am I glad I did! She’s a lovely bike and those Fat Frank tires are so cushy. I feel different when I’m perched atop her riding straight up. Once I break in the Brooks saddle, the comfort level will be perfection.

As for Oma – getting her studded tires swapped out is on my to-do list for this weekend. So Betty may have to take a back seat again for a while.

On another note, after all my talk of allergies, I finally went to a doctor yesterday and learned that I don’t have allergies at all (good!), but a two week virus (basically a bad cold). I plan to bike today even though I feel like crap because I can’t stand a second day on the L. (There’s a double meaning with “stand” – get it?)

Happy Friday!

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Blooming Bicyclists

If anyone got tired of me talking about snow during winter, prepare to get tired of me talking about flowers now. :) Seriously, check out these magnolias! How can this not make you happy?




Other than the severe allergies I’m suffering from, my bike commutes have been lovely. Today was the first bona fide hot day of the year. Bare legs, short sleeves and I still sweated. How novel.

Another novelty was the large number of bicyclists accompanying me. Yesterday at a stop light (North & Wells) I counted 12 of us. We are taking over. Very cool.

Bicyclists are blooming like flowers in Chicago! How about where you live?

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Enjoying the Springtime Scenery

Now that flowers are finally blooming everywhere in Chicago, I’m totally enjoying the gorgeous springtime scenery during my bike commutes. Although winter scenery is beautiful in its own weird way and autumn leaves are striking, spring wins the scenery contest hands down. As long as its not raining.

Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, I have allergies in the form of a terribly scratchy throat and itchy sinuses. I never had allergies before last year. But I’m still happy to be surrounded by flowers.

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Cycling in a Shorter Dress

When I blogged about bicycling in this dress, reader Krista commented, “You seriously need to tell me your secret to riding a bike in a dress like that! I would be flashing drivers left and right!” My response is that with tights as insurance, flashing is not a worry with that particular dress: it lays firmly, does not ride up, and does not flap in the breeze.

Indeed, most skirts and dresses are great for cycling. In The Best Skirts for Cycling, we discussed the categories of structure, fabric and length that tend to work best. However, there are always exceptions.  The only way to know for sure whether a particular garment poses a flashing risk is to test each individually. I was reminded of this by the new dress that I wore when I got caught in a thunderstorm last week.

I figured that it would be fine on the bike because, although it is shorter than my usual hemline, it is longer than the other dress and is made of heavy silk.  As soon as I straddled my bike, though, I knew that it would not work.  The dress rode way up for some reason and even with opaque black tights underneath, I did not feel comfortable. I pulled over and tied my coat around my waist in order to feel decent. Simple solution – problem solved. I was able to ride to and from work without worrying about flashing anyone. An even simpler solution than when I stapled my skirt.

For those of you who cycle in skirts and dresses, feel free to share your experiences with different types in the comments.

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Cherry Blossoms, Finally!

Cherry blossoms are finally starting to bloom, a month later than last year.

That is all. :)

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Unexpected Thunderstorms

Last weekend a friend asked me and Trisha what we do about thunderstorms, and we both agreed that we simply do not bike in them. However, that is a simplified, partially true statement. The full explanation is that I choose not to bike in the morning if, at the time of leaving, hard rain is actively falling or the forecast all but guarantees thunderstorms. I tend to ignore vague forecasts for the possibility of thunderstorms in the evening, because so many times when I started bike commuting, I was tricked into not biking when the weather was fine.

Which is how I now end up biking home in thunderstorms more than I would like.

My commute is long enough to give the weather ample time to change (30 minutes) but short enough that I feel okay pushing through bad weather. I wait out storms with thunder and lightening, but the most common scenario has me leaving work just before the sky opens up, and once I’m already on my bike, only the worst conditions could stop me. Otherwise, I push on through cautiously but assertively.

Such was the case last night.

Photo from last year. Imagine this, but dark.

Leaving a fundraiser benefit for my employer, the weather seemed fine, although the night sky was too dark to see clouds. Only after I biked half a mile did the rain suddenly start pouring. Thunder and lightening soon followed.

I was wearing an elegant black ensemble: a silk dress, blazer, tights and dress shoes.  I had a raincoat tied around my waist because my new dress became way too short on the bike (more about that later) and for visibility, not because I anticipated rain.  After the storm started, I considered pulling over to put the raincoat on, but did not want to lose momentum, so I continued all the way home as I was.  Of course, by the end of my commute, the storm had calmed to a drizzle. Arriving home, drenched and drowned-rat-esque, I immediately hung my clothes to dry and took a hot shower.  This morning, both the clothes and I are fine. My Po Campo bag, which is advertised only as water resistant, amazingly kept all of my contents safe and dry.

There is a lot of talk on bike blogs and forums about gear like rain pants, ponchos, etc.  Those accessories are important in some situations (like if I were on my way to the event), but if you’re going straight home, there is nothing terrible about getting caught in the rain in your regular clothes. I do not want newer bike commuters to worry that they are not properly prepared for bicycling until they acquire all that stuff.

I am grateful that I had my Planet Bike Superflash.  Powerful lights are always important when riding in the rain, especially at night.

Somebody tell me that I’m not the only one with bad luck when it comes to getting stuck in the rain. What do you do when unexpected thunderstorms hit?

