One Earth Film Festival Returns to Chicago this Spring

     

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One Earth Film Festival motivates Chicago to go “All In” for planet Earth in 2019.

     Springtime always brings excitement to J.C. Lind Bike Co. every year. Weather bounces between balmy and freezing rain; meanwhile customers, phone calls, and emails come pouring in, as do shipments of bikes we’ve ordered from across the continent and the world. All that excitement isn’t restricted to the business of running a bike shop, though, and the One Earth Film Festival is one of those things that we look forward to every year that happens outside the shop’s doors.

     This year the lineup of movies being shown at OEFF promises to impress and the programming that accompanies them we trust will be similarly thoughtful and insightful. It’s often a critique of environmental documentaries that they leave us feeling like the world is terrible, horrible, the situation is grim, and now we’re worse off than we were because prior to seeing the movie we were living in blissful ignorance. One Earth Film Festival is unique in that the festival’s organizers don’t just screen a movie; they put on an event that’s designed to give viewers the opportunity to take action on the topic just discussed, in order to make a positive difference in their little part of the world.

     In that same vein, we at the Shop try to be intentional about acting in ways that reflect what we learn from these movies. For us, that most often means riding our bikes! (Maybe that’s self-evident). We usually use the OEFF as an opportunity to do some kind of a planned ride to one or multiple screenings of movies. Sometimes we end up involved in the events tied to the screenings (as is the case this year). So, without further ado, let’s talk about the movie we’re greatly anticipating this year: Why We Cycle!

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         The story of how this movie came to the One Earth Film Festival is an interesting prologue that we were actually lucky to be involved in. Back in October of 2018, we got word from a customer of ours in Minneapolis about Why We Cycle, who sent the trailer our way knowing that we were a Dutch bike shop and we’d likely be interested in seeing it.

     We were so excited about the movie we contacted the filmmakers to see whether we could screen it at the shop. We quickly realized the logistics of hosting events at the bike shop pose more problems than we have the bandwidth to solve! It then dawned on us that there’s an organization that would be delighted and more than capable of screening the film if they could get approval from the directors. That organization is One Earth Film Festival. Over the several years we’ve been attending the film festival, we’ve talked with OEFF Director Ana Garcia Doyle about our shared desire for more documentaries about transportation and bicycling. It was only natural that we come to her with news about the movie’s existence, which leads us to today.

     Dutch filmmakers Gertjan Hulster, Arne Gielen, Marco te Brömmelstroet, and Jeroen Dirks bring us the movie Why We Cycle, a documentary which is truly a portrait of Dutch people, their motivations, joys, and rationales for riding bikes as much as they do. This year One Earth Film Festival was able to bring Gertjan Hulster and Arne Gielen to Chicago to be present for a Q&A following the March 9th screening of their film.

     This film, for a Dutch bike shop such as we are, is a really special moment to geek out over a passion we share with the Dutch and also spread it to Chicagoans in a unique context that is decidedly not a bike shop. Having said that, some readers may be excited to know that J.C. Lind’s own Jon Lind will be a part of a post-screening panel on March 2nd at the Oak Park Library. We will also be tabling following both screenings of the film to give viewers ideas and tangible ways that they can make a big local impact when it comes to bicycling and the environment. We advise that you book your tickets online in advance (there is a suggested donation), because these showings can and do sell out. Come join us!

On This Day in 2008…

 

Guess what?! We just turned 10 today! Yep, on January 24, 2008 I imported our first two Dutch bikes to Chicago. Flying home with them as checked luggage on a flight from Amsterdam.

When I flew to Amsterdam my plan was to formalize the business relationship with my supplier, De Fietsfabriek, and to place an order for an initial shipment of bikes. With little convincing needed they talked me into taking a few bikes home with me on my return flight.

My initial thought was yikes these bikes are big and heavy, how the heck is that going to be possible. Especially when one of the bikes was a two wheel Bakfiets cargo bike that is over 8 feet long. The idea seemed pretty crazy, but so was walking away from a steady paycheck to start selling Dutch bikes in Chicago so clearly I was up for it.

