Monthly Archives: December 2012

The end of the world (or at least the end of the year)

I miss November.

I miss November.

It’s the end of the world. It’s the winter solstice. It’s the last day of school. And at the end of the day today, my office will turn off the heat until January 2013. It’s a giant hint that we shouldn’t be here, and after last year, when I had to come in anyway to work on a grant proposal, I’ve learned my lesson.

When the weather's better, they want to try riding with both of them on the tube (I don't, though).

When the weather’s better, they want to try riding with both of them on the tube (I don’t, though).

It hasn’t been the easiest December. It is often hard for me to get on the bike in the winter, even in temperate San Francisco. Temperatures have been lower than usual many days, and when it hasn’t been cold, it’s been pouring rain. Drivers are rushed and rude, passing too close and gunning though red lights. And in the afternoon and evening, there are delivery trucks blocking the bike lanes on every street and pushing me into traffic. The racks at the office these days hold only two bikes, mine and my friend Libby’s. For the first mile of any ride, I am always grouchy. The other day, for the first time in months, I thought “maybe I should just take the shuttle home.”

This is the Bullitt's Splendid canopy, worth every penny.

This is the Bullitt’s Splendid canopy, worth every penny.

But it gets better after that first mile. I have gear to handle the rain, and our kids are content under the Bullitt’s (awesome!) cover for the whole ride.  And other people make it easier. My friend Libby admired our dynamo lights when I left the office yesterday. On the Bullitt the other day I was fuming after my son and I were trapped behind two FedEx trucks, when another rider came up behind us. “I love your cargo bike!” he yelled. “It’s fantastic!” This morning, in the pouring rain, I saw Matt coming back from dropping off our son as I returned from dropping off our daughter, and we stopped to talk. One of my daughter’s preschool teachers walking to school stopped on the sidewalk next to us and shook her head. “You guys,” she said, “are so cool.” Who knew?

The fake snow at the Academy of Sciences is the only snow my kids have ever seen.

The fake snow at the Academy of Sciences is the only snow my kids have ever seen.

San Francisco is a big city, but on our bikes, it’s a small world. And it’s a friendly one. Thanks, everybody.

It can't be overstated how much kids love Engine Engine Engine.

It can’t be overstated how much kids love Engine Engine Engine.

There is so much I still mean to write about. What it was like to ride in Seattle and Portland (Families Ride again!), and both cities’ cargo bike roll calls (which were completely different); trying out new ride share services; how we set up our Bullitt; our son’s new bike and how he learned to use gears; how using the electric assist has made me a stronger rider; our trip to Davis and the World Cycling Hall of Fame; my battle to get more bike racks at our son’s afterschool program because the current ones are packed with family bikes. People have asked me to put together a summary of all the child seats we’ve tried; thanks to all those bike rentals, we’ve tried almost a dozen.  We have two friends who switched from driving to family biking just this month (in December! They rock!) San Francisco is adding bicycle infrastructure at such a rapid pace I can’t keep up. Next year, we hope to try our first cycle truck, a Workcycles Fr8, and a tandem or two.  And in April, when Golden Gate Park closes the streets to cars on Saturdays again, I’ve promised myself I’ll organize a Kidical Mass ride.

Another day at the Rosa Parks drop off, which has less and less room for all the bikes

Another day at the Rosa Parks drop off, which has less and less room for all the bikes

But it’s been a big year already, so for the rest of it, I think I’ll be taking a break from everything except family. If you’re in San Francisco, you might spot us at museums around the city over the next two weeks. Just look for the “one less minivan” stickers on the bikes parked by the front door.  And if you’re not in San Francisco, hope to catch you in 2013.

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A front child seat for older kids

We have a history with front child seats. The first one we tried fell apart on the bike, nearly dropping my daughter back into traffic. That particular seat is really only appropriate for a certain kind of bike.

Yep, that's two kids on one Brompton bicycle. We are our own clown car.

