Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bike v. bike: Yuba Mundo v4 meets the Surly Big Dummy

It's fun to say "Mundo"

Last week, while hauling around on the loaner Mundo, we met up with our friends from school who recently bought a Big Dummy. They were interested in the Mundo and we were interested in the Dummy. We all met up at Golden Gate Park on Sunday at Sunday Skate to compare the bikes.

Shirley takes her girls (1st and 2nd grade) to school every day on the deck of the Big Dummy. On weekends, her husband B.D. rides the bike and she rides on the deck, with the girls riding alongside on their own bikes. She says she gets some great videos this way, and it is an awesome sight to see them riding en masse. The ride to school with the kids on deck is mostly downhill, but she’s got to get them back home again, and they live on Lone Mountain. There is evidently some pushing, but she’s made it up many hills with her legs alone, and reports receiving applause from passing drivers for this accomplishment. I went up to Alamo Square with my two kids on the Mundo: where is my applause? Honestly, there is no justice in the universe.

Two big bikes roll into a park...

So anyway, that afternoon they rode around on the Mundo for a while and I rode a bit on the Dummy. We were in the park, so we didn’t try any hills, but it was still an interesting comparison. These bikes look similar in some ways, but they are wildly different. If I had to summarize briefly (not my strongest suit), I would say that the Mundo is like an ox, and the Dummy is like a horse. They’re both useful, but sometimes you want the carrying capacity of an ox and sometimes you want the speed of a horse.

Learning to ride the Mundo was not easy for me (not just me). It is a heavy bike that feels more like a wagon sometimes, hard to start and slow to stop, although once the momentum kicks in, riding it is mellow enough. Getting on the Dummy felt like getting on a regular bicycle that just happened to be somewhat longer than usual. I couldn’t ride the Dummy with much of a load, because Shirley and B.D. are taller than I am, and none of us are the kind of people who carry Allen wrenches everywhere we go to adjust the seat height (as if that were not obvious). The frame size was fine, but I didn’t feel comfortable putting my daughter on a bike that I had to hop down from at a stop, and for that matter, they didn’t have a child seat. So I rode it mostly unloaded. It felt fast, and it was easy to pick up and ride.

Business in front, party in back

But B.D. and Shirley could ride both bikes fully loaded, and their opinions are more informed anyway. They liked riding the Mundo, particularly the fact that it could carry three kids effortlessly. They feel that two older kids is the maximum safe load on their Dummy. Because they’re used to riding a cargo bike already, they picked up riding the Mundo much more quickly than I did. They too found the Bread Basket disconcerting at first, and almost tipped the bike figuring it out (I am not alone!) But like me, they loved the carrying capacity it added with kids on board. The kids all agreed that the Mundo was awesome, and wanted to pile on as a foursome, which we did not allow them to do. We have limits: only three kids per bicycle! For that matter, they agreed the Dummy was awesome.

Okay, next bike

Both Shirley and B.D. liked the feel of riding the Dummy better, and we all agreed it was more nimble. They also noted that the Dummy had better components, including both a lighter frame and disc brakes (optional and an extra charge on the Mundo). I concur that disc brakes should not be optional on a cargo bike in San Francisco. But, as B.D. pointed out, “The Mundo is $1,000 cheaper!” And it comes with fenders and a double-kickstand that is fearsomely stable, but hard to use: this was the only part on either bicycle that I could operate better than they could, having practiced. Neither bicycle, to everyone’s annoyance, comes with hub dynamo lights. “Why doesn’t our bike have lights?” asked Shirley. “Why doesn’t ours?” I replied. Goodness knows you’re not going to be worrying about weight or drag with either bicycle.

After riding the Mundo, we realized what the MinUte can do (it is parked)

Which bicycle would I get if money were no object? Trick question: we’d get the Kona MinUte again. We have realized lately that we’ve underestimated the MinUte; it can do far more than we’d realized. I can ride it! With both kids on board! This is a story for another day. But it’s an honest answer in some ways: I think that both bikes are designed for families that have different needs than we do.

