Category Archives: Uncategorized

We tried it: Juiced Riders ODK U500

Well hello, long time no see. Both the world and I have been busy, in my case innocuously. I have a new fall class with about 120 students, and thus have missed multiple anniversaries that I try to mention. It’s been over three years since we sold our minivan and two years since we were able to buy our condo with the money we’ve saved. It’s been three years on the Bullitt and that’s still great, and a year on the EdgeRunner with no regrets. But I digress.

A black Juiced ODK in a clump of bikes

A black Juiced ODK in a clump of bikes

Over the summer we had a chance to try the Juiced Riders ODK U500, a newish midtail. Our midtail, the Kona MinUte, was our first cargo bike. Since then there have been other midtails released, including the Yuba Boda Boda and the Kinn Cascade Flyer, during which time the MinUte went in and out of production. The Bike Friday Haul-a-Day was a midtail in one incarnation, but according to Bike Friday has now stretched out to longtail length. At some point I realized the cleverly-designed but much-too-heavy-for-San-Francisco Workcycles Fr8 was also a midtail. However I think it is fair to say that the midtail category has not exactly been wildly innovative, as the best-case scenario is pretty much that manufacturers keep producing the same bike.

My daughter wondering why we couldn't stop taking pictures already

My daughter wondering why we couldn’t stop taking pictures already

What makes a midtail? In our experience it’s a bike with a rear deck that comfortably carries one kid on the deck. We have squeezed two smaller kids on the deck of the MinUte, because I’m not so good with “boundaries,” but I learned that if you do that kind of thing with any regularity There Will Be Blood, literally. With a very little kid the frame is sturdy enough to handle both a front seat and the kid on the rear deck, so carrying two kids is not impossible, but that will work only for a limited age range. Anyway, the ODK is a midtail by my reckoning because my two kids would not even consider the possibility of getting on the deck at the same time.

We tried the ODK while visiting Seattle and the always-amazing G&O Family Cyclery. My only regret was that Madi of Family Ride couldn’t come out with us, because I would love to have gotten her thoughts. Anyway, the ODK is unusual in a few ways. Most notably, it is sold only as an assisted bike. Since my reviews are way too long, here is my new obligatory six word review for those who don’t want all the blah-blah.

Juiced ODK: the assisted midtail slayer.

What I like about the ODK

  • The ODK is designed for cargo. A persistent complaint that I have had about midtails is that their decks tend to be really high,
    Pretty stable, even loaded

    Pretty stable, even loaded

    which makes them tippy, especially when hauling kids. That’s less of a big deal on a midtail than a longtail, because the deck is shorter so there’s less fishtailing effect. It’s less of a big deal for the tall than for the short, because the relative height is lower and thus more manageable. However it’s not trivial. I am not particularly short at 5’7” (170cm) yet I notice the tippiness of our MinUte, especially on corners, when it feels like the bike wants to roll over. The Boda Boda and the Cascade Flyer are built with the same high deck. The ODK shaves several inches off by using 20” wheels and the handling with cargo, especially moving human cargo, is noticeably improved as a result.

  • The ODK has a step-through frame. It’s a really low step-through as well, meaning that this bike can easily be ridden by the short or less-flexible. I went out on a test ride with Jen of Loop-Frame Love who pointed out that this would be a fantastic bike for seniors, and I agreed. However it’s also nice for people who have a kid sitting behind and thus cannot swing a leg around the back. The lower the top tube, the easier it is to get on and off.
  • The ODK has an extremely upright riding position. Not everyone likes this, but I do because it helps me see over traffic. With a kid (in this case my daughter) in the back, it also makes me feel less like I’m sticking my butt directly in her face, which seems gauche.
  • The parts on the ODK are formidable on even the cheapest model. Cargo bikes usually carry loads that strain parts to their limits, so the quality of the parts matters more than it might for solo riders. Hydraulic disc brakes are standard (Tektro Dorado for those who care about details like that) and it is immediately clear that they have the kind of stopping power that is appropriate for a fully loaded cargo bike. The shifting is smooth (3 speeds; this bike is assisted and not designed with a big gear range as a result) and the steering is easy. I have ridden enough bikes now that I can tell within a few seconds of getting on a bike whether the manufacturer is trying to save money by using cheap parts: Juiced Riders is not.
  • There are a lot of cool accessories that come with this bike, which I am happy to see is becoming more common for assisted and family bikes. It comes with fenders and a wired-in rear light. It offers a frame-mounted front basket, which is deep enough that not everything would need to be bungeed down.
  • Like all midtails, this bike is short enough lengthwise to be very maneuverable. The ODK is even more so than most midtails because it has 20” wheels, which allow tight cornering. The ODK is also fairly narrow. Overall, this makes it a very easy bike to park at the kinds of dreadful racks that grocery stores, movie theatres, and parking garages seem to have installed sometime in the 1960s and never replaced. The San Francisco standard bike rack, aka the parking meter, offers no challenge for the ODK; our Bullitt, as handy as it is, usually needs some coaxing to snuggle up to a meter.
  • The assist on the ODK, which uses a motor on the front wheel and a throttle on the handlebars is very, very powerful. I have
    At the top of the hill, Jen's turn

