I must admit to being a bit unsympathetic when I read about bike thefts in urban areas. Living in the suburbs can be what makes the volume of bike theft in the city seem so bizarre. In fact when I first started riding in the Chicago city limits a couple of years ago it made me realize why I like the suburbs better. Folks are not so much wealthier than they are in the city just less likely to be concerned with the theft of property.
We do have crime. But on a scale that would make a city dweller wonder sometimes if they had awakened on a different planet. I guess that for the most part suburbanites have a small town vision of the world and yet desire to be close enough to the city to enjoy its amenities. But you really do not hear a great deal about car thefts, muggings and shootings when you live in a suburban area.
When you do it is a rare enough occurrence that people stop and talk about it across their backyard fences and wonder aloud what has happened in our quiet town or village. I can just imagine how much of a shock the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy must have been to its residents. That sort of thing could shake the faith in humanity of residents in a small village.
But getting back to the question of bicycle choices. I ride a long wheelbase (LWB) recumbent. It is made by a company called Easy Racers. The one I usually ride in the city is the Tour Easy model. Nice bike but long and quite heavy. And in the city it is generally okay on trails like the Chicago Lakefront Trail but a bit less at home on very busy streets.
But each year for the past decade we have ridden either the Boulevard Lakefront Tour (now defunct) or the Chicago L.A.T.E. ride or perhaps the new minted Bike The Drive or the Four Star Bike Tour on our Tour Easys. We have done these rides with friends from the suburbs or friends who live in the city and each time save the most recent Four Star Bike Tour has been pretty enjoyable.
In fact for nearly a year I rode the Chicago Lakefront Trail several times a week during the week and then often returned with my wife to ride it on the weekends. But you do have to be careful when you ride alone that you never leave the bike unattended because of the ever present danger of theft. But when we ride together we each take turns visiting the washrooms or going inside food places while the other buys and then brings out the food.
Brompton To The Rescue
But frankly a LWB recumbent is a very poor choice if you are trying to visit museums or do multi-modal traveling to and from the city. I always drive to the Loop or the La Rabida Children’s Museum or the municipal parking lot in downtown Evanston and ride from there to places somewhere in the city or Evanston. What would really make me more confident in traveling into the city by train would be the ownership of a folding bike. My fantasy bike is the Brompton Folder.
I would probably order one from some place like NYCeWheels since they carry tons of them and specialize in the ones that are equipped with things like hub generators. This bike would make it possible to visit the city and enter a museum where I could check the bike like I would a baby stroller and then walk the halls before returning to collect the bike and continue on my day trip in the city.
It can be brought into restaurants and checked in or simply slid under the table as if you were carrying an oversized piece of rollable luggage. There are smart looking soft- and hard-sided cases that enclose the bike to camouflage what it is. And there is even a nylon shroud that you can drape over the bike if you want the ultimate in easy on and off the train portage. In fact in most situations you have to have your folding bike completely covered before bringing in onto a trail. And with one that folds up this compactly you can carry it to any seat on the train and sit with friends.
So why do urban cyclists insist on using standard upright bikes?
A recent ChainLink Forum discussion (one of dozens with a similar trend) begins like this:
One day it’s there, the next day it’s gone!
Posted by Nancy L. Fagin on December 30, 2012
I’ve been biking to my warehouse space nearly everyday and at Ashland and Erie (SW corner) there was a nice red Trek. Yesterday the rear wheel was missing. “Oh”, I thought,”the owner took the rear wheel inside…” Today, (Sunday), only the front wheel is left.
I didn’t notice the model or the size, but now it’s gone.
I find this sort of thing equally disturbing. It saddens me and always make me wonder why anyone would have the courage to bother with an upright bike that they could not take indoors with them on a regular basis. The thread’s originator continues:
Reply by Nancy L. Fagin yesterday
I always hate to assume the worst – some body riding a bike, guiding another along side (bringing one to a friend, to a bike shop) or…some one riding a bike that you know it just doesn’t fit them at all (cousin gave them their old bike or…).
I guess one part of learning to bike is knowing how to lock it and when to lock it (that’s easy – all the time)!
Many thanks for your note.
And one respondent says something that tells me she suspects that Nancy is “new to the city“:
Reply by chixieonfixie yesterday
Nancy just curious but are you from a small town?
Reply by Nancy L. Fagin 14 hours ago
Nope. West Town.
Reply by Nancy L. Fagin 58 minutes ago
On Saturday the rear wheel was gone, Sunday the entire bike was gone except for the front wheel u-locked to a city rack.
Today, I had my bike and trailer locked in front of my store and some guy stopped to inspect the cable and lock…not out of the goodness of his heart, I bet. Besides, the bike was way too small for him.
While city living can be exciting there are aspects of the reality of living in a place where theft is so prevalent that makes me want ask folks why they bother. But I know that there are plusses to living in the city as well. And besides urban cyclists who work in the Loop get to save a huge chunk of money each month as compared with their “country cousins” who commute by train or worse, drive their automobiles.
Why Not Use Some Of That Disposable Income Wisely?
Urban Cyclists like to tout the money they save by not burning fossil fuel to move their carcasses versus riding their bikes. But then they sometimes seem reluctant to support the ChainLink Forum to the tune of $2 per person (letting others do the “heavy lifting” to support their social network). And they seem to have to go through lots of hoops to track down their stolen bikes at flea markets or on Craig’s List or whatever.
Were it me I would own a Brompton Folder and carry it indoors with me all the time I was at work. This would keep it relatively free from long hours alone in nasty weather and would make it unnecessary to carry around a heavy U-Lock that a simple angle grinder could cut through in record time. And though the Brompton is expensive the costs are easily amortized when you consider the money I save by not having to park a car or refuel its tank. And what would it be worth to not have to worry about your bike being stolen and to have to go out and replace it with another one?
Or course the other question I would have to ask myself is why a cyclist would steal the bike of another member of the movement in the first instance? If the solidarity of the cycling community is to be believed, why would anyone in that community be depriving a comrade-in-arms of the primary means of transportation? Maybe we need to rethink what the movement really means.