Mr Bike’s book announcement to friends (PDF file)

  Steve Buchtel’s review of Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips

  Mr Bike’s letter to Bicycle Retailer & Industry News

  Review of the 11/13/04 winter cycling class

  Report of the 12/18/04 Santa Cycle Rampage

  Mr Bike’s presentation at ProWalk/ProBike 2004

 Steve Buchtel’s review of Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips

Urban Biker’s Tricksier, Tipsier
Mr. Bike swoops in for an update
by Steve Buchtel
(Originally published in Bike Traffic, the newsletter of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation)

     Cape mysteriously fluttering in the still air of my living room, Mr. Bike sat down across from me to straighten out his tights and to talk about the revised edition of his show-all, tell-all book on bike use and maintenance, Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips.
    "For the most part you’ll find the really accessible style and great illustrations that makes both versions of this book really easy to use," rumbled a deep baritone from the center of that oak barrel of a chest.
    "So why buy the new book?" I asked. A pointed inquiry, I thought, but I might as well have assaulted a truck tire with a drinking straw.
    "The section on locks got revised the most," answered Mr. Bike, casually adjusting his mask. "There’re a few small lock makers offering really great locks now, and I’ve uncovered some that are going to be really hot. And I’ve added some new tricks and tips I’ve learned since the last printing."
    "Learned from first edition readers?"
    "Some. But also some things that people have asked me about, like how to put a bike in a car without a bike rack."
    Had I just glimpsed Mr. Bike’s relatively-soft-compared-to-the-chiseled-rest-of-him underbelly? I pounced. "Isn’t that something most people could figure out?"
    Fire leapt in his eyes, and I cowered as he spoke. "Bicycle magazines, bike maintenance books, and other experts perpetrate an aura around cycling of technical complexity mastered only by esoteric knowledge and buying the right equipment. This intimidates a lot of people. The mission of this book is to get people to relax. By tapping into a global brain trust of urban cyclists, I’ve collected low-tech and no-tech ways to find, use, fix and keep a bike, exploding the ’bike expert’ myth and empowering the common person to control their cycling destiny.
    "We are finished here," exclaimed the mighty hero. As he rose above me, adjusted his singlet, and strode toward the door, I realized that that the wisdom of the world’s urban cyclists was leaving with him.
    "Just one more question!" I pleaded. "Please, kind sir: Where can I find this book?"
    Mr. Bike turned, his cape flaring dramatically. "At all good and decent book stores, and at www.mrbike.com!" he bellowed, the steel I-beams of the building thrumming in tune. Then he was gone.

  Mr Bike’s letter to Bicycle Retailer & Industry News

[Mr Bike wrote the following letter to Bicycle Retailer & Industry News (BRAIN) in September 2003. Rather than print the letter, BRAIN’s editor chose to argue with Mr Bike in a personal response.]

Thanks to [columnist] Patrick O’Grady for helping me get some perspective on the bicycling industry.

In his August 15 column, O’Grady echoed the dismay of all of us bike advocates about the imminent loss of Enhancements funding. Pat said "the House Appropriations Committee . . . eras[ed] all funding for bike . . . paths."

I’d often wondered why, when I went to cycling soirees like Interbike, ProBike/ProWalk, and the Bicycling Education Leaders Conference, I repeatedly heard bike-industry leaders say that we need funding for more off-street paths, but little about on-street bicycling.

O’Grady helped me understand this focus. In his column, he characterized streets as places where newbie cyclists would "shed pounds by sweating them off in shear terror, soiling themselves or losing a limb to a Land Rover. " He said we needed the Enhancements funding to build the only real alternative –off-road paths—for "Fred, " the average person loathe to saddle up.

"For a newcomer to cycling, " O’Grady said, "sharing the streets with a motor vehicle is like paddling a kayak . . . with . . . great white sharks. "

Last time I checked, a large portion of the U.S. population lives in places whose density allow no room for new off-street paths—places you might of heard about, like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco. In these locales—where a huge potential bike market lives—you cycle on the street or not at all.

Until reading O’Grady’s column, I didn’t understand why more industry folks don’t get what seems obvious to me: If you want to get more butts on bikes, you must work to accommodate street cycling. This means funding for things like on-street facilities (bike lanes, shared-lane bikeways, and bike-parking racks), street-cycling education for newbies and others, and road-sharing education for motorists—not just funding for the trails advocated by repeated BRAIN articles and speeches of bike industry leaders.