    At the top of the hill, Jen’s turn

    learned with some practice that you can add some pedaling power with throttle-assists, although this is not necessary, particularly with this motor. It did not even slow down on the steepest hill we could find in the surrounding neighborhood, which although it did not achieve San Francisco levels of aggression was nonetheless very respectable. As a devotee of pedal assists I have gotten used to contributing noticeable effort on my commutes, particularly when I’m carrying heavy loads like the kids. It was kind of intoxicating to relax and let the motor do the work, pedaling at roughly the level of effort I expended the last time I rode a beach cruiser on the boardwalk. I have seen ODKs on some disturbingly steep hills in San Francisco and now I know why. I don’t think there is much it could not handle, except maybe the 41% grade of Bradford Street in Bernal Heights.

  • The battery options are scaled to a level that allows you to use a lot of assist for a long time. This is a bike that’s intended to be used assisted most of the time; I have seen bikes like this before but they tend to have limited range. The three battery options provide ranges estimated from 40 miles at the low end to 100 miles at the high end. I typically slice estimated ranges in half given San Francisco’s topography; even after this those estimates are very respectable. I rode the model with the biggest battery, and despite my going up and down big hills a few times with my daughter, then having a friend do the same thing, the battery didn’t seem to drop a single bar.
  • The ODK is ridiculously, laughably affordable for an assisted cargo bike. The version with the smallest battery is $2200, and that includes the fenders and the rear light (the front basket is extra). Especially considering the quality of the parts, this is an unbeatable value. Upgrading to the biggest battery adds another $1000 to the price, and that’s still a good price relative to its competition.

What I don’t like about the ODK

  • When you put the kind of battery that can give you 40 or 100 miles of range (maybe) on a bike, you make it really, really heavy. The ODK is really, really heavy. To Juiced Riders’ credit, they are actually willing to report the weight of the bike; with the smallest battery it comes in at just shy of 70 pounds according to their specifications. The version with the biggest battery, which I rode, weighed so much that I couldn’t even lift it. This is not a bike that could be put on an overhead rack or a bus rack, even though it is short enough to fit. It is not a bike that you could carry up the stairs. It is a bike that is, shall we say, permanently wedded to the ground. If you don’t have street-level parking, this may not be a good choice. On the up side, the bike thieves that break into garages with pickup trucks around my neighborhood might very well end up leaving this bike behind rather than risk throwing their backs out. So there’s that.
  • Aesthetics are admittedly in the eye of the beholder. However to this beholder, the ODK is a punishingly ugly bike. This is not
    Eh. Looks aren't everything.

    Eh. Looks aren’t everything.

    the kind of bike that will draw compliments from strangers. The ODK is built for practicality and value and it shows. I hoped with time it would grow on me, and have a certain “so ugly it’s attractive” kind of appeal. I regret to report that this did not happen. Even almost six months after my first exposure and even though I genuinely like this bike, looking at the ODK hurts my eyes. Even the controller is unattractive.