The afternoon before the flight, I visited the De Fietsfabriek assembly warehouse to check in on the bikes. I wanted to see how they were packed to get an idea of dimensions and also get a sense of how I was going to lug them around to and from the airports.

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Then that night I called United Airlines to get their two cents on the matter. I actually called United three different times that night and got three completely different replies ranging from ‘no way no how’ to ‘yes, but for a reasonable fee’ to ‘yes, and the fee is really expensive’.

So I set out for the airport the next morning prepared to accept whatever fate was dealt to me when I got there. One of the owners from De Fietsfabriek gave me a lift to the airport with their van and helped with getting the bikes into the terminal.

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I arrived three hours early for my flight. Before I could get up to the counter my phone rang and it was an automated call from United informing me that the flight was cancelled. The flight pattern at the time was Denver to Chicago to Amsterdam and the plane never left Denver due to a mechanical issue.

My reaction was surprisingly calm. It was the first time I’d ever had a flight cancelled so I didn’t know what normally happens next. In my mind I figured I’d simply have to find a way to get picked up with the bikes and then come back tomorrow to try it once again.

When I got to the counter they said not to worry, that I was being booked on another flight that will get me to Chicago connecting via Washington D.C. I knew right away that was not going to work. I didn’t even know yet if they would load the bikes onto the flight from Amsterdam. And I was pretty certain the chances of the bikes getting offloaded in DC and then loaded onto a smaller plane for the last leg to Chicago were slim and none.

So I pleaded my case with them and they obliged my request for a direct flight and got me on one with KLM. My relief was short lived as the next hurdle suddenly appeared- The KLM scheduled flight time was an hour earlier than my United flight and KLM was in a different terminal.

Determined to make it. I started the shuffle, moving my luggage plus one bike up 30 feet, then going back for the second bike to move that up 30 feet then repeat… That’s when a couple of extremely sweet good Samaritans saw the rigmarole I was doing and jumped in to help me get the bikes to the KLM terminal.

The ticketing agent at KLM was super helpful and somewhat excited to hear I was bringing two of the most quintessentially Dutch souvenirs home with me. I was then directed to bring the bikes to the odd-size baggage counter. Once I got there they told me that they needed to confer with the actual folks who would be doing the loading to see if they could make it on the plane or not. I remember standing off a few feet in the background while a handful of stocky guys stood in a circle and argued back and forth in Dutch for at least a minute or two about the bikes.

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This was the moment of truth. My mind was racing as I stood there trying to figure out what I was going to do if they said no. I’d certainly miss my flight and have to find a cargo carrier to package and transport the bikes which I figured was going to cost more than the bikes themselves. Just then, one of the guys arguing threw his hands up and then down to his side and accepted defeat and walked away and another one of them walked up to me and said they would take them.

Both confused and incredibly relieved I then went back to the odd-size baggage counter to pay the extra baggage fees. I think it was around 140 Euro per bike which felt like a bargain after everything I had been through up to that point.

The fun wasn’t over yet, I still had a flight to catch! I headed directly to my gate. I don’t recall if it’s always this way at Schiphol Airport, but I remember that day the set up was such that you get checked into your flight at the gate and then wait in a little holding area next to the door to the jetway prior to boarding the plane.

After checking in at the gate I put my headphones on and tried my best to relax while looking out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of the bikes being loaded onto the plane. We were there for a good 30 minutes or more in this holding area and just barely over the sound of the music in my ears I hear my name being called out over the intercom with a request to come to the counter at the gate.

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I was defeated. I walked up to the counter fully expecting them to tell me that after all they would not be able to get the bikes on the plane. Not so. Apparently, for whatever reason, my boarding pass didn’t register correctly when I was checked in at the gate so they didn’t have me in their system and they were paging me thinking I was at the bar and about to miss the flight. She told me I was lucky I got to them when I did as they were 5 minutes away from offloading my luggage!

Successfully checked-in to the flight and the bikes presumably loaded as well I boarded the plane for a smooth flight home. Upon arrival at O’Hare Airport in Chicago I collected my odd-size baggage and got everything home in a cargo van that one of my friends rented to pick me up.

