Tag Archives: Brompton

We tried it: Burley Travoy

travoy

Our Burley Travoy, ready for the market

This may well be the most-delayed review I’ve ever written. We got a Burley Travoy for Christmas in 2011, and have used it regularly for 3.5 years. It is sort of a stealth accessory, because it’s not exclusively used on our bikes. It is a multipurpose urban hauler.

The Travoy made a bit of splash when it first came out several years ago, because it was the first trailer with an advertising campaign that suggested that people wearing suits might use it while biking to the office. Ride a bike to work in a suit? What kind of craziness is that? Although to be honest, even though I totally ride to work in dress clothes, the commute to work is one of the few things for which we’ve never used the Travoy. Anyway, since then it seems to have faded somewhat from the cargo hauling consciousness. There are reasons for that, but I think the Travoy is somewhat underappreciated, just like my favorite bicycle accessory of all time, the bungee net. Granted, it is many times more expensive than a bungee net, but in its defense, it can do a lot more. Six word review?

Burley Travoy: goes anywhere, hauls anything*

*except a box spring, the bête noire of all family bikers

What I like about the Travoy

  • It hauls anything. I mean, not ANYTHING, not a house or a car, because physics, but pretty much anything you might actually need to haul. Groceries and work supplies like laptops, duh, but
    This is how we got around at Camp Mather.

    This is how we got around at Camp Mather.

    that is just the beginning. There are photos all over the internet of people hauling bikes on Travoys, full-size bikes, not just Bromptons (which fit nicely). Boxes bigger than actual human beings are no problem, there are straps for that. I have been obsessing somewhat over disaster preparation ever since I took the SF Fire Department’s NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) training, and a Travoy would be worth its weight in platinum in any kind of post-disaster scenario. When we went to Camp Mather last summer, which is a car-free and sometimes off-road environment, I used the Travoy every day to ride from our cabin to the lake. It attached to the Brompton and typically carried: two umbrella chairs, a pop-up sun tent, multiple pool toys, books, sunscreen, 4 water/wine bottles, 4 bag lunches, 4 beach towels, 4 changes of clothes, and so forth, plus whatever random rocks and other crap my kids snuck in there when I wasn’t looking. We have a habit of pushing right to the edge of the 50 item checkout limit at the library, and we all have our own library cards. Although I suspect that the resulting loads fall somewhat beyond the Travoy’s official 60 pound (27 kilo) capacity, it has never had issues carrying them. I would probably not attempt larger furniture items, but who knows.

  • When I say it hauls anything: yes, that includes a kid. IMPORTANT: carrying your child on a Travoy will unquestionably void any express or implied manufacturer’s warranty, because Burley specifically tells you not to
    How to void your warranty (photo used with permission)

    How to void your warranty (photo used with permission)

    do that. But let’s face it, just like every other family biker, I push bicycles and bicycle accessories far, far beyond their suggested use cases. I was once cautious like every other newbie, but life happens, and one day you find yourself in a position where you need to carry a kid in the front basket or on a cargo trailer, and then it happens again, and sooner or later you realize that the universe is full of surprises and you might as well roll with them. So now I test upfront for all the stupid stuff I know I’m eventually going to do with the bike/accessories, rather than facing disappointment later on when I’m desperate. Would this be a good option for a daily commute? Absolutely not. Would I strap an infant car seat on the Travoy? Hell no. Can I imagine doing it when I had an unplanned kid pick up one day? Yes, I can. So anyway yes, this can be done, and yes, it will also almost certainly inspire some drive-by parenting, but then again, what doesn’t?

  • It attaches to nearly any bike. Longtail decks are a maybe (I have been told that it’s doable but would require either extreme handiness or the assistance of a local bike shop) and for obvious reasons it cannot be used in combination with a trailer or trailer-bike. The Travoy ships with a seat-post clip-in attachment; this is what we use on the Brompton. You can also buy a Burley clamp and attach it to a rear rack; this is how we had it set up on the Breezer.
  • The Travoy can be used as a hand cart. It is designed for this, as the bike attachment can be folded down, leaving a nice padded pull bar that is so comfortable to hold
    Fold down the bike attachment and you can push or pull it with this handle.

    Fold down the bike attachment and you can push or pull it with this handle.

    that our kids fight over who gets to pull it when it’s unloaded. Since we moved last year, this has become our primary use for the Travoy, because our new place is one block away from the farmers’ market. We used to ride to the market but given our new location we can walk there in roughly the same time it takes to get the bikes out of the garage. If you are city people, as we are, you have already seen people hauling their shopping around in folding metal hand carts, because in major cities only crazy people shop by car and trying to carry 3-4 bags of groceries in your arms or a backpack is excruciating. Anyway, you can buy cheap hand carts that break after a few months for $20 in Chinatown, or you can spring for $100 versions that will last for years. Or in our case, you can glance at the Travoy sitting next to the bikes and realize you already have a hand cart. Bonus: the big air-filled wheels mean that it can be dragged up staircases fully-loaded, something traditional folding hand carts resist strenuously.