We are a small family living in a city with extensive shopping; by preference, we get groceries several times a week in small quantities, and we carry, at most, two children. And we live on a mountain. And we are car-light, not car-free. If we were a suburban/small city family with 3 kids, particularly if they were older and we were more experienced riders: no question, the Mundo. If we were a city family like Shirley and B.D., with more serious shopping loads and a different kind of commute, we’d get the Big Dummy. If we wanted to haul furniture or heavy loads regularly, we’d get the Mundo. If we took long rides, especially off-road, we’d get the Big Dummy—B.D. took their kids on the mountain biking trails around the Palace of the Legion of Honor on the Dummy, and they all had a great time. None of us would attempt that kind of ride on the Mundo.

And of course, if money is an issue, the Mundo’s price is dramatically cheaper, even with the shouldn’t-be-optional disc brake upgrade. If money isn’t as much of a concern, the Big Dummy has more range, and it is a lot easier to ride.

I couldn’t be more pleased I got the chance to ride both bikes, and our kids were crushed when we had to pack it up at dusk (no hub dynamo lights on these bikes! curse The Man!) Riding around on cargo bikes with our kids is the best way we’ve found yet to entertain ourselves on a weekend afternoon. I would never have imagined this and it is hard to explain. Shirley and B.D. had the same difficulty that I do communicating how wonderful it feels to ride with our kids, completely different from any other mode of transportation or even any other activity. We still can’t believe it’s cheaper and easier than driving, and we keep wondering what the catch is. Like them, I am so grateful that we started this wild ride.


Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco, Yuba Mundo

A long day on the Yuba Mundo

Yet another relative I talked into trying out the Mundo

A week ago Saturday we decided to ride the Mundo everywhere we went. This was maybe not the smartest move on a bike I wasn’t used to, but I figured it would be a way to learn. Also, on Saturday mornings we take the kids to swim class across town, near where my sister and brother-in-law live, which meant we could get their opinions on the Mundo, and see them for brunch. And then we figured we could pick up some groceries at Rainbow while we were in the area. Total overkill, but I’m all about overshooting my comfort zone.

We don’t ride much on the south side of the city. Once we got to the Panhandle, the entire route was flat, almost disconcertingly so. This must be the part of San Francisco where people ride fixies. On the other hand, although there are bike lanes and sharrows, the traffic down there is terrifying. It’s all giant trucks and long straight wide roads that encourage speeding and there are overpasses with freeway traffic thundering over at every turn. The whole experience of getting down there was nerve-wracking. It was a relief to reach the campus, which has a large protected quad in the center near the entrance to the pool, a bicycle and pedestrian oasis in a neighborhood that still hasn’t really transitioned away from industry.

After swim class we headed to brunch at Brickhouse, a child-friendly café with bikes hanging from the ceiling, including a push me-pull you tricycle with handles and pedals on both the front and the back (see link; as its practical value was nil, why not hang it from the ceiling?) And from there we headed to Rainbow to pick up groceries and downtown to get our mystery box from Mariquita Farms.

The Mundo I’m riding has Yuba’s new Bread Basket. This makes it possible to carry both groceries (on the front) and children (on the back). The inability of most long tail bikes to carry both kids and groceries is something that’s irritated me for quite a while. In general, if you put kids on the back, the bags can’t carry a week’s worth of groceries, because that’s where the kids’ legs need to go. I’ve found it hard to accept these bikes as being a true replacement for a car, let alone a minivan, either of which can carry both a cartload groceries and children at the same time. We don’t typically have time to split up these errands; we shop on the way home from work. I suspect our experience would be different if one of us was a stay-at-home parent, but that’s not how we roll.

It's not just me that finds it disconcerting

So the Bread Basket is a total score of an addition to the bike. However, because it is attached to the frame, and it does not move when the handlebars and wheels turn, it is deeply and profoundly disconcerting until you get used to it. I tipped the bike over twice learning to ride because the Bread Basket’s steadfast unwillingness to reflect my steering made me try to yank the handlebars too far over. I accept that it’s the right decision to put it there because its attachment to the frame means you can casually dump unbelievable weight in there, but it still freaks me out a little.

So at Rainbow, I piled about two bags of groceries in the Bread Basket, including:

  • Small bag of cumin
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 2 lbs russet potatoes
  • 1 lb of cheddar cheese
  • 1 block of cream cheese
  • 1 box of Ak Mak crackers
  • 1 lb of garganelli
  • 3.5 lbs of flour
  • 1.5 lbs of raisins
  • 1 lb of couscous
  • 1 lb of rye flour
  • 1.5 lbs of dried anasazi beans
  • 1 lb of dried ayacote morado beans
  • Cupcake and chocolates for kids on the ride home

The Yuba Mundo haul

Isn’t that just fascinating? I can’t believe we’ve become such hippies; we might as well start eating dirt after a credibility-busting haul like this. Then we added a bag with our jackets (not needed for this ride), my daughter’s wet clothes after an accident at the grocery store, my U-lock, wallet, keys, etc.  The kids climbed on the back. At that point I was riding very, very slowly, but I’ll admit, I was impressed that this was possible at all.