This is why anytime I’m asked if you can fly to Holland and bring a bike home I answer- yes you most certainly can. But, if you want someone to take out all the drama and unknowns, you can get your Dutch bike from us.

The end.

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Frozen Cables: A Case Gone Cold

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Chicago winter can be cold, they says. But they’re usually talkin’ about the temperature.

It all happened back in December. I was sitting alone at the bike shop, nursing a bottle of Jack and sweatin’ bullets wonderin’ what scheme I could come up with to afford my next meal. The bikes just weren’t comin’ in; the cold had scared most folks off the streets. Leastways, offa two wheels. Heaven knows you can’t avoid the streets in this town. So there I was, the bikes weren’t comin in, but the bills sure were. And just as I was about to open a new bottle, she came in the door.

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Plenty of dames had come to me before (and plenty of fellas, too) by which I mean to say, they’d come to me in distress. But this one had white on her face like it was rice, but maybe it was the cold. The point is, she was scared, trapped, stuck, and had no one to turn to… ‘cept me. Well, she come in outta the cold with her bike, a nice cargo bike, the kind you buy to carry your kids an’ all your groceries around town, same as a car. This was one helluva lady, I thought. Then she starts chattering hysterically about her shifter not working, her brakes not working. I take a look at em an’ say, Lady, your brakes and shifter are fine. She looks at me bug-eyed and tries em out herself. She’s incredulous, says they wouldn’t budge just minutes ago.

So I start puttin’ the pieces together. I was reminded of a case a buddya mine took on a few years back. He went mad, so mad they threw him in the loony bin, talkin’ ’bout frozen cables, couldn’t shift or brake with frozen cables. I shuddered. Somethin’ about the whole ordeal made me wanna book a train straight to Florida and hide out there, never show my face in this town again. But it was a coward’s fantasy. I really needed to take this case. The bills an’ all that. Plus I couldn’t let this girl down, not her nor her little kids an’ their cold rosy cheeks and cold little snotty noses. I told her I’d get to the bottom of it.

Was I goin’ soft? I’d worked with a lotta classy dames in my time but with this one… I didn’t even haggle on the price. In my line of work, in the back of my mind is always the thought that the next client in distress who comes in’ll be the one who melts my cold heart. But back to the story…

Before she left I installed new cables on the bike, right after blowing out all the water that was stuck inside the housing, and then I lubed em up something fierce. I thought my problems were over and I was home free. It wasn’t too many days before she came back, though, with her pretty brow furrowed and those dreadful words on her ruby lips, “It happened again.”

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Over the next couple weeks I trailed the suspect: Cold. It wasn’t easy, January and February came and weather was balmy, by Chicago standards anyway. The cold kept hidin’ out in places I didn’t expect. March? I mean, come on, who’s counting on a cold snap in March? But then It’d disappear just as quickly.

Finally, the crook struck again. This time I was poised, ready to spring the trap to take It down. But as usual, things never work out quite the way I plan, but hey, I ain’t no forensic scientist. I decided to stake out the bike and monitor the cable. It was a sleepless night, but the minute I felt that the cable had frozen, I cut it up, housing and all, into sections. I labelled the sections with numbers. I was in a frenzy, feeling like I was following the lead that would crack the case wide open.

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Sections 10, 11, 12 had the greatest amount of water in them

After cutting off each segment of housing, I tested the cable to see if it moved within or if remained stuck. When I’d finally cut them all, I figured out where all the ice was, and I couldn’t believe my naivete. The water had pooled in the lowest section of the housing. I shoulda known. Of course it would. Just like gravity had knocked me down and humbled me a thousand times, gravity had pulled the water down to where Chicago’s mean, cold streets had frozen it, and I couldn’t see it till the very end.

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I ended up replacing both the cable and the housing, but so many questions lingered, unanswered still: how did the water keep getting in after I’d blown it out? What could I do to stop water from getting in? I wanted answers, but I was tired of using this poor woman and her bike as bait in my little scheme, not to mention, after daylight savings time hit, those sub-freezin’ temps went into hiding, and my case went cold.

