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Kidical Mass family rides, like the one held over Memorial Day Weekend in Lincoln Square, offer parents a chance to ride safely with their young kids.

Kidical Mass family rides, like the one held over Memorial Day Weekend in Lincoln Square, offer parents and kids a chance to ride safely. Many families who cycle in Chicago say they have been on high alert since a series of tragic crashes last summer that killed three children.

Lou Foglia for WBEZ

For parents who bike in congested Chicago, it’s a summer of riding defensively

After navigating the traffic and sprawl of Los Angeles, Amir Zadaka and his wife, Jessica, moved their family back to Chicago so they could live car-free.

Now, the Lake View family of five relies on a cargo bike as their main mode of transportation. Zadaka said the souped-up cycle affords them freedom and “random encounters” with their neighbors and surroundings that add value to their lives.

But even a hefty carrier and opting for side streets can’t totally eliminate the worries that come with being a biking family.

“We’ve definitely noticed just this tension between cars and bikes and kind of sharing the road, and we’ve had our fair share of close calls, which have been concerning,” Zadaka said.



Uptown residents Adam Gianforte and Charlea Taylor brought their 20-month-old son, Evergiven, to the Kidical Mass ride.

Uptown residents Adam Gianforte and Charlea Taylor brought their 20-month-old son, Evergiven, to the Kidical Mass ride. Gianforte said wearing helmets, sticking to bike routes and knowing your rights as a cyclist are good practice for families on the road.

Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Parents who bike with their kids in the city say safety is the No. 1 concern. And several told WBEZ they’ve been on high alert since the start of last summer when vehicles struck and killed three children in a three-week span.

As summer biking season kicks into gear, so does vigilance and activism among cycling parents. Increasingly, they’re banding together online and on the streets to find the safest routes and best gear setups. They’re also lobbying alderpeople and Chicago’s new mayor for concrete changes to make biking safer. (The mayor’s office declined a request for an interview about Mayor Brandon Johnson’s bike infrastructure plans).

Last summer’s tragedies were a rallying cry, said longtime cycling advocate and Chicago Family Biking founder Rebecca Resman.

“Those events absolutely gutted every member of our community,” Resman said. “I think we know and understand that as people who are walking and biking around our communities how easily it could have been us or could have been our child.”



Rebecca Resman is the founder of Chicago Family Biking. Recently, leads a ‘bike bus’ to Hamilton Elementary in Roscoe Village – while dressed as Alexander Hamilton. By the time the growing mass of young bikers and their more seasoned parents reached their destination, the group measured in the dozens.

Rebecca Resman is the founder of Chicago Family Biking. Recently, leads a ‘bike bus’ to Hamilton Elementary in Roscoe Village – while dressed as Alexander Hamilton. By the time the growing mass of young bikers and their more seasoned parents reached their destination, the group measured in the dozens.

Souped-up cycles for safety

That concern has been driving customers to Four Star Family Cyclery, said owner Mandalyn Renicker, whose customer list measures in the thousands. The Logan Square store is one of the ground-zero destinations for parents who bike in the city, since it specializes in the types of cargo bikes that can make transporting kids feel both easier and safer.

“When a bike is designed to carry kids, it’s going to be the safest possible option,” said Renicker, a mother who took over the shop last summer from the previous owner.

Inside the store’s doors, rows of bright-colored bikes in a variety of makes and models beckon parents. But the shop also serves serious commuters and retirees seeking out a speed boost with its stock of e-bikes.



Mandalyn Renicker’s Logan Square bike store, Four Star Family Cyclery, specializes in cargo and e-bikes that can be especially appealing to parents.

Mandalyn Renicker’s Logan Square bike store, Four Star Family Cyclery, specializes in cargo and e-bikes that can be especially appealing to parents. ‘When a bike is designed to carry kids, it’s going to be the safest possible option,’ Renicker said.

Courtney Kueppers

In the world of cargo bikes, there are two main options: the “box bike,” where kids sit up front, and the “long-tail” bikes that position youngsters in a saddle over the back wheel. Both options are available with or without an electric assist.

But there are barriers to owning a cargo bike, like the cost.

The electric options, like the ones sold at Four Star, can go for as much as $8,000 and even the comparably more affordable, manual cargo bikes typically cost at least $1,000. Some states like Colorado and California have rolled out rebate programs for e-bikes, but Illinois currently doesn’t offer such incentives (although some activists are trying).

Sitting in the window of Renicker’s shop are hard copies of a Chicago Department of Transportation map of bike lanes across the city. Zadaka and other biking parents know that map well — they consult it and study the biking toggle on Google Maps before packing up their kids to head somewhere new. They seek out low-stress neighborhood routes and protected bike lanes. They know what intersections to avoid and where bike lanes suddenly end. Biking as a family takes extensive planning — and it’s not all about the most direct path.