Why don’t more folks in the industry get this? Maybe because they live or bicycle only in places like where O’Grady lives, and where most of the urban U.S. population doesn’t—places where one can, as O’Grady says, "wander off . . . to see where the trail goes. "

Trail funding doesn’t help the 10-year-old inner city kid ride her bike to school, nor does it help her learn to use her bike for everyday transportation after she gets old enough for a driver’s license. This situation is the kind that we urban advocates—who represent a huge percent of your future customers—work to penetrate every day, but about which my colleagues in the industry part of the U.S. bicycling movement seem, frustratingly to me, oblivious.

The America Bikes coalition won the first battle over Enhancements funding, and I feel damned proud of my cohorts who organized the grass roots to make Congress hear the bike voice. I submit that we bicycling advocates have a much bigger and intractable mindset to challenge, one that predates TEA-3, TEA21, or even ISTEA: the bike industry’s perception that "advocacy" means "more trails. "

Now that I’ve vented, I want to reach out. I think that we on the street side of the movement haven’t done the best job of representing our constituency—both current and potential— to our counterparts who champion trails, touring, and racing. I, for one, have sat through more than one presentation gnashing my teeth rather than pushing my perspective, and I pledge to do better.

I appreciate that BRAIN provides a civil yet unrestrained forum for the respective members of the U.S. bicycling movement to learn from each other. In that spirit, I invite e-mail responses.

Dave Glowacz

Jim Nanczek’s review of the 11/13/04 winter cycling class

  Click here for Bob Matter's photos of the event

On the afternoon of Saturday November 13, approximately 100 people attended a free class on winter bicycling put on by the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. Chicago’s own Mr. Bike, author of the popular paperback Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips, taught the class.

The two-hour class—called "Slush Fun: Winter Cycling Tricks & Tips"—came as one of the many bike events that comprise Bike Winter, the annual celebration of Chicagoland’s most redoubtable cycling season. Quenchers Saloon, a North Side tavern that has long supported cycling among its patrons, hosted the event.

"The enthusiastic turnout buries under a huge snowdrift the tiresome myth that Chicagolanders fear winter riding," said Lisa Phillips, co-chair of Bike Winter 2005. It didn’t hurt, Phillips noted, that Crain’s Chicago Business had previously named the class one of the ten best things to do that weekend.

Although most arrived at the class on foot, the day’s moderate weather prompted many attendees to bicycle. These folks displayed the resourcefulness that would no doubt serve them well in the months to come, said Howard Kaplan, Bike Winter parking monitor.

Kaplan stood outside Quenchers Saloon ready to help the cycling arrivals as the available bike-parking racks became filled. But "I was a bit surprised at their autonomy," Kaplan said. "They seemed to have an innate awareness of all bike locking possibilities within half a mile."

As the class progressed, attendees learned how to dress warmly and cheaply for cold and wet; how to handle their bikes in snow, slush, and ice; and keep their rides running after onslaughts of salt and sleet.

Live models provided fetching insights into the subtleties of cycling undergarments. One clothing perspective came from Bike Winterite Todd Gee. Gee biked, toastily dressed, into the room amid a flurry of snowflakes that streamed inexplicably from the upper part of one wall.

As he and Mr. Bike discussed clothing selections for his bike ride—which Gee claimed had begun at the North Pole—Gee gradually took off almost all of his garments for the crowd’s inspection. Later, having literally given the shirt off his back for the cause of winter biking, Gee surrendered the stage to Bike Winterite Kelly Sampson, who gave a woman’s perspective on seasonal cycling attire.

Judging by the number of questions flowing continuously from the audience, those present seemed eager to get out and ride in the winter weather. Attendees said they found especially helpful Mr. Bike’s list showing where to buy inexpensive winter accessories.

Many attendees expressed an interest in continuing their bicycling education: About half signed up to receive information about bicycling classes offered in 2005 by the Federation’s Bike School.

The end of the class featured a surprise appearance by none other than Santa Claus—looking a bit trim before his traditional pre-holiday weight gain. Because his elves had not yet built enough toys for everyone present, Santa opted to give out the winter-cycling accessories offered as raffle prizes. The prizes came from sponsors Patagonia, Boulevard Bikes, Gin Kilgore, Quenchers Saloon, Bike Winter, and Mr. Bike.