I forgot the milk, of course. Fortunately we live near a range of bodegas open 24/7.

Matt’s Kona was pulling its weight as well; he was carrying the mystery box, which contained:

  • 1 bunch carrots
  • 1 daikon
  • 1 head savoy cabbage
  • 1 head escarole
  • 1 large bunch white turnips
  • 1 bunch red radishes
  • 1 lb peanuts
  • 1 large bag baby tat-soi
  • 2 heads cheddar cauliflower
  • 1 bag of limes
  • 2 heads couve tronchuda
  • 1 bunch formanova beets
  • 1 20# box of apples (bungeed to the deck)

The Kona MinUte haul

We had doubts about what on earth we were going to do with the couve tronchuda (answer: gyoza). I digress. On top of that, we stuffed in his jacket and U-lock and the kids’ swim gear. Don’t let anyone tell you the MinUte’s not a real cargo bike. And then we rode 4 miles home.

We were really, really tired, despite the thrill of accomplishment. As other riders commented, “You’re not even getting any help from those two.” So true, but our daughter was passed out in the Peanut at that point, so it’s just as well. The Peanut is a bear of a seat to get kids in and out of, but I like the support; 5-point restraints, full leg shields, and even some side bracing for naps. This is a much better seat in every way than the other deck-mounted seat we’ve used, the Co-Pilot Limo. (Our other rear seat, the Bobike Maxi, mounts to the frame and as a result has pros and cons relative to the Peanut.)

The Yuba is a heavy bike, even heavier with all the stuff we had on it. I found myself really resenting red lights and stop signs because I hated losing whatever momentum I’d gained and having to start from a stop.  Getting to the Panhandle path was a relief (no stopping). With a long uninterrupted route, it would have been much easier. That’s not the kind of riding we do most of the time, however. On the other hand, riding this kind of bike, loaded up as it was, meant that the entire city of San Francisco formed a cheering section on our behalf. Families walking through the park yelled, “Look at that bike!” and “That’s so cool!” and drivers kept stopping next to us, rolling down their windows, and filling me in on activities on the back of the bike (“Your daughter is sleeping in her seat!”) I find San Francisco a very friendly city in general, but on days like this it really lays on the charm.

Despite the fact that I blog, which could only be viewed as a desperate bid for attention, and haul my kids around town on my bike(s), which is attention-getting whether you want it to be or not, I have mixed feelings about all of this. I often prefer to ride quietly, solo, to work with all of the other less interesting bikes (although I miss the conversations with my kids when I do). But for a more hardcore family biking advocate, a Yuba Mundo would be a formidable weapon indeed.


Filed under cargo, family biking, rides, San Francisco, Yuba Mundo

San Francisco hills and grades

When we started riding our bikes, we feared San Francisco topography. We expected to need the elevator that goes up the hill to our neighborhood every day, and that was one of the reasons we avoided a real cargo bike, which was too long to fit in it. A while ago Stacy at A Simple Six asked me about our experience riding on hills, and whether we’d looked at electric assists for our bikes. I was surprised to realize, when she asked, how long it had been since we’d thought much about the hills on our regular route that much. We got stronger, and now we ride. I can’t remember the last time I took the elevator unless I was walking.

And yet. The hill where we live is no joke. If I’m carrying a kid home, I prefer to shower or at least swipe a wet washcloth even if I ride very slowly (even though my office is on a different hill, it’s not as intimidating and sweating is not an issue unless I’m somehow possessed with the idea of going fast).  I cheerfully gave up feeling guilty about not ever managing to talk myself into HIIT at the gym given that it’s required several days a week just to get home. Moreover, there are places in the city that we simply will not go.

What do I mean by hills? Here’s a sampling from around our neighborhood. Grades are drawn from veloroutes and the SFBC city map.

