Chic Cargo: Green Machine Cycles Pushes Utility Biking

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Hozinsky hauls passengers during the shop’s opening party. Photo: Steven Vance

[This piece also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

On the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, parents transporting kids in “bakfiets” box bikes, and delivery riders hauling goods on two-wheeled, stretched-out “Long Johns” are a common sight, but hardworking utility bikes are still a relative rarity in this city. Ezra Hozinsky, owner of Green Machine Cycles, 1634 West Montrose in Ravenswood, is trying to change that. Disclosure: Hozinsky is a former coworker of mine.

“Having more of the larger cargo bikes on the street is useful in terms of making cycling a viable form of transportation,” he recently told me over pints by a roaring fire at the nearby Fountainhead tavern. “The positive aspect is that it starts to even out the size discrepancy between bikes and motor vehicles, making cyclists seem less vulnerable because it’s obvious they’re operating a machine. It may also be helpful for drivers to see more families on bikes. It can have the same effect as a ‘Baby on Board’ sticker on a car: a civilizing influence on the pace and aggression of traffic.”

Hozinsky, forty-five, opened Green Machine in September with the goal of becoming Chicago’s go-to destination for cargo cycles, as well as bikes for everyday commuting and touring. A Hyde Park native, he’s worked at a who’s who of local bike stores, including Turin, Higher Gear, the Pony Shop, Rapid Transit, Boulevard (a Streetsblog sponsor), and J.C. Lind, which also stocks European-style cargo and city bikes. Bobby Kaufman, another Turin vet, helps out with the wrenching.

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The shop’s storefront. Photo: Steven Vance

While winter is the time when bike shops in cold climates lay fallow, Hozinsky says repair business was surprisingly brisk this fall. For the official opening party in October, the shop hosted the “PumpKarve-Go” event, where attendees were asked to haul as many pumpkins as possible to the store by bike to be carved into jack-o-lanterns. A few weeks later the rotting gourds were transported to a compost heap in the same manner.

Green Machine currently carries front-loading Long Johns by Copenhagen-based Larry vs Harry, rear-loading “Long Tails” by Xtracycle, and the Soma Tradesman, with a wide, flat front rack, well-suited for transporting pizza. Hozinsky thinks he’s found an effective niche. “As cargo bikes become more popular, I’m not sure the number of shops capable of dealing with them will keep pace,” he says. “Helping more people get into hauling things by bike is something more stores and manufacturers should explore.”

With gas prices on the rise and traffic woes increasing, it’s likely that more and more delivery jobs will be done by cargo bike. “They could really transform the way things are delivered,” he says. “For example, food delivery by bike is already common, and with a box bike you can carry enough food to cater an event.”

Hozinsky’s background in architecture and sustainable design came into play when he was outfitting his small storefront. “I’ve made a large effort to obtain and build fixtures that use as many reclaimed materials as possible,” he says. After taking down lath and plaster walls in the space, he donated the wood to one friend with a wood-burning stove, and another who makes wall art out of the lath strips.

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Levi Borreson from Legacy Frameworks carves a pumpkin at Green Machine. Photo: Erin Borreson

He constructed the store’s workbenches, shelving and product display fixtures out of lumber from art-shipping crates, which he purchased from the Rebuilding Exchange, a local building materials recycler. Exposed brick walls give the store a bohemian feel, and thanks to excellent southern exposure, the front window is full of flourishing plants. To further reduce its environmental footprint, the shop uses nontoxic and biodegradable bike lubricants and cleaning supplies whenever possible.

Green Machine shares a hallway with AngelFood Bakery. “I spend a lot of time over there, as my winter padding will attest,” Hozinsky says. Noted triathlete Rahm Emanuel lives around the corner and often stops by the retro bakeshop for his morning Joe. “I met the mayor there once and he said he’d seen my store and planned to stop by. He couldn’t remember what kind of road bike he owns.” Last time I checked, it was a Parlee.

The bike shop has been underwent renovation this month as the landlord addresses some building-code issues, but it was slated to reopen last weekend. In the future, Hozinsky plans to expand his services by offering custom parts fabrication and frame building, as well as maintenance for adaptive transportation like wheelchairs and hand cycles. “Several people have also asked about cargo bike rental,” he says. “That’s something I’m definitely going to look into.”

Hozinsky says his ultimate goal is to create a welcoming environment where everyone will feel comfortable exploring the world of cargo bikes and other forms of practical pedaling, not just so-called avid cyclists. “I’m interested in shifting the perception of cycling and bike shops from one of exclusive cliques to one of inclusivity and collaboration,” he says. “I don’t ever want to see the words ‘bicycle’ and ‘car’ conjoined by the word ‘versus.’”

  • SMH so hard

    It’s nice to see cyclists following the rules of the road…oh wait in the first picture he’s pedaling his giant bike on the sidewalk. Second, it doesn’t look very safe, and frankly one sharp turn by a reckless driver (have you seen those pedicab guys go!?!?) could tip those people onto the street (hopefully they aren’t on the sidewalk again).