My Brompton with one kid on the IT Chair and one on the rear rack (more stuff I don’t recommend doing even if it is a total blast)

But I do love front child seats. The one on my Brompton, which is infinitely more stable, is a joy to ride with both my kids. I still carry my son on it sometimes, who is now a tall seven year old and may not be able to ride it much longer. And for our real cargo bike we went all-front-seat-all-the-time and bought a Bullitt. It’s more fun for everyone with the kids in front. But it is often not cheap. There is an exception, however, which is the “stick a saddle on the top tube” option that I have now seen three parents using in San Francisco with older kids.

mountain bike + spare saddle on the top tube

mountain bike + spare saddle on the top tube

The first, a dad at Rosa Parks, literally slaps a spare saddle on his top tube, and his daughter rides it with her feet resting on the bike’s fork. She’s now in first grade, going on seven years old, and has been riding with her dad this way since preschool. Anyone with a spare saddle can do the exact same thing at their own risk.

The second, a mom at my son’s after-school program, has a much more solid looking saddle screwed to the top tube and footrests on the downtube. She has been carrying her first-grader on this rig at least since kindergarten. When I asked her where came from, she said, “Somewhere in Europe; I don’t know.” The third parent is a dad I’ve seen riding in Golden Gate Park with exactly the same setup carrying what looks to be a seven year old. I was very interested in this seat because it’s so rare to find front seats suitable for a kid over the age of three, other than the front seat specific to the Workcycles Fr8.

This is the Oxford Leco top tube seat (footrests not shown)

This is the Oxford Leco top tube seat (footrests not shown)

I have now found it. The seat these two parents are using is the Oxford Leco Top Tube Seat (with footrests), and as far as I can tell it’s only sold in the UK. I called My Dutch Bike in the Bay Area to see if they stocked it, and although they’d heard of it they said: No way. They noted that the seat was only appropriate for heavy city bikes and that typical American mountain and road bike frames would not safely support the weight. They wouldn’t sell it because they feared they’d be liable when some parent tried to mount it on a lightweight bike anyway (and you know someone totally would).

However there are some shops in UK that will ship to the US. Even with international shipping, it costs about $40. I could imagine putting it on a midtail and making it a real two-kid hauler; another dad who saw it wanted to put it on a Big Dummy. Here’s a family that put it on a regular bike with a rear seat to get two kids on one bike. They look crazy-good.

A final shout-out goes to the Brompton, carrying my four-foot-tall seven-year-old on the IT Chair.

A final shout-out goes to the Brompton, carrying my four-foot-tall seven-year-old on the IT Chair.

I thought I’d mention it because I suspect that other parents might want to do the same thing if they knew the seat existed. But if you want to try it, please be cautious. My Dutch Bike is right that this seat is most appropriate for a heavy bike, and the reviews on UK Amazon also suggest that it’s best suited for a bike with a flat top tube. Try something else, and like some unhappy British reviewers on Amazon UK, you too may end up complaining about how the seat dented the tube or slid down it, dropping the kid. The parents in San Francisco I’ve seen with this seat ride Dutch-style steel bikes. Parents on cargo bikes would probably be fine too. Someone riding a light American road or mountain bike or, worse, a cheap Walmart bike, will not. Please don’t make the same mistake I made, mount a child seat to an inappropriate bike, and drop your kid in traffic. If you do, I totally told you not to do it. Nonetheless, for people with the right kind of bike: interesting option, yes?

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You can’t win them all: 2012 Holiday Lights Ride

Last night we headed out on for the 2012 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Holiday Lights Ride. We loved this ride in 2011. And we were feeling pretty good, as we were lighted up like Christmas trees. Literally. We’d picked up some light strings at Ikea on the way back from a Hanukkah party for $2 apiece. We’re hard to miss these days.

Light strings, dynamo front and tail lights, reflective sidewall tires and jackets: we like visibility.

Light strings, dynamo front and tail lights, reflective sidewall tires and jackets: we like visibility.

For the first time, we also set up the Bullitt with the Roland add+bike trailer bike. We may be one less minivan, but with that setup we’re almost as long as a minivan. But our son was really excited that he’d get to pedal on this ride without risking falling behind. He has complained about boredom when he’s riding as a passenger.  Our daughter was thrilled that she’d have room as the sole occupant of the box to stretch out and take a nap.

Even with our efforts to pack her in under a rain skirt, our preschooler was not enjoying this ride on the Bullitt.

Even with our efforts to pack her in under a rain skirt, our preschooler was not enjoying this ride on the Bullitt.

When we rolled outside, however, we realized that in the time it took to set up the kids and the bikes, it had started raining hard. Even with excellent rain gear, having rain driving into our faces was making us and the kids miserable. We headed over to the Panhandle statue anyway, figuring that we’d at least get a brief trip on the trailer-bike in for fun. Astonishingly, the ride was not called for rain. However instead of the hundreds of riders who’d showed up last year, there were maybe a dozen people.