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A Skirt for Public Transportation

As Chicago experiences the rainiest April in 50 years, my thunderstorm-averse and frankly unmotivated self has been taking the L train this week. A colleague yesterday asked if my bike was okay because she saw me walking.

I’m determined to bike tomorrow no matter what (probably) because I’m going stir crazy. In the meantime, I’m taking advantage of this rare public transportation time to wear the few outfits I have that simply do not work on a bike, which usually sit untouched in the back of my closet.

For example, this skirt I wore today that does not allow me to lift my leg any higher than shown below.

Normally, I would not buy a skirt that constricts my ability to cycle, but I made an exception for this mint condition Marni skirt from Salvation Army for $2. Yeah, that’s like $798 off retail price! Looking at this photo, I realize that the entire outfit is thrifted, except the bamboo tights from Trisha.

In other news, the cherry blossoms still have not bloomed in Chicago, which so far is one month later than last year. All these April showers better bring some May flowers!!!!

And finally, happy, happy, happy birthday to our very own Trisha! I’m saving the big b-day post until after I document whatever trouble we get in together this weekend, but for now here is a beautiful flashback to T’s birthday party last year.

Smashing, love!

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Spring? Not here.

I am stubbornly dressing in happy spring clothes, but had to layer on a coat, earmuffs, winter boots and mittens for today’s 35 degree weather.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my bicycle rides. My commute was low key and I was happy not to be stuck on the L train again.

My only complaint is that the trees don’t have green leaves yet, let alone cherry blossoms. Le sigh. When the flowers finally start blooming, my cameras and I will be ready!

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Happy Friday!

This has been a splendid week for cycling.  During the past few days, I have encountered:

  • Countless other bicyclists on the streets.
  • Two friends during my commute (Hi Jami and Elizabeth!).
  • A mother riding a box trike with two kids in the front.
  • An impromptu happy hour with seven of the lovely Women Who Bike.
  • No particularly aggressive or wildly stupid drivers.
  • Warm weather!

I’m especially happy to see all the other bicyclists.  We’re a real presence out there.  :)

Still waiting for flowers, though!

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Beautiful Bicycles: Gouden Leeuw Oma

While having Betty Foy serviced last week, I borrowed a Gouden Leeuw Oma from J.C. Lind Bikes (a sponsor of LGRAB) for a couple of days.

Although the Gouden Leeuw may look a lot like my Workcycles Oma, the two are very different bikes. My Oma is a full luxury brick house, while the GL Oma is relatively diminutive, much lighter and $700 less. Also, the GL Oma is a single speed with coaster brakes.

Aside from those factors, there are many similarities.  The GL Oma has a powder coated steel frame and all of the accessories that I demand from the best city bikes.

Fully enclosed drivetrain. The full chain case acts as a barrier between the chain and the outside world, meaning both the drivetrain and your clothes stay clean and protected. Fenders! Essential to keeping yourself clean and dry in any weather.

Front and rear battery powered lights.  I prefer hub lights that receive energy from pedaling alone, but these battery powered lights help keep both the weight and the cost down.

A wheel lock to provide extra minimum security and a skirt guard to keep your clothes from getting sucked into the wheel.

A comfortable saddle. This Brooks saddle is an upgrade that I highly recommend as the most comfortable saddle ever. A rear rack to carry heavy loads with strong rubber straps to hold down all sorts of packages.

A double footed kickstand to keep your bike upright when parked, especially helpful for loading and unloading cargo.  This kickstand model is better than a regular one-footed design, but is not totally sturdy and I much prefer the two-footed center kickstand on my Oma.


A minimalist cockpit features comfy rubber grips and a bell.  There are no cables or other distracting elements because there are no handbrakes and no gear shifters. I prefer coaster brakes (where you pedal backward to stop) combined with a front hand brake. The coaster brake set up alone on this bike is not my favorite for city cycling.

The bike comes in two frame sizes. I am 5’7 and I rode the 50 cm frame for riders 5’2 to 5’8.  The other frame is 57 cm for riders 5’8 to 6’2.  The 50 cm fit me fine after raising the seat and handlebars, but I felt like I could have ridden the 57 cm.

Riding this bike around Chicago was fun, smooth and swift. The gearing was spot on and I never felt limited by one gear (although I never rode up any hills).  I felt like I was perched atop one of those European bikes from the early 20th century, on which you sit straight up but keep your hands down low. A jaunty ride that made me want to talk with my terrible British accent. ‘ello!


Overall, I liked this bike. While it lacks the indestructible feel of my Oma, it’s a good choice for someone who appreciates the design and utility of a Dutch city bike, but not the weight or the higher price tag. All of the bells and whistles that make for a utilitarian city bike are there, rolled into a classic and stylish design.

I’m not sure about the price, though. $900 is substantially less than most other Dutch bikes on the market and it’s an okay asking price for a bike with so many features, but at that price point there are other excellent bikes that I would consider, such as the Abici, Pashley Poppy or base Civia Loring. The Gouden Leeuw may be as good as those bikes, but without the name recognition and reputation, it’s impossible for me to say. I don’t know if this is the kind of bike that can be used and abused and still counted on a decade later. I’m also not a fan of the coaster brake set up and would want to add on a front hand brake.

I would love to hear from any Gouden Leeuw Oma owners out there. I know of some who were lucky enough to snap them up during the Groupon deal at an amazing price.

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