Category Archives: Breezer

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.

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

SF Pride: another year, another disaster

Breezer and trailer-bike: seemed like a good idea, but it didn’t work out that way.

We have struggled with getting to the SF Pride Parade for years. One year we stupidly tried to drive there: it was a disaster. Last year we tried to take Muni instead: it was also a disaster. The trains are packed, and the route is a long way for kids to stand, and we couldn’t get a return train, so we ended up carrying the kids through the downtown crowds to find an alternate way home. This year I thought I had it figured out: we were going to ride the bike. We were meeting my in-laws downtown: they would watch my daughter while my son and I were in Japanese class, then we’d all walk over post-Dykes on Bikes to watch the parade (the noise of Dykes on Bikes freaks the kids out, and I’m not much of a fan of it either).

With a week’s worth of clothes and books to haul for my son, and his newfound desire to ride, the obvious choice for the trip was the Breezer with Bobike Maxi plus trailer-bike. I loaded up the front basket with my son’s stuff, piled on the kids, and within a block of home, realized that the tires needed a lot more air than they had to handle that kind of load. We turned around and went back. While I was getting the pump, the bike fell over. I’m not sure whether to blame the wheel stabilizer (which isn’t that stable even with the basket unloaded) or the kids for this one, but it turned out to be no ordinary fall.

By the time we hit the Panhandle, the Breezer was making a buzzing noise every time the wheels turned. When we investigated it appeared to be a bent fender. So I tried to whack it back into place with moderate success and we continued on. Everything seemed okay until we got to the Tenderloin, when the gears started grinding and the chain fell off. I don’t enjoy putting the kids on the sidewalk to watch drug deals while I futz with a bike, but I didn’t have a lot of options. Mother of the year! When I got the chain back on, I realized that the damage must have been much more severe than I’d realized—the gears kept grinding and it was hard to shift. But we had little choice at that point: the buses we passed had broken down, and we’d hit the street closures by that point anyway, so there was no other alternative.

Yet another electric bicycle spotted at Golden Gate Park: I wish I’d had one on Nob Hill.

We finally got to Japanese class (late) and afterward, were all so exhausted that we skipped the parade and went out to lunch. I thought about trying to get home another way, but there were no cabs available around the parade route and transit was much too packed to allow us to board with a bike and a trailer-bike (maybe not even without them). I figured that if I’d made it there I could ride home.

My in-laws told me the parade was now over, so I assumed we could ride down Market Street on the way home, which is mostly flat, sparing my gears. This turned out to be totally not true; the parade just keeps going. So I headed up Nob Hill. About halfway to the top the chain fell off. And fell off. And fell off. I ended up walking up the rest of the hill and back down, figuring that I could manage the downhill Polk Street bike lane. But by the time I got there, the rear wheel had completely seized up. I was in the middle of the Tenderloin with a broken bike and a preschooler who desperately wanted a nap. I needed a cab.

This was a bike-friendly cab: it had the new “don’t door the bicycles” window sticker.

Hailing a cab in the Tenderloin is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Hailing a cab in the Tenderloin during the Pride Parade was harder: every cab that passed was already carrying a fare. I also wanted an SUV cab big enough to haul the Breezer and trailer-bike if possible, because leaving them in the Tenderloin would mean that I’d probably never see them again. Two very nice older gentlemen who’d been hanging out on a stoop helped me, but it still took almost a half hour. I have never been happier to see a car than when an empty SUV cab finally stopped for us. The driver helped us load the bikes and agreed to ignore the fact that my daughter was going to have to ride without a car seat. I have never given anyone a bigger tip. “You’re a long way from home,” he said. “It’s not that far with a working bike,” I said, “But right now, it definitely is.”

