Destinations: Blue Heron Bikes

This is what you get when you go to Berkeley: wild turkeys.

This is what you get when you go to Berkeley: wild turkeys. It’s not safe crossing the Bay.

I’ve been disappointed for years now that San Francisco has no family/cargo bike shop. Things are certainly better than they were a couple of years ago, when we started looking for our 2-kid hauler, but shopping around for a family bike in the city still involves a lot of “around”: wandering from bike shop to bike shop, none of which are necessarily on the same transit lines (and none of which, pretty understandably, have any parking for cars.)

Welcome to Blue Heron. Let's ride some bikes!

Welcome to Blue Heron. Let’s ride some bikes!

Back in 2012, it was a no-brainer to tack a train ride to Portland for cargo bike shopping onto our summer trip to Seattle to visit my mom. At the time Portland had three cargo bike shops that seriously considered the needs of family riders. Last year, however, I started to hear from other families about Blue Heron Bikes in Berkeley, which opened shortly after we returned from Portland in 2012. They said it was a real family bike shop. They were right.

These people think of everything.

These people think of everything.

We didn’t make it over to Blue Heron until early 2014, but it was worth the wait. Having visited a few family bike shops already, we knew what to look for: kids’ bikes, cargo bikes, and a Lego table. Check, check, and check.  (Clever Cycles in Portland, which represents the pinnacle of family bike shops in the United States, also adds a large play space, inexpensive rentals of many of the bikes it sells, and FREE DIAPERS IN THE BATHROOM to that mix, but this is the result of years of practice.)

Hi, Rob!

Hi!

I no longer patronize bike shops that give me attitude—and anyone who’s walked into a typical bike shop with kids will know what I’m talking about here—so the other critical attribute of a family bike shop is being nice to anyone who walks in the door.  I’m no longer the best judge of that personally, given that my husband likes to walk into bike shops and announce, “This is my wife and she writes a blog about family biking!” However on our first visit to Blue Heron about half a dozen novice family bikers stopped by, and Rob (the owner) and his staff were lovely to all of them. Those poor families also had to endure us talking their ears off about the bikes they test-rode, but you can’t blame Blue Heron for that. Check Yelp for the many five-star reviews from people who showed up on other days.

The family bike corner

The family bike corner

What kind of bikes can you get at Blue Heron? Lots of bikes: they stock Bromptons, Bullitts (sent down from Splendid Cycles), EdgeRunners, and Yuba Mundos. I’ll admit that Bromptons aren’t usually considered family bikes, but that’s how we ride ours, and Emily Finch is now hauling four kids on a Brompton + Burley Travoy, so I think they qualify. Blue Heron also has some quirky stuff like a Japanese cargo bike that they’ve rigged with a rear child seat.  I haven’t ridden that bike, because I figured we’ve tried their patience enough. My kids wanted to ride all the bikes they had in front, and my son announced afterward that he wants a mountain bike. My daughter cried all the way home about our decision to not buy her the purple bike she rode while we were there, because “It’s near my birthday!”

Swoopy looking EdgeRunner

Swoopy looking EdgeRunner

The kids did not stop with the bikes in their own size. They also asked to ride the Bullitt with the large box, so we did, and I haven’t stopped hearing about how we should upgrade to that box since. And they also wanted to ride the EdgeRunner. The last EdgeRunner I had ridden was a pre-production model, but the 2014 EdgeRunner was significantly more awesome. We loved that bike. I haven’t stopped hearing about how we should get an EdgeRunner either. We’re going to try the assisted version next, and hopefully a Kinn Flyer and a Workcycles Fr8 too (more reviews!)

Although Blue Heron is located on the Ohlone Greenway in the flats, which makes for lovely test rides, Berkeley is not without hills, and they will also assist your family bike. They had BionX versions of a number of the cargo bikes they sell ready for test rides. Fortunately they didn’t have a BionX EdgeRunner in stock when we were there or we might not have escaped without buying another bike.

There's a largely unused parking lot behind the shop, great for kids' test rides

There’s a largely unused parking lot behind the shop, great for kids’ test rides

From my perspective, Blue Heron has only one dreadful, depressing flaw, and that is that it is in Berkeley. Getting to Berkeley is an all-day commitment for us, even now that our kids are older. However I understand why families in San Francisco are making the trek across the Bay. Getting a cargo bike from Berkeley to San Francisco is a real adventure—one dad took his new Bullitt on BART, which meant carrying it on the stairs, and another family rode theirs down to the ferry to get it home.  I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to that kind of adventure, but we’ve been there twice now and I have no doubt that we’ll return.

