Tag Archives: 30daysofbiking

Things keep happening

At the San Francisco waste transfer station

At the San Francisco waste transfer station

There are tragedies that unfurl slowly, and there are short, sharp shocks. The shocks seem more painful; they can’t fade into the background of daily life.

I work in public health. At its root, public health is an effort to make sure that everyone dies safely in bed, surrounded by loved ones, rather than in disease, or in pain, or with life needlessly cut short. But I work at an academic medical center, too, and that means I am surrounded by my profession’s failures. People die of preventable causes, in ways that could be seen coming from years away. We soldier on.

I have rarely been tempted by the urge to live an exciting life. I like routine and find change challenging. I completely understand why wishing someone “may you live in interesting times” is viewed as a curse. I could not imagine being happy lurching from one new experience to the next; making a job I dislike bearable through taking time off from it, or making a home I loathed tolerable by leaving it on vacation. And so I try to make my ordinary life as agreeable as possible. I tweak around the margins. But these changes add up. Who would have thought we’d become a car-free family? Or cut our waste down to a little baggie each week? This is our new normal, and we like it.

Because I like my everyday life, it seems especially painful to watch other people’s normal ripped away. This is the terror of the short, sharp shock. And I always wonder: what is the appropriate response when normal becomes terrifying? When we are surrounded by destruction? And in the end I think we should do for ourselves what we do for our children. We try to preserve the familiar and comforting parts of life that are left. We soldier on.

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30 Days of Biking, and so on

Waiting for the splash at the Aquarium

Waiting for the splash at the Aquarium

Last week was spring break at my son’s school. I’d planned to stay home with the kids, which is just as well, because I got sick. Between that and a trip out of town, I didn’t ride a bike for a few days, which is as long as I can remember going without riding in the last year or so. But April is 30 Days of Biking, and this year I’d signed up early. I still owe Family Ride a thank you for turning me on to 30 Days of Biking, which I’ve done twice now, starting with the official April version and most recently with the bonus round in September.

The California Academy of Sciences installed cargo bike-friendly parking right in front. Mwah!

The California Academy of Sciences installed cargo bike-friendly parking right in front. Mwah!

On Sunday, although it was technically still March, we kicked things off with a morning visit to the California Academy of Sciences. When we came out we saw another family bike fleet parked next to ours, and I was even happier when I learned later that I’d guessed right as to whose it was. You don’t see a lot of Bakfietsen (short or long) in San Francisco, so maybe it was too easy, but I’m easily pleased. Like ours, it had a cover for the rain, which after a brief hiatus has returned to San Francisco. But kids in box bikes never need to fear the weather.

I didn’t really notice last year that 30 Days of Biking kicked off with April 1st, the day that you can trust nothing on the internet. This year for the first time we pranked our kids, offering them what Matt called “a new breakfast” which consisted of bowls of uncooked steel cut oats. Our son, who’d stayed up too late last night, looked confused. “Is this really edible?” he asked, as his sister gamely began eating it (she’s still too young!) When we said “April Fools!” he was delighted. I wish he were so cheerful every Monday.

Rain? What rain?

Rain? What rain?

It was pouring this morning, not the best official kick-off to 30 Days of Biking. It didn’t really matter. I had already upped my game this year, upgrading from $10 rain pants that leaked all last winter to $40 rain pants that are, perhaps unsurprisingly, four times better. My daughter was happy to have a chance to wear her Muddy Buddy to school, and I was happy to be back on the bike. This far 2013 has been a little stressful. But rain is probably the most I have to fear from this month’s rides, and I’m pretty sure I can handle it.

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Filed under family biking, San Francisco

San Francisco is hard on bikes

Our kids “borrowing” the toys in our Copenhagen apartment’s courtyard

I feel like I should subtitle this post, “why I get whiny about components.”

When we started riding our bikes in San Francisco we did not go by half-measures. We got bikes and we rode them pretty much every day as transportation. We hauled our kids to school and their activities and back, rode to work, and got groceries. It was fun! And we assumed that that was what bikes were FOR. That’s what comes of picking up bike riding in Copenhagen.