“I think there’s something that changes in your brain when you put your kids on a bike,” said Renicker, who bikes with her two young sons. “That means you’re not trying to get from point A to B in as short an amount of time as possible. We ride really defensively.”



Kid seats mounted on the back of a bike is a tried-and-true option for parents biking with young kids.

Kid seats mounted on the back of a bike is a tried-and-true option for parents biking with young kids. Other popular setups include a trailer or cargo bikes. Parents who bike in Chicago told WBEZ they spend a lot of time considering what gear feels safest for their family.

Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Advocacy on two wheels

The need for constant attentiveness can be stressful and intimidating, which is why some families opt for strength in numbers.

Popular events include a regular “Kidical Mass” series that invites families to bike in a group. Unlike its grown-up counterpart “Critical Mass,” the Kidical routes are pre-planned to be beginner friendly. But otherwise, the concept is the same: a form of direct action meant to call attention to sharing the streets.



More than 60 cyclists participated in Kidical Mass’ roughly two-mile ride through Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, event organizers said.

The Kidical Mass rides follow a pre-planned, beginner-friendly route. The events are a chance for young riders to get comfortable riding on the street, said Rebecca Resman, founder of Chicago Family Biking.

Lou Foglia for WBEZ

But group rides can be about more than just sending a message. Organizers like Olatunji Oboi Reed, who helps assemble a Friday night ride in North Lawndale that attracts middle- and high-schoolers, see the potential for the outings to transform communities.



Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gia Biagi speaks at a press conference about launching an expansion of Divvy bike share system in North Lawndale in 2021.

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gia Biagi speaks at a press conference about launching an expansion of Divvy bike share system in North Lawndale in 2021. Bike advocate Olatunji Oboi Reed said the citywide expansion of Divvy is an important step to making family biking more accessible in Black and brown neighborhoods.

Brian Rich

Reed grew up biking as a young kid in Chatham, but by the time he was in middle school, he’d stopped. He didn’t regularly bike again until his early 30s and, when he did, he noticed big disparities between the infrastructure on his native South Side versus the North Side or downtown.

“There was like this disdain or disregard for Black and brown neighborhoods and the resources needed to grow cycling in our community,” Reed said. Over the past decade, Reed said biking infrastructure has started to slowly improve and the public bike share program Divvy has “expanded in a significant way into Black and brown neighborhoods.”

But some problems are persistent: Long distances to key destinations, such as a child’s school or a grocery store, may not make biking feasible for families.

Reed himself is a new parent and he’s eager to someday bike with his nearly 4-month-old daughter, saying he wants “her to be as excited about cycling” as he is. But that also means being careful to not “put her in harm’s way.”

It’s a dilemma Alec Schwengler, who lives in Ravenswood, also faces. Schwengler, who is a new father to a 3-month-old daughter, has become a bit of a bike activist due to sheer frustration with inadequate infrastructure. He sees roadblocks to streets becoming truly family-friendly.



Gabriela Gogg was excited to show off her bike’s new handlebar streamers at the May 28 Kidical Mass ride.

Gabriela Gogg was excited to show off her bike’s new handlebar streamers at a May Kidical Mass ride. The 6-year-old said she bikes regularly on turf at a nearby park, but it was her first time riding on a roadway with other cyclists. ‘I liked that I got to see more people and I got to let the wind on my face,’ Gogg said. ‘I was very impressed by some of the big bikes that they used to carry little kids.’

Lou Foglia for WBEZ

“It’s kind of like a chicken and egg thing,” Schwengler said. “Until more people get out there, maybe elected officials don’t see the need to make these changes, but people aren’t going to walk or bike or take transit if they don’t feel comfortable and convenient doing that.”

Resman is clear-eyed on which changes she would like to see. Her group, Chicago Family Biking, helped form Safe Streets For All last fall along with several organizations. The coalition is calling for a connected and protected bike network citywide and a lower citywide speed limit of 20 mph. The group also wants stricter requirements on large commercial vehicles, like the one that was blocking the bike lane last summer when 3-year-old Lily Shambrook was killed. They’d like to see them outfitted with safety features like side guards and mirrors.



More than 60 cyclists participated in Kidical Mass’ roughly two-mile ride through Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, event organizers said.

More than 60 cyclists participated in Kidical Mass’ roughly two-mile ride through Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, event organizers said.

Lou Foglia for WBEZ

Resman said she’s hopeful that Chicago’s new mayor will fulfill some of this vision, but after 15 years of bike activism, she also has learned to be cautious with her optimism.

“I do have that hope. I think we have more people than ever that seem to really, truly care,” she said. “But at the same time, I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ.

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