  • There are bags and straps for various stuff-hauling scenarios, and the clip system that attaches them is very clever.
    A closeup of the clever clip for attaching bags (four per bag)

    A closeup of the clever clip for attaching bags (four per bag)

    It comes with a bag that can carry the folding Travoy or be attached to the unfolded trailer. Given our regular farmers’ market run, we eventually got the shopping bags; a small bag on top holds fragile items like berries and flowers, and a large bag on the bottom holds heavy stuff. Apparently these bags aren’t big sellers because we got them for like half-off, but they are great. There are travel bags that are somewhat more insulated for laptops or checked luggage, and waterproof roll-top bags for some reason, I don’t know why. You can use the two included straps to hold large boxes; bungees are also an option.

  • The Travoy folds up into a tiny package, which can be dropped into the included bag. This is especially nice for those of us who live in cities where real estate prices exceed $1000 per square foot, but it’s not unwelcome
    Push the button in the middle and the wheel pops off.

    Push the button in the middle and the wheel pops off.

    in any scenario. Bike storage can be a hassle, especially cargo bike storage. We have two kids, a ridiculously large garage, and we do not own a car, so bike storage is a no problem for us personally. However if we had one kid and lived in a tiny walk-up apartment with no garage or storage, as we did when we first came to San Francisco, the Brompton + Pere seat + Travoy combination would be a category-killer, because together they take up less space than a folding metal hand cart. Actually, as regular readers know, I have regularly carried two kids on our Brompton; one on the Pere seat and one standing on the rear deck. You could easily stick the whole kit behind the front door. Alternatively, our old landlord let people keep trailers and strollers in the building lobby. The folding mechanism is very clever, however it is definitely a two-handed operation only suitable for the able-bodied. Our son (9 years), for example, does not yet have the hand strength to push the side buttons in simultaneously to collapse each portion of the trailer; those with limited hand strength might need to find another trailer or leave it in the open position permanently. The buttons on each axle that pop the wheels off, on the other hand, are extremely easy to operate.

  • At less than 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) unloaded, the Travoy is light enough to carry anywhere. What’s more the fact that it leans over while in use gives it an extremely small footprint, and it’s narrower than the handlebars on our bikes. This is not a trailer that you have to worry about threading through traffic pinch points or the (sadly necessary) bollards blocking the entrances of multi-use paths to cars.
  • There are multiple grab points on the trailer in both the open and closed positions, as I alluded earlier. Flip down the bike attachment point and the Travoy becomes a hand cart (bags attached) or hand truck (bags
    The hand truck mode, no bags

    The hand truck mode, no bags

    detached). Fold it down at the center point and fold up the bottom plate and it can be carried in one hand like a briefcase.

  • The Travoy can be operated with flat tires. It is pathetic that I can testify to this, but in my defense, I know I’m not the only Travoy owner who sometimes forgets to pump up the tires. More than once I have found myself griping about the Travoy’s poor handling, only to discover when I got home that both tires were completely flat. Ignoring routine maintenance on this trailer will affect the handling, but it will still work.
  • Attaching and detaching this trailer on to and off of the bike is simple and secure. All you have to do is place the hole over the pin and drop it in. It is held in place by a spring-loaded arm, and having taken this trailer off road, I can report that it will not shake loose even under rough conditions. To release it, pull back the spring arm and lift up the attachment point. Because of the geometry, it is easy to lift the trailer off the attachment point even when fully loaded, because the tires hold all the weight. Easy peasy.

What I don’t like about the Travoy

  • The Burley Travoy is more over-accessorized than Batman. This is confusing and annoying. It comes with one bag, which you can store the folded trailer in, and pretty understandably, most people think that that is all that there is. However there are additional shopping bags and travel bags and waterproof bags, and at least the shopping bags are far better designed for carrying stuff than the included trailer bag. They are so much better designed, in fact, that I think that they should be included with the trailer. I see no point to the travel bags; other user reviews have noted that Burley is not a luggage manufacturer and that parts like the shoulder straps are uncomfortable. It would be more useful to be able to buy clips that allow you to attach any bag you already own to the Travoy, yet to the best of my knowledge these don’t exist. I have no idea what purpose the waterproof bags serve; I have yet to meet anyone who has one. Similarly, the Travoy comes with a couple of tie-down straps, and you can buy more tie-down straps, and it comes with a seat post attachment, but you can buy a rear rack clamp if you have a child seat or whatever on the bike and can’t reach the seat post from behind, and so on, and even trying to write all this stuff down gives me decision fatigue despite the fact that I am a researcher by inclination, training, and profession.
  • The kickstand is wretched. A friend calls it “the penis stick,” which, yes, it does resemble, noting that “you can’t use it as a leg.” With extended use, some people’s kickstands break off. Ours has remained attached, but it
    This kickstand is not entirely useless, but it is the weakest point on the whole trailer.

