I didn’t kill the Breezer (phew), but even so

I had to walk the Breezer to the shop with my daughter in the backpack and the rear wheel seized up. It was exhausting.

So the good news is that I didn’t kill the internal hub on the Breezer. The bad news is that I have apparently been, entirely unintentionally, straining the bike well beyond its limits with the loads I’ve put on it. Our bike shop was concerned that the frame wasn’t meant to take that kind of weight and would eventually break. I have learned that this actually happens sometimes. Yeah. Oops. At a minimum they were sure I’d kill the hub eventually. The Breezer is a great commuter bike, but it has limits.

Here is the sobering summary from my brother-in-law: “You realize you carry more on your bikes sometimes than would fit in a SmartCar, right? I was just thinking yesterday that while you are not at all aggro, you may be the most aggressive cyclist I know in terms of what you are willing to try with your bike (you make full face mask downhillers look like wusses).”

He has obviously never met the mom who carries six kids and the shopping, and who makes my typical load look like a grocery bag full of paper towels. Admittedly she’s riding a bike designed for that.

My poor Breezer, asked to carry loads it was never meant to bear.

Anyway, there was, shall we say, strong advocacy from both our bike shop and family members that I should get a real cargo bike and stop trying to force my Franken-bike to do things it was never designed to do. Matt expressed similar concerns when he called from China. It is something that I had begun to suspect already, as I was trying to flag a cab in the Tenderloin and wondering whether I’d ever be able to ride the Breezer again.

Having proven that I’m up for riding fully-loaded through the seasons even on what is evidently a wholly inadequate bike, I am willing to consider bikes that are much more expensive than I would have a year ago as a primary bike. Also I learned what people pay for mountain and road bikes used only for entertainment value, which: whoa. For reasons of structural stability, I have been encouraged to learn to love the top tube. I’m also sure I want an electric assist.

Wanted: a cargo bike that can handle both hills and sand dunes

So we are now in the market for a new cargo bike. I’m not at all sure what kind. I was putting off another bike until finding out whether I’ll get the new position my department recommended, which is equivalent to my current position but with much more job security. At the last check-in, my department chair was optimistic that the university would offer a verdict “maybe even as soon as 2013.” Given that timeline and the fact that I thought the Breezer would carry two on child seat+trailer-bike for years to come, I wasn’t exactly scouring the market for its replacement. But circumstances conspire.

Two kids, now aged 3 and 6.5, too much traffic for them to commute solo, serious hills, a not-very-wide basement door (fortunately walk-in) and many pinch points and narrow bike lanes are the main issues we deal with when riding our bikes in San Francisco. I welcome any suggestions for bikes that could handle the challenge. Long, narrow, and assisted was one person’s summary of the best bike for me, and I suspect that’s right on.

8 Comments

Filed under Breezer, cargo, commuting, electric assist, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

8 responses to “I didn’t kill the Breezer (phew), but even so

  1. I think if you want a top tube and you want long and narrow and assisted, the Big Dummy sounds like a great fit. Plus, it’s not a one-size bike and you can get just the right fit for you. I have read that the Yuba Mundo (bigger and heavier, but cheaper and better suited for carrying heavy loads, allegedly) is also a great choice.

    How tall are you? You’re welcome to test out some Dummies while you’re in town, I’m sure. I have an 18″ (I’m 5’10″), FR has a 16″, and I know a family with a 20″ with electric assist. We’ll just have to have a family biking meet-up while you’re here! Although maybe you’ll already have a bike by then, eh…

    • Yes, I’m definitely going to be trying the assisted Big Dummy in Portland. I didn’t have my kids last time, although I dragged along a friend to be cargo. However he refused to bicker with himself or throw things overboard and then wail in despair that I needed to turn around and get them Right Now, etc. So it wasn’t a true test. However I rode FR’s Big Dummy on my last visit and the kids had a good time even in the rain, minimal squabbling, which was also a nice feature of the Yuba Mundo, and probably would be as well on the Ute.

      I’m 5’7.5″ which I think puts me on either the 16″ or 18″ frame depending on whom you ask. And thank you! I would love a family bike meet-up–from what I’ve been reading you seem to have a whole parental bike gang up in Seattle, which makes me envious.

      The Seattle visit is pre-Portland and I won’t be making any decisions until after that. Although I suspect there are only a few realistic options given our needs, my goal is to try as many different bikes as possible so I don’t miss anything obscure or not quite to spec that might be perfect. E.g. although my brother-in-law, also a former bike mechanic, is the big advocate for a top tube, he also thinks the Metrofiets might be the best fit for us (bike mechanics love long johns). And I would love to try the Madsen too! He liked the design of that bike but not the components.

      I think I’m going to be out measuring the width of bike lanes in our neighborhood tomorrow (with and without doors in them; on weekends and holidays you can count on one potential dooring per block) so I can figure out exactly how wide a bike we can handle on a daily basis.

  2. Emily

    I have a 6yo and 3yo (and 8yo). Can I recommend any regular bike with an Adams Trail-a-bike. You can get two seater trail bikes. We stick to the sidewalk, so my 6yo and 8yo ride on their own bikes, but my 3yo rides on the trail-a-bike.

    I looked at cargo bikes, but my 3yo didn’t want to sit in another seat like the car seat. He likes to go fast and when I slow down for uphills, he starts pedalling to help me go faster. He gets to participate that way and I get a little boost. Besides, it makes me smile.

    Maybe I’ll change my mind and get a cargo bike later, but this works well for me.

    • I thought we would use our trailer-bike more, but our son doesn’t like it as much as we’d hoped, and the hills are still hard for him even with one of us doing most of the work. For us the combination of city traffic and steep hills means that it’s very difficult for the kids to ride alone. Their bikes weigh over half what they do, and they don’t have gears, so even mild inclines can be very daunting. And although drivers are usually careful when they spot a child rider, they’re not always paying as much attention as we would like.

      I find it so interesting that the “best” options change so much depending on where people live and the conditions where they ride. There really isn’t an ideal option for all families. Another blogger (Davey Oil) pointed out that even different cities have different bike personalities–in Portland you see a lot of Bakfiets, in Seattle you see Big Dummies and Madsens. Here in SF there are a lot of family tandems. It was such a great observation. Now I can’t stop trying to figure out the bike personality of every place we visit.

  3. Clare

    Not sure if they’re shipping to the US yet, but the Circe Helios Family Tandem sounds perfect for your needs, with lots of potential configurations and acceptable on public transport.

    • WOW! WOW! I had never heard of this bike! It is awesome! And I shudder to imagine what it would cost to get one to the US given that there appears to be no US distributor. Curse you, international shipping rates!

      • Clare

        Looks great doesn’t it. This is what I’m aspiring to if I can keep up the daily commute with 3yr old! Maybe if you drop a few hints on the blog you can inspire one of the cargo biking specialists to start importing!

        (p.s I’m nothing to do with the company just really impressed by what appears to be a great British bike, it seemed for a while that we had forgotten how to build great bikes – Pashley and Brompton excepted)

  4. Stephanie

    I have an 8yo and 4 yo on my Breezer Xtracycle. Works great!

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