For us, a trip to Portland was the only way to compare the different possible bikes we could have bought. We wouldn’t have to make that same trip now. I’m glad we did go, of course, because if we hadn’t we would never had met the family biking crew in Portland, and we would have had to wait much longer to ride our bike. This is difficult and unpleasant to imagine. But if we were looking now, we’d start in Berkeley.

11 Comments

Filed under bike shops, Brompton, Bullitt, destinations, family biking, travel, Xtracycle, Yuba Mundo

11 responses to “Destinations: Blue Heron Bikes

  1. How cool to have a cargo bike shop locally! On our last trip to Berkeley we ate across the street at Lalime’s and had no idea Blue Heron was across the street. But we’re not exactly in need of family bikes either. If Dick’s daughter would give us a grandchild, that would be another story.

  2. I wish I had known you were over here! I’ve been to Blue Heron once, over a year ago. We’ll have to try it again when we upgrade from our Madsen. We’re actually in the market for a trail-a-bike-like add on. Did they have those?

  3. Molly

    I love how the woman in the turkey photo is just casually walking off. How hum, I just gotta go. See ya later pesky turkeys.

  4. i had no idea this shop was there, thanks for sharing. has been too long since i was last in that pocket at espresso roma on hopkins after an PFA feature … this would be a perfect excuse to go back soon ;)
    also: “…I no longer patronize bike shops that give me attitude” always surprised by peers who instead of having this mantra go with the “…but they are good at this –or– only they have X part” is like, a toxic relationship. ugh. just say no.
    thx -meli

  5. Molly

    Emily Finch moves 4 children by brompton? I have ignored bromptons cuz of the multiple child issue. Can you provide a photo? Diagrams? How to guide?

    • Well, she posted a photo on Facebook but I don’t have the right to share it, although it’s quite impressive. And I should note that what she’s doing is definitely not endorsed by the manufacturer.

      This is going to be hard to picture, but her setup, front to back, is: (1) youngest child sitting in the front frame bag (as noted: not an approved use); (2) one kid in front of the rider (you can use the IT/Pere child seat or have a kid stand on the tube); (3) one kid standing on the rear rack; and (4) one kid sitting on the bottom of the Travoy support, facing backwards (Burley does not approve the use of the Travoy for carrying children or pets).

      I have posted pictures of me with my 2 kids on the Brompton in positions (2) and (3) (front seat and standing on the rear rack). I wouldn’t ride like this every day or for long distances but it is perfectly fine for occasional trips. I’m not sure that I would be gutsy enough to haul more than two kids regularly, but that may be because I only have two kids.

      • Molly

        Ah, I can picture that, thank you! Since I have been considering putting a rack and panniers on the trail a bike to increase our cargo capacity to fit all the school projects, library books, and groceries I think I will continue to ignore bromptons for this phase.

  6. Ty

    Blue Heron sounds like a great shop. I’d love to go check it out, but it does seem like a pretty big adventure. I went through a similar experience when I decided to go to Rivendell Bikes in Walnut Creek. Took most of my day, and that was spending less than an hour at the shop.

    You had mentioned there were no family/cargo bike shops in San Francisco. I don’t know if you have ever gone to Warm Planet Bikes.

    http://www.warmplanetbikes.com/

    I can’t speak to the family side, but who have been an Xtracycle rep for years,but I have had nothing but good experiences with them. They are friendly and cordial when I go in. They sell Bromptons, Bike Friday (I bought a Tikit from them five years ago) and Xtracycle Freed Radical kids as well as the new Edgerunner.

    The only hesitation I have in recommending them to you is that they used to have a great location next to Caltrain at 4th and King, but recently moved to 6h and Market which you probably know is in the Tenderloin. You might not want to go there with kids at night, but during the day it’s not bad.

    Just last month I finally got the Free Radical conversion to my old commuter bike. They gave me the San Francisco Bike Coalition discount as well. Ongoing service has always been great with them too. I’m loving it so far, and might eventually get a Big Dummy or Edgerunner myself.

    Just something to consider.

    Ty

    • Hi Ty, I’ve been to the old Warm Planet Bikes location and found them very friendly, but did not realize (a) that they carried Xtracycle products or (b) that they had moved. At the time that I was there they did not have child seats in stock and could only get them by special order. As a result I have always thought of them as similar to a number of SF bike shops that carry one kind of useful family bike (e.g. our LBS carries the Kona Ute and MinUte) but not many kinds. I generally think of a place as being a family bike shop if it carries multiple types of cargo bikes and child seat setups that make it possible to do comparison shopping and test rides in one location. And of course, if it has a Lego table.

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