    This kickstand is not entirely useless, but it is the weakest point on the whole trailer.

    is unreliable, and will sometimes collapse unexpectedly when we try to balance the Travoy on it. Is it a deal-killer? No, it’s not the end of the world if the trailer tips over. Is it as annoying as heck? It definitely is. The kickstand would be bombproof if it were welded into position and didn’t fold away, like on every other folding hand cart in the known universe. Having the kickstand extended permanently wouldn’t really affect how small the trailer folds away so it’s basically another case of unnecessary “features.”

  • The trailer bag that is included with the Travoy, when it is attached to the trailer to carry groceries or whatever, tends to scrape against the wheels. That is because, unlike the shopping and luggage bags, the trailer bag has no rigid internal structure. If you drop three bunches of carrots in the bag, they fall right to the bottom and once the trailer is tilted back to be pulled, they often shift and rest on the edges of the wheels. This is part of the reason that I failed to notice the tires had gone flat so many times; when the trailer bag is filled on the Travoy, I learned to expect poor handling because of the wheel scraping. If you notice it, you can sometimes rearrange the bag’s contents around a little bit and get them off the wheels for the remainder of your trip. Since we moved to using the shopping bags almost exclusively, this is no longer a problem. However this solution requires buying extra bags.
  • Although the folding mechanism is clever, each folding point can be sticky. This seems to be somewhat random; sometimes they pop right into action, and sometimes you have to poke around for a while.
  • The trailer attachment point sticks sometimes, particularly on the Brompton, which holds the Travoy at a slightly different angle than Burley seems to have intended. The same issue would arise for short riders on properly-fitted bikes and for children. To attach and detach the trailer from the Brompton, I sometimes have to lift the bike a couple of inches off the ground.
  • Technically the Travoy can only carry 60 pounds (27 kilos). Given that we’ve owned ours long enough that any warranty has long since expired, I’m comfortable sharing the fact that in our experience, it can carry much more. Nevertheless, do this at your own risk. Similarly, Burley doesn’t really support people carrying anything but its designated bags on the Travoy, which underestimates its true capabilities.
  • The Travoy, yee-argh, it’s kind of expensive. Maybe this would feel less painful if you were already planning on dropping a Benjamin on a folding hand cart, but still. The current list price is $300, although it goes on sale sometimes (we bought ours years ago and paid a lot less than that; seeing the current price was an unpleasant shock). What’s more the Travoy is almost as hard to find used as a Brompton child seat, because it’s both useful and easy to store, so no one has any reason to get rid of one once they have it. It’s definitely an investment kind of accessory. We have no regrets because after all the years we’ve owned it, the cost is fully amortized plus it’s got years of use left, but you know, our kids’ bikes cost less than that. Plus there are the endless potential accessory purchases as well. On the other hand, as always, it’s cheaper than a car.

So the Burley Travoy: we like it and we’d get it again, despite the fact that figuring out the accessories gave me a headache and despite the annoyance of having it tip over sometimes. The Travoy folds up like origami and can haul virtually everything we need. We are moving out of the years when going somewhere with our kids requires dragging along an obscene quantity of stuff, so our use has declined, but it we still take weekly trips to the farmers’ market and the library, and as a result, our Travoy more than earns its keep.

 

 

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Filed under Brompton, car-free, cargo, reviews

The summer ends, the summer begins

Heading out on the first day of school, all of us on our own wheel(s)

Heading out on the first day of school, all of us on our own wheel(s)

In the middle of August, we headed up to San Francisco’s family camp in Yosemite, Camp Mather, to finish off the last week of summer before the kids started school. This year is a year of big changes, because our daughter just started kindergarten. For the first time ever, we have a single drop-off. And we have finally gotten both kids riding to school. Our daughter will be on the Roland add+bike for a while, because she has no traffic sense, but our son is on his own bike. This was a logistical challenge that took us a couple of years to solve, because he takes a bus from school to after-school and it lacks a bike rack, meaning we have to find a way to get his bike from school to after-school without him. It’s also a physical challenge, because his travel speed is approximately 3mph after a full day at school. However he’s building up stamina already.

Hanging out on the dock at Birch Lake

Hanging out on the dock at Birch Lake

But Camp Mather! Berkeley and San Jose also had family camps, but theirs burned down in the Rim Fire. Camp Mather was set up for workers building the O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy, so there was water to save it. San Francisco families can enter the lottery in the spring for a weekly slot, in either a cabin or a tent site. There is no internet of any kind while you’re there, and the only connection to the outside world is an unreliable pay phone, possibly the last of its kind in California. Our stay at Camp Mather was the most disconnected we had been in years.

This is one side of the bike parking outside the dining hall.

This is one side of the bike parking outside the dining hall.

Even better from our perspective is that there is no driving at Camp Mather. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, rides bikes everywhere—to the dining hall, to the lake, to the pool, to the play fields, to the bath houses. There are no cars. The littlest kids ride piled up on rear racks and on blankets wrapped around their parents’ top tubes. The bigger kids go feral and ride off to play ping pong or develop talent show acts for hours at a time. Our daughter’s bike skills became truly extraordinary. If it weren’t for the annoyance of cars, she could ride anywhere in the city now. Her lightweight single speed was even able to overtake other kids’ geared mountain bikes on the (very minor) hills around camp.

Halfway to the lake with Brompton + Travoy and a ton of gear.

Halfway to the lake with Brompton + Travoy and a ton of gear.

I brought the Brompton and our Burley Travoy (have I mentioned that we’ve had a Travoy for a couple of years? Wonderful trailer, and yes, I should review that too). It was evidently the first Brompton anyone had ever seen at Camp Mather, but it was a great choice. Apparently I was inadvertently representing Cycle Chic roaming around camp in a sun hat, bikini and silk wrap skirt on the Brompton, as I got approving, “Looking awesome, momma!” hollas from other moms. The Travoy made it easy for me to haul our load of beach chairs, towels, lunches, and pool toys to the lake and back every day. I had the Pere chair for the rare occasions when our daughter didn’t ride her own bike, which only happened after dark, because we didn’t bring her lights.

DIY archery

DIY archery (they tie-dyed those shirts themselves)

Anyway, we had a lovely time, even though we had to drive up there. I was saddened to learn that a couple of decades ago, no one was allowed to drive at all—there was bus service to Camp Mather, and an area dedicated to families that biked in. All this is no more. I would have paid a lot to have someone drive us there in a bus. As vegetarians, we had some initial concerns about the food, which comes on a giant truck from Sysco, but we were basically fine, although we ate a lot of salad (Here is the Camp Mather menu). So we spent a great week relaxing at Camp Mather. We would do it again.

We returned to San Francisco and the start of school. But here the summer weather is just beginning, so in a way, we have a lot more summer yet to come. There is so much to tell, still.

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Filed under Brompton, family biking, kids' bikes, trailer-bike, travel

Christmas tree by bike, again

Another December means another trip to get a Christmas tree by bike. So far we have failed to match the experience of carrying a tree by bike that we had in the first year, which was laughably easy. Last year the tree fit in the bike just fine, but Matt dropped the Bullitt and lost one of the support struts holding up the rain canopy, which left the kids miserably cold until we got the new part. That meant the post-tree hauling experience was less than fun.

Christmas tree on bike, yet again

Christmas tree on bike, yet again

So this year we switched back to the MinUte because I was paranoid about losing a support strut again, even assuming that we removed the canopy in the garage. It turns out that a midtail is great for a smaller tree, but a 7-foot tree with attached stand is a bit beyond the scope of our bike. Matt rode for part of the trip and walked the bike for part of it. The tree was firmly attached with bungees, but so back-heavy that the bike wanted to do wheelies. Maybe it would work if we were heavier riders. Next year, it’s back to the Bullitt (with an extremely careful removal of the canopy and full parts inventory before departure).

Moving up: two kids on a Brompton, now aged 8 and 4

Moving up: two kids on a Brompton, now aged 8 and 4

However we did resurrect last year’s tradition of me riding the kids home on the Brompton. This was a bigger challenge than last year given that I’m not as strong as I used to be. For the last hill my son jumped off and walked with the tree-bike, so I was only carrying my daughter. Ultimately I made it up a decent hill on an unassisted bike with my daughter, who is now pushing 45 pounds, in the front seat. Not bad.

Although I tend to think bringing a tree home by bike is nothing special when I see all the cargo biking families who’ve posted pictures of themselves doing the same thing, it is evidently still pretty avant-garde here in San Francisco, because the lot manager recognized us from previous years. He did report that some families bring their tree home on scooters. And although our hauling strategy has not yet been perfected, it still beats waiting for one of the hotly contested spots in the parking lot and vacuuming a gazillion pine needles out of the car, an experience which historically made us reluctant to buy a tree at all. It is a big deal that we’ve now had some kind of tree three years in a row, as we’re (a) technically a Jewish family and (b) pretty lazy about the whole getting-stuff aspect of the holidays (my kids typically score socks for Christmas). In my defense, though, I always take the two weeks of school holidays off and spend gobs of time with the kids.

We need happi coats if we're going to join the mochi pounding crew.

We need happi coats if we’re going to join the mochi pounding crew.

On Sunday we went to our daughter’s preschool for a winter concert and mochitsuki, which was a bit early for a mochitsuki but pretty incredible nonetheless. Watching a pile of sushi rice turn into a gelatinous mass of delicious mochi is one of those have-to-see-it-to-believe-it experiences, plus we got to eat the mochi. My only complaint about the experience is that the bike parking around Japantown is pretty substandard. But evidently the car parking situation was worse, as a bunch of families arrived late.

P.S. A zero-waste Christmas extra: my gift wrapping strategy. We are pretty mellow about the present-aspect of Christmas, but there are some gifts under the tree. One year my son even got a bike (the bike was left unwrapped).  But most gifts are wrapped in fabric. Thanks to our exposure to Japanese culture, I picked up a few furoshiki in Japantown years ago to wrap gifts, and I reuse them every year. (For furoshiki wrapping techniques, ask the internet, which is almost as eager to teach people how to use furoshiki as it is to teach people how to wear scarves.) When I run out of furoshiki—I didn’t buy a lot because they are kind of pricey for something I use few times a year—I wrap gifts in my scarves or in our flour sack dish towels, which are free because we already own them. I know, know, dish towels: classy! But they are big and square and hey, white is a Christmas color. For larger gifts, I’ll use a pillowcase. And for huge presents, well, we have sheets and a fabric shower curtain. A watercolor pencil will write on fabric and come out in the wash, allowing the lazy wrapper to skip not only wrapping paper, tape, and ribbon, but a gift tag as well. Some people make their own furoshiki, or pick up square scarves while thrifting, but ever since I had the dish-towel insight I just can’t bring myself to make the effort.

The tree at home and decorated

The tree at home and decorated

Presents for other people typically go out in a glass jar that would otherwise have been recycled, a flour sack dish towel that I wouldn’t be traumatized to never see again (they’re cheap), or some of my kids’ artwork (always my first choice, but not always available in appropriate sizes).

Happy holidays!

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Filed under Brompton, Bullitt, Kona, San Francisco, zero waste

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

What I like about bikes

I want to ride my bicycle.

I want to ride my bicycle.

I have been trying to practice riding more, although I have hit some limits. Riding two days in a row, I have learned, now leaves me saddle sore. I get a little antsy when I have to go through the intersection in Golden Gate Park where I was hit, which is unfortunately en route to almost everything, but it’s been reasonably mellow other than that. I don’t have the stamina or strength to go long distances or up hills, but hey, that’s the kind of thing electric assists were made to fix.

Now that I am riding every other day or so, I remember what I like about riding my bike. I’ve been in cars and buses a lot in the last few months, and it is isolating. Plus, even though I now have a handicapped placard, I end up having to walk a lot when we drive somewhere because the competition for handicapped parking places is ferocious. But on the bike the world returns to human scale (plus I can park by the front door). When I was coming back from grocery shopping—my current level of grocery shopping competency by bicycle involves carrying one glass jar of yogurt—two guys on the corner waved me over to ask about my bike. On my way to the office, the only other person who stopped at the red light besides me struck up a conversation. “I can’t believe I get grief about not wearing a helmet sometimes from people who run red lights,” he said. I agreed that this was pretty irritating. This nice man was in the full roadie kit; not the usual stop-at-red-lights type in my experience. I am learning not to judge hastily.

I get a lot of funny looks when I get off the bike and unfold my cane. This amuses me. In physical therapy I can do exactly zero of the exercises I’m supposed to be able to do 25 times in a row when I’m fully recovered. I am still a slow walker, and I limp, and I can’t go far on foot, but on my bike I’m almost as fast as everyone else.  On the bike no one knows I’m still crippled.

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Filed under Brompton, commuting, injury, San Francisco

We tried it: Ridekick electric assist child trailer (prototype)

This kind of thing is my problem.

This kind of thing is my problem.

[Note: As of April 2014, release of the Ridekick child trailer has been postponed to 2015.]