We realized pretty quickly that lots of bike manufacturers had different ideas about how we would ride. That’s because we kept breaking things on our bikes. At first we assumed we were doing something wrong. It seemed entirely plausible that we were just lousy riders after such a long hiatus. But our excellent bike shop assured us this was not the case. We were just riding a lot more, and in much more difficult conditions, than the people who built our bikes had expected. What do I mean by difficult conditions? San Francisco streets where we live and work are steep, poorly paved, and dirty.

I have written about my brake paranoia before. We spend a lot of time going down steep hills, and that puts serious wear on the brakes.  It is no accident that I go on (and on and on) about hydraulic disc brakes, which last and last and stop on a dime. We also spend a lot of time going up hills. When we rode rental bikes in Portland we could go for several minutes without shifting, but this never happens here at home. Once, while wandering though Ikea, I saw a piston pressing a carved wooden bottom into a chair, over and over again, supposedly to demonstrate the chair’s longevity. That is essentially equivalent to what we do to our gears.

This street is in average-to-good condition by San Francisco standards. Lots of cars mean lots of damage.

The streets around San Francisco are also poorly maintained. Riding around my office and down the hill from home, the asphalt is so rough that it makes my bell ring as I bump over it. At first it was sort of annoying but also sort of funny. It became less funny when I realized that this was literally rattling parts off my bike. And the streets are dirty. At bike camp, my son was told to wash his bike at the end of the week, every week. We should do this, but we totally don’t. So our bikes look like crap a lot of the time, and all the grime doesn’t do the moving parts any favors either. And it is a rare day that I ride without having to dodge broken glass in the street.

So we learned to care about the components on our bikes. Most cargo bikes come with low to mid-range parts. High quality parts cost money, and my sense is that people already balk at the costs of cargo bikes, which unquestionably cost more than ordinary bikes. Plus a lot of people who take up riding bikes for transportation do so in conditions that are less extreme than ours. This makes sense to me: the barriers to entry are a lot lower in places without serious terrain to battle. And finally, most people who ride bikes in the United States do it as a supplement to car ownership, not to replace driving. They’re not riding every single day. Why not use cheaper parts? Most riders don’t need anything better than that.

The city brought goats in earlier this year to eat the garbage that had piled up around the bus depot across the street from my office. (I hate riding up this hill, incidentally.)

Yet over here in our stomping grounds things are different. Thus I find some bikes difficult to imagine owning because if I bought them, I would have to replace almost every part (or build up a bike from a frame, which exceeds my ambitions). This is essentially what happened with our Kona MinUte. It lists as a $1,000 bike. Thanks to our bike shop’s first year warranty, which replaced everything we broke, it is now really a $2,000 bike (and now we like it twice as much). In its first year, here is an incomplete list of what was replaced: brakes, pedals, shifters, chain, derailleur guide, tires, tubes, chain ring. And this is why we were told to buy a bike from a good local shop: we paid a fraction of the true cost of those upgrades. Even swapping out the crappy disc brakes with excellent hydraulic disc brakes was half-price. That’s because our shop called Kona and insisted that they give us a credit toward the upgrade. And although all of this was great, even better than great, these upgrades meant that the MinUte spent a lot of time in the shop the first year. That was frustrating given that it was supposed to be a daily commuter. It also meant there were some scary and annoying moments, like when the old brakes failed going down steep hills (twice!), or when one pedal snapped in half while riding, or when Matt got four flats in four days.

There was a time that I complained about having to invest so much more in a bike to get a comparable riding experience as people in other places, which reminded me of how much more we pay in rent to live in San Francisco than we would in other places. I am over it. We are lucky to be here, we both work and can afford the relatively trivial price of bike maintenance, and anyway we all have different burdens to bear. However when we went looking for a new bike, we knew that we were willing to pay up front to keep that bike out of the shop, not to mention to keep it from careening down a hill with no working brakes and two kids on board. Our new Bullitt came with outstanding components, and I haven’t regretted our decision to pay for that. In addition to being safer, it’s also more fun to ride a bike with better parts. The Bullitt will never drop a chain, and it shifts cleanly and without hesitation. And it’s never skidded past a stop sign at the bottom of a hill, even fully loaded.