Spring is on the way, and folks are suddenly looking cheery and amicable again. But I’m still nursing this bottle-a Jack because I probably won’t see that frozen cable for 8 months. I probably won’t see her again either. I guess I should be thankful. She gave me a check and thanked me for all I did. She might be safe, for now, but I’ll keep that file open, I’ll keep it warm. When winter comes again, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.

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To be continued…

-Keith, mechanic, and private detective

Jumping Into Deep Water

You are a customer looking to buy a bicycle. Not just any bicycle, though. You have seen people around town with strange, large bikes which they use to transport not just themselves, but groceries, and children (emphasis on the plural there). Your neighbor just got one of these bikes to take her daughters to school and you privately admit to envying that active lifestyle.

So, after an information-gathering session disguised as gossiping with your neighbor, followed by a quick google search, you walk into J.C. Lind Bike Co., a respected Dutch city and cargo bike retailer in Chicago. Hence you begin your cargo bike journey. Your excitement is palpable as you ask questions and go for test rides. Eventually you return to the shop with your children and maybe your significant other. But after riding a heavy, durable Dutch bike pregnant with the weight of your kids, you make a sobering realization: it’s heavy, it’s slow, and you don’t feel safe riding by yourself (much less, with kids) in Chicago traffic.

Apart from feeling sorry for the poor saps at J.C. Lind who try to sell these boat anchors, you’re starting to have remorse about wasting your and the bike shop’s time and you want more than anything to back out of the sale. No, it’s not for you after all. You were mistaken. This water is too deep and you can barely tread water here, let alone swim, to finally use the titular metaphor. You also can’t believe what kind of superhuman abilities and/or insanity your neighbors are afflicted with that allow them to manage rolling such a boulder around town. Best to just climb back onto the dry shore, your dependable car, towel yourself off, go home, and put this desperate charade to rest.

Sadly, as an employee of a bike shop that sells Dutch-style city bikes and cargo bikes geared (hate that pun) particularly for families, I see this narrative play out almost on a daily basis. You would think I’d have some antidote for it by now, some way to reach out and stop it from happening. The truth is, I don’t, at least not yet. This very essay serves as my first attempt to prevent the pitfall so many would-be cargo bike owners unwittingly stumble into when first looking to buy a bike–the pitfall being that while you might have the dough and the will, you are unprepared to use a bike that requires a significant leap outside of your comfort zone as well as a not inconsiderable amount of riding experience and proficiency.

I strongly believe that riding a bike in the city with children as your precious cargo is the highest level of commitment and ability a bicycler can achieve. It is truly the 700-level course of bicycling, nay, the Ph.D. program.  I’d say the majority of our potential customers have taken the 100 and 200 level courses but that was ten years ago and they probably missed a bunch of class and just downloaded the professor’s Powerpoint notes (and then missed the class reunion in fashion).

My hope is that I can supply the Sparknotes for the intervening classes. (My hope is that I can also sell you a useful, durable bike).

Before I begin, a brief disclaimer: my best efforts notwithstanding, you may read this all and give it another try, or another ten tries, and still not feel comfortable riding a cargo bike stacked with kids around town. Maybe it’s that your city’s not there yet in terms of infrastructure (show up at those advisory meetings, yo!) or maybe it’s just that you don’t have the coordination to feel safe doing it. <—No judgment here from us. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to establish your comfort level and choose how much you’re willing to push yourself out of that comfort zone. That’s not something I can teach you or sell you.

First, I think it’s empowering for people to recognize that those who are riding around town with their kids like Superdads and Supermoms (your neighbors, perhaps) aren’t actually special. That’s not meant to be demeaning. What I mean is, they weren’t genetically endowed with “cargo-biking, car-free” genes or something. They are normal people, just like me and you, their lives just happened to take a path that led to cargo biking before you. That should encourage you to press on. And from here on out, I think encouragement vs. intimidation is actually the name of this game.

I think the number one reason folks get into the cargo bike ocean about ankle deep and then get scared and jump out is pure intimidation. It’s the unfamiliarity of it all. This bike you may be looking at presents a series of challenges: 1) It’s expensive. We’re talking north of $2000. And that’s before tax! 2) It’s big, and you better have a good spot to store it. If it’s jussssst inconvenient enough to get to day in and day out, you’ll never use it. 3) It’s heavy. Like I said, a boat anchor.  These bikes were designed specifically to take a pounding from the weight of an adult rider, kids, and miscellaneous cargo like groceries, and to do all that daily for a year or more without needing a tune-up. I bet your car can’t even boast that good of a record. And I bet your car is pretty darn heavy. And lastly 4) It can be kind of scary riding in traffic, especially with your kids on the bike.