When I thought about getting back on the bike after my injury, I thought immediately about electric assist. We live on a big hill. I was surprised that I could get up part of it on the Brompton by myself when I tried riding for the first time last weekend. But a little more experimentation made it clear that I wasn’t able to ride up all of it. This is better than I’d expected, but still: not useful. It doesn’t help much to go partway up the hill. And when I tried to walk the bike up the hill instead, it made the pins in my leg ache so badly that I had to lie down. This was predictable but still unwelcome.

Spotted near work

A mid-drive spotted near work

What’s more, it’s not very useful to be riding again if I can’t pick up and drop off a kid occasionally. I figured I would get my strength back eventually, but in the meantime I needed a better solution. Option one is a new mid-drive electric-assist bike, but that’s really expensive for short-term use and depending on how much strength I got back, could potentially be overkill in the long term. Ideally I wanted a temporary assist that I could stick on the Brompton, which is basically the only bike we have that I can use right now given my limited strength and range of motion. I did try getting on the MinUte, and technically it’s possible, but it wouldn’t be safe yet with a kid on the deck. I can get on and off the Bullitt, but it’s too heavy for me to ride for the time being.

Introducing: the Ridekick electric assist trailer!

Introducing: the Ridekick electric assist trailer!

I knew what I wanted, but unfortunately I didn’t know of any temporary, immediate on-off electric assists currently in production. At least, I didn’t until a blog reader pointed me to the Ridekick trailer (thanks David!) The only Ridekick currently on the market is a small cargo trailer with an electric assist built in. It was cute and it looked like it would do what I wanted, but when I went to their website, I saw that they were taking pre-orders for what looked like my rehabilitation holy grail: an electric assist child trailer.

This is a complete stealth assist system, if you want to look super-tough on hills.

This is a complete stealth assist system, if you want to look super-tough on hills.

Although I’m not the world’s biggest child trailer fan (hard to see in city traffic, don’t always fit in urban bike lanes, won’t make it up many San Francisco steep uphills, can be terrifying on many San Francisco steep downhills, we prefer to have the kids in front), we had been considering getting a bike trailer for travel, and for upgrading our one-kid bikes to two-kid bikes on occasion. The trailer also has the advantage of offering weather protection, just like the Bullitt, but in a far more portable package. The Ridekick assisted child trailer also seemed way more promising than an ordinary trailer because with an assist we’d no longer have to worry about drag on the bike.  The pull of a weighted trailer can really be a problem on hills and in strong winds, both of which San Francisco has in abundance. And if the assist were up to it, I could attach it to any bike and make it up hills with one or both kids even in my reduced state.

So I wrote to Ridekick, hoping against hope that the child trailer was close enough to production that I could get one by August. The answer was no. But they were coming to San Francisco in August with the prototype to look for venture capital funding, and would I like to try it? Yes!

This is the cargo hold with the battery for the assist.

This is the cargo hold with the battery for the assist.

We met Dee and Mark from Ridekick in Golden Gate Park.  They are great people. The prototype trailer that they brought is built up from the same Burley Bee model that we rented last year when we visited my mom in Bellingham. To my surprise, the assist doesn’t really intrude into the trailer’s cargo space. There’s a lithium ion battery with an on-off controller attached, about the size of a hardback book, that slides into the rear cargo compartment and that’s basically it. There is a throttle attachment that they Velcro-tied onto our handlebars, and then strung the wire for it back along the frame with more Velcro ties. It clipped into the wire coming from the motor at the rear wheel bolt, which is the same place that the trailer itself attaches. For novices like me: a Burley trailer attaches with a hitch plate that is threaded onto the same bolt that holds the rear wheel onto the bicycle frame. The trailer frame has a drop-in pin that goes through the hole in the hitch plate, with a back-up strap that loops around the bicycle frame in case it fails. Ridekick estimates that the trailer can go about 15 miles on a charge, depending very much on local conditions (how much weight and how big a hill?)

Technically both boys are too old for the trailer, but we never pay attention to stuff like that.

Technically both boys are too old for the trailer, but we never pay attention to stuff like that.

"Oh, if I must."

“Oh, if I must.”

My kids hadn’t ridden in a trailer for a year and were thrilled to get back in one. They also brought a friend. For our first test ride, we attached the assisted trailer to the Kona MinUte and then Matt took the two 7-year-olds for a spin through Golden Gate Park.

Something I may not have mentioned before is that Matt is less enamored of new bike experiences than I am. He mostly just treats all the experimentation I do like my weird hobby. He’s not big into optimizing his riding experience. The first bike he got was the Kona MinUte, and when it was stolen, he bought another one just like it. I got him a new pannier for Christmas one year when he complained that the ones that come standard on the MinUte were not office-appropriate (definitely true), but he has never used it. When we got the Bullitt he said for two months that we should have replaced the car instead, although he has since come around. So Matt was actually pretty grouchy about coming down to Golden Gate Park on a Saturday morning for “another bike thing.” He had had other plans.

It is in this context that I say that Matt loved the Ridekick child trailer from the moment he started riding with it. Generally neither of us is a big fan of throttle assists (the kind that go when you push the button, whether you are pedaling or not), but in the context of pulling well over a hundred pounds of weight behind the bike, the throttle assist is extremely appealing, especially at intersections. At steep intersections it is sometimes impossible for us to start a heavily loaded bicycle, even with the BionX, because the BionX doesn’t kick in until your speed exceeds 2 mph. Although Golden Gate Park is a little thin on steep hills—its grades top out at about 12%—Matt took it on a moderate hill, probably 10% grade, behind the Conservatory and had no trouble hauling both 7-year-olds up. When you’re riding with an assisted trailer, you don’t have to feel like you’re dragging an anvil.

It was a struggle to get him out of the trailer so his sister could have a turn.

It was a struggle to get him out of the trailer so his sister could have a turn.

When he came back I took our daughter for a solo turn around the park on the bike. Despite the fact that I was on the MinUte, which is a huge hassle to get on and off for me at the moment, I loved the Ridekick child trailer too. It resolves a lot of child trailer problems all at once. There’s no drag from the trailer unless you want to work harder. When you get tired, you can have it push you along for a little while. Taking breaks like this, interspersed with pedaling, got me up the same hill behind the Conservatory that Matt had ridden. That felt amazing! And it’s something that is currently completely out of reach for me on an unassisted bicycle.

There is probably a limit to the Ridekick’s capabilities. We have the advantage that we are using to riding up hills, and so we just need an extra boost now and again when we have extra weight on the bike. Even I, in my reduced state, tended to use the assist for a while, then pedal solo for a little bit, then repeat. My guess is that a weak rider could burn it out on the steepest hills, given that Matt has overheated the BionX on the steeper hills in our neighborhood occasionally. We’d have to ride with it a lot more to be sure. Then again, how many families really deal with hills like ours on a regular basis?

In the world of trailers, which tend to be useful but not that fun, the Ridekick assisted child trailer is a killer app, both useful AND fun. Normal trailers drag, and pulling them can be exhausting. As a result, even though most cargo bikes ride like tanks, cargo bikes are a lot easier. Still, in a situation where one parent drops off and another one picks up, you’d need two cargo bikes (which is exactly what we have now, but that’s a big commitment to start). But an assisted child trailer? Awesome! The assist means that riding is not a chore, it could be passed between parents’ bikes as needed, and it can keep the kids warm and dry, all for a (suggested) price of a single unassisted cargo bike. And as a rehab tool, it would be amazing.

If we could have, we would have bought it on the spot. But there is only one in the entire world. Our kids were crushed. “Can we keep it, please?” our daughter begged. “It goes fast! Can we keep it?” Alas, no.

Evidently Ridekick has gotten a fair bit of interest from parents who would like an aftermarket kit to assist their existing trailers. This doesn’t surprise me, but they still don’t even have the basic model in production. Ideally they could find a partner with an existing child trailer company (e.g. Burley, Chariot, Wike) and add the assist option to their standard product lineup. I’m sure there is sufficient demand.

This trailer is so much fun!

This trailer is so much fun!

How cool is the Ridekick assisted child trailer? It’s so cool that if it had been on the market when we started riding with our kids, we might never have gotten cargo bikes. Even with my misgivings about the width of trailers versus bike lanes and having the kids behind me in city traffic instead of in front, having a trailer that could glide up hills, as well as being able to swap it between bikes, would be worth compromising in other areas. I have zero regrets about getting cargo bikes, especially given that the Ridekick child trailer isn’t actually available yet, but an assisted trailer would have been a much lower stakes way to ease into family biking, and it would travel well. I could be biased by the fact that this trailer allowed me to ride up hills that I couldn’t have otherwise attempted, but I loved the Ridekick.

 

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Filed under Brompton, commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews, San Francisco, trailer-bike

We ride ALL THE BIKES

Oh, the places we go

Oh, the places we go

It sometimes strikes me as excessive that Matt and I have four bikes between us. Yet we are close enough in height that we can share, or perhaps we would have even more bikes. Matt rides the Kona MinUte to work, and I am the only one who rides the mamachari (it’s too girly for him). We both use the Bullitt to haul our kids around and for major shopping. And the Brompton, although it’s kind of slog getting it the hill where we live, is handy for multimodal trips (and it’s not actually necessary to ride it up the hill, not when there is an elevator, and buses).