  • Guest

    I could be mistaken, but I believe it is now legal to ride on the sidewalk as long as you are accessing a bike rack or building near the access point. And I highly doubt a loaded bike like that could get up enough speed to present any real danger of accidental tipping. I’d be far more worried about wreckless car drivers than wreckless pedicab drivers.

  • Let’s hope everyone is wreck-less, rather than reckless!

  • SP_Disqus

    If you were familiar with the area, you’d realize the bike in that picture is 10 feet from the storefront and it is currently traveling to an intersection where it will likely merge into the traffic lanes.

  • This is correct. “9-52-020 – Riding bicycles on sidewalks and certain roadways” was modified in 2013 to add the following exemptions:

    You can bike on the sidewalk “to enter the nearest roadway, intersection or designated bicycle path, or to access a bicycle share station.”

  • I would LOVE a bakfiets but have you priced those things? Far, FAR, FAR out of the price range of your average bike shopper, unfortunately.

  • oooBooo

    Risks a common sort of bike-car collision. See the crash type manual for bicyclists.

  • oooBooo

    So what happens when a bicycle or in this case, trike, is too big be ridden safely or even fit in many of the bike lanes? What about faster bicyclists that want to pass?

    Ahh the problems of complexity and ‘separate but (not so) equal’.

  • Jin Nam

    Shops offering cargo bike RENTAL would be my dream come true! I hope he does explore that option.

  • There are cargo bikes you can buy for $1,000 now. You can also buy a kit, from Green Machine Cycles, for half that to turn your existing bicycle into a “long tail” cargo bike.

    For those who are considering selling a car, keep in mind that you’ll have thousands of dollars remaining in your pocket – some of which can go to the purchase of a cargo or family-carrying bike.

    The average annual cost of keeping a car to drive up work each weekday in Chicago is over $8,000.

    The next Cargo Bike Roll Call, where you can test ride many kinds of cargo bikes, is Sunday, April 6, at Audubon School in Roscoe Village.

  • I’m in the same boat. If I had $1800-3500 to spare, I’d totes get one, but for me trike-ness is non optional and that makes it pricier. We’re not going to go carless with it, but it WOULD make probably 80% of my kid-transporting tasks in decent weather no longer car trips (they all are, now).

  • If it doesn’t fit in the bike lanes, take the lane and ride in traffic. No biggie. Cargo trikes THAT big are big enough to be seen without trouble.

  • SP_Disqus

    I looked at that data from 1996, but don’t see the scenario I described listed. Maybe you can break it down for me? Thanks.

  • When compared with the cost of buying and owning a car in Chicago, it is a good deal. However, unless you’re in the specific circumstances you describe, or just have $1K lying around, I suspect they’re still out of the price range of the majority of people buying a bike. $500 to mod an existing bike is still a very significant investment for most people.

  • Mcass777

    It looks like they are all off to the Kolective!

  • oooBooo
  • oooBooo

    So the answer is to practice vehicular bicycling.

    Too bad the roads have been overly complicated with bike lanes… so now bicycle passing will be on the right and motorized traffic will be passing on the left.. ultimately vehicular bicycling skills are needed but the paint on the street increases the complexity.

  • SP_Disqus

    “Initially riding along a sidewalk, the bicyclist entered the roadway from a driveway or alley cut.” – This is a much different scenario than riding to an intersection of two streets and entering the roadway.

  • oooBooo

    My error… it didn’t display and I went by memory…
    That specific ride out isn’t covered as a catagory. It’s spread out into the various intersection related categories and ride out at stop sign. It’s shown in the ‘part b’ sections of each.

  • David Altenburg

    I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out.

  • David Altenburg

    The problem with comparing a cargo bike cost to that of a car is that until you you can be reasonably certain that the cargo bike can replace nearly 100% of car-dependent trips, you can’t count on being able to ditch the car, and it’s hard to know how close you can get without trying it. For instance, without a car, living in a neighborhood with no car-sharing or taxis, I don’t know how we would have gotten around with my toddler much of this last month (which, admittedly, was worse than typical winter weather).

    I say this as someone who tries to make as many car-free trips as I can, so I really want to try to justify the cost of a cargo bike. I’m guessing that they depreciate much more slowly than cars, so that’s a point in their favor.

  • oooBooo

    Yeah, I’ll use the left lane to pass. Of course you’ll be on my side when a angry motorist attacks me… not.

  • Ken Lutz

    Good for Ezra and good for the community! I hope that Green Machine is successful and I look forward to dropping in during my next visit to Chicago.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    I’ve ridden behind pedicabs on the Milwaukee Avenue PBLs. If they fit, anything short of a PedalPub should fit. What happens is faster bicyclists pass on the left, just like faster motorists are supposed to do. It’s not really that complex.

  • David Altenburg

    In the unlikely and unfortunate event that happens, you bet I’ll be on your side.

  • duppie

    David,
    You do understand that oooBooo is a troll, right?

    For example, he tells you to cycle vehicularly, but he does not seem to know the right, safe, and effortless way for passing on the left.

    No point debating him…

  • oooBooo

    Look at a typical door zone bike lane. Worse, the narrow ones. My favorite? NB MLK drive at 31st… I think my bike’s handle bars are wider.

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