Elsbeth Cool

April 4, 2018

When I first decided to launch She Rides Her Bike, I wanted to connect with not only those who ride as a sport, but with women who solely ride as mode of transportation. The women, like Elsbeth, who pedal every day but still shy away from calling themselves a “cyclist”. I find myself on both ends of the spectrum. I LOVE going out on long road rides, tackling hills, and getting dirty. But the truth is, I also want to be someone who rarely thinks of hopping in the car, who is ready to roll even while wearing a skirt, and can navigate all the best local routes.

Elsbeth not only shows that it CAN be done, but she actively gets others to actually DO it! I envy her commitment, her encouragement, and her words of wisdom. I love that she actively avoids sweating, and has found ways to not only enjoy, but truly embrace all of the benefits of taking the “slower routes”. Taking the time to enjoy the ride, to take advantage of the perks of pulling over in an instants notice, and connecting with her children along the way.

I think I need to make a road trip back to my (briefly lived) neighborhood of Chicago and hang out with this lady in person! Elsbeth Cool IS the coolest!

Elsbeth Cool

Location

Chicago, IL

What kind of bike do you ride?

Most of the time, I ride an Urban Arrow cargo bike (full of kids, library books, and groceries). Very occasionally, I have the opportunity to ride a bike designed for a single occupant, which is fun. I bought a used Brompton – and took it on a few airplanes! – a couple months ago. My favorite bike to zip around town on by myself is the Tern Vektron: a super useful Bosch-equipped e-bike that folds & also carries a surprising amount of stuff. My motto is “all bikes are cargo bikes”! Every once in a while, I borrow my husband’s Surly Longhaul Trucker and remember what it’s like to ride a bike that doesn’t weight 50+ lbs — it’s pretty fun!

What is your preferred style of riding?

I do all of my riding for urban transportation. Lots of 1-6 miles trips, carrying things & passengers, running errands, sometimes multi-modal, dropping my kids off at school, giving a friend a ride, etc. I also own a business that does everything by bike too! I don’t train or race; in fact, I like to say that I try NOT to sweat when I ride my bike.

How long have you been riding?

Biking was a ticket to freedom as a kid, but it’s been about six years since I started riding as an adult. I was a very nervous, extra-cautious, fair-weather rider, and probably would have laughed if you told me back then that I would come to really love urban riding all year round.

What got you into cycling?

Like most people, I grew up riding my bike around the neighborhood (honestly, I preferred my rollerblades. Fast forward a bunch of years, I moved to Chicago – after living abroad without a car – and my husband Nate & I decided we would just keep being car-free. This was primarily a financial decision, and with great options for public transit, we were happy to avoid the hassles & cost of car ownership in the city. Nate commuted by bike to his job every day, but I categorically refused to ride a bike in the city. It just felt way too chaotic, overwhelming, and scary. Then we had our first kid, and I finally started to entertain the idea of biking as a great form of transportation, mostly because I saw other parents in my neighborhood riding super cool cargo bikes, and I was tired of taking the bus with a toddler & a bunch of groceries in tow. So I got a hand-me-down bike from a friend, started riding slowly & carefully, lucky to have my husband as my patient teacher towing our first kid in a trailer. Then we got a cargo bike and the rest is history! It was all a really slow process: “ok, I think we can go to the grocery store and get a couple of things”, “oh, we’re already riding by, let’s stop at the hardware store”. After a couple of years, I decided to upgrade to a cargo bike with electric assist that offered great weather coverage, so we could ride through Chicago winters.

Do you prefer riding solo or with other riders?

97% of the time, I have at least two kid passengers — they like to tell me I’m going too slow, chat with pedestrians at stoplights, and eat snacks (sometimes they are nice and share with me). On the rare occasion that I get to ride by myself, the quiet is heavenly and I feel so fast, having shed 100 lbs. of kid cargo! I love doing Kidical Mass rides too. There’s no happier sight than a big group of 30+ kids and parents rolling along at 8 MPH, dinging bells, waving to folks around the neighborhood, proving streets are good for more than fast cars, and practicing skills for road riding … plus there’s often ice cream involved at the end of the ride.

What is one of your happiest moments on your bike?

Last summer, we went on a huge bike camping trip with 50 other people from our local family biking group (Chicago Family Biking Community). I’ll never forget riding along Lake Michigan, sun finally shining after a rainy morning start, bike loaded down with camping gear & two kids, surrounded by other families on bikes, and feeling so blissfully happy and empowered. I also feel joyful every time I’m riding and can pull over to say hi to a friend walking by, or stop to observe something my kids have noticed; it’s that priceless opportunity of being intimately connected & aware of our city, folks in our neighborhood, the changing seasons, urban nature & wildlife, and magical new places.

What has been one of your biggest challenges as a cyclist?