The bedraggled riders slosh home.

American Gothic, in which the bedraggled riders decide discretion is the better part of valor and slosh home.

We didn’t make it far on that ride. Our son had rain pants, but had decided against boots, and although he was really enjoying pedaling he complained that his shoes were filled with water. We weren’t doing much better. When the ride headed into Golden Gate Park, we headed back up the hill toward home. We dried them off and took them out for udon noodles across the street as an apology. By then it had mostly stopped raining. Better luck next year.

Our son was actually so thrilled to be on the Roland trailer-bike he was willing to gut it out longer than anyone.

Our son was actually so thrilled to be on the Roland trailer-bike he was willing to gut it out longer than anyone.

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Filed under Bullitt, family biking, rides, San Francisco

We tried it: Xtracycle EdgeRunner (prototype)

The Xtracycle bike shop and cafe

The Xtracycle bike shop and cafe

[An updated review of the 2014 model is here.]

A few weeks back we headed over to Xtracycle’s World Headquarters in Oakland to take a test ride of their new EdgeRunner. This was a difficult bike for me to write about because first, our test ride was really short, and second, it’s not really in production yet and so some of the decisions about how it will look when it’s really for sale have not yet been settled. It doesn’t feel totally fair to compare the EdgeRunner to bikes that are actually on the market, but that’s all I’ve really got, so what can you do? Update in January 2013: The EdgeRunner is now available.

The EdgeRunner

The EdgeRunner is an innovative take on the longtail bicycle. Longtails are bikes with a long rear deck that allows you to seat a couple of kids or a grown-up, or to hang cargo off the sides. They offer a particularly good way to carry long loads like lumber, ladders and Christmas trees. Historically the longtail bike pioneered by Xtracycle with its FreeRadical involved essentially sticking an extra piece of frame between the front and rear wheel. Other people have written about the history of these bikes far better than I could. It was a neat idea, allowing people with ordinary bikes to turn them into cargo-hauling monsters, and people figured out pretty quickly that kids could be cargo too.

Unfortunately as used in San Francisco, the FreeRadical addition often had issues with flex. People I’ve met with FreeRadicals have, almost without exception, stuck them on mountain bikes scored for virtually nothing on craigslist. This hasn’t always made for the most stable combinations; when these bike are loaded up, particularly in hilly terrain, they can feel like they are going to twist apart. I’m informed by shops that build Xtracycles thoughtfully and with new frames, rather than by using the cheapest available donor bike, that they are far more reliable that way. But to address the inevitable urge to build a cheap cargo bike with whatever can be found lying around the garage, Xtracycle has developed an upgrade to the FreeRadical, the Leap, which is still coming soon, and probably worth waiting for. I digress.

The first innovation designed to address concerns about flex was the development of the Surly Big Dummy, which I’ve written about before. The Big Dummy frame is a single piece, so the flex issues pretty much disappear. The Big Dummy is an improvement on the FreeRadical for people with two older kids and other unusually heavy loads, or who live in areas with big hills (which basically describes us). However the bike is more heavy and more expensive and Surly, as a company, seems to be mostly uninterested in the family market, which is kind of annoying.

All aboard! Also, free apples at Xtracycle

All aboard! Also, free apples

Another issue that arose to some extent with all the longtails is that the rear deck is pretty high for carrying kids, particularly as they get older. This is a design issue that has unfortunately been recapitulated with the newer midtail bikes. My suspicion, which is not unique to me, is that most designers weren’t really thinking about kids as cargo when they imagined what people were going to do with cargo bikes. They imagined non-live cargo, like groceries, that could be hung from either side of the deck, and that would keep the bike’s center of gravity low. The traditional way to carry kids is on a long-john style bike like a Bakfiets, and there’s no question that once you master the linkage steering, having the kids down low and in front is much easier. But this option isn’t cheap, and longtails can also be used to carry kids and often have better range in hilly American cities.

As a result longtail parents have kids sitting on top of the deck, and having their weight up high can make the bike feel unstable, particularly on starts. The other issue we’ve discovered is that taking bikes with a higher rear deck downhill can be unnerving, because when we turn the rear of the bike will pitch away from the turn like it’s going to roll over thanks to all that kid weight on the deck. I feel this pitching even when riding our Kona MinUte, a midtail, which has a shorter deck. The pull is worse with longtails because the deck is longer. (I’ve found that dads, who typically have more upper-body strength, tend to notice this less than moms, who typically have less. It bothers me a lot. Matt notices it but it doesn’t bother him as much.)

So enter the EdgeRunner, which essentially reverses the long john design. Long johns aka front-loading box bikes aka “those bikes that look like wheelbarrows” have a small wheel in front, then a cargo platform/kid box, then the rider, then a bigger wheel in back. The Madsen and now the EdgeRunner have achieved some of the same stability by flipping that around: big wheel in front, then the rider, then the cargo platform/kid box, then a smaller wheel in back. With the heavy load near the smaller wheel, the center of gravity is lower and the bike is more stable.

Headed out on the EdgeRunner

Headed out on the EdgeRunner

Anyway I really liked the idea of putting the deck down low over a small rear wheel because my kids are getting bigger and it is increasingly hard to handle them on a traditional longtail here in hilly San Francisco, where sharp turns at the bottoms of steep hills are a fact of life. But I’ll admit that when I first saw pictures of the bike I thought it was really ugly. (Sorry, Xtracycle!) The good news is that in person, the bike looks much more attractive. The photos don’t do it justice.

Advantages of the EdgeRunner:

  • The low deck makes the kid weight much easier to control. I never felt like I was going to tip this bike. By comparison, we dumped our kids on both the Surly Big Dummy and the Yuba Mundo, and close calls were even more frequent.  (I didn’t get a chance to bomb down a steep hill and turn at the bottom because my test ride had no hills, but based on the feel of the ride I suspect that it would be more stable in this situation as well.) Both kids also found it very easy to climb on and off the deck given how much lower it was to the ground than a traditional longtail deck.
  • The bike is designed from the ground-up for electric assist. I used to worry whether I’d be judged for riding an assisted bike, but even my primary care physician advocates it. For carrying older kids in San Francisco he said my choices were either an assist or performance-enhancing drugs, and we both agreed that the assist was the superior choice. It is really a lot of work to haul that much weight around, particularly in cities that are unfortunately still designed for cars, with destinations spaced far apart and roads that take the most direct route rather than the most level one. I’ve met dads who power through these conditions with willpower, training, and a lot of sweat, but their strategy doesn’t appeal to a wide swath of parents. Besides stability, the other advantage of a smaller rear wheel is that a hub motor has a lot of torque and increased climbing power.  I can’t comment personally on the assisted EdgeRunner because I only rode the unassisted version. But the principle is sound and the testimonials from others sound compelling.
  • The EdgeRunner feels light for a longtail bike. I’ll note that this doesn’t appeal to everyone; Wheelha.us complained that it felt like the EdgeRunner was wobbling and shimmying on their test ride. I perceived the same thing as springiness and bounce and I liked it. Matt was somewhere inbetween. I suspect that this is one of those preferences that relates both to your strength and how much familiarity you already have with a heavy bike. But the EdgeRunner is easier to park than other longtails because it’s easier to move around, bump it over curbs, and so on. I wouldn’t want to carry any of these bikes up a long flights of stairs, but hauling this bike up a couple wouldn’t kill you.
  • Xtracycle has put nice components on this bike, and in combination with the stability of the rear deck, the EdgeRunner had the shallowest learning curve of any longtail I’ve ridden yet. I was a little wobbly at the start because I’d been riding the Bullitt all week, and it is tough to switch back-and-forth from linkage steering. But I got the feel of the EdgeRunner in a few pedal strokes. The bike also corners really well for a longtail.
  • Bike goes fast. My kids, riding on the back, were split on the appeal of this; my daughter thought the bike was “too fast” while my son urged me to go faster. I didn’t perceive the bike as being particularly fast, weirdly, although objectively-speaking I was moving at a pretty good clip.
  • The EdgeRunner has good acoustics. One of the disadvantages of the Big Dummy from my perspective was that it was very hard to hear my kids on the back. Like the Yuba Mundo, the EdgeRunner is better; I could hear them talking (and sometimes that’s enough that I can intervene before they start fighting).
  • The Xtracycle accessories all work with the EdgeRunner, and the Xtracycle accessories are hot. I was worried that the lower rear wheel would mean that a packed FreeLoader bag would drag on the ground, but there’s actually a reasonable amount of clearance there. The EdgeRunner is usually shown with Xtracycle’s new Hooptie, which on its wide setting can fit around a Yepp child seat. Xtracycle has a two-child seat cushion for the
    This is the sweet little one-child cushion that fits in front of the Yepp Maxi (or whatever Xtracycle calls it).

    This is the sweet little one-child cushion that fits in front of the Yepp Maxi (or whatever Xtracycle calls it).

    deck, and we also got to try their experimental new one-child cushion that fits in front of a Yepp seat (the World HQ has all the cool toys). The modular accessories mean that this bike can carry little kids, big kids, and other kinds of cargo, often simultaneously. The Xtracycle centerstand is also pretty good; it’s not as slick as a Rolling Jackass, but it’s stable enough that my daughter could climb up and down on the EdgeRunner and under the Hooptie like it was a jungle gym, and it disengages when you lift the front wheel off the ground, which means you can just lift the wheel and go.

  • The EdgeRunner has a lower top tube to make it easier for shorter riders to climb on and off with kids on the back, and comes in two frame sizes rather than one-size-fits-all.
  • Supposedly the bike is a good climber (according not just to Xtracycle but to a Rosa Parks dad who test-rode one in the Oakland Hills, although he greatly preferred the assisted version), but given the short and level test ride I took, I can’t speak to this personally.
  • Xtracycle has made a big commitment to family biking. You see this in the accessories and on their website, which shows you how to use them. I heard it when I was talking to them, as they talked about developing a front rack and a Hooptie-based rain cover and a Hooptie-based bicycle towing attachment. We got to try their new seat cushions and my kids stacked up the various different kinds of footrests sitting on the shop shelves. And they were completely unfazed by my kids doing this (unlike me). We have bikes made by manufacturers whose commitment to family biking is half-hearted or nonexistent, and having to figure stuff out on our own or have our bike shop rig something up using their best guess is frustrating. We have friends with Madsens, which are really truly family bikes, and they do not have kind words to say about the rain cover that’s always coming “next year.” The Big Dummies are great bikes and compatible with the Xtracycle accessories, but Surly seems to be more interested in the cargo angle than the kid angle. One of the reasons I tend to suggest that families new to bikes go to Xtracycle or Yuba when they ask me for recommendations is that these companies have your back as family bikers. Even if there’s not an accessory or a bike that fills an obvious need now, you can rest assured that they’re thinking about how to get something to market. That kind of support is priceless.

Disadvantages of the EdgeRunner

  • I say this about all longtails, but it’s nicer to have the kids in front. You have to pay for that, literally, because front-loading box bikes are more expensive than longtails, but having the kids in front is better. You can talk to them and they can talk to you. There is less fighting.
  • For all longtails, including the EdgeRunner, weather protection is either do-it-yourself or planned for some unknown future date. That really limits the conditions where people are willing to ride with kids unless they are pretty handy. Freezing sleet storm? Not appealing on a longtail. By comparison, the kids are oblivious under the rain cover of a front box bike. Longtails are still not fully developed as kid-haulers.
  • The EdgeRunner is not inexpensive. The unassisted model lists for $2,000 and the assisted model for $3500. You get nice components and great design for that price and you will enjoy the ride. Moreover this is the kind of bike that can replace a car. But there are few people for whom money is no object, and a lot of new riders tend to be surprisingly price-conscious for people who would casually drop five figures on a car. But if you’re not totally sure it’s going to replace a car, these price tags can be scary. We sold our car before we bought a bike, so problem solved, but other people make different choices.
  • The low deck has some disadvantages. The main one that came up was that when my daughter complained that the bike was going too fast, my son (who is now seven) responded by dragging his feet on the ground to brake the bike. It was a very effective technique, and he found my annoyance so entertaining that he did it for much of the ride. Bike no longer goes fast. So with older kids, adding footrests is definitely not optional, and for intractable kids, this bike might not ever be the right choice. I would not buy this bike without personally testing whether adding footrests would keep my son’s feet off the ground most of the time.
  • Although the FreeLoaders didn’t drag on the ground as I feared, it also isn’t possible to pack them with the same devil-may-care attitude that is possible on a Big Dummy. The EdgeRunner is unlikely to hold the same volume of cargo as a Big Dummy or for that matter, a Yuba Mundo, simply because the deck is lower and there is less space to hang stuff off it. Tradeoffs!
  • My kids loved the Hooptie, and it’s really cool, but on the wide setting I would not feel comfortable riding with it around San Francisco (I didn’t get to try the narrow setting). Like the support bars on the Yuba Mundo, it is so wide that I would feel nervous navigating around the city’s narrow bike lanes and traffic pinch points. Unfortunately many of the best accessories (Hooptie, Sidecar) turn the EdgeRunner  (and for that matter the Big Dummy) into a bike that’s most appropriate for smaller locales. In defense of Xtracycle, these accessories are at least optional and not built into the frame. However I would find it frustrating to be able to get these accessories but know that I couldn’t use them safely. Not a problem for residents of smaller towns, but a problem for me.
  • Because this was a demo model, the bike we rode wasn’t the bike you’d buy. But: I found the shifters weird. They grew on me a little, because they shift perfectly, although with a slight delay, but they don’t allow you to see where you are on the rear derailleur, which was frustrating. Updates: I wasn’t sure what would come standard at the time, but the assisted EdgeRunner comes with a front headlight, and everything else should be obvious from a review of the website and/or a test ride. It does not appear to have fenders stock.  
Matt takes the EdgeRunner out for a spin.

Matt takes the EdgeRunner out for a spin.

Overall, I liked the EdgeRunner. The lower rear deck made the bike incredibly stable and the light weight made it fast. The fact that it was designed with hilly terrain in mind makes it really appealing in San Francisco. Although I’d want to ride it again before considering it seriously, with both an electric assist and with some kind of footrests for my son, there was nothing about it that struck me as a deal-breaker. By comparison, the Yuba Mundo frame was too wide and heavy for our needs (and the elMundo was under-assisted), and the Surly Big Dummy, with its higher rear deck, felt far less stable. And on both of those bikes we kept dumping the kids. They’re the right bikes for other families, but they weren’t the right bikes for us.

Riding off with my son's feet off the ground, for once.

Riding off with my son’s feet off the ground, for once.

Every family has specific priorities in shopping for a bike. Where we live and with our family, having a bike that can handle hills and that offers the least risk of dumping the kids are big priorities, and those are the reasons that our main kid-hauling bike, until very recently, was a midtail. The EdgeRunner appealed to me because of the stability of the rear deck and its hill-climbing focused design. We’re not in the market for a longtail bike; we like our Bullitt for the two-kid hauling errands (and we’ve purchased more than enough bikes this year anyway, thanks to having to replace a stolen bike). But if we were in the market for a longtail bike, I would be holding out for the EdgeRunner.

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Filed under electric assist, family biking, reviews, Xtracycle

Bicycles in New York

This ridiculously hipster hotel is where Matt's company put him up. He called it the porno fantasy hunting lodge.

This ridiculously hipster hotel is where Matt’s company put him up. He called it the porno fantasy hunting lodge.

Matt spent last week in New York. While he was there, he remembered that what I always want is pictures of bicycles in new places.  There has been lots of discussion of New York City’s commitment to creating major-league cycling infrastructure. From Matt’s admittedly very short-term visitor’s perspective, they’ve been successful.

You too can ride the streets of New York.

You too can ride the streets of New York.

When we went to Copenhagen in 2011, we had no idea that it was one of the bicycling capitals of the world. Probably the only reason we even bothered to get on bikes at all was that bike rentals were advertised on literally every corner. And what a life-changer that turned out to be. To rent our bikes all we had to do was cross the street to the shop directly in front of our apartment and ask. We delayed even that for a while because we assumed they wouldn’t be able to put child seats on our bikes, which was silly in retrospect. We could have spared ourselves days of tedious walking just by asking. New York has enough of a cycling culture now that bike rentals were everywhere too. Alas, no bike share yet.

I have yet to see cycling infrastructure this good in San Francisco.

I have yet to see cycling infrastructure this good in San Francisco.

San Francisco has a separated cycle track in Golden Gate Park, but it’s not protected from cars by anything but paint. Neighbors also objected to painting the bike lane green to differentiate it from parking, claiming that it would look too obtrusive (in a park!) I like the lanes in the park anyway, but the protected lanes on Broadway in NYC make them look pathetic.

Bikes only; the rest of you can circle endlessly.