  • The ODK has a twist throttle assist operated by hand, not a pedal assist that operates as you pedal, and throttle assists are the kind of manufacturing choice that makes me question how serious a company is about commuting. Even during the test ride, operating the throttle was starting to hurt my wrist. This is admittedly a personal preference, but it’s less personal than my aesthetic opinion, because I suspect that a long ride on this bike could become unpleasant. There is a “cruise control” option, which I am sure would be fine on an extended ride on a multi-use path, however my longer rides tend to be city rides with a lot of stop and go. This issue isn’t insurmountable, as the ODK is inexpensive enough for an assisted bike that a bike shop with the right experience could convert this to a pedal assist at a price that would still make the ODK a good value. However it would be far better if Juiced made pedal assist an option, even if it were a more expensive option. Not everyone lives near an experimentally-inclined electric bike shop, it would be more cost-effective if the manufacturer did it, and it would not risk voiding the warranty. And it would be better for commuters, particularly commuters with kids, for whom every available hand matters pretty much all the time.
  • The 20” wheels on the ODK make the ride a little bumpy and slow; this is a tradeoff for the low deck and maneuverability. Any speed you pick up on this bike will be coming from the assist, and you will care about the quality of the pavement.
  • The ODK is not really designed for carrying kids. Apparently the rack makes it possible to mount a Yepp Maxi, which is good.
    ODK with Yuba kid hauling parts

    ODK with Yuba kid hauling parts

    A bike I saw, however, although set up with Yuba accessories for an older kid (probably a better fit for my daughter, age 6), which were nonetheless a little limited; foot pegs and wheel skirts were not available, for example. (I have had some concerns in the past about the quality of some of Yuba’s parts, but I definitely appreciate that they are all-in on the kid-hauling accessories.) Like our Kona MinUte, setting up the Juiced ODK for kid hauling requires some hacking and creativity, probably from a bike shop with experience with the bike and with these kinds of accessories in stock.

  • The ODK’s standard one-sided kick stand is pretty much a joke for a bike that is supposed to haul cargo, as with any load that wasn’t perfectly balanced it’s likely to fall over, unless it were windy, in which case it would definitely fall over. Juiced offers a center stand option that I did not get to try. Like hydraulic disc brakes this is the kind of thing that should be standard on cargo bikes.
  • Like any assisted cargo bike, the price point on the ODK is a big jump for people who are used to solo unassisted bikes. It’s a good value for what it’s offering, but it’s still out of reach for many families.

Things I’m clueless about

  • Juiced Riders as a company is new to me so I can’t speak to the long-term reliability of this bike, or the support that the company will offer. It’s a good sign that it’s invested in high-quality parts, and that it seems to be working with shops that have a good reputation. However there’s no way to know for a while.

Overall, I was impressed with the ODK. The midtail bike market has been pretty stagnant in the last few years and the ODK offers a lot of significant improvements for people looking for an assisted cargo bike. The lower deck and step-through frame alone are long-overdue innovations for midtail bikes. Because of its weight, its throttle assist, and the limited accessories for kid-carrying, it won’t suit everyone’s needs. Nonetheless I’ve seen enough of them around San Francisco now that it looks like they suit a lot of families very well. Within a minute of riding it I thought “this is the midtail slayer” because even though it has some obvious limitations, it fixes so many of the problems I have had riding other midtails. It might be ugly, but it can really haul.

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Filed under cargo, commuting, electric assist, family biking, reviews, San Francisco, Seattle, Uncategorized, Yuba

3 years, can you believe it?

That's a cat carrier in our Bullitt. There's very little it can't haul.

That’s a cat carrier in our Bullitt. There’s very little it can’t haul.

So hey, November 2nd was the blog’s three-year anniversary. And I forgot it. Then the next week, I forgot that we were hosting our son’s birthday party. What can I say? I’m teaching a new class this term and apparently there no room for anything else in my brain.

There was a time when I wondered if I’d run out of material or bikes to review, but that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. Recently we’ve ridden a Bike Friday Haul-a-Day and a Kidztandem, and later this month I will be trying out a loaner Faraday Porteur (because one of these days I’ll be riding solo all the time). And I definitely have ambitions to try the Butchers & Bicycles MK1 tricycle, the first that has ever looked even vaguely appealing to me, the next time I’m in Portland, which for the record, will be in April 2015. San Francisco keeps building up bike lanes, my husband continues to wander around the world checking out bicycle culture on other continents, and we see more families join us on the road every month. So there’s still so much to say.

Over the years this site has evolved a lot. I’m certain that the only people who read at first were family members. Now I get interesting and useful comments on most posts, and hear from old friends near and far that they’re following along. Thanks everybody, for hanging in. I appreciate it.


Filed under family biking, San Francisco, Uncategorized


When we went to visit my mom for spring break, we brought our rain gear. It rains a lot in Seattle. Unfortunately I lost my rain pants while I was there. That was a bummer—they’re great rain pants—but not a short-term crisis. It rarely rains in San Francisco after February, and never after March. And this is a drought year anyway. I figured that if they didn’t show up by October or so, I’d have to buy new gear, because an El Nino year is on the way. And I had already promised myself that next rainy season, I’d try a Cleverhood, but it wasn’t exactly on the top of my to-do list.

I also assumed that California’s weather system had better things to do than punk me, like empty out the state’s reservoirs. I was wrong.

This morning we woke up to rain. Of course it is welcome, because of the drought, but I was vaguely annoyed about my missing rain pants. Rain in San Francisco is like hills in San Francisco: hard and intense, although it comes and goes. But how bad could it be? I thought, with the casual ignorance of someone who has not gone outside in suspicious weather without wearing full rain gear since 2011.

Really, really bad, it turns out. By the time we’d gone a few blocks, my pants were soaked. By the time we hit the Panhandle, they had dripped an inch of water into each of my rain boots. And because the boots are waterproof, all that water just stayed there. By the time we dropped off our son, I was shivering. When I finally got to work, I had to empty my boots into the kitchen sink.

There will be no pictures with this post. I look like I was fished from a pond, and I’m walking around the office barefoot. I am just grateful that typically only one other person works in the office on Fridays.

When people say there is no bad weather, only bad gear, they are basically right. Until today I’ve loved riding in the rain. Super-cautious drivers, empty streets, respect or actual awe from my coworkers: what’s not to like? Having good gear is like having the right bike. It makes everything easier. With the Bullitt’s rain cover, the kids have never had complaints about riding in the rain either.

But without it, misery is never far away. This morning as I was sloshing through the halls, I thought, “This sucks. Maybe we should buy a golf cart.” This is the route to madness! I should buy some new rain gear. Preferably before 5pm. If only Instacart delivered clothing.


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Richmond Sunday Streets

On Arguello heading up to Clement Street

On Arguello heading up to Clement Street

Richmond Sunday Streets was last weekend, the last Sunday Streets of 2013. There’s a reason for that: it was cold. This didn’t seem to affect attendance much, but it made our kids grouchy and their noses run, so we didn’t stay as long as we might have otherwise.

For this event our son could ride his own bike without our having to keep an eye one him. Although most of the action was on Clement Street (aka Chinatown 2), Arguello was also closed from Golden Gate Park up to the start of Clement. In combination with the regular Sunday street closure in the park (and the fact that we live three blocks away) we rode the whole way without having to worry about cars except at a couple of intersections staffed by crossing guards. Even though it is always a bear climbing up Arguello into the park on the way home, it was worth it.

Spotted at Richmond Sunday Streets: skeleton bike

Spotted at Richmond Sunday Streets: skeleton bike

We used to live in the Inner Richmond, back when we were a one-kid family. We liked it then, although it eventually made sense to move closer to campus, but we’d like it even more now. Richmond Sunday Streets overlapped what is now a regular farmers market that takes over a few blocks of Clement Street every Sunday (now permitted to 2014). That didn’t exist when we lived nearby. And with Halloween coming up there were costumes as well. Even bike costumes!

Big Dummy with pirates--see what I mean? Costumes!

Big Dummy with pirates–see what I mean? Costumes!

We often see friends at Sunday Streets, and this was no exception—these days I’m starting to recognize bikes, at which point I stop to look for the people attached to them that I know should be around somewhere. As a bonus, we also got to meet a handful of new-to-us people with cool bikes. One family met us in Golden Gate Park to try out the Bullitt, even though they already own a pretty righteous Big Dummy. And I was reminded once again how much you can load on a Big Dummy, a trick that is evidently not exclusive to Family Ride.

Finally, I meet another triple tandem family.

Finally, I meet another triple tandem family.

People break out the big bikes for street closures. At Sunday Streets I’ve now spotted three different triple tandems—green, pink, and red—and this time we met the dad who rides the pink triple. He told me that he’d bought the frame used and built it up from there—he had no idea who manufactured it, but what a score.

On the way home we stopped at an intersection with a guy on a folding bike who told us our electric assist was “cheating.” I find this kind of thing pretty tiresome—since when are there competition rules in transportation cycling?—but Matt is more patient than I am. “We haul two kids up Parnassus Heights,” he said. “They should pedal on their own!” responded our critic. This is ludicrous—our son was on his bike that day, which is how we know that he can’t yet get up that hill on his own, even though he is a strong rider for his age. But after that this stranger told us that an assist was the right thing to do, and that he wanted one of his own. These moments make me wonder how much of the occasional grousing we hear about electric assist constituting “cheating” is simply envy.

How cool is this Bilenky?

How cool is this Bilenky?

But to sweeten the ride home, we met up with another cool cargo bike: a BionX Bilenky! I’ve seen a couple of Bilenky cargo bikes before, usually on the flats as the Bilenky front-loaders are not known as great climbers. But with a BionX it hardly matters. The rider told me that he lives above Buena Vista Park (for those unfamiliar with San Francisco, if there is a view, inevitably there is a steep hill associated with it). “I’m living the dream!” he told me.

This is the part of our new condo that doesn't need anything fixed.

This is the part of our new condo that doesn’t need to be fixed.

I’m now riding nearly every day, and walking without the cane. My limp gets a bit less noticeable every week. I keep meaning to write more, but I’ve been overwhelmed, mostly because (drum roll) we just bought a condo. Our new place is three blocks from our current rental, but every one of those blocks is downhill. And it is on a designated bike route, which means: a flat street. We’ll no longer need the assist just to get home. We won’t be able to move into the new place for months because it has… issues that need to be addressed (including the world’s most unusable kitchen). But we are counting the days.

And check out our new neighbors. I am so excited that we will be living down the street from these people.

And check out our new neighbors. I am so excited that we will be living down the street from these people.


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Last Sunday, while my son and I were riding in Golden Gate Park, we were rear ended by a car. The driver stopped, we have a police report, and our son was released from the ER that night. I have a shattered leg and will be hospitalized for some time. As much as I wish I could keep writing and riding, I’m going to have to take a break from both for a while. I hope to catch up in due time.


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The city and the city

This is light traffic by the standards of a driving commute in San Francisco.

This is light traffic by the standards of a driving commute in San Francisco.

Today, thanks to a complicated sequence of planned afternoon events, I took the shuttle to work. I was surprised to realize that this is the first time I’ve ridden a bus instead of a bike in months.

The university shuttle, compared to Muni, is fairly palatial. You always get a seat, there are no stops between most destinations, and people are quiet. A lot of people work on the shuttle, but now that we drive so rarely, I’ve found that I, like the kids, tend to get a little carsick. So I looked out the windows instead, which helps.

The city that I saw on the shuttle is very different than the city I see on a bike. The bus got caught in traffic at one point, which was unnerving (San Francisco keeps postponing the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit lanes). And most of what I saw on the way to work was roads and cars, an endless expanse of gray asphalt and metal. It was unpleasant. The bus is high enough that I could look down on cars, which were filled, almost without exception, with drivers texting on their cell phones. I did not find that reassuring. And from my perspective, every car I saw, even the “compact” cars, was comically oversized for its typical load of one or two people. People on foot sprinted across major intersections. The city I traveled in today is filled with noise and fumes and traffic. It feels dangerous and unwelcoming.

At the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

At the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

I normally ride to work through Golden Gate Park and on back streets, and aside from a few transitions on major roads, the trip is quiet. I ride either in the park or on back streets lined with trees. My city is mostly filled with bird song and nature and brief conversations with people walking to work. “Please,” I say, “go ahead.”

No cars allowed

No cars allowed

I live in one place, but it contains two cities. I realize now why I haven’t ridden the shuttle in months. Why would I want to?

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Filed under commuting, San Francisco, traffic, Uncategorized

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

I miss November.

I miss November.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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