Category Archives: Bobike

Trailer-bike: Roland add+bike

Breezer Uptown 8 and Bobike Maxi and Roland add+bike: Three countries on one bike (four if you count the Japanese front rack)

There’s a new bicycle accessory in the house. In response to my son’s requests for an opportunity to pedal, we got a trailer-bike. Technically he’s old enough to ride by himself, but given the traffic and hills around San Francisco, none of us felt ready for that.

Although we saw the promise of trailer-bikes early-on, we had difficulty finding one we liked. The ones that mounted to the stem of the adult’s bike (Adams Trail-a-Bike, Weehoo) were unstable in both our personal experience and in other parents’ more harrowing experiences. And we couldn’t mount a rear child seat over one (ditto for the Trail-Gator). The Burley Piccolo mounts solidly to a custom rack, but the knob-mount is huge and meant that again we couldn’t mount a child seat over one—or for that matter, use the top of the rack. The FollowMe tandem looked more promising, but reviewers noted it was extremely heavy even without the bike attached, making it tough to go up hills—not that it mattered, as word from the only US distributor of the FollowMe tandem, Clever Cycles (Portland), was that they were out of stock and would be for the foreseeable future.

This is the Roland add+bike’s attachment to the rear rack

I don’t remember where I heard about the Roland add+bike, but when I did I noticed two things right away: first, it mounted to the rack, like the Piccolo, which made it more stable. Second, the mounting point was nearly flat and sat at the end of the rack, making it possible to mount a child seat for our daughter over it and to use the entire rack, like the FollowMe. It cost a little less, in US dollars, than a Piccolo. The downside, and this was a big downside, was that it was only sold in Germany.

But fortune smiled. Ever since high school I have had a good friend in Munich, Oli. We were, by coincidence, exchange students in each others’ high schools. One month after I learned about the Roland, Oli wrote to say he was visiting San Francisco to complete an audit, and would we like to meet while he was in town? I asked him if wanted to stay with us and if he’d heard of the Roland. He had. He said he’d love to stay with us, as his company was blanching at the cost of hotel rooms in San Francisco, and in return he’d be delighted to bring us a Roland add+bike from Munich as one of his checked bags. Win-win!

Our kids were thrilled to have someone so tall to carry them around.

Oli, as it happens, loves bikes as much as we do. He and his wife imported their own Bakfiets from the Netherlands to Munich for commuting with their three daughters. “We call it… the FERRARI!” Within a week, he’d found us a used Roland add+bike and its custom rack on German eBay for the unbelievable price of 77 Euros. It was a single speed model. (The Roland also comes in 3-speed and 7-speed models, both of which have internally geared hubs! On a trailer-bike!) But for that kind of savings we could live without gears. Oli said that used Rolands are cheap in Germany now because the fenders and chain guards are made of plastic, and everyone is concerned about potential BPA exposure. I was so thrilled that the trailer-bike came with fenders and a chain guard—totally non-standard in the US—that I was willing to tell our kids not to lick the parts. Also: unbeatable value!

Up, up, and away! Matt needed the car to catch up to us on this hill.

The Roland rack is the custom rear rack we fitted on the Breezer when upgrading a half-dozen other things. Our bike shop complained that this was, ultimately, not a particularly easy job. But it totally worked. When we picked up the Breezer, we brought the Roland with us and built a giant articulated bike right there on the sidewalk: Breezer+Bobike Maxi+Roland. After the bike shop adjusted the handlebars to our son’s height, we took it for a spin. It was quite a sight. Everyone ran out of the shop to watch.

This rod drops into a metal through-hole in the rear rack. The divot in the rod is for a smaller, sprung rod that is mounted horizontally below the rack itself, and which prevents the attachment rod from bouncing out on bumps.

The Roland is by far the nicest trailer-bike I have ever seen, and it boggles my mind that no one is importing it. The custom rack is very heavy-duty, and at the rear there is a metal through-hole welded to the rack itself. A rod points down from the latch-point of the trailer bike, and slips into the through-hole. It locks into place where a second rod springs into a divot on the side of the attachment rod to secure it. Although the weight of the trailer-bike alone would probably hold everything in position, the extra attachment-point makes it even more secure. (This is all very hard to explain in words; check out the pictures for details.) Once in place the trailer-bike can rotate through turns because the rod turns inside the through-hole.

Matt tried out riding the Breezer with the Roland add+bike–this is the end of the Wiggle (the unpleasant part).