These bikes can now handle whatever San Francisco can throw at them.

At times I have criticized bikes that I perceive to have middling parts because where I ride, it’s something that matters a lot. Should people in other places pay for higher quality parts? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how often they’ll be riding, how difficult the conditions are, and how much they care. The more you ride and the more hills, wet, and cold you face, the more likely it is that a low-maintenance bike with great parts will be worth the money. Where it’s flat, people often gravitate to Dutch bikes, which are built like tanks. But if riding a bike is a sometimes thing, or if you’re living in sunny Southern California, hitting a lower price point may be far more important than having a bike whose parts can weather all conditions.

But there isn’t a free lunch. One cargo bike may cost twice as much as another cargo bike, even though they look very similar. Cargo bikes aren’t sold based on sex appeal or brand names (because they have neither), so there is always a reason for a price difference. Sometimes that reason simply isn’t relevant to the local conditions or a family’s riding style, but it’s a real reason. And while there’s no wrong decision if it’s an informed decision, it is entirely possible to make a bad choice if you don’t know what you’re choosing. We bought a cheap cargo bike first because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t have to pay for that mistake because we bought it from a great shop. We got lucky.

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Filed under bike shops, car-free, family biking, San Francisco

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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Running out of steam

Maybe I need a new hobby. Bike polo?

I don’t usually ride my bike every single day. That is, until this month, when I signed up for 30 days of biking. Commuting by bike is brilliant, as is running errands, but on the weekends we have usually just hoofed it around the neighborhood, unless we’re headed out of town. Today I talked to a neighbor, also a bike commuter, who said the same thing. There are compromises to be made when you live in San Francisco, but a huge advantage is being able to wind down on the weekends by going almost everywhere on foot.

So 30 days of biking is starting to wear on me toward the end of April. 6 out of 7 days on the bike seems reasonable and almost effortless. 7 out of 7 days on the bike has been a challenge. And it’s been a tough month in other ways—flooded basement, multiple tedious end-of-the-school-year committee meetings, and a conference out of town. Mentally, I want to stick a fork in 30 days of biking already. Today my daughter and I rode to pick up our CSA box and Chinese takeout. It would have been almost unbearable to make this trip by car (no parking, ugly traffic) and unpleasant on foot (exhausting, time-consuming) but mostly I just didn’t want to leave the house at all.

Part of the problem may be the advent of pollen season, which makes difficult to breathe even lying still in bed. It’s either that or I’m coming down with the killer flu that’s felled half my office and my son’s elementary school. Maybe getting an electric assist would take some of this edge off, because it’s the hills that are really killing me lately. Either way, at this point I think I might celebrate May 1st by taking the shuttle to work and back.

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Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco

#virtualfamilybikegangride

Park panda

Saturday was the #virtualfamilybikegangride. Thanks for the inspiration, cargo biking families! I had a complicated morning, because I had to give a talk on campus just after Matt and my son left for a week in Boston. This violated one of my parenting principles, which is Do Not Work On Weekends (Especially When Your Spouse Is Out Of Town And You Must Pay A Sitter), but it made my department chair and my dean happy, and this is worth something too, given that I am currently up for review. And I was home in time to make lunch and attempt to get my daughter down for a nap. No nap, unfortunately, but the effort meant we got a late start.

"I say 'Cheese!' and 'Shy cookie!'"

For a change of pace, we took the Kona MinUte, now that my daughter is old enough to ride on the deck safely. At my kids’ current ages (3 and 6.5) the medium-tail really shines, as it can carry either or both of them without any need to attach a child seat. There are things I would change about that bike (e.g. compatibility with bus rack, better brakes, more stable kickstand, chain guard, dynamo lights, front basket—and even making the possible changes would run a tab higher than the list price of the bike), but it is very easy to use for multiple purposes, and that alone makes it probably our best ride almost all of the time.

Bikes and helmets locked; let's play!

My daughter wanted to go to the park, and was thrilled at the chance to ride Daddy’s bike. We headed to the Koret Children’s Quarter at Golden Gate Park, a quick downhill from home. I am always amazed to find ample bike parking there, as it is packed with both people and bikes, but I think that most people must be unaware of the racks under the Sharon Building, or just like to keep their bikes on the playground itself. Also there are mostly kids’ bikes on the playground, which suggests that a lot of people are driving with the bikes in the car.

Happy happy.

The weather was unbelievable for San Francisco, sunny and warm, verging on hot. And I was struck once again as we arrived at how effortless it is to travel this city by bicycle, assuming you’re not facing a hill. We rode past dozens of cars circling for parking or stopped, complete with fuming drivers, hopped off, locked up the bike and helmets, and went to play. No waiting, and easy. And for the first time all day, even as I watched my daughter express her lust for danger by climbing up various ladders and ropes, hanging off monkey bars, jumping off decks and barreling down giant slides, I felt relaxed.

Delighted to get a second ride.

After some time on the playground we headed to the carrousel, and as we are regulars there, even got a free second ride on request. (Nothing will ever top the day, years ago, that we were the first and only family to arrive one morning and the operator ran the carrousel for my son for almost 20 minutes nonstop, blasting Tom Waits rather than the usual Julius Fucik. But my daughter, who was as yet unborn on that occasion, was delighted just the same.)

Slowing down at the Academy

I wasn’t sure where to go next, except that we should ride somewhere, and after some consideration (and probably because it was getting seriously hot by San Francisco standards) my daughter decided on the California Academy of Sciences. We visited the Rainforest (a poor choice given it was even hotter than the outdoors), went to the aquarium to see colored jellyfish (“Medusas!” yelled one little girl) and even saw a pregnant daddy seahorse, which was hanging out in the seadragon tank, presumably as encouragement. Although it was getting toward dinner time, we stopped at the café for a pink jellyfish cookie, then headed home.

My goal while Matt is away is usually just to keep the kids occupied enough that they don’t obsess about his absence. With our son away as well I was concerned that our daughter would be more lonely than usual, but she was cheerful all day long. As sometimes happens, I screwed up at bedtime. But when I went in later to check on her, she forgave me, as she always does.

"I love you and you love me," my daughter says. "We love each other." Yes, we do.

For most of the rest of 30 days of biking, I will be either commuting or riding with my daughter. When I have time alone with her, I am always struck with amazement that we have this brave and strong little girl, who lights up our lives like a second sun. I couldn’t ask for better company.

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Filed under cargo, family biking, Kona, rides, San Francisco, traffic

420

Oh yes. One of this kind of day.

On Friday, April 20th, I had one of those driving days. I had to be at one meeting in the morning and another across town in the afternoon, and the combination of tight timing, high dress standards, and steep hills made riding a bike implausible. The second meeting was the campus sustainability awards committee. Because I was driving for the first time in two weeks to attend a sustainability award meeting, I figured I would win the irony award. Despite that things were going reasonably well at first.

I had planned to pick up my son early from school after my last meeting, because he and Matt were heading to Boston for a week to visit an uncle’s new memorial, and I wanted to spend some time with him before he left. But then I got an emergency call that my in-laws, who were supposed to pick up our daughter at preschool, were nowhere to be found. And it was an early pickup day, and preschool was closing. I was across town and had no transportation but the car. This was a situation I would come to regret.

Golden Gate Park looks so innocent from campus

So I started to drive back across town to pick her up, with the clock ticking and fees for late pickup piling up. Traffic was unbearable, even for San Francisco. By the time I reached Golden Gate Park, I realized the problem: I was trying to drive across Golden Gate Park at 4:20pm on 4/20. A haze of marijuana smoke lay over the park like thick fog. I didn’t reach preschool until a half-hour later. I have not yet had the courage to ask how much a pickup that late will cost us.

Matt picked up our son, late, and they rode his bike through the park. He said that even that was significantly slower than usual, as walking stoners kept darting into the road and driving stoners with out-of-state plates kept circling randomly looking for parking, which was nowhere to be found for miles in any direction. They seemed confused to make this discovery.

Getting closer to the front of the line

My son, when I asked if there was anything I could do to make up our lost afternoon, requested a quesadilla from the Mexican restaurant. His favorite Mexican is a block from the park. Sigh. I rode my bike down through the traffic, which was stopped dead in every direction. It was a bad day to drive for anyone. I waited behind 100 stoners in line at the Mexican restaurant for 30 minutes, which was a trial. Their conversations alone, if you could call them that, were numbing. They had trouble organizing their orders. At least it was a quick ride home. That’s 20 days of biking now.

We had a similar experience last year, and the year before, on 4/20. I think given that we live so close to the park, I will have to black out that date on my calendar. Next year maybe we’ll rent a car and drive to Danville for the day.

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Filed under commuting, San Francisco, traffic

15 days of biking

These riders have it easy: it's flat on this side of the city.

I came into 30 days of biking knowing that there would be some challenges. Not least among these was the fact that I was going to Sacramento for a conference halfway through the month. I was there most of last week. Unlike a normal conference, this one was arranged by one of my grantors, and that meant blowing off part of the meeting to cycle around town was: unlikely.

Just to make me look even more unprofessional, my poster arrived looking like this (fortunately it was undamaged).

This expectation was pretty much spot-on, as it turned out attendees were expected to see and be seen from 8am to 8pm every day. Skipping part of the poster sessions to quickly ride around the Sacramento Conference Center felt like both a huge accomplishment and a huge risk, as explaining myself to colleagues who spotted me was sort of complicated. I proposed that I was wildly eccentric and they did not disagree. At least I missed most of the thunderstorms in San Francisco.

If I had been thinking, I would have headed to one of the many all-night bodegas in our neighborhood. But evidently I look just Russian enough that the owners here get annoyed when I speak English.

But I missed doing even this on the last day of the conference. So when I got home I scanned the kitchen to discover that our grocery situation was dire, made lunches for the next day with the available remains, and went out to ride once around the block in my dress clothes and high heels around 11pm. The only way to ride around the block where we live involves an unappetizing choice between (a) going up, then down, or (b) going down, then up. I picked the former. My choice of timing, route, and dress were atypical, and several oncoming cars stopped dead as I approached them (we live next to a hospital; there is traffic at all hours). It could only get easier from here.

Water in the basement, down from 5 inches to 2 inches

There were also some unexpected challenges. The hospital building behind our street was built over everyone’s former backyards without regard for neighborhood drainage, and as a result, whenever it rains heavily, every basement and garage on the street ends up several inches underwater. This happens a few times every year. It happened last week. As an aside, when we first moved in to the neighborhood, we were the kind of people who put things on the floor of the basement. These days, like every basement on our street, ours looks like an ad for the Container Store. There is nothing on the floor except garbage bins and modes of transportation, but just to be safe, everyone keeps the bikes and scooters on the uphill side. (The bins float so they can go wherever.)

Our son arranged this hardware--Matt insisted I take a picture because it is proof, as if any more were needed, that he is in fact my son.

So when I came home the basement was still draining away several inches of water and everything was covered with mud. Per usual the campus maintenance people came by and pressure washed out most of the mud, but everything was still moderately grungy. Today our kids decided to clean up the rest of the mess. Although they’re not really up to the task, we were so touched by their effort that we took them out to Japanese food and ice cream. That’s another ride in the bag.

So that’s 15 days of biking. Some of the days have been unimpressive. Twice I have ridden only to get takeout pizza (a perfect application for the bungee net!) But I’m not going anywhere the rest of the month, the forecast predicts sunny weather all week, and I’ve already totally embarrassed myself professionally, so barring a plague of locusts, I’m feeling like I should be able to manage 15 more.

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Families ride!

We love Seattle!

When Stacy at A Simple Six heard I was headed up to Seattle for spring break, she introduced me to Family Ride (she knows everyone!) We don’t have much opportunity to ride our bikes with other families in San Francisco. We have friends who ride with their kids to school, and we see them on the playground in the morning, but there are no city rides along the lines of Kidical Mass, unless you count Bike to School Day, which I don’t, really, as it is once a year. Anyway people in San Francisco tend to flinch when they hear anything that sounds like “Critical Mass” in this city; its reputation is mixed at best. I know I do. So I’d only taken my kids on a ride with friends just for the fun of it once before, when we had the Yuba. But after spending the day with Family Ride, I wish San Francisco had more kid rides, even if they were called Spawn of Critical Mass.

All lathered up after a nice long ride in the rain

We didn’t have much choice about the day we visited; my mom works in Seattle one day each week, so that’s when we went. After scoring incredible good fortune weather-wise while in Portland and during most of my stay with my mom, my luck finally ran out when we headed to Seattle. It rained the entire time we were in the city. I grew up in the constant drizzle of the Pacific Northwest, and although generally I find any non-temperate climate appalling and think that central heat is a wonder of the modern age, I can handle drizzle. Unfortunately I didn’t think to pack rain clothes. My kids spent the entire ride in rain gear cobbled out of garbage bags. I got wet. And soapy! Evidently the rinse cycle on our washer leaves something to be desired, because after a couple of hours pedaling in the rain, my pants actually began to lather up. I was glad I packed a change of clothes.

Four little monkeys

Despite all of this, we had a great time. Family Ride was an awesome host, arranging a ride with multiple stops to dry out and refuel the kids. Mine were on what I think of as “vacation strike” and eating a diet that consisted largely of chocolate chip cookies. But a stop at Theo Chocolate led them to expand their horizons by consuming several handfuls of chocolate samples as well. Theo Chocolate was an inspired stop; the kids clambered on the bike rack and had to be coaxed inside. My son was so enamored that he spent the entire trip home telling me about his plans to open a Theo Chocolate branch in San Francisco when he grew up.  I only wish that we had taken the tour, because he has little understanding of the chocolate making process and wants to start trying to create new flavors at home, and it is difficult to communicate to him that the specialized equipment involved makes this the kind of thing you need a factory to develop. Plus I have no idea how to import cacao beans for personal use.

Let's think of some other things that start with C... oh, who cares about the other things! C is for Cookie!

The end of the line was a Dutch bike shop, complete with café and a return to chocolate chip cookies. This was the first time I’d been in a Dutch bike shop, and it was interesting—all the bikes there looked great for riding in the flats, but improbable for hills. Family Ride told me she knew a mom who actually had a bike like this and lived on a hill, and she walked it home every day. I don’t think I could live like that. From there we turned around and headed back. The official detour for the closed path was on a sidewalk, and it felt like living dangerously to ride there, as this is totally illegal in San Francisco.

My kids were both wildly impressed with the pink bike

How good a host is Family Ride? She let us ride her new pink Big Dummy for the day! It is a great bike, and although I did not come anywhere near testing its capacity to haul stuff, it carries two kids with ease. I felt very lucky, and also tried very hard not to drop it. I was successful, although the turning radius was wider than I expected. Keeping the seat down helped me maneuver it.

Guess which hill? There's no way to ride on it.

I also got a taste of Seattle hills, which are different than San Francisco’s but challenging nonetheless. Here the hills tend to be either steep and short or long and shallow. In Seattle they were long and moderate—10 or more blocks at a time of real climbing. None of it is so steep as to be impossible, but after the first three or four blocks, the prospect of going another six or seven feels very grim indeed. I’m pretty impressed that Family Ride does this every day with two kids on deck.

30 days of biking: almost as crazy as Theo Chocolate calling their World Bicycle Relief bicycle "not a bike"

Talking with Family Ride was what tipped me over the edge to try 30 Days of Biking, even though it was going to require a commitment to do some things that normal people would consider genuinely crazy, like haul my bike to Sacramento so I could ride around the block while attending a conference where I could not, this time, avoid several sessions and visit bike shops. But if Family Ride could go around the block before midnight in pajamas the first year to make all 30 days, hauling a bike to Sacramento and barely riding it seemed like small beans by comparison. She said that 30 Days of Biking was what made her the hard-core bike commuter that she is today—and she rides everywhere, at all hours. It is very impressive. I’m still a reluctant night rider and whine about hills. But with such a good example, maybe I can get better.

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Filed under destinations, family biking, rides, travel