A Visit From St. Nicks

People who hung at Twisted Spoke could but stare<br>
        			at dozens St. Nicholi
People who hung at Twisted Spoke could but stare at dozens St. Nicholi . . .
(with no apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

by Santa Glow

‘Twas six days before Christmas, and just like in Proust,
Many creatures went biking dressed all in red blouse.
All the people who hung at Twisted Spoke could but stare
At dozens St. Nicholi suddenly were there.
People who hung at Twisted Spoke could but stare<br>
        			at dozens St. Nicholi
One Santa got stupid: donned a safety cone (Vixen!).

The Santas had locked up their two-wheeled sleds
And visions from Bloody Marys soon danced in their heads.
Some mothers in red kerchief, some dudes in red cap,
Some ate burritos and breakfast beers from on tap.
Then out to the street the Santas did scatter.
(Who had stayed in bed? You see, it was Bob Matter.)
They quaffed back their brews, and came down the wall and took a group photo, Santa hams all.

Around Ogden and Grand they circled real fast
In a ho-ho-ho-hold-up, just like in Critical Mass.
(About moons, shaking breasts, you will want to know
Those things happened at mid-day; see pictures below.)
Then, what to the wandering Nicks should appear,
But a miniature brewery—bike parking in rear!
With a genial brewmaster, sez "Your bikes here please stick,
Cuz just in a moment we’ll drink beer real quick."
. . . and elves an’ reindeer too.

So rapid (like eagles!) his tappers they came,
Santas whistled, and shouted, and called themselves names.
Some dashed and some danced and some pranced and got kicks in,
One Santa got stupid: donned a safety cone (Vixen!).
Then they quaffed back their brews, and came down the wall
And took a group photo, Santa hams all.
But one met with an obstacle; tho looked it, di’n’t die.

‘Fore dry heaves set in the Santas did fly.
But one met with an obstacle; tho looked it, di’n’t die.
So down to the beer store those cursers they flew,
Girl Santas and boys, and elves an’ reindeer too.

And then, bike lights blinking, to Binney’s they hoofed
And found free Scotch samples—86 proof.
As the manager scowled at all the Santas around,
Out the St. Nicholi went with booze by the pound.
Soon Santas to Santa on his throne they were wed.

Now well-stocked with beer from their heads to their feet,
They wheeled on east to that Mag Mile street.
The bunches of shoppers were taken aback
When they looked at the pedalers going by in a pack.
At Erie—how they twinkled! Shoppers thought, "How merry!"
’Til Nicks sang "Deck My Balls"—then it got scary.
They went straight to an alley . . .

At Tribune’s little plaza they drew up, to and fro,
Then their beards pointed south: "To the Bikestation—Ho!"
Then, stumped—"It’s closed!"—they gritted their teeth;
Soon their urine encircled its door like a wreath.
And next—"About face! To the ice rink turn belly!"
Where folks took lots of pictures, but guards said, "Scram, pally!"
When up on the bar Santas danced—got down! Did they sizzle!

And now on to Carson’s, whose right jolly old elf
Laughed when he saw them in spite of himself.
They found him up high, bored out of his head,
Soon Santas to Santa on his throne they were wed.
(We’ve spoke not a word: They went straight to an alley:
Emptied out all their "stockings" and did other things smelly.)
Then laying down cans, they followed their nose.
And—"OK, Santa Todd!"—to the Billy Goat they rose.
The patrons, they loved ‘em, and boy did they whistle,
When up on the bar Santas danced—got down! Did they sizzle!
But all heard them exclaim as they biked out of sight . . .

But all heard them exclaim as they biked out of sight,
"Pappy, this mess was a ball. . . Now let’s really get tight!"


Click on these links to see more photos from Josh and Bill.

Mr Bike’s presentation at the ProWalk/ProBike 2004 conference

Safe Routes to Suits: Cracking the Liability Lies in Walking and Biking to School

by Dave Glowacz, Director of Education
Chicagoland Bicycle Federation


In 2003 the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation intervened in a community where liability concerns caused the local school district staff to ban students bicycling to and from school. Research resulting from this intervention led us to see this as a nationwide phenomenon. Furthermore, as Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs proliferate, we believe their proponents will slam up against the liability wall more and more.