Bikes only; the rest of you can circle endlessly.

I rode to downtown San Francisco last Friday afternoon. It took less than 20 minutes door to door in the middle of Christmas shopping season, and I parked right in front of the building in the middle of Union Square. Ha ha! I made excellent time in part because for several blocks I was able to ride through intersections where right turns were signed as mandatory for everyone except buses, bicycles, and commercial vehicles. New York has evidently made the same decision to prioritize cycle traffic in the middle of town.

A "Do not enter" sign for bicycles is a new one for me too.

A “Do not enter” sign for bicycles is a new one for me too.

A different sign Matt found I’ve never seen in San Francisco: the “Bicycle Wrong Way” sign. I have some doubts about whether anyone pays the slightest attention to it, as I suspect no one here would. But it’s nice to be recognized as traffic, even if it is a don’t-go-here signal.

Nothing stops the angle grinder, except maybe the death penalty.

Nothing stops the angle grinder, except maybe the death penalty.

Some things are the same in both New York and San Francisco, however. Bike theft is rampant both places. New Yorkers, I’m sorry to say that not even a hardened chain will protect your bike from a guy with an angle grinder. We learned that the hard way.

New York City: it’s no São Paulo. It looks like a good place to ride a bike. I hope we get to try it sometime.

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Filed under destinations, travel

Upcoming: SFBC 9th Annual Holiday Lights Ride

Yeah, we're ready.

Yeah, we’re ready.

I just saw the posting: the 2012 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Holiday Lights Ride will be on December 16, 2012. We loved this ride last year, even though we had to peel off early with dozing kids. This year with the Bullitt in our stable I’m hoping our daughter can pass out on the bike if necessary and we can make it the whole way through. Meet at the Panhandle statue at 6:30pm–details copied below from the Chain of Events. Hope to see you there!

9th Annual Holiday Lights Ride (and Potluck)*

Sun., Dec. 16 | 6:30 | Meet at the Panhandle Statue, Fell and Baker Sts.

Get festive on our lively, annual two-wheelin’ pilgrimage to visit some of the city’s most stellar light displays. Summon your creative holiday spirit and ring your silver bells, caroling all the way. Bring potluck treats to share at a super special secret endpoint.

*Approx 11 miles, with moderate hills. Heavy rain cancels.

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Filed under Bullitt, family biking, rides, San Francisco

Safety in numbers

What makes any bicycle safe on any street?

What makes any bicycle safe on any street?

There is a theory in cycling literature that there is a safety in numbers effect for bicycles. This stems from the observation that where bicycles are not commonly found on streets, injury rates are higher, and where bicycles are commonly found on streets, injury rates are lower. Thus, goes the logic, if you get more people riding then all of them will be safer, presumably because drivers will know to watch for them.

I’ve always been suspicious of this theory, as it seems to confuse correlation and causality (although correlation can serve as a big causal hint). There are a lot of omitted variables that could both increase the number of bikes on the road and increase safety, like creating separated cycle tracks and instituting strict liability for drivers that hit cyclists and pedestrians. If people assess, correctly, that the infrastructure and legal system protects them, they’re both more likely to ride and they’re more likely to be safe, but increasing the number of bikes on the road wasn’t really what increased safety. If people jumped on bikes without that infrastructure or legal protection, I’m not sure they’d see the same effects.

This is the kindergarten bicycle crew at Rosa Parks each morning. I also feel safer when I join their impromptu bike train.

This is part of the kindergarten bicycle crew at Rosa Parks each morning. I also feel safer when I join their impromptu bike train.

I thought of this last weekend when I was taking my daughter to her ballet class and suddenly found myself in a pack of over a dozen lycra-clad road cyclists on a major street. There were too many of us to stay in the bike lane, and so the fastest riders moved left into the car lane. Not all these cyclists were riding together—they came and went in small clusters—but everyone in the group was watching out for each other, and signaled to other riders (including me) when to move around turning cars and hazards in the street. Thanks, lycra-clad roadie guys!

I listened to them chat as we rode along. It was a pleasant ride, and I realized I did actually feel safer in a big group of cyclists. I knew someone would warn me if there were any obvious dangers in the road, and cars hung back rather than rushing to pass. That was very different from the same trip the week before, and from my ride home along the same route. Maybe there’s something to the safety in numbers theory after all.

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