As mentioned, the Roland is pretty plush by American standards. A chain guard and fender are standard. There are lots of accessories available, including a kid-sized rear rack for panniers, not to mention a cargo kickstand for the trailer-bike itself, as well as extra metal mounts—as this part is small and cheap to ship overseas, we are already thinking of ordering one and drilling a hole into the Kona MinUte’s deck for it. Why not? Our son loves this trailer-bike. He is thrilled to be pedaling without the stress of dealing with traffic, and with, let’s face it, with an adult power assist to get him up the hills.

Like any trailer-bike, the Roland adds extra weight, and this is not necessarily insignificant. Being able to carry two kids and two panniers plus whatever I can stuff in the new front basket means the Breezer can now really haul, and this is fantastically practical. However with the Bobike Maxi and my daughter on the back, in addition to my son on the Roland, getting up real hills is hard work even with a stoker, although it’s no problem where it’s flat. Even with the extra work, this is a welcome additional option for carrying two kids on one bike, especially if they’re squabbling, which can be a problem when they’re sharing the deck on the Kona MinUte. (That can be a problem on any longtail bike; it isn’t a MinUte-specific concern.)

So overall: we adore the Roland. I would suggest that anyone who is interested in a trailer-bike and who has access to a willing German get one. Apparently they’re cheap right now on German eBay. But I realize this isn’t the most helpful suggestion. It’s like suggesting that someone take their preschooler to school on an authentic Japanese mamachari. It is wildly unlikely that anyone who doesn’t have my recent phenomenal bicycle luck could find either one. At the same time, given the reaction I’ve gotten to both, it astonishes me that there are not already dozens of entrepreneurs rushing to import them.

Let’s ride!

Last but not least, the Roland has done something I didn’t think was possible. It has made my Breezer look cool. I have accepted that the Breezer is the least visibly impressive of all our bicycles; it has been compared to a vacuum cleaner, and this was not intended as a compliment. Yet I appreciate its practicality, and I ride it more than any of our other bicycles. For the first time ever, though, when I was riding the Breezer loaded up with a rear child seat and a trailer-bike in my own personal parade, people shouted “Cool bike!” as we rode by. And it was very sweet to have our most underrated bike finally get the appreciation it deserved.

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Filed under Bobike, Breezer, family biking, trailer-bike

Panniers and the Bobike Maxi (and Bobike Junior)

Bikes can be rigged to carry lots of cargo, but kids+cargo is harder

It can be difficult to tote around both a kid and the gear that goes with a kid on an ordinary bike. When the kids are older than 9 months or so and younger than three years, a front seat like the Bobike Mini, Yepp Mini, or iBert can resolve this problem. The kid goes in front and you can put standard panniers in the back. Personally, of those three seats, I’d get the Bobike or the Yepp because either can be fitted with windscreens.

Then once your kid reaches 30 pounds or 3 years, there are some decisions to be made. Most American rear seats (Topeak, etc., which I think of as “the finger-slicer” since the recall) for kids attach to the rear rack of a bicycle. This limits the weight that you can put on the seat to the weight you can put on the rack, and this sometimes tops off at 40 pounds. Furthermore, you can’t use the rack for anything else. You can add a front basket to substitute, but in most cases front baskets don’t hold much, and when they’re loaded up, they tend to make the bike tip. In combination with the laughable kickstands available on most bikes in the US, there is a nagging worry that the bike will fall over with you and/or the kid on board. In my limited experience with a rack-mounted rear seat, this is justified.

Nonetheless I was pleased to see that there is a partial solution for carrying cargo on rack-mounted rear seats, the Topeak Ma-Ma-San bag, which attaches to the back of a Topeak seat. I saw one when we were visiting San Diego. It doesn’t hold a lot, but at least you won’t be stuck on a ride without a supply of diapers.

Matt caught me making a “Copenhagen left turn”

But we started riding with our kids in Copenhagen, so our first choice was not an American rack-mounted seat but a European frame-mounted seat. Both the Bobike Maxi and the Yepp Maxi (as well as our Bobike Junior) attach to the frame of the bike. The Bobike has a tongue-in-groove attachment on the seat tube, and two braces for the footrests on the seat stays. So these seats are balanced on a tripod, and each of the legs of the tripod is fixed to the frame of the bike. The attachment points remain on the bike more or less permanently, but the seats can pop on and off as needed; very handy. What’s more, this attachment system means that the rear rack is completely independent of the child seat. You can still put stuff on the rack. Specifically, you can put panniers on the rack.

The bars holding the footrests block half the rack

The problem we faced is that the footrests sweep diagonally down and block about half of the length of the rear rack. Most panniers are designed to take up the whole rack. I know this because I ordered a lot of panniers on Amazon during the time when I was looking for a way to carry cargo and a kid at the same time. This was the period when I discovered the miraculous bungee net and also when I seriously tested the patience of our office receptionist and of Amazon’s return policy. I have an Amazon Prime membership through work, so for a while I was getting a different bike bag every week, each of which I took downstairs to bike parking, discovered would not work with the child seat installed, and immediately boxed back up for return. I was most disappointed that the Detours panniers recommended for the Breezer by She Rides a Bike didn’t work, as they looked lovely. But the clips were over nine inches apart, and took up the entire length of the rack. I needed bike bags with narrow clips and a narrow profile, but none of the listings for panniers ever noted the distance between the pannier hooks.

A close-up of the Bobike Maxi mount

Family Ride solved this problem a different way, by getting an extra-long rear rack and installing folding metal baskets underneath her Bobike Maxi. I considered this but it wasn’t ideal for me because the dynamo lights on my Breezer are wired directly to the existing rack, so changing the rack was a much bigger job. I also didn’t like the rattling of the metal baskets on a friend’s bike (without a child seat) that I’d tried.

Basil pannier hooks are less than a handspan apart

My pannier breakthrough came while I was visiting one of the many bike shops in San Francisco that is hostile to children on the advice of a childless friend. This was an understandable mistake on her part, as they advertise themselves as child-friendly. However this is a lie. As one example, the employees were appalled that we wanted to use a living, breathing child—our daughter—to test out the Yepp Maxi child seat they had on display. Their concern did not revolve around safety, because the seat was sitting on the ground. Their primary issue instead seemed to be that putting gleeful children in child seats messed with the store’s SoMa aesthetic, which was all high ceilings, reclaimed wood plank flooring, bikes in lollipop colors, smooth jazz, Yakkay helmets and leather wine carriers that strapped onto top tubes. Nonetheless, while I was there, I saw some Basil panniers, and picking one up, I realized that it had very closely spaced hooks. Was it really that simple? Yes it was. Dutch panniers are sized to fit around Dutch child seats.

Bobike Maxi and Basil pannier: ready to roll

I did not buy a pannier from this bike shop because they were, not to put too fine a point on it, jerks. And our local shop, Everybody Bikes, does not carry Basil bags. So in gratitude for Amazon’s extremely generous return policy, which I had used to the hilt over the last months to order over a dozen bags and keep nothing but a bungee net, I ordered the narrowest Basil pannier I could find there, the Basil Lady Sport. There is a black version that is not particularly ladylike–Matt once asked if he could borrow it for work–and a purple-flowered version that is more so. Both fit under either the Bobike Junior or the Bobike Maxi, although they need to be squeezed a bit to go under the footrests. (And like virtually all Amazon products, if you leave them in your cart long enough without actually purchasing them, they’ll go on sale.)

Removing the guards on the Bobike Maxi (otherwise the entire rack would be blocked)

The side protectors on the Bobike Maxi have to be removed to make this work. I checked with the shop that installed our seat and learned that these shields are not necessary for safety—if you have a pannier on the back, your kid’s feet won’t go into the spokes anyway. The Bobike Junior doesn’t have side guards at all. I have heard that the Yepp Maxi foot rest guards are not removable, so no promises about whether panniers would work with a Yepp seat. Go Bobike or go without panniers, I guess.

A side view of a pannier clipped under the Bobike Maxi

My panniers are bigger than they look. I have two, and each can hold about 1.5 paper grocery bags. I have put a box of wine on one side and yogurt and milk in the other, plus various fruits and vegetables, and altogether this can add up to quite a bit of weight. This slows me down going uphill, but it gets the shopping done. They look professional enough in solid black that I can take them to university meetings and they do not look out of place among the other non-bicycle bags, particularly given that there is a zippered cover over the hooks. They come with an integrated rain cover, which is very helpful. The rain cover pops out of a zippered pocket on the bottom of the bags. You can expect to lose the pull-tab on that zipper to the spokes within a couple of weeks. It still works, though.

Panniers under a child seat turn an ordinary bike into a cargo bike. My Breezer carries not only my kids but a week’s worth of groceries on the same ride. Finding my panniers was worth all that effort.

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Filed under Bobike, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking

Another day, another commute

Usually cheerful, but not always

For the last couple of weeks Matt has been taking our son to school, because I’ve had various committee meetings at the end of the term (e.g. Admissions, and here’s my tip for getting into graduate school: Follow The Instructions.) When my son found out that I would be taking him to school this morning, he was not happy. “I don’t want to ride on your bike,” he said. When we asked him why, he said that I was too slow going downhill, that he didn’t like slinging his backpack over the back of the Bobike Junior, that my bike didn’t have a double kickstand, and then the rest of his complaints trailed off into vague mutterings. What can I say? He dislikes change. Also: he’s right. My bike is slower than Matt’s.

But things improved once we got moving, as they usually do. It is quiet in the morning but there’s always a lot to see in the city.

We trailed behind a backhoe for a while in Golden Gate Park, and all kids love construction equipment. My son’s mood improved markedly at this point. (The city is re-striping a separated bike lane across the park.)

As we were headed into the Panhandle, we were passed by an electric bike (a Hebb Electro Glide, if I read the logo right); the rider was pedaling slowly and moving fast, and we both found that fun to watch.

After that, we caught up with a recumbent hand-cranked bike ridden by a man with one leg (presumably custom, certainly nothing I recognized). We kept up for a while, but he blew past us and another bike on the way up the hill to Alamo Square. It was extremely impressive.

Sweet new bike racks!

When we got to school, we locked up at the new bike racks, along with another early arrival. By the time we reached the playground, my son was cheerful again.

It’s harder for me after dropping him off. My commute to work from his school goes up Webster, an arterial frequented by some of the nastiest drivers in the city. I have yet to go three blocks on that street without someone blasting a horn, apparently because I exist. One driver once honked at me and shook her fist while I was walking my bike through the crosswalk with the light. Getting off Webster I turn onto Post, and go several blocks uphill on a steadily increasing grade. To pile insult on injury, there are always multiple trucks parked in the bike lane. Once I get to the top of the hill, the only way to enter the campus is by making two left turns on busy thoroughfares (or riding on the sidewalk, but this is illegal in San Francisco, and the potential fine is large).

It’s annoying, but it beats driving.

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Riding to school on the Bobike Junior

A while back Matt tore a muscle in his calf, and he’s been limping around ever since. He can walk short distances, but ideally wouldn’t be walking as much as he is, and that’s slowed his recovery. He hasn’t been able to ride his bike for at least two weeks. He’s not happy about it.

Headed for the big hill on the Bobike Junior

Our son’s school is on the way to Matt’s office (more or less) so normally they ride together, Matt drops him off, then continues on to work. He also typically does the pickup at after-school, and they ride home through Golden Gate Park. The MinUte is always ready to pop a kid (or even two, if they’re old enough to hold on) on the back.

So for the last couple of weeks, I have been doing most of our son’s drop-offs and some of the pickups. It’s been nice to have this extra time with him in the morning. I hadn’t used the Bobike Junior regularly; it pops on and off the bike in less than a minute, and for regular commutes it is mostly off. But for the last week it has been on my bike full-time. On our morning rides, we bomb down the hill from our house as a starter (no worries: the neighbors already have Child Protective Services on speed dial) and head into Golden Gate Park, over to the Panhandle, then up to Alamo Square and back down to Japantown. This is a very cool ride; in the early morning, when it’s still half-light, the park is still thin on other bicycle commuters and the trees hide the car traffic on either side.

Waiting for the light in the panhandle

Our son can be very chatty on the bike, and he enjoys the view. He is sometimes irritated by the pannier encroaching on his foot rest, and the other day, he entertained himself by lightly kicking my calf on every pedal stroke. “I don’t want to ride with the pannier again!” he yelled. “I don’t want to shove a backpack in your face,” I answered. I forget what else we talked about, and now only remember that we were laughing so hard that we were bothering the joggers, who normally reside exclusively in iPod land. We learned later that one of his classmates saw us while driving by (we arrived at school only a minute later than they did, which still astonishes me). Her dad told me that she asked why she couldn’t ride to school too.

I like the way the Breezer takes the hills, so when we’re headed up to Alamo Square and the lights are timed right, we can jump up the incline pretty fast. That day we raced a garbage truck. We lost, but held our lead for longer than I expected, given that I had a 1st grader and his school gear on the back.

The loathsome eastern approach to my office

After his drop-off I head up to work, taking the grim eastward approach to Laurel Heights, which packs all of the elevation in at once at Post Street, then drops me off at the intersection of California and Presidio, a nightmarish snarl that usually leaves me walking my bike through the intersection rather than attempting to ride it. Thank goodness I have a step-through frame: hit the red light, slither off to one side, walk the bike through the crosswalks, hop back on.

People always ask me whether the folded Junior is a battery pack

I am still vaguely amazed that a seat like the Bobike Junior even exists. It solves an unusual problem; most parents with kids our son’s age would have them riding to school on their own bikes. Traffic and hills and the transition to after-school make that impossible for us, but I don’t think our situation is exactly typical. And yet thanks to the canny Dutch, we’ve found an out-of-the-box solution that’s both effective and a lot of fun.

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Filed under Bobike, Breezer, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

These are the ways we ride to school

First day of first grade

We have found that our son’s elementary school contains an embarrassment of riches (for the record, this is an under-enrolled Title I public school in San Francisco, not the usual candidate for perceived awesomeness, a complete sleeper of a school). These riches extended, we learned this year, to a range of bicycle commute strategies with kids.

Bicycle commuting to school in San Francisco is not like it is in other locales. Kids enrolled in lower grades can’t usually ride on their own, due to traffic and hills and distance; this is a citywide school, and some families are coming from quite far away. Moreover, the after-school programs at our school are mostly off-site, and students take the bus from the school, meaning that there’s no way to take a kid’s bike along after school lets out. Finally, we haven’t yet had bike racks installed at the school (we’re on the list) so there’s no place to leave a bike even if kids could ride. The teachers who ride bring their bikes into the school building, but this isn’t something that would work for a bunch of kids.

So typically we all have to ride with the kids with us somehow, and as I’ve mentioned before, city people rarely use trailers (they ride below the sight line of cars, tip on uneven pavement, don’t fit in the bike lane, etc. etc.) That means kids on our bikes. It is more challenging than the run-of-the-mill bicycle commute to school, but it’s worth it. We are often ad hoc, but we are ready to roll. Herewith, a morning’s worth of photos; an incomplete list of the ways we ride to school.

School bike #1: Bike Friday triple tandem

#1 (and by far the coolest):  Bike Friday triple tandem. Our PTA treasurer and his partner ride this bike with their daughters, who are in kindergarten and 2nd grade. They say it is the best way to commute with two kids to school in the city, and I believe them. It is easier for their dad, who is about 6’ tall, to captain, than it is for their mom, who is more like 5’4”. She reports that she needs help on the hills from the girls and she needs to concentrate while riding. The girls have to synchronize their pedaling with the parent who’s captaining; this is, I am told, not necessary on all tandems, but it is necessary on the Bike Friday [update: not exactly true; my brother-in-law wrote to tell me that any tandem could be retrofitted to have freewheel cranks that let one rider stop pedaling]. Our kids desperately want a triple tandem.

How they afforded it: They used to ride the girls to school on a tricked-out Kona Ute, which they bought and modified by hand while their youngest was still in preschool. They sold the Ute to finance the tandem, which they got for about 1/3 the list price by buying it used on eBay after searching for a used triple tandem for some time. The seller, based in LA, was unwilling to ship it, but they had a cousin in LA they visit regularly. He picked it up, and on their next visit, they took it home with them. The Bike Friday packs up in a suitcase!

How they store it: Bike storage is no joke in San Francisco. The girls’ aunt lives on the same block they do and has extra storage space, so they keep the big bikes at her place (they also have an adult tandem that they found used for free and had their bike shop fix up).

School bike #2: Surly Big Dummy

#2: Surly Big Dummy. Our friend Shirley takes her girls (1st grade and 2nd grade) to school on the deck of her Big Dummy. While they’re in school, she takes the Dummy out to do errands. I have talked about the Dummy before. It is a fun bike.

How they afforded it: They have a car that was in a horrible accident and needs several thousand dollars in repairs. Last year, they decided to skip the repairs and drive it until it failed and buy a Big Dummy (plus another bike to come) with the money they saved. When the car dies, they will be car-free.

How they store it: “It’s a problem.” They have a very small garage space with their rental apartment and squeeze the bike alongside (I presume that they don’t care about the finish of the car as it’s effectively totaled). When the car finally dies and is hauled away, however, they’ll have a very generous bike stable.

School bike #3: Giant + spare saddle on the top tube

#3: Giant with a spare saddle. One of the kindergarten dads has bolted a spare saddle to the top tube of his bike. He puts his daughter on board and takes her to school that way. When I talked with him about it, he said that although his method was totally inappropriate for long rides, their commute to school is a gradual descent over about 10 blocks and so he just coasts slowly the whole way, then drops her off, pops off the spare saddle and commutes to work.

How they afforded it: He had a spare saddle lying around anyway: this modification was free. If you had to buy one, I don’t know, $10-$20?

How they store it: No extra storage needs; it’s just a normal bike with a saddle on the top tube!

School bike #4: Kona MinUte

#4: Kona MinUte: I’ve written about our MinUte before. We ride our son to school on the back deck; we added stoker bars and some foot-pegs. This is a great bike and a flexible set-up.

How we afforded it: We bought bikes in lieu of a second car we’d been saving to buy (thank goodness).

How we store it: The MinUte isn’t much longer than a normal bike and thus has no real storage issues; Matt keeps it in a shared cubicle at his office, for example. But at home we are rich in space suitable only for bicycle storage thanks to a vituperative 50-year grudge match between the university (we live in university housing) and the local neighborhood association that prevents the partially-conditioned basement under our building, which the university was legally obligated to make ADA-accessible, from being used for a more practical purpose such as housing, or, for that matter, parking more cars.

School bike #5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior

#5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior. I haven’t written much about riding with the Bobike Junior before, as it usually makes more sense for Matt to ride our son to school on the MinUte. But with his recent injury, I’ve been handling the daily trip to school, while Matt walks our daughter to preschool then takes the N-Judah to work.

The Bobike Junior takes some getting used to, as the seat rides high, which makes the bike more tippy. It felt unstable at first. But as I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve come to love this seat. My son rides very close to me, almost as close as a backpack, and I like that when we start the ride, he hugs me from behind. It is easy to have a conversation with him because he is so close. I can turn to talk with him at stoplights and he comments on the ride, encouraging me to go faster downhill (I’m cautious; I don’t have disc brakes). It is a bit of a hassle to fit a pannier underneath this seat, and once it’s on, it encroaches a little on his foot pegs. Nonetheless, I will happily ride with my son on the Junior until he won’t tolerate it anymore.

That said, I have a suspicion that this seat might be less appealing to a shorter rider. I am 5’7.5” (to be painfully precise) and that is apparently tall enough that I can handle loads put higher on the bike without much trouble. When our friends with the triple tandem had their Kona Ute, they report that the mom had trouble handling the bike with the girls up so high on the back; she is ~3-4 inches shorter than I am. I’ve noticed that shorter people often mention they prefer to keep the load down lower, but on the other hand, there is a metronome effect. The lower loads are more stable, but if you lose control, it is a nightmare righting the bike again. The higher loads are less stable, but if you lose control, it is much less trouble righting the bike again (assuming you are tall enough). I find that I like the ease of righting the bike given that my kids bounce around a little, but some people prefer just the opposite. This is not something I’ve seen discussed much but I suspect it may be part of the reason people have strong opinions about the Xtracycle/Yuba lines (lower loads) versus the Ute and regular bikes with child seats (higher loads).

How we afforded it, how we store it: See above, blah blah, didn’t get a planned second car, it’s a normal-length bike so no atypical storage concerns, but we have tons of bicycle storage space as a side effect of a long-running town-gown battle.

These are some of the ways we ride to school. And this explains, I imagine, why our kids are begging to get a bike as obscure as a triple tandem.

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Filed under Bobike, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

The Breezer Uptown 8 (step-through)

Nice bikes… too nice

I knew what I wanted: a bicycle with all of the bells and whistles that commuters typically have to add to bicycles, unless they buy heavy, expensive Dutch bicycles: lights that didn’t need to be charged, gears that couldn’t drop off the chain, ability to hold tons of weight. Basically a dorkcycle.

It was easier to find the child seats I wanted, thanks to our European experience. And in retrospect there is good advice out there suggesting that you pick the child seat before the bike anyway. We’d become familiar with the Bobike Maxi, but our son, nearing six, had aged out of that seat. At that point most people stuck the kid on a trailer bike or their own bike, but we had length and school drop off and pick up problems that made that idea a non-starter. The other option to haul older kids was a longtail bike (and this idea still has some appeal) but my husband was riding a sorta-kinda cargo bike that seemed to be meeting that need.

Bobike has a seat that doesn’t get much attention in the US, the Bobike Junior. It holds a kid aged 6-10 weighing up to 75 pounds. It looked like what I wanted, assuming that I could find a bike that would take the weight. This is not a cheap child seat, but we were looking at using it for not one but two kids over the next decade, and what’s more we’d bought car seats around the same price point that didn’t get as much use. (And of course, if we’d bought a second car, we probably would have had to double our car seat collection too.) It seemed insanely difficult to find reviews of this seat in English, but eventually I found someone who’d not just noticed it and thought it looked interesting and then balked at the price, but actually hauled a kid on it for years. That was the indefatigable Adrienne of Change Your Life, Ride A Bike, who not only sang the praises of the Junior, but lived in San Francisco and recommended a local bike shop that stocked it. I had previously assumed that the seat was only available in the US from the family biking Promised Land of Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon.

Both of these were helpful recommendations. The Bobike Junior is an outstanding seat, and the only way that I could imagine hauling an older child on a normal bike. And Ocean Cyclery has been great to us, as one of the few San Francisco shops we’ve visited that has extensive familiarity with child seats (owned by an American/Dutch couple with kids of their own), welcomes kids who show up in the shop and start tearing around, and stocks an extensive selection of bikes set up for both commuters and kids themselves. The last time we visited, the bike in the front window was a commuter step through with a Bobike Mini on the front and a Bobike Maxi on the back. Other than shops with “Dutch” somewhere in the name, I’ve never seen anything similar elsewhere. And although I try to harp on price too much, reminding myself that we could buy a dozen bicycles without hitting the price point or storage problems we’d face acquiring a second car, Dutch bicycles sell at prices that made me concerned making a bad decision, especially given their weight. Maybe they’re a good value on a per pound basis. Whereas Ocean primarily carried bicycles with price tags way under $1,000.

Moreover, Ocean carried a line of commuter bicycles that I’d never seen in person, but was reading crazy-good reviews about from all over the place: Breezer. I do research for a living, and at this point have descended to the kind of intellectual tail-eating where I conduct systematic reviews and read articles about how to process too much information. As a result I no longer trust my own individual judgment much because research tells me it’s much less reliable than the experiences of lots of other people. And lots and lots of other people liked the Breezer Uptown. Big, heavy men liked it and said it hauled 300 pounds without a shudder. Almost everyone said that riding an Uptown was like riding a couch, in terms of nonexistent saddle soreness or lower back pain. It had a mountain bike pedigree and was, as a result, geared for hills. It came with every commuting accessory: fenders, dynamo lights, internal gears, a chain guard, even a rear wheel lock. And even loaded up with all of those extras, the bike weighed only 35 pounds; light enough that even after adding two child seats, I’d still only have achieved the weight of the single-speed Dutch bikes we’d rented in Europe when they were carrying nothing at all. I could imagine lifting this bike (and I do in fact lift it every time I park it at work).

There were, admittedly, comments that the Breezer Uptown was unlovely, with all the practicality and style of a vacuum cleaner. And it was not a bicycle that was setting any land speed records. These concerns struck me as aesthetic and irrelevant. I was looking for a dorkcycle, and anyone riding a bicycle in the United States is already hopelessly unfashionable anyway. I wanted to haul 75 pounds of children plus our gear up the non-trivial hill we lived on every day. I didn’t care if the bicycle looked like a cinder block if it was comfortable to ride and could climb. If anything, having a bicycle that didn’t turn heads might reduce the odds of it being stolen. Bicycle thefts in our neighborhood have progressed to the point where prevention means U-locking your bike inside a safety coffin in your bedroom.

Ocean Cyclery had a Breezer on the floor that I could try, although they warned me I was too tall for the medium frames they had in stock and it wasn’t really ready to ride. The shop is located near a weird but friendly test ride: a street converted from an old horse-racing track in the middle of the city that made a perfect 1-mile loop, with a couple of hills heading on and off. They were right that the frame was too small for me, and the front fender was loose and rattled the entire time, but even so the bike was more comfortable than anything else I’d been on in my visits to seven other bike shops in San Francisco. The owner thought my desire to put two child seats on the front and back was a nifty idea; it was something he’d wanted to do with his own kids before realizing they were too far apart in age. And unlike every other bike shop where I’d proposed this idea, he immediately understood why this meant I’d need a step-through frame. After hearing where we lived, he thought (and my brother-in-law confirmed) that the 8-speed was the best bet to get me home every evening.

I made a deposit on a Breezer Uptown 8 that afternoon. Buying a new bike in the late fall meant that the price was way below list; in the same range as the (estimated, wildly varying) price of buying a used bike of dubious provenance and trying to upgrade it to something like what I wanted, and astonishingly, cheaper than buying it online and having to assemble it myself (which I couldn’t do anyway). Bonus! The owner was sure it would arrive and be ready before my husband’s next trip to China, making it possible for me to ride my son to school while Matt was away. Of course it was late. We drove to school that entire week.

As always, my bike needs more stuff hanging off it

When the bike arrived, my daughter was ecstatic. On my first ride she insisted on climbing aboard and shrieking, “I’m riding it! I’m riding it!” until my significantly more cautious son couldn’t take the humiliation any longer and jumped aboard despite the absence of the stoker bars he’d grown accustomed to. He likes riding the Bobike Junior on my bike. I like this bike too.

I did not dip my toe slowly into bicycle commuting. My first few rides were with both kids on board up hills with double-digit grades. Because I was totally ignorant I did that with the hub dynamo lights on, which meant even more drag. Even so, I did not have to walk. For the first month I never took off either child seat, even when the kids weren’t riding along, because I didn’t know how, meaning that I was regularly hauling an extra 20 pounds no matter what. I take my son to school on this bike once a week, haul my daughter around all weekend long, and on days that they’re not on board, load up two panniers and a front basket with most of our weekly groceries. I ride this bike pretty much everywhere but the Tenderloin (where it would be covered with piss and/or vomit if I were lucky enough not to have it stolen) and the Mission (where it would simply be stolen). I have never been saddle-sore, and only rarely, after a long ride with kids and gear, have I felt any pain at all after riding. Braking on the downhills with a kid on the back can be unnerving—it takes quite a bit more preparation than it does when riding alone—and I’ve nearly popped a wheelie going up some steeper hills in the city with one of them on the back, but more informed people tell me that these things would happen on any bicycle.

Off road, on road

The Breezer, as I’d hoped when I bought a bike tricked out with every commuting accessory known to nerds, makes it easier to ride my bike most of the time than to drive our car. Thanks to the Bobike oeuvre, that’s true even when I’m going somewhere with one kid in tow. When I step onto this bike I feel like I’m ten feet tall. The lights come on with the flick of a switch. The lock is always on board, although given where we live I think that all bikes should come with a U-lock holder in lieu of the largely-decorative rear wheel lock. Even with kids on board, it glides up the endless San Francisco hills, and I can even afford to keep the lights on. I’ve only had to walk it once, when I lost momentum because Matt was weaving in front of me (and he had reason). As I’ve gotten stronger I’ve been able to reserve the first gear more and more for heavy loads. I wouldn’t call this a fast bike, but I’m just trying to get to work with my teaching clothes looking decent, and anyway I ride through Golden Gate Park most days and it’s gorgeous there, so I’m in no special hurry. And once I started taking the child seats off when the kids weren’t on board, my commute got noticeably faster. On days when I’m whizzing down the hill out of the park past a row of stopped cars, our household’s Pixar obsession has led me to yell, “Ride like the wind, Bullseye!”

I can imagine that someday when the kids are older and riding on their own I may want a prettier, faster bike. For the foreseeable future I feel like I’ve made the right decision, even though this bike, like Matt’s Kona, isn’t always everything I want it to be. I would be happier if the bike could still carry both kids at once, and if the rear rack were longer so it fit panniers when the Bobike Maxi is attached (panniers do at least fit under the Junior) or if came with a front rack. The front light could be brighter. I would happily swap the top two gears for an even lower first gear. These are not big complaints.

When I am riding around the city, my Danish helmet and our child seats draw lots of attention and compliments. No one has ever complimented me on my Breezer. I cannot bring myself to care.

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Filed under Bobike, Breezer, commuting, family biking, reviews, San Francisco

Unhappiness

The last couple of weeks have been bad news for biking and bad news in general.

Bad news for biking was having my daughter’s child seat tip over and nearly slide her off into the street while we were crossing a six lane road over the weekend. That seat (the Co-Rider) has been removed for return to the manufacturer. The bike shop that installed it was skeptical from the beginning that it was stable, and I should have listened. Further updates on this experience when I am calmer about it.

Enjoying the Bobike Junior

She is fine and because I caught her she thought it was funny, but there have been some sleepless nights for me. We took her home on the Bobike Junior, which she loved; she’s too young to be really safe on that seat, but a Bobike Maxi, the seat of choice when we were in Europe, a seat that millions of Dutch children have ridden, many of whom are still alive, should be a good replacement.

That would be, of course, when I stop freaking out about the whole experience, and when the Bay Area is not experiencing severe wind advisories, promising gusts of up to 35mph, not that I have seen any yet. In the meantime we’ve retreated to four wheels for a spell–among other things, we lack a seat for my daughter. We still love biking, but we are less fearless.

 

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Filed under Bobike, Co-Rider, family biking, San Francisco