I still have no idea what happened to the Breezer (I have an appointment at the bike shop tomorrow). My guess is that whatever it is will be expensive. I am trying not to think about that right now. Sunday made my brush with road rage last week feel like meandering through Golden Gate Park during a street closure. I have never been more miserable or exhausted on a bike ride. And I can’t help feeling disappointed by the Breezer. I worry that our needs for a bike (the ability to haul up to two kids plus cargo) are beyond its capabilities. It’s really a commuter bike and not a family bike.

This man was handing out leftover Pride parade balloons to all the kids. Very exciting!

I almost couldn’t bring myself leave home after all of that, but we’d agreed to meet our Big Dummy-riding friends from school for Sunday Skate in the late afternoon.  Once we got there, we had a great time. My daughter loves their youngest daughter, and we ended up riding to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The only downside of the whole evening was that everyone else was out on bikes as well, so the nearest parking was a half-block away. Oh, the humanity.

I sometimes think that the number of bikes I have now is a bit excessive but I’m reconsidering.  If I didn’t have another bike, I wouldn’t have even left the house that afternoon, let alone by bike, and I was glad that I did.

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Filed under Breezer, cargo, family biking, San Francisco, traffic, trailer-bike

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

Upgrading the Breezer Uptown 8

That’s right, my Breezer didn’t have enough stuff hanging off it yet. I needed more.

One day when we were visiting our local bike shop, Everybody Bikes, I was complaining that it was getting increasingly difficult to get up hills as our kids gained weight every month. My Breezer Uptown 8 handles hills well with reasonable loads (like a single rider and a preschooler) but it was getting to be a slog with a 6.5 year old on the back. The shop owner suggested I gear the bike down. But it has an internal hub, I said. Oh, you can still change out the rear cog for a larger one, he said, and that would give you the equivalent of two extra low gears (at the cost of losing the two highest gears, which I never used: whatever). The cost? About $20. Whoa. Sign me up!

What’s more, the brakes were getting soft, again. This issue seems to crop up every couple of months. The Breezer’s brakes aren’t as bad as the original brakes on the Kona MinUte, but San Francisco does seem to eat through bicycle stopping power.

My new front basket, the Soma Gamoh.

I also wanted to be able to carry more cargo on the bike. They suggested a front basket. Putting one on would require rewiring the front dynamo light, but they could do that with some time.

And my kids wanted a cargo kickstand. They hated my little stock one-legged kickstand; they thought it was too wobbly, which was true. And that would argue for a front wheel stabilizer, for basically the same reason.

At last, a kickstand that is not pathetic.

Finally, we wanted to attach the custom rear rack for our new trailer-bike. And that meant rewiring the rear dynamo light, which attached to the stock rack.

This had all turned into a kind of major project, but upon reflection it seemed worth it. Two weeks ago the Breezer went into the shop for all these changes at once. For much of last week I came back for tweaks (the front light stopped working, then started again, the kickstand wasn’t in, then it came in, we had to fit the adjustable trailer-bike handlebars to our son, ad infinitum). Now the Breezer is back in action, and while some of the modifications are a bit kludgy—there was no pretty way to attach a stabilizer on my big fat down tube, and a trailer-bike always looks ad hoc—they all make the bike work better. The gearing change alone would have been worth it.

This is the Frankenstein of wheel stabilizers, but it gets the job done. Anyway no one has ever waxed rhapsodic about the Breezer’s clean lines.

Lowering the gears turned out to be the cheapest adjustment I have ever made to my bike, and the most practical. The rear cog original to the Breezer has 18 teeth, while my new rear cog has 22 teeth. It didn’t seem to me like four teeth would make a difference, but ignorance like that is why I don’t work at a bike shop. It makes a massive difference. I have had to completely relearn my gears, but the un-laden Breezer now cruises up serious hills like they’re barely there, and that’s without my first gear making much of an appearance—I’m almost always able to keep the granny gear in reserve. Laden up with a kid on the back or the trailer-bike (a bonus 30 pounds) or a heavy bag in the front basket, going up hills is significantly more challenging, so no worries: this bike will still keep me honest.

The new fork-mount for the headlight is unlovely but very effective.

The dynamo lights had to be rearranged to fit around the front rack, but this has actually increased my visibility. And the front cargo rack, a Soma Gamoh, is large enough to hold two grocery bags. It’s not frame-mounted, but it can take a lot of weight with the fork-mount. Combined with my two panniers I doubt that I’ll ever have to shuttle home after a grocery run again, especially now that the bike is geared to take the extra weight up hills. And the improved brakes will now stop me on the way back down.

Because I’m ignorant, I’d never realized it was possible to make these kinds of changes to a bike. Apparently some bikes aren’t worth upgrading, and last week I overheard a conversation with another customer in which our shop told him exactly that. Nevertheless: I used to get frustrated by the limitations of our bikes. Now I don’t bother getting annoyed until I’ve asked whether it’s something that can be changed.  It’s been enlightening for me to realize that having a local bike shop hanging with us through the last several months means that we can often remake our bikes into the rides that we need them to be.

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Filed under bike shops, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

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

What I learned in 30 days of biking

Brand new life

When we first had our son, our usual range of activities suddenly became very circumscribed. It was so intimidating to go out with a baby, and there was so much to remember to bring, that it felt like a huge triumph to load up the stroller and walk around the block. We were nervous that he would cry if we went to the library or a restaurant, so we didn’t go to the library or to restaurants. I didn’t like to feed him in public, so for quite a while we didn’t go any further than a half-hour’s walk to ensure we could be back home in time for him to eat or to take a nap.

As he got older, and we became more confident, we started to return to some of the places we’d known before, but even more than that, we began to discover new places to go. We walked to local bakeries and learned when the library offered story times. We remembered there were such things as children’s museums. We realized the value of parks with playgrounds.

Then we were four.

When our daughter was born, the same thing happened again, although to a lesser degree. We were once again limited by naptimes and although she wasn’t one to cry much, we had to relearn the places that were best for babies. Now that she is three, we have a range of places to take our kids that make sense for our lives. We have adjusted. We go out at least as much as we did before, but to different places and at different times.

It's a stealth cargo bike.

When we started transitioning to riding our bikes, there was that same sense at first of feeling constrained. The routes we traveled by car were not ideal for riding bikes, and there was this new effort involved in riding with cargo that made everything feel a little harder. I had to learn how to carry groceries on my bike. It took some time (and one disaster) to identify good child seats. We were figuring out everything. But this feeling of life changing in a new-scary-exciting way was familiar. I knew intellectually that it was temporary and that we would adjust.

Every weekday morning, and it never gets old.

Signing up for 30 days of biking pushed me to make some of those adjustments. With a bike ride to fit in every day there was always pressure to go somewhere, and with two careers and two kids there isn’t time to take daily joyrides. I took Amtrak to Sacramento with a bike for a conference. I learned how to strap a pizza to my rear rack with my bungee net (and I got at least three days of rides in by ordering takeout pizza, which is typically a once a month occasion around here). I also learned how to strap a yoga mat to my rear rack with my bungee net and went to a yoga class at a studio I’d never visited before. I found a good bike route to our CSA pickup. I checked out small local grocery stores just a little too far for walking that have no parking for cars but offer generous bike parking—and it turns out that neighborhood shopping by bike is efficient, maybe more so than my usual method of shopping during lunch and carrying everything home after work. I finally raised my seat another inch, and found that I could usually get up hills in a higher gear. I stopped riding my brakes so much on the way back down those hills. I rode to work every weekday that I was in San Francisco, in the new JFK bike lanes, and found that my love for the Conservatory of Flowers has not faded even slightly in all these months. I found out that no amount of riding in stiff headwinds is enough to get used to it. I learned not to order Mexican on 4/20.

The camera flattens the hill up to work, but it feels flatter now as well.

There are some changes in the works around here. We have a trailer-bike coming for our son from Europe, purchased for a song on German eBay by a friend. There are new bikes to join our current collection. My son and I are signing up again this year for summer Japanese classes, which are offered on the eastern edge of town across the Wiggle. Although I am still intimidated by the prospect of taking our kids along the Oak and Fell arterials at any time of day, I feel ready to try riding that route with him again.

Let's take a ride!

Summer in San Francisco is marked by festivals, marathons and half-marathons, and parties that nearly shut down the city. For some time we’ve reacted either packing ourselves into public transit or staying home to avoid the hundreds of road closures and the crowds. Attending the Pride parade last year sent our kids into a tailspin of exhaustion, although it was awesome. But I learned on Easter weekend that riding our bikes changes everything. This summer we can make it anywhere in the city without getting caught in car traffic or being packed into trains or carrying our tired kids for miles. What I learned in 30 days of biking is that riding our bikes isn’t a constraint at all. Riding our bikes makes us free.

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Filed under Breezer, cargo, commuting, San Francisco, traffic

Catching my breath

Peas=pollen

It is allergy season and I have spent the last week exhausted. Single parenting, even with just one kid, means early mornings and late nights. Part of the reason I have felt so unwilling to go anywhere, I realized, is that I was constantly short of breath. It was unnerving. On the bike, feeling unable to breathe made even level streets feel impossible.

A little shortness of breath is a small price to pay for all of this

I have been here before so unlike the first time, I knew it would get better eventually. When I first found myself gasping for air in a California spring, I thought I might be dying, perhaps from a giant tumor on my lungs. That is because I was a hypochondriac. Longer term residents assured me it was spring pollen coupled with the lack of sleep inherent in having a newborn. That’s less exciting but turned out to be: true.

So when Matt got back on Saturday afternoon my goal was to catch up on sleep and in general take it easy. Neither of us wanted to drive anywhere, and Matt was tired of all forms of travel. However we needed to cook enough to make it through a week (we cook on weekends) and I hadn’t shopped for four people in two weeks.

How to park a balance bike

As a result, on Saturday I decided to ride my bike around to various neighborhood bodegas. I do most of our shopping at the grocery stores near work so I sometimes forget the quirkiness of the neighborhood joints. There is the place a block from home that sells outstanding coffee and top-shelf liquor, and another two a block downhill. One of the downhill shops is a dirty and odd-smelling market that has outrageously good prices on pretty much everything, including organic produce, if you don’t mind groceries pretty near their sell-by date. But unbeatable value! Across the street is a wildly expensive natural foods pocket, which ably serves the coconut water and primal snack bar needs of the neighborhood. None of them had what I wanted, so I rode down to the Haight Street Market a mile away. I had never been there before because it’s too far to walk and unbearable to drive—Haight Street is always packed with pedestrians, some sitting on stoops testing out the wares of the multiple head shops, and traffic backs up for blocks. But on a bike, there’s no problem. I parked right in front of the store (which is fantastic, I will return) and slipped easily through the crowds on the way home. I am always reminded on the weekends, when we slip out of our normal routine, how liberating it is to ride a bike in the city. Traffic jams and parking, which formerly frustrated us on a daily basis, become other people’s problems.

On the way to the races

Then on Sunday we walked around the corner to our neighbors’ block party. The neighbors on this street are cooler than the rest of us, and arrange to close off the street once a year. Then they drag out chairs, toys, and grills from their garages and backyards, throw them all into the middle of the street, and start making and handing out food, playing music, and running big wheel, scooter and balance bike races down the hill. My son’s martial arts studio does a show and the local fire station drives over and lets the kids climb on board the trucks. It is fantastic. It was pretty lame to get a bike ride by riding my bike literally around the corner to the block party, but I redeemed myself by running a quick errand a half-mile away partway through the afternoon.

Complete street

On Saturday morning I was still gasping for air most of the time. But by Sunday evening I was only slightly out of breath. Things are getting better.

Breaking boards!

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Filed under Breezer, cargo, family biking, San Francisco