Since I ride in an urban environment that wasn’t designed with cyclist & pedestrian safety in mind, I spend a lot of mental energy mapping out safe routes and adding minutes & miles to trips so I can take quieter streets. Keeping my cool is also really difficult sometimes — it’s really hard to not be angry & screaming at a driver when it feels like they’re about to kill you, just so they can not be delayed by 10 seconds or beat you to the next light. The astonishing numbers of irresponsible drivers using their cell phones while driving is also terrifying; distracted driving is definitely the new drunk driving. Sometimes I struggle to trust & remember that not everyone driving a car is an angry, entitled jerk … we have loads of positive interactions with all sorts of people, but it’s the negative ones that are hard to let go of. Finding the time to be a vocal, visible advocate for safe streets is also a challenge. I’m a mother, wife, and small-business owner — getting to a meeting at 6:30 PM on a Tuesday night at my alderman’s office to give input on improvements & needed infrastructure can feel impossible.

My other big pet peeve is how rude and judgmental other cyclists can be when they see I’m using a bike with electric assist. I get comments all the time (usually from lycra-wearing, middle aged men) about how “that’s cheating”, and “just use your legs”. It feels like there’s just such a huge divide in the cycling community between people who do it for sport/exercise/drive their bike places, and the rest of us, who use our bikes as vehicles for transportation/adventure and fetching groceries. It makes me sad, because if we’re ever going to get cities to invest in devoted bike infrastructure and make cycling safer for everyone – whether you’re riding to work or training for a triathlon – working together to create this momentum and change is going to be super important. Plus, I just hate how rude a lot of men on bikes are; their “my way is the only way” attitude does nothing but keep cycling as an exclusionary, misogynistic club. I don’t even usually call myself a “cyclist”, because I don’t identify with the toxic, exclusive culture that has really defined the cycling industry for so long.

In regards to cargo bikes, what has been your biggest “AH-HA” moment? In other words, did transitioning to commuting by bike (WITH CHILDREN!) come naturally or was it something you had to really work at?

My intial ah-ha moment was realizing how utterly efficient a cargo bike could be. I could make 90% of my trips in the same or less time, carry everything we needed, get a little exercise, have my kids outside in the fresh air, save a ton of money (no car payment, parking permits, gas, insurance, tickets, repairs, etc.) and not be bound to a train or bus schedule. Working my way up to full-time, year-round commuting took a long time: probably about two years before I was making almost 100% of my trips by bicycle.

If you could go on a ride with ANYONE (dead or alive), who would it be?

I’d like to go on a bike ride with all the women who have ever approached me and said, “that’s the coolest bike I’ve ever seen! … but I could never do that.” I felt the same way, for so long! It takes good teachers showing you how to do it safely & confidently, getting a bike that fits your needs and you feel comfortable on, and finding low-stress routes so you can enjoy riding. I’d love nothing more than to say, “see, you ARE doing it!”

Elsbeth Cool riding in ChicagoWhat is your favorite bicycle accessory? You know, the ONE thing you never ride without?!

Well, it’s not really an “accessory” per se, but electric assist was a total game-changer for me and I certainly don’t like to leave home without it, especially when my day is filled with dropping off/picking up kids, running errands, trying not to be late to meetings, and owning a bike-based business! As far as smaller add-ons, a bluetooth speaker: my kids like to listen to audiobooks or we like to rock out with Raffi, which makes a whole lot of people on the street laugh & smile. For me: my favorite summer riding accessory bike shorts under skirts & dresses (the only spandex I own!), and my favorite winter accessory is lobster gloves (which look silly but keep my fingers toasty & warm).

Any tips for the newbie rider/ someone JUST getting into Cargo Bikes?

Find a friend or a mentor, ask them to go for a couple rides with you, have them show you their favorite routes. Pick your top three locations you want to bike to (mine are park, library, grocery store), and plan a comfortable low-stress route for each of those trips. Join (or start) a family biking group in your area. If you’re interested in cargo bikes, there are blogs and video reviews, where you can learn more about particular set-ups. Find a supportive & friendly bike shop that treats you respectfully.

Follow Elsbeth!

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If you, or someone you know, would like to be featured as a “Woman Who Inspires”, CONTACT us today. We’d love to hear more about your/their cycling journey! Don’t forget to join our Facebook community!

  1. Emily Lindberg

    April 14th, 2018 at 12:37 am

    Elizabeth, you are my biking doppelganger! Our stories are so similar in so many ways, I wish we lived in the same city (I’m in Lakewood, Oh just outside of Cleveland) because I would be SO interested in being in your family biking group.! I just have a few questions. You mentioned that you recently “upgraded your cargo bike to one with great weather coverage.” Does it have a cover to protect against wind/rain/snow? What is the brand? One of reasons I have been able to ride with my kids through the winter is because I switched from a back mounted bike seat to a trailer since it offers so much more protection against the elements (also necessary after having my second). But what is appealing about the cargo is that we could bring extra friends and also carry more stuff if we have to. My other question was, what is your bike-related business? But now I see that there is a link to your business Instagram at the bottom of the article, which I am now totally going to check out! Oh and I’m also going to look into this electric assist you mentioned. Never heard of it before but it sounds amazing!

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