In our intervention, we used tactics that we consider routine parts of our SRTS program. We believe that by using such tactics, well-informed and persistent SRTS operators can knock down liability arguments—either by presenting the legal facts, rooting out the reality behind the perception, or implementing countermeasures aimed at specific problems.

This paper therefore aims to:
-Identify common liability concerns and their causes.
-Describe the roles played by risk managers in school transportation policy.
-Describe what SRTS proponents have done to address liability.
-Identify relevant laws and precedents.
-Identify other tactics SRTS proponents could employ when faced with liability obstacles.


Many SRTS programs work to encourage physically active transportation in communities that have neutral or positive attitudes toward walking and bicycling. In this paper we focus on SRTS less as an encouragement program and more as a tool for responding to objections.

Also, our own interventions have to do mostly with prohibitions against bicycling rather than walking. But our accompanying research has uncovered concerns that could inhibit walking as well, and we suggest ways to attack them.


In Chicago, the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation have jointly funded the SRTS program developed and operated by the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. This funding has let us staff and test a variety of SRTS tactics in Chicago. We now work to deploy SRTS in the surrounding region—where funding has proved more of a challenge.

How SRTS Proponents Find Liability Challenges

Our direct intervention case study, described later, resulted from a request from interested community members. Alternatively, though, SRTS proponents might go searching for liability challenges.

Early in 2004 the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation did a study that illustrates how one might search for prohibitions against student walking and bicycling. We selected six school districts in the suburbs surrounding Chicago. In each district we contacted school staff at each public school and asked:

1. Does the school prohibit students from bicycling to school?
2. If so, why?

Schools in only three of the six districts had bike bans:
-Evanston (northern suburb): Bikes banned in 1 of 16 schools
-Schaumburg: (northwestern suburb): Bikes banned in 2 of 27 schools
-Oak Park (western suburb): Bikes banned in 5 of 11 schools

When asked why they banned bikes, school staff’s answers ranged from “It’s not safe to have kids biking in the same place kids are walking” to “Most of the other schools in the district prohibit bicycling” (when, in fact, only one of the other schools did).

In no cases did school staff explicitly express liability concerns. However, the surveys indicate that if we wanted to take on prohibitions against active transportation, we could easily pick the fights. We consider such fights a potential waste of resources, however, unless we could marshal some amount of "clout" to our side beforehand. (We might get such clout if we, for example, did a region-wide study and released the results in a way that resulted in lots of publicity—thereby putting the offending schools on the hot seat.)

Rather, requests from community members or school staff seem the easiest way for SRTS proponents to engage and resolve liability-based prohibitions against walking or bicycling. The following case study illustrates this point.

Wauconda Grade School

Our experience with Wauconda, a community to the north of Chicago, shows how SRTS tactics can work with strong community and municipal involvement to overcome liability obstacles to walking and bicycling.

The circumstances that led to our intervention: Early in 2003, a crash reportedly occurred near Wauconda High School between a motorist and a bicycling student. Shortly after, the local school district ruled that, to head off the liability that might result from future crashes, students could no longer bicycle to or from nearby Wauconda Grade School (WGS).

The parents of WGS students who bicycled went ballistic. They quickly organized themselves and aggressively contacted members of the news media—an effort that resulted in many television and newspaper reports.

The parents also asked the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation for help. Although the Wauconda parents could not fund our involvement, we chose to work on the project nonetheless. We did this because we saw (a) an opportunity strategic to our mission (to improve conditions for bicycling), and (b) that strong community resources would provide volunteers and thus minimize our staff time.

We made a presentation to the school district’s board in which we offered SRTS as a process that would help address bicycling safety issues in a way that would offer alternatives to the bike ban. The media and community pressure made it difficult for the board to refuse. The board convened a committee—composed of parents, school staff, and municipal officials—to take on the process.

To begin collecting data we interviewed key players: parent leaders, the school superintendent, the police chief, and school board members. Significantly, certain conversations pointed to the school district’s use of a risk manager in making key decisions:

  • The school superintendent said the district would have to run any SRTS committee recommendations past the district’s risk manager.
  • The parents uncovered a memo from the school district’s insurer, apparently in response to the superintendent’s request for justification of the bike ban. The insurer approved the action from a risk management standpoint.
  • The school district contracted with a risk manager to evaluate the SRTS committee’s findings.

The school district’s reliance on risk management advice prompted to us to research the need for this discipline and its origins. In conversations with risk management professionals we learned:

  • Today’s loss-control climate grew out of a 1980s "liability crisis" in which schools repeatedly got sued for injury to their students in and out of the classroom.
  • The crisis passed—thanks to regulations and precedents that established that parents could not usually hold schools liable for injuries to students.
  • The key exception: A school could incur liability if it became aware of a potentially injurious condition that it then did not act to prevent. In such cases, courts could find schools willfully negligent in civil suits.

Within this loss control framework, once the Wauconda school district had evidence of the danger of student bicycling (an actual crash), it determined that it must take some action (a ban) to limit its liability.

We saw our job, then, as giving the school district credible actions it could take other than the ban to limit its liability. We sold SRTS as a valid and formal process that could lead to such actions, thereby positioning ourselves as investigators and the purveyors of research-based conclusions.

The Process

Our SRTS process at a school usually starts with on-site data collection. Depending on the results of the data collection, we might recommend that the school implement some combination of the four Es: education, enforcement, engineering, and encouragement. Our data collection can include:
-Surveys of students that show how they get to and from school, and how they want to.
-Surveys of parents that identify their attitudes about their kids walking and bicycling.
-Direct observations of school arrival and dismissal time.
-Identification of recent walking and/or bicycling crashes in the school’s catchment area.
-Identification of crimes in the school’s catchment area.
-On-site observation of traffic on walking and biking routes between the school and students’ neighborhoods.

In Wauconda, we directed the members of the SRTS committee in collecting most of this data. The results started off routinely, but quickly began to raise eyebrows:

  1. Students wanted to bike to school, and their parents wanted them to.
  2. No bicycling crashes had occurred in the last five years. It turned out that in the crash that precipitated the bike ban, a high school teacher’s car hit a student when the student walked his bike in a crosswalk in front of the high school.
  3. Car-bound parents dropping off and picking up students in front of WGS caused a "traffic nightmare," posing significant safety hazards to all students.

The last two results quickly changed how school district staff and school administrators viewed the nature of the problem: Parents driving, not kids biking, near WGS required remedial action. Accordingly, the SRTS committee recommended three things for WGS:
1. Enforcement: Severely restrict where and how parents could drop off and pick up students.
2. Encouragement: Reinstate student bicycling.
3. Education: Implement in-class bicycling lessons at a later date as funding would permit.

Other interventions we might recommend to address different concerns:

  • Engineering: Provide guidance on purchase and placement of bike-parking racks.
  • Encouragement: Implement lock libraries, walking school buses, and/or bike trains.
  • Encouragement: Identify and map existing safe routes to and from school, through in-class exercises or walkability and bikeability checklists.

General Approaches

Our experience in Wauconda and our subsequent research suggest a set of SRTS–based approaches that advocates can use when faced with walking and biking liability concerns at schools:

  • If you don’t have community support, use SRTS parent surveys to identify parents interested in bicycling and walking—then organize them. (See a survey example here.)
  • If a school won’t respond to community support, pack school board meetings with protesting parents and invite the press.
  • Get the school’s risk manager to buy in to the SRTS process. If you can’t coax the school’s risk manager out of the shadows, see if you can recruit your own pro bono loss control specialist, and bring him or her to the table. (Find liability resources at the Web site of the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network.)
  • In many places, parents can’t hold schools liable for student mishaps during the trip to or from school—but some notable exceptions exist. Learn whether any local laws or precedents apply.
  • Some school administrators might claim fear of liability as a smoke screen to preserve the money they get for busing students. Learn whether your school gets paid to bus students—and therefore has a financial disincentive to let kids walk and bike.
  • If parents and/or school staff fear muggings or abductions, use crime statistics to help them identify whether their fears have any basis in reality. Several studies (by Altheide, Glassner, Peiken) have shown that TV news feeds adults "stranger danger" paranoia.

From 2000 to 2007 Dave Glowacz served as director of education for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance). Dave managed bicycling education for the City of Chicago, where he created a Safe Routes to School program that the Federation exported to Chicago’s suburbs. Known worldwide as Mr. Bike, Dave has authored the popular paperback Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips as well as the official bike safety publications for many local governments. Dave also works as a certified cycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists.