Category Archives: folding bicycle

We tried it: Ridekick cargo trailer

The Ridekick cargo trailer, unattached

The Ridekick cargo trailer (unattached) with Brompton

I was pretty impressed with the Ridekick child trailer, but it’s still a prototype so you can’t buy it yet. However I did recently get to try the Ridekick cargo trailer, which anyone can buy right now.

I originally started looking at an assisted trailer as a possible way of getting around the city when I was just back to weight-bearing and much weaker. I had hopes that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offered one of them as a membership benefit—they do have other trailers for members to use. But no such luck. However Ridekick was willing to drop one off and let us use it for a while, which was absolutely fabulous of them.

The appeal for me of an assisted trailer was that it was a temporary solution to my problems getting around by bike while I figured out how much strength I’d get back in the longer term. Other people, I suspect, are interested in an assisted trailer for different reasons. My sense after riding with both trailers and assisted trailers is that they are a product for people who need to haul loads sometimes. If you are riding with your kids every single day and rarely ride without them, it probably makes more sense to jump right to a cargo bike or assisted cargo bike. It is more fun to ride with the kids on the bike, in cities with a lot of traffic it feels safer to ride with the kids on the bike, and some of the logistical issues with the trailer, like the fact that it can be a pain to park, go away. But if money is tight or if there are a lot of pickup and drop-off swaps between parents, then a child trailer makes a lot of sense. And if you are hauling a bunch of tools or equipment every day then you don’t need me to tell you to consider a Bikes At Work trailer or a cargo trike or whatever.

Learning to use the Ridekick in Golden Gate Park

Learning to use the Ridekick in Golden Gate Park

If you’re looking at an (assisted) cargo trailer, maybe you have a fast and light bike but want to do major grocery shopping on the weekends, or have a long commute and want to bring a week’s worth of clean clothes on Monday and haul them back on Friday. For that kind of thing, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to add a rear rack, and a trailer will probably carry more anyway. Some people will view hauling an unassisted trailer as strength training and other people not so much. If not so much, the Ridekick cargo trailer is worth a look.

What I liked about the cargo trailer:

  • It made heavy loads disappear. One day I packed it up with over a dozen hardback library books and then bought milk and yogurt (in glass bottles) and some other groceries. Starting to pull a load like that in the trailer nearly yanked my little folding bike backwards, but a push from the assist made riding normal again. We live on a fairly substantial hill, yet I had no fears about making it home.
  • The Ridekick trailer works with any bike! I had never seriously considered putting an assist on my Brompton, as that would make it too heavy to carry, and I got a folding bike specifically for times I needed to actually take a bike places I couldn’t ride one. But putting the Ridekick trailer on the Brompton was no problem. I wish that these trailers were more available as rentals because they’re also a great way to try out riding with an assist—not being able to imagine what an assist feels like and to judge whether it is worth it seems to be a real sticking point for people who are considering one. I think that is very understandable given the price and hassle of installing electric assist on a bicycle.
  • This may be my personal issue, but riding with a cargo trailer made me feel more protected from traffic. When I started riding again I was still pretty jumpy when cars pulled up behind me, given that I had been run over from behind. Although it’s a very unlikely way to get hit on a bicycle statistically speaking, I needed time to get over my wariness. With a cargo trailer behind me I knew that it was pretty likely any car would be slowed down significantly by running over the trailer before it managed to get to me. If that had happened I would, of course, have felt pretty bad about destroying Ridekick’s trailer, but not THAT bad. (This concern in reverse, however, is one of my greatest reservations about riding with a child trailer.)
  • I have tried a throttle assist on bicycles (the Yuba elMundo) and it wasn’t my favorite, but I may not have given it enough time because the throttle assist on the Ridekick really grew on me. As a weaker rider it was really nice to feel like I could push the throttle to the max and get pulled up the hill when I needed that. The throttle itself is a push toggle and it’s quite sensitive. By pushing it lightly I could keep the assist low enough that I actually felt like my pedaling was adding something. In practice because I was trying to build strength I tended to max the assist when I was fading and catch my breath, then let it go and use the momentum the bike had gained to pedal part of the way on my own again. This got me up quite a few big hills that I couldn’t have done solo, let alone with a kid on board (I usually have a kid on board). I suspect that a lot of people could use the Ridekick this way: to build up strength. For regular use I still prefer a pedal assist but for occasional use the throttle makes a lot of sense.
  • By comparison to a decent assisted bicycle, the Ridekick cargo trailer is pretty cost-effective at $700. Yes, there are big box store style e-bikes that sell for $500 but they are junk—they have very limited range, weigh as much as boat anchors, and have batteries that will die within a few months and can’t be replaced. The Ridekick has a lot more useful life than that. It’s not useful in all the ways that an assisted bicycle would be, but for many people’s needs, an assisted bicycle would be overkill.

My reservations about the Ridekick:

  • Probably my biggest problem with the cargo trailer was that I had the chance to try the child trailer first. I liked the child trailer much better, even as a way to haul cargo. The cargo trailer is much smaller, capable of holding a couple of bags of groceries. The child trailer could haul a couple of bags of groceries AND two seven year olds, or several bags of groceries and one kid, or a giant pile of donations to Goodwill. I kept thinking of the cargo version as a single person’s trailer. It wasn’t right for the volume of stuff that I wanted to carry. I don’t think I’m the target market for this trailer.
  • All trailers, including the Ridekick, can be tricky to park. It’s actually a lot smaller than child trailers, so it wasn’t that big a deal, but at the racks at my office, for example, I had to scoot it around a little to make sure it wasn’t hanging out into the car parking places where it might get run over.
  • The battery is in the body of the trailer itself, which is fine and makes sense given that batteries are heavy, but unfortunately that means there is no way to tell how much charge is left without stopping to open the trailer. So I had a fair bit of range anxiety at the end of the day when I was riding with it. This turned out not to be justified at any point, because its range was actually pretty generous—I rack up about 10 miles up and down some major hills just going to and from work and dropping off and picking up a kid or two—and I never actually ran the battery down despite using it, especially at the beginning, pretty profligately. However I never knew how much power was left until I stopped riding, and that made me edgy. This was particularly the case because at the time my limp was so pronounced that I had a lot of trouble walking my bike up hills.
  • I did not like the attachment for the trailer. It screws on using a plate attached through the rear axle, which is pretty traditional for trailers. My sense was that it was both too easy and too hard to release. It was too easy because there after a couple of weeks the trailer fell off the bike while I was riding—in regular use, you need to tighten the screw regularly. FYI. It was too hard because if the screw was tightened appropriately, you needed tools to take it off. Given that the market for this trailer is almost certainly an occasional user, I felt like it should work like the Burley Travoy, which has a snap-in attachment that can be operated by hand. The wiring for the assist, interestingly, worked just that simply. To remove the assist wiring from the bike you only needed to pull out the plug, and to reattach it to push the plug back in. I wanted the trailer itself to attach and release that easily.
  • An issue that I suspect is more Ridekick’s problem than mine is that everyone who saw me seemed to think the trailer was homemade. People told me it was very cool and then asked me how I’d put it together, which ha ha. I suspect that the Ridekick cargo trailer would sell better if it looked a little more professional, somehow. This is the market that I’m pretty sure the Burley Travoy is targeting—the ride to work on Monday with a bunch of work clothes in the bag and return with the trailer full of dirty clothes on Friday set.  Or maybe the Ridekick just needs a bigger logo. In neon colors. I don’t know.

So the Ridekick cargo trailer: pretty cool although it’s not quite right for us (the child trailer, on the other hand, I want for traveling).

The Ridekick is the only assist I know of that you can use with a Brompton and still have the ability to lift the bike up by hand.

The Ridekick is the only assist I know of that you can use with a Brompton and still have the ability to lift the bike up by hand.

Probably the greatest thrill of riding with the Ridekick attached was being able to take my Brompton anywhere with a kid on board. Getting it up the hill where we live was simply impossible for me for most of last year, if not to this day. The commutes with the Brompton+Ridekick were some of the most memorable I’ve taken all year because I had such great conversations with my kids during those rides. On one trip home my son (almost 8 years old and still fitting on the Brompton front child seat!) relayed me the entire plot of a series of Avengers comic books, which although it did not really interest me at all, was exciting because he was so excited about it. On another trip my daughter taught me some of the Japanese songs she learned at preschool. I love carrying my kids on that seat more than any other bike seat, but the Brompton gets less use than I’d like because of the hill. With the Ridekick cargo trailer, I could carry them and all our stuff and not have to worry about any of that. “Make it go fast!” they yell when we got to a hill. And I could.

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Filed under Brompton, commuting, electric assist, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco

Xtracycle erumpent

Another EdgeRunner!

Another EdgeRunner!

Last week I spotted the first EdgeRunner I’d seen in the wild. I did a double-take last weekend when I saw it again at the Botanical Gardens. Except that it had different stoker bars. Given that stoker bars aren’t an accessory that people swap out casually, I realized it was an almost-identical EdgeRunner. This bike has been available for what, a month? And I’ve already spotted two? Evidently I’m not the only person who found it appealing. I think this one is a Rosa Parks bike, as I either saw it again or there is a third (!) EdgeRunner in our usual haunts–yesterday morning when I got to school with my son there was yes, a black EdgeRunner parked in the school yard. What’s more, we had dinner with friends last weekend, and the mom, who is in the market for a new family bike, is coveting the EdgeRunner as well.

On Monday, when we were walking with Matt’s parents to brunch, we spotted another Xtracycled bike heading up the hill the other way. Although it was moving fast, I realized it was a Cargo Joe, the folding Xtracycle, and given the speed it was ascending Mt. Sutro and the low hum it made as it went, it was clearly an electric-assist folding cargo bike. We puzzled over that one for a moment, but realized that here in San Francisco, there are thousands of people living in apartment buildings that lack dedicated bike parking (or any kind of parking) but do have elevators. In a hilly city of small spaces, there is evidently a previously untapped market for an assisted folding cargo bike.

We have missed our Bullitt sorely the last few weeks that it has been in the shop.  With it, we don’t need to organize our lives around not having a car. Riding the bike is always better. But not everyone can manage the parking demands and expense of an assisted front-loading box bike, and in San Francisco, which has so few families, the advantages of the front loaders are less widely relevant anyway. As I watched that Cargo Joe glide smoothly to the top of the hill, I couldn’t help thinking that I was seeing the future.

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Filed under car-free, electric assist, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco, Xtracycle

My Brompton gets schooled (2 kids on a folding bike, redux)

Here we go again.

Here we go again.

Over Christmas I started riding the Brompton occasionally with both kids on board. At the time, and again now, I noted that this almost certainly voided any manufacturer warranty and was nothing that I could in good conscience officially recommend, etc. etc.  I’m not sure how much it matters anyway, as the Brompton is not the cheapest folding bike, plus the IT Chair required to ride with a kid in front, which is awesome, is laughably expensive. We were only comfortable dropping that kind of dosh to celebrate my promotion last year. So this option is not likely to appeal to lots of people.

That's a rear child seat, a double front saddle, and a front cargo basket on a folding bike. Damn!

That’s a rear child seat, a double front saddle, and a front cargo basket on a folding bike. Whoa!

But it seems I’m not the only person to think about ways to squeeze a couple of kids on a folding bike. At my son’s after-school program, one parent is doing it on the cheap. I was awed when I saw this folding bike, which offers a way to haul a rider, two kids, and a fair amount of a cargo in the front basket, with even smaller wheels than the Brompton, and with parts that looked like they could easily be scored secondhand. I wouldn’t call the results pretty, but you know what? This bike could be put on a city bus and take up less room than a folded stroller, and I’m guessing the total rig would cost very little even if assembled brand new. Well played, mystery parent. Well played.

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Filed under Brompton, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco

Maker Faire San Mateo

Being pulled in all directions at Maker Faire

Last weekend we went to Maker Faire in San Mateo. I had never heard of Maker Faire before last week, but it’s a big event that pops up around the country featuring, appropriately, people who make things and the things they make. These are mad scientist kinds of people. Legos, robots, hovercraft, steampunk: that kind of thing. And although May in San Mateo is pretty hot, there seemed to be a heavy emphasis on things that blew fire. My kids were enthralled.

This robot dragon shoots flames. Also there are couches inside.

I heard someone say that Maker Faire was Burning Man for capitalists. This seems like a reasonable enough description to me. There was the usual crafty emphasis on display with a swap tent and a fair number of handcrafted giveaways, like the circuit kit my son picked up, but there was an awful lot for sale as well. And where people are buying and selling tech, can overpriced junk food ever be far away? In this case, no it could not. At least there was decent beer.

More than a penny-farthing.

But enough about robots and beer. Luckily for us, it turns out that crafty people like bikes. Although I came in with no expectation other than that my kids would get to play with robots (robots that SHOOT FLAMES—righteous!) we were all impressed by the outrageous bikes at Maker Faire. We liked the Two Penny bike best, a combination bike made up of two penny-farthings welded together. It actually seemed far safer than the sum of its parts. (I only recently learned that the origin of “penny-farthing” was that these bikes looked like a penny and a farthing next to each other—little wheel, big wheel. Clever!)

There was a fun-bike mini-velodrome.

In addition to the Two Penny, the ship-bike, and various other random hodgepodges, all of which evidently could be ridden, there was an area for Cyclecide, where people could try out all kinds of random bikes, including one that hinged in the middle so it wobbled right and left while being ridden and another with odd-sized wheels that bounced the bike up and down like a lowrider. Plus tall bikes, kids’ bikes, side-by-side tandems, and a bunch of others, most of which I lack the imagination to understand or describe. The most impressive of these were entered into the figure-8 pedal-car/bike race, which evidently could get a little rough, as the commentators all seemed to be competitors who’d been sidelined after getting mowed down.

To infinity… and beyond!

My kids were violently opposed to the idea of riding any of the bikes made available for attendees (provided you signed a liability waiver). They wanted to make rockets from paper and blast them from the massive air compressor provided for this express purpose. Admittedly this was a pretty appealing alternative.

Do you have any idea how many bikes I could buy for the cost of one electric car? Too many, that’s how many.

Maker Faire is pretty obviously about promoting alternative transportation, what with the crazy bikes and the hovercraft. (More appealing to the masses, frankly, were the electric cars and motorcycles, not to mention the flaming robots. The bike area was relatively under-populated.) One of the ways this was encouraged was in materials describing how to get to Maker Faire, because the San Mateo fairground is not rich in auto parking, and prices for the parking that was available were high. For the ambitious (and childless) there was a bike train from San Francisco at an estimated time of 90 minutes each way, assuming a fast pace. Or you could bike from CalTrain. There was also free parking at Oracle, served by a bike route and a shuttle to the event. I tried both.

The boat-bike was cool, but I doubt that it actually floats.

Unfortunately there is work to be done on promoting alternative transportation that is practical, rather than cool but functionally useless. The shuttle was horrifically late, and there was no shade while we waited. The bike route was unmarked, and the instructions were terrible, so I ended up riding for quite some time on a pretty awful stretch of El Camino Real, a six-lane drag strip down the Peninsula, in the blazing sun, being buzzed and honked at by cars. Good times. A bike ride is a bike ride, and I try to take them as they come and enjoy the experience, but this particular trip made that more challenging than usual.

Maker Faire bike parking was packed, although not exactly valet parking. I always appreciate free attended bike parking, but the advertising was confusing.

Maker Faire also advertised free valet bicycle parking, which was a misnomer. They meant free attended bicycle parking, but there was no valet. Many cyclists accustomed to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition definition of valet bicycle parking (which means a person takes your bike, gives it and you matching tags, and parks it for you in a secured area until you come back and retrieve it) were given a lot of blowback from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition members (who defined “valet” as “we’ll watch your bike after you lock it to a portable rack”) about not bringing their own locks. Free attended bike parking is more than fine, but calling it valet parking confused almost everyone. Moreover, although many kinds of wheeled transportation were allowed on the grounds of Maker Faire, security specifically excluded bicycles, even my little Brompton, which is smaller than most strollers, which were out in abundance. And the SVBC folks did not have any knowledge of the supposed bike routes to either the train stations or the parking lots suggested for cyclists willing to ride the last five miles, which is part of the reason I got dumped onto El Camino Real. Apparently SFBC has been spoiling me rotten, so that now I expect valets who are in fact valets and who can give decent directions.

Are you sure you want to push that button?

Overall Maker Faire was fun, but kind of overcrowded and ad hoc. I don’t know if we’ll go again. That said, if the bike people who came there, the Fun Bike Unicorn Club (FBUC), ever host their own event, we are totally there.

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Filed under Brompton, folding bicycle, traffic, travel

Brompton M6R, with IT Chair

Brompton with IT Chair in Golden Gate Park

When I got the news of my promotion I bought a folding bike. But not just any folding bike: a Brompton. How come? Because it’s the only folding bike with a child seat, that’s how come. No bike will enter our lives for years to come unless it can haul the small.

I would advise the potential purchaser of a Brompton+IT Chair to be very sure that they are going to be okay with a lot of attention from strangers. And I do mean a LOT of attention. It’s not something that I was expecting. This setup stops traffic of all kinds. Jaws drop. People run over to see your bike. People in San Francisco are typically extremely cool in the face of the unusual. Piano bike? Sequined gold hot pants on a drag queen sashaying through the Financial District on a weekday afternoon? Bike Friday triple tandem? Naked people hiking through Golden Gate Park with fanny packs? Nothing worth noticing here! But people here gawk when they see me with my daughter on the Brompton, and yell, “COOL BIKE!”

The Brompton is both outrageously goofy and breathtakingly awesome. Even though I swear a blue streak at its makers every time I go up a steep hill (and I got the “San Francisco” gearing!), I love this bike. And although I was not really looking for practicality, this may actually be the most practical bicycle purchase a city rider could make: it’s a utility bike.

Brompton (with IT Chair) in a small shopping cart

I am sidestepping the fundamental question here, which is why I got a folding bike at all. Part of the answer is that it was cool and unlike any other bike, which fit with my desire to get a bike that could compete with a pretentious chair. But most of the answer is that it seemed like a great bike for riding in the grittier parts of the city and for taking on the road. It makes bike rides possible that weren’t possible before. I would never lock up my Breezer outside when I am visiting homeless shelters in the Tenderloin, but there’s been no problem bringing a folding bike inside to meetings. The Brompton also fits in a shopping cart at the grocery store, and when I don’t feel like locking it up, that’s exactly what I do with it. Moreover the Brompton is a clever travel bike. The Capitol Corridor Amtrak line that I took to Sacramento often runs out of bike spaces. Having been warned, I took the Brompton. The Amtrak folks recognized it instantly, but they do not count it as a bike. Later, when I hitched a ride in a friend’s car back to San Francisco, the Brompton fit in the trunk with plenty of room left over for our luggage. I may be taking an extended trip to Washington DC next year; if that happens, I will take the Brompton with me. If we lived in a small apartment again, this bike would easily fit in any random corner.

The Brompton tucked under a shuttle bus seat

The Brompton isn’t the cheapest folding bike you can buy, but it’s not the most expensive either. And this surprises me, because the incredible fold means you can put it almost anywhere. Most of the time mine hangs out in our non-functional fireplace, which it turns out is basically a Brompton-sized hole in the wall.

Home storage of the Brompton (with my sneakers for scale)

I ordered my Brompton from Warm Planet, which sells only folding bikes. They had never heard of the IT Chair before, but they didn’t have experience with any other child seats either. This may be the one bike shop that I forgive for this ignorance, as they primarily serve multi-modal commuters heading to CalTrain (they offer free bike valet parking every weekday). But they were bemused that such a thing existed, and impressed that it folded with the bike. The IT Chair had to be ordered from the UK after being hand-machined in Spain. It turns out that this takes a while, but it also takes a while to get a Brompton, so ultimately they arrived within a week of each other. This is good, because I refused on principle to pick up the bike without the child seat.

IT Chair, detached (2012 model: no folding footpegs)

The design of the IT Chair seems to have changed. Formerly it had folding footpegs, but my IT Chair does not. It makes folding the bike with the seat a little more tricky, and you have to get the sequence just right. It also is ridiculously, laughably expensive given that it is essentially just a piece of bent pipe. On the other hand, given the sporadic-at-best production line, IT Chairs apparently lose nearly zero value on resale, when the time comes that we can no longer use it. We were unable to find one used, but did find lots of desperate requests for them posted in the years when they weren’t being made.

Maiden voyage on the IT Chair

My daughter loves the IT Chair. Given the choice, she always asks to ride “mommy’s present bike.” She loves it because she can stand on the footpegs and ring (and ring and ring) the bell. I love it because a front seat is outrageously fun and makes conversation with her easy. My former experience with a front seat (the Co-Rider debacle) was not reassuring. But my brother-in-law assures me that design-wise, the IT Chair is bombproof, for all practical purposes an extension of the frame. To my surprise, he loved the Brompton, and proposed that we should get one for everyone in the family, once the kids are big enough, arguing that we could park four Bromptons in the space of one ordinary bike. In the meantime, my son has thus far refused to ride the IT Chair, as the design does not appeal to his cautious nature (no kid handlebars). But recently he realized that his reluctance meant that his sister has now ridden more bikes than he has, and evidently this will not stand.

Parked in my office on a rainy day, bag still attached

I was surprised at some of the ways that the Brompton excels. Its fenders are the best I’ve ever seen, so this is now my bike of choice for rainy day commutes. Assuming (correctly), that putting a kid on the bike would imply lots of things to carry, I also got the largest Brompton bag, the T-bag (an extremely poor choice of name). All the Brompton bags are frame-mounted, which means that they can haul massive amounts of weight. And although I find the bag sort of ugly, it is big enough to hold all four of our helmets when parked at the bike valet, plus a few jackets. With this kind of cargo space, plus the small footprint, the Brompton has also become our bike of choice for trips to the farmers’ market. It effortlessly manages a week’s worth of groceries, up to and including a half-flat of strawberries and Matt’s boxes of wine.

It doesn’t do everything well. Although there are people who take this bike on long trips, I prefer my Breezer for distances longer than a few miles, particularly given that my daughter likes to stand up on the footpegs while we’re riding. And then there are the hills. For mild to moderate inclines, the supposedly-designed-for-hills gearing I got is more than adequate, even pleasant, although the shifting itself is bizarre, as it switches between an internal hub and a derailleur, so every gear change involves both handlebars. When I hit a steep incline, however, it suddenly feels like I’m dragging a cinder block behind the bike. I’ll admit that this may be because I’m often hauling more weight at the front of the bike than it was really designed to carry when I put both a preschooler in the IT Chair and a week’s worth of groceries in the bag. (And it doesn’t help at all when that preschooler decides it would be fun to shift the gears randomly. This is a downside of the front seat. That and the endless bell ringing.) But it can be a problem even on days when I am relatively unladen. I appreciate that this problem may be unique to San Francisco. Let us say that this bike has made me stronger.

Brompton with IT Chair, folded up (I have become one of those people who folds and unfolds my bike for fun: I know, I know)

Getting a Brompton also involved the purchase of several pricey accessories. It’s a good thing that I was thinking of this as a “yay, I got a promotion” bike, because otherwise the total cost of all the extras could have ruined my mood. The IT Chair is the most obvious (price varies based on exchange rate at the time of order, assuming it’s in production), and the Brompton frame-mounted bags are expensive as well. It also turns out that it is difficult, if not impossible, to lock up a Brompton with a typical U-lock, and in San Francisco we do sometimes go places that are so small that even a folded Brompton is unwelcome. So on the recommendation of other folding bike owners I ended up getting a folding lock to go with my folding bike, the Abus Bordo Granit X-Plus. (However this lock is so fabulous that I ended up using it all the time. Matt asks to use it when we go out on rides together. So I can only really claim part of the price of this lock is specific to the Brompton.) On the other hand, the Ikea Dimpa bag that I sometimes use to carry it around was a steal at $4. Somebody at Ikea owns a Brompton.

Yet I would get this bike again in a heartbeat. It is surprisingly fun to ride, nimble and responsive. It is also fun to fold and unfold, and although it weighs are much as my daughter with all the accessories, it is fun to carry around. (I’m carrying my daughter around all the time anyway, so it’s not like a bike that weighs the same amount is a big deal.) It is safe in places where other bikes are not. It goes almost anywhere and stores almost anywhere. The Brompton may be the ultimate city bike. As a celebration of my promotion, it is infinitely better than a set of pretentious chairs.