But again, back to the intimidation, it’s all an illusion, the natural human instinct to preserve the status quo, nothing more. I think with the right encouragement one can learn to trust in that boat anchor and hold onto it for dear life. Assuming you can come up with an answer for numbers 1 and 2 (those are the ones we can’t help you with really), then all you (we) need to do is get you to a comfortable point with numbers 3 and 4.

So, the bike is heavy. With your kids on it, even more so. But, consider the positives: 1) it’s stable and not shifty or twitchy, due not only to its weight, but also its geometry, 2) A heavy bike is harder go really fast on. “But Keith, that’s not a positive!” Yeah, yeah, it may seem counter-intuitive, but riding in the city is wayyyyyy safer if you’re going between 10-12 mph. If you’re used to going 16+ mph maybe on the bike trail that’s one thing, but in the city you’re putting yourself at greater risk. If you recognize that, then you might be able to use the fact of the bike’s weight to assuage your fears about safely riding in traffic. Double Whammy.

Some customers make the point that their commute is eight miles one way, and that it’s just so far to go loaded up with all the weight on an already heavy bike. The coach in me can confidently say, “You can do this” And that’s not just because I want to sell you something. To borrow a line from Morpheus of the Matrix movies, “Do you think how strong, or how fast I am, has anything to do with my muscles… in this place?” Any perceived weakness you feel is just that, perceived. Your legs are the strongest, most efficient muscles for moving you, and bicycles are the most efficient way to move. You might get sore by the end of the day for the first week, I’ll grant you that, but afterward your body will find its new normal.

The only other issue is that you have to give yourself more time to get to where you’re going, whether it’s one mile or ten miles. Actually if it’s just a few miles away you most likely will be faster than a car. But for longer trips it will likely take you longer. Again, find that new normal. You’ll eventually figure out how long it takes you to get to the common destinations in your life and you won’t have to look it up on googlemaps every time before you go. Even at a slow and comfortable pace of 10mph I think you’ll be surprised with how much ground you can cover. Consider the fact that you are exercising while you’re doing this, and hanging out, rather intimately in fact, with your kids. For most parents I know that’s Double Whammy. See? Already we have TWO Double Whammies! You’re growing more and more confident, more and more at ease, I can see it in your face.

The last sticking point is safety, which I only brought up briefly. Starting with this article, I hope to continue writing on a variety of subjects, but I can assure you safety will feature prominently among them. If you haven’t ridden a bike very much in the city, we can educate you about the classic dangers and common situations you may find yourself in, so that you can learn from our experience and prevent them from occurring.

Route planning is key, you’ll want to take your time and plan ahead, sometimes trying out routes for the first time during low traffic days like Sunday. You want to be seen and heard, acting almost as if you are invisible. Having a good set of lights cannot be understated enough and a bell loud enough to command some attention is also a must have.

Maybe you’ll want to ride a Divvy bike with just you on it for a few months and continue to default to the car as the kid carrier (assuming you have a car). Divvy is great because there’s very little commitment. Pay as you go. Whatever you need to do to feel more at ease, we’re confident that you’ll get the hang of it eventually.

We see customers getting intimidated by this decision all the time. Whether it’s the big, new bike, the big, daunting lifestyle, the concept of being a pioneer, or even the price, we’ve seen it. But we’ve also seen the customers who’ve stuck with it, maybe took a little bit on faith, and those are the very same people out biking around town with their kids. Your neighbors. The cargo/family bike experts. We know because of them that this intimidation doesn’t last. It comes down to confidence. For those potential customers who are hesitant neophytes, we’ll do everything in our power to build your confidence. We’ll be your cheerleaders. We’ll be your mechanics. We’ll be your coaches. See? The water’s not that deep. Just put your feet down and see that you were tall enough to touch all along.