Hill #1: 25% grade (probably)

Hill #1: This is one of the direct routes to our home. We do not ride our bikes up this hill. We don’t drive up this hill. My students tell me they will detour three blocks to avoid walking up this hill. It is difficult to get an accurate grade, because it is bordered by the campus, and thus not surveyed by the city, but when veloroutes isn’t saying the grade is 35%+ (I find this unlikely), it claims it is 25%, which I find more plausible.

This hill has become the hideout for campus smokers (smoking is forbidden on the hospital campus) because no one else wants to go there. Taking this photograph was unpleasant as I was surrounded by secondhand smoke.

Hill #2: 17% grade

Hill #2: This is the other direct route to our home. We do not ride our bikes up this hill. We do drive up this hill when we’re in the car, and when relevant, we’ll walk up it. It is supposedly about a 17% grade. Like Hill #1, it is easy to photograph from the side because cars are not allowed to parallel park. Instead, one side of the street is nose-in 90-degree parking, and the other side is reserved for two travel lanes. This is what the City and County of San Francisco does when the streets are so steep that cars might actually roll down them while parked, even if the wheels were curbed.

Hill #3: 13% grade

Hill #3: A pretty direct route to our home. We have ridden our bikes up this hill with our kids aboard, once, in my case, with both kids aboard. That was an experience I would prefer not to repeat. This hill is estimated to run about a 13% grade, which still requires nose-in parking on one side of the street only (thus no cars in the photo) but is not so immediately off-putting to the experienced local that the thought of finding alternate routes seemed required. We walk up and down this hill several times a week and have never given it a second thought when driving. However once we learned there was a reasonably convenient detour that spread the same elevation over two blocks instead of one, we started taking that route almost exclusively. But our kids love bombing down this hill in the morning. Yeah, we’re bad parents.

Hill #4: less than 10% grade

Hill #4: On the alternate route home. This hill is less than 10% grade, and pretty typical for the streets around the city. Unless you’re in the flats of the Financial District/SoMa/China Basin (or headed there through Golden Gate Park and along the Wiggle), you’ll be going up and down a few hills like this on a typical ride in San Francisco. There are two hills like this on my way to work; one pretty short (behind the Conservatory of Flowers) and one long, extended haul up to Laurel Heights.

Cars are parallel-parked on both sides of the street; I view this as a sign that I can probably ride a potential route, even if I’m carrying one or both kids, and so far that’s been a safe assumption. That doesn’t mean the experience will be pleasant, as my efforts to drag myself up Post Street and Fulton Street have proved, pretty definitively. So far I haven’t had to get off and push, but there have been close shaves.

Hill #5: same old, same old, less than 10% grade

Hill #5: More of the same, another less than 10% grade. Again, parallel parking means that I can ride up this hill without having my heart leap out of my chest and leave me lying on the ground gasping like a fish out of water, at least on a good day. Note that all of the cars have curbed their wheels; this is the law in San Francisco, and the fine for failing to do so is so draconian that even as an occasional driver, I cannot stop myself from doing it, even it means that I spend a minute trying to figure out which direction on a flat street is closest to downhill. Matt once got a ticket for leaving his wheels straight on a flat stretch of street between two hills because he couldn’t figure out which way to turn them. He contested that ticket and won, but if you’re visiting, well, if you’re visiting you probably shouldn’t be driving in the city, you won’t enjoy it.

But if you simply can’t help yourself, good luck to you, and curb your wheels. A tremor (they’re pretty common) will shift cars a bit all over the city, which means car alarms galore, but curbed wheels mean that those parked cars won’t careen down the hill taking out a swath of other cars and pedestrians. So basically I’m pro-curbing.

Going up hills on a bike, even relatively low-key ones like these, requires some thinking if you have kids on the back. I used to regularly come close to popping wheelies as I started up the hill due to all the weight in the rear. Now I compensate by pushing down hard on the handlebars as a counterbalance as I approach; it’s only the moments when I’m distracted by something and forget that I realize that I’ve developed the habit.

Part of the reason that I am concerned about having the ability to haul our kids on the bikes for years to come, even though our son is old enough to ride, is the hills. Our kids are strong and they’ve never known any other terrain. They see us riding these hills and they accept them as normal. However I suspect it may take some time before they’re really comfortable going up several of them in a single ride on their own. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but I think it’s safest to be prepared to bail them out.


Filed under commuting, San Francisco

Three, three, three

Daddy made it home in time for cupcakes

Today was our daughter’s birthday. Now she is three.

What she wanted for her birthday (among other things, including: a big girl bed, playdates with her closest preschool friends, a trip to the ice cream store) was to ride on the Yuba Mundo to school with her brother for morning Rajio Taiso (since that video was shot, the middle yard has been replaced with an edible garden and the wall has been painted over with a mural, but the tradition continues in the lower yard).

Since we started riding and our daughter started preschool near our house, her chances to visit his school, which she loves, have dropped significantly. Each of our bikes currently carries one kid, and the prospect of riding all the way there just to turn around and go back home is not especially appealing anyway. So trips to school have pretty much been reserved for times when one of us is on the road and the other drives both kids to school, as the alternative of dropping her off at preschool before 7am is unappealing to say the least.

But for now, we have a bike that carries two kids (and then some) and it was her birthday, and she was already disappointed that Matt was out of town. So I packed up the bike the night before, and in the morning, loaded up both kids. Just getting to the street in the morning on such a long bike is an undertaking, particularly when Matt is away. By the time I got outside, I realized it was raining. Fortunately the kids were in multiple layers.

All aboard!

Getting our son to school is a non-trivial trip, although most of it is a pleasant ride along the Panhandle before morning rush hour. However there is no avoiding the hills between home and school, and at some point we have to soldier up and pick the best of a bad lot. Our best route is a steep climb up to Alamo Square, then back down. On a bike that weighs over 50 pounds. With two kids on the back. In the rain. Round trip. I figured I could push the bike if I had to.

It turns out that with that kind of load, forgetting the rain gear was zero problem for me as the rider. I was so overheated after I got to the top of Alamo Square that the rain was turning into steam about six inches from my body, like a low-rent halo.  But I managed to make it up to the top without stopping. Yeah! I’m a mule!

When I stopped at the light on the downhill, a couple pulled up in a car next to me, and rolled down a window. Both were laughing. “Did you know that your little one signals when you do?” asked the passenger. “Like this!” laughed the driver, sticking out his left arm. “It’s SO cute!” I had no idea, but I was delighted.

Although it was a grind of a ride, it was a lot of fun. Along the path in the Panhandle it’s easy to talk with the kids because there’s no traffic noise, and for some reason, the acoustics of the Yuba Mundo are pretty good; I can hear both kids and they can chat with each other. Their conversations often make no sense to me, but they seem to enjoy them. And commuting on a long bike with two kids on the back is apparently more than twice as entertaining to the world at large as commuting with only one. Other riders frequently commented (“WOW!”), drivers stopped in the street to stare and grin and wave. As our friends with the Bug Dummy note, everybody loves a parade. I never enjoyed our driving commute, so it’s nice to feel that we’re now improving someone else’s, although it feels like cheating to get congratulated for doing something we love. Our son’s entrée into the schoolyard felt like escorting a visiting monarch, as kids walking to the school yelled his name and pumped their fists in the air when they saw us ride by. “Cool bike!” they shouted.

Riding back up the hill to Alamo Square was harder. It’s steeper on the return side, and I was tired. About halfway up I stopped for a while and invited my daughter to enjoy the view. “Are you going slowly, mommy?” she asked. She is no dummy.

By the time we got to the Panhandle again the bicycle commute was in full swing in the opposite direction. My daughter had taken to singing me songs, mostly Particle Man, a song that does not yet bore me even though she knows only two words. “Particle Man! Particle Man! Particle Man! Particle Man!” We saw hundreds of riders, mostly on their way to work, and with the rain, poison-frog-yellow Ortlieb panniers had sprouted off the side of many bikes like horizontal mushrooms.

"I'm a present!"

Every once in a while I’d see a dad (only dads for some reason) with a child seat on the back of the bike, or with a trailer-bike. I’ve realized that parent riders recognize each other instantly. They rang their bells in salute, we smiled and waved hello! Hello! My daughter was thrilled with the attention, which she seemed to take as worldwide recognition of her birthday. “I’m three!” she yelled. “I’m three!”

It was a hard ride, but I never could have imagined how much fun it turned out to be. There are so few of us with children in San Francisco; it’s not a family city. People give up on the schools without even visiting (our son’s lovely school is, astonishingly, under-enrolled). Parents flee the commute, not realizing they could ride as we do. We few, we happy few.


Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco, Yuba Mundo