The attention we get on the bike still surprises me a little, because riding it seems unremarkable to us now, but I find myself minding this less over time. The Brompton turns out to be the ultimate ambassador of family biking for people who’ve never thought of riding with kids before, which I find funny, because to me, my Brompton still looks like a clown bike. I think it seems less intimidating than a cargo bike; some moms see longtails and box-bikes and can’t imagine maneuvering them, but it is immediately obvious that any able-bodied person could handle a Brompton–and mine is usually hauling both a kid and two bags of groceries. (It could even haul two kids with a Trail-Gator, which another parent at our son’s school suggested.) And the Brompton, although it is by no means a cheap bike, costs less than a traditional cargo bike.

The Brompton is not my everyday bike, but I ride it every week. It proved to me that you should buy the cool bike. I keep it in the living room! And I smile every time I see it.

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Filed under Brompton, cargo, commuting, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco

Bellingham destinations: Kulshan Cycles

Surprise! We visited a bike shop in Bellingham! Unbelievable, right?

There are places in Bellingham that I recognize and places I don’t. It’s been about 20 years since I lived there, and like anywhere else it changes. From my jaded urban perspective many of these changes are improvements; it is possible, for example, to get a decent meal in a restaurant, if you aim squarely at the paper-napkin-but-the-heavy-kind level. With this target firmly in mind we headed one evening to a brewpub. We were not the only people who had this idea, it turned out, and the place was packed; even if the only patrons had been riders of the bicycles parked in front, they wouldn’t have been able to seat us. So they gave us a beeper and told us we could go anywhere within four blocks for the next hour. We took the kids outside because they were being raucous. It was the best decision we could have made, because a block away was Kulshan Cycles.

This is only 1/3 of the store.

Kulshan Cycles was a store that I did recognize. It turns out they’ve been in business in the same location for 37 years, longer than my family has lived in Bellingham. I had a vague memory of going in once before, but whatever I remember pales in comparison to reality. It was in some ways the strangest bike shop I’ve ever visited.

A display like this is always a good sign.

In San Francisco, bike shops specialize. There is a shop that sells only folding bikes, and a shop that only  does repairs, a couple that sell only electric bikes, and about a bazillion that specialize in either mountain bikes or fixies. Bellingham is not big enough to have specialty bike stores. Instead, it has Kulshan, which does absolutely everything. I know just enough about bikes now that I was blown away by the diversity.

We had to drag them off these bikes, literally.

My kids ran to the kids’ bike section. The display bikes in various sizes made the only practical use of training wheels I’ve ever seen—the store had attached them to boards so that kids could use them like stationary bikes. Mine spun on those bikes for about 40 minutes, and it was very easy to see which bike fit each kid. In the meantime I walked around their enormous store, increasingly impressed.

This Brompton featured my high school colors. Nice touch.

They sell Bromptons, and had a display Brompton that I could practice folding and unfolding. And speaking of the UK, they sell Pashleys, which I had only ever heard of before, as heavy 3-speed English bicycles are about as practical as Hummers in San Francisco. They’re not very practical in Bellingham either, which is hilly, but they had one just in case.

Well hello there.

They sell mountain bikes. They sell commuter bikes, and nice ones at that. And they sell many cargo bikes! An orange Batavus Personal Delivery, which I knew listed at over $1000 (later I checked: list is $1300) was on sale for $750! It’s also not a good climber, which perhaps explains the screaming deal. But if you are in the market for a Bat, I’m guessing that even with shipping it would be tough to beat this price. They had a Trek Transport, which I’d never seen in person before. They had nearly every Surly under the sun in stock, but had recently sold their Big Dummy.

Pretty commuter bikes

At this point I had started talking to the guys on the floor. One of them told me he had built his own Xtracycle-type bike the year before the FreeRadical came out, and had put a child seat for his son on it. Then he showed me the child seats they sold; a rack-mounted seat even cheaper than the Topeak (which I now think of as the finger-slicer). They stocked that particular seat because that was what had sold historically, but had ordered and installed Yepp seats for customers recently.

Unicycles: are they more or less practical than fixies? Discuss.

I told them I was blown away by the selection. “Oh, have you seen our overpriced fixies?” they laughed, pulling out a bike painted the same flat black color as cars that speed on country roads late at night with their headlights off. I know nothing about fixies except that they have no gears and that in San Francisco they are primarily ridden by people who hate children, but evidently this one was an exemplar of the genre, as it cost $3000. And this was at a bike shop willing to sell a Bat for almost half-off. In San Francisco I presume it would sell for $5000.

When I told them I was visiting from San Francisco, they asked if I had an electric assist on my cargo bike. Because it turns out that they also sell electric assists, primarily the BionX, and given the local topography, that market has been growing. They had a loaner Trek with a BionX in the back that they let customers use for a few days if they were thinking about electric bikes, and did I want to borrow it? It was very tempting, but that bike didn’t have child seats, and they’d need a day to put them on, and we didn’t have another day.

Trailers and child seats

Would they rent it to me on a future visit? They were willing to consider it. Will I be calling them to try to rent a bike the next time I’m headed to Bellingham? You bet. But if that doesn’t come through, it turns out that there are other shops that rent bikes in town: Fairhaven Bike & Ski (which is the same vintage as Kulshan, and also offers rental trailers), Jack’s Bicycles, and Fanatik, none of which I visited but all of which I will check out if necessary, because the next time we visit Bellingham, we’ll be rolling on two wheels.

My son wanted the Sumo wrestler horn. I told him he already had a horn.

In the meantime, Kulshan has unicycles. They have beach cruisers. They have Sumo bike horns. They have multiple child trailers, which make sense to use outside of major cities. They have t-shirts with bike-friendly messages in sizes down to infant. They had a balance bike displayed on a repair stand, and that made me laugh. The employees were clever and friendly and funny and happy to see kids in the store. I liked Kulshan Cycles. Not every small city has a bike shop like this, but all of them should.

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Filed under bike shops, cargo, commuting, destinations, electric assist, family biking, folding bicycle, travel

Bicycles of note

My sister's Jamis

On Saturday I went out with my sister while my in-laws took our kids out for crafts and Matt went to a business event at Berkeley. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and Matt was heading for the bridge anyway, so he dropped me off on the way. But with no rain coming down at that moment, we decided to ride. What the hey, if the weather changes, that’s why we have rain gear.

I love to take the bike South of Market where she lives; it is flat as far as the eye can see. I’m not the only one; when we arrived at the restaurant for breakfast at 9:00am, not exactly the brunch rush hour in her hipster-rich hood, we had to take the second bike rack because the first one was already full.

We had hoped to stay out longer but the wind eventually became unbearable. “I hate the wind even more than I hate the hills,” my sister said. We are alike in many ways.

On the way back while we were stopped at a light, a pedestrian stopped in the crosswalk. “Wait a minute!”he yelled. “You’re on bikes! And you’re stopped at a red light? Thank you!” Sigh.

So we went back to her condo and she showed me some excruciatingly painful ways to get rid of muscle knots by applying pressure with a lacrosse ball while her dog jumped on me. Very effective (the dog is optional) but I’m not sure I’m enough of a masochist to ever do it again. Because my sister is more hard core than I will ever be, she has long since moved on to using a length of metal pipe.

This is an electric bike?

I managed to endanger the community while we were still out, however. Now that I try to stop and take pictures of the interesting things I see, I have become a hazard to everything on wheels. When I slowed to check out an odd-looking bike in the window of a computer store, I knocked my sister into the groove of a Muni track, at which point she understandably fell down. Since we were stopped at that point anyway, we decided to get a closer look. It was a single-speed with an extremely unobtrusive electric assist from Clean Republic. The motor on the front wheel looked more like a hub dynamo for lights. But the bike had no lights and a cord trailing off of a small bag under the seatpost labeled “Clean Republic.”  The store was closed, alas, and the owner was nowhere in sight, so all I know about that electric assist system is: it’s subtle.

Having learned from this experience, I did not attempt to take pictures of:

  • A black Yuba Mundo with a kid on the back holding a large propane tank
  • A Brompton (“That’s a cool bike!” according to the pedestrians walking by)

One of these things does not quite belong

I did, however, get a lot of pictures inside the world’s most democratic bike store. Even I have heard of Seven Cycles. This shop had one hanging out (slumming?) with a Cannondale and a Giant. I thought we were visiting because my sister needed something, but it turned out we were there because she wanted me to write about the place. Sure, why not?

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Filed under electric assist, folding bicycle, San Francisco, Yuba Mundo