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

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

Although four bikes, even if one fits in our boarded up fireplace, feels like a lot, we do actually use them all. Admittedly, our kids also each have a bike, and then there is the trailer bike. But when I thought about it, it didn’t feel outrageous to have all these bikes because we actually used them all last weekend. And this weekend wasn’t that different from most weeks.

Yes, the MinUte is a real cargo bike.

Yes, the MinUte is a real cargo bike.

Matt rides the Kona MinUte to work by preference, although he sometimes takes the Bullitt and has occasionally taken the Brompton. The MinUte is most useful for his commute because it can carry one kid and stuff like work supplies and groceries, but is roughly the size of a normal bike. The bike traffic on Market Street, which is his route downtown, can be pretty heavy, which makes a full-size cargo bike tough to maneuver, and there are often heavy winds, so although taking the Bullitt is nice for the kids, it isn’t the greatest without them. (Last week he had to take the wind cover off the Bullitt while he was downtown to keep it from blowing over once he dropped our son off—with weight in the bucket, wind isn’t an issue, and even if it were it would be worth it with kids aboard. But without them that cover is like a giant sail.) Matt also takes the MinUte to his martial arts class in the evenings, so he can pick up groceries on the way home. It’s not bad for dropping off library books on the weekend either.

Loading up: three kids in the box of our Bullitt bicycle.

Loading up: three kids in the box of our Bullitt bicycle.

The Bullitt, ah the Bullitt. We take the Bullitt when we’re riding with the kids. At this time of year, they are positively obnoxious about the thought of riding on any other bike. They like the comfy seat and the weather cover and the fact that they can sit and read in the bike and talk to us. They like asking their friends to join them in the bucket. The wails that ensue when our daughter learns that our son got to ride the Bullitt to school are matched only by the wails that ensue when our son learns that our daughter got to ride the Bullitt to preschool. We also take the Bullitt for trips when we know we’ll be carrying heavy loads.

Half a dozen pizzas? Please.

Half a dozen pizzas? Please.

On Saturday morning, while Matt and our daughter were taking a martial arts class, I loaded up our son and headed to Rainbow for groceries. Taking the Bullitt to Rainbow is fabulous because we can do all our shopping while cars are idling outside waiting for a spot to open up in the lot. Also I enjoy riding to Rainbow because their lovely, cargo-bike friendly racks have stickers on them saying, “Thank you for biking!” It was a lot of shopping and thus a little cramped in the bucket for our son on the way home, but we’ve yet to throw a load at the Bullitt that it can’t handle. However, like any cargo bike, the Bullitt can be a bear to park in San Francisco—parking is our number one topic of discussion with other cargo biking parents in San Francisco. I also worry about it being stolen in certain neighborhoods.  And without the kids, it can be a lot of bike. Even so I’d probably ride it all the time if it weren’t for the parking issue.

Parking wasn't a tight squeeze on this trip, but you never know.

Parking wasn’t a tight squeeze on this trip, but you never know.

The mamachari is what I ride when I am going someplace where I’m worried about bike parking or bike theft, or when Matt has the Bullitt. It is slow but assisted and can carry either kid. I rode it to the Rosa Parks school auction on Saturday night because Matt rode the Bullitt, and also because the mamachari has a step through frame and I was wearing a dress. Then I took it to the farmers market on Sunday morning, because it’s a small enough bike that I can walk it right up to the stands, at which point I can dump whatever produce we buy directly into the baskets. As a result, our farmers market shopping takes about 15 minutes these days.

Our son is now well over four feet tall and he still fits on the Brompton.

Our son is now well over four feet tall and he still fits on the Brompton.

I rode the Brompton down to Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoon to meet a lovely family considering buying their own IT Chair (and not for the first time, either). I would ride the Brompton more if it weren’t for the big hill we live on, but I’ve taken it to the park many times because it’s easy to stash it in odd corners and because the kids love to ride it when the weather is nice. If they can’t be in the Bullitt, the other bike with a front seat is the bike they choose. Even at seven years old, our son still likes riding it. And for days that involve a bus ride or a train ride or meeting Matt somewhere after he’s taken a business trip that involved a rental car, there is no better choice than the Brompton. It is also our alternate farmers market bike, although the bag is not quite as great for produce as the mamachari’s double baskets.

Two adults and four bikes: we could certainly survive with fewer, but this turns out to be the right number to make our lives easy. It’s true that added together, our four very nice bikes cost almost as much as a cheap used car, but they cost almost nothing to own and maintain (we could have bought a fifth bike with what it cost to replace the tires on our old minivan). Plus it’s easier to get around the city on our bikes than it was with one car and transit. And given that we literally swapped our car for our bikes—plus a car share membership for trips out of town—we feel like we’ve come out ahead.

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Filed under Brompton, Bullitt, car-free, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco