Monthly Archives: June 2012

Getting in the game

The Exploratorium offers a chance to make a robot ride a bike. Why not people?

Something I hear more often than I expected is other bike riders saying they’re not really advocates for cycling. They claim that their advocacy is just to be out riding. I totally support people riding bikes, but it surprises me that so many people don’t want to advocate for cycling. The reasons people for not advocating for something they love strike me as not much different that the reasons people give for driving instead of riding their bikes. It’s not that it’s particularly hard to do either, although of course it’s easier to do the same things that we’ve always done. Weekend leisure riders who drive a car to work every day are definitely making a contribution by making riding bicycles look normal, and everyday bike commuters who avoid advocacy are doing the same, but I’ve always felt that if it’s something I love–and I do love riding my bicycle–why would I stop there?

It would take too much time, I don’t have the right bike, there are no showers at my office, there are hills, I drive a Prius instead.

It would take too much time, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s too hard, I ride my bike a lot instead.

Car-free Presidio: more like this, please.

Are they reasons or are they excuses? I’m not sure I’m one to judge, but I’m trying to do more. I figure that if I have the time to write a tweet I have the time to request a bike rack using the city’s online request form (my link is San Francisc0-specific, but Google pops up similar links for dozens of cities). If I have the time to write an email, let alone a blog post, I have the time to write a letter to the mayor and the head of Muni supporting the proposed separated Fell-Oak bike lanes. If I have the money to buy a new bike bell (or a new bike, cough cough), I have enough money to join the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and contribute to occasional fundraising drives. If I have the time to ask questions at the bike shop about my bike, I have the time to ask my credit union whether they could start making loans to get other people on bikes.

So I do all of these things, and occasionally things change for the better, and evidently this makes me an advocate. I am not in the league of A Simple Six, who is writing city bike plans and organizing community meetings and meeting with city officials one-on-one, or Family Ride and Tiny Helmets, who are starring in the local films and television news (and how cool is all of that?), but I once attended a hearing. Just like riding, I’m figuring it out as I go along. And although it’s not the same, I think that in its own way it’s just as rewarding as riding a bike.

Leave a comment

Filed under advocacy, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

Trailer-bike: Roland add+bike

Breezer Uptown 8 and Bobike Maxi and Roland add+bike: Three countries on one bike (four if you count the Japanese front rack)

There’s a new bicycle accessory in the house. In response to my son’s requests for an opportunity to pedal, we got a trailer-bike. Technically he’s old enough to ride by himself, but given the traffic and hills around San Francisco, none of us felt ready for that.

Although we saw the promise of trailer-bikes early-on, we had difficulty finding one we liked. The ones that mounted to the stem of the adult’s bike (Adams Trail-a-Bike, Weehoo) were unstable in both our personal experience and in other parents’ more harrowing experiences. And we couldn’t mount a rear child seat over one (ditto for the Trail-Gator). The Burley Piccolo mounts solidly to a custom rack, but the knob-mount is huge and meant that again we couldn’t mount a child seat over one—or for that matter, use the top of the rack. The FollowMe tandem looked more promising, but reviewers noted it was extremely heavy even without the bike attached, making it tough to go up hills—not that it mattered, as word from the only US distributor of the FollowMe tandem, Clever Cycles (Portland), was that they were out of stock and would be for the foreseeable future.

This is the Roland add+bike’s attachment to the rear rack

I don’t remember where I heard about the Roland add+bike, but when I did I noticed two things right away: first, it mounted to the rack, like the Piccolo, which made it more stable. Second, the mounting point was nearly flat and sat at the end of the rack, making it possible to mount a child seat for our daughter over it and to use the entire rack, like the FollowMe. It cost a little less, in US dollars, than a Piccolo. The downside, and this was a big downside, was that it was only sold in Germany.

But fortune smiled. Ever since high school I have had a good friend in Munich, Oli. We were, by coincidence, exchange students in each others’ high schools. One month after I learned about the Roland, Oli wrote to say he was visiting San Francisco to complete an audit, and would we like to meet while he was in town? I asked him if wanted to stay with us and if he’d heard of the Roland. He had. He said he’d love to stay with us, as his company was blanching at the cost of hotel rooms in San Francisco, and in return he’d be delighted to bring us a Roland add+bike from Munich as one of his checked bags. Win-win!

Our kids were thrilled to have someone so tall to carry them around.

Oli, as it happens, loves bikes as much as we do. He and his wife imported their own Bakfiets from the Netherlands to Munich for commuting with their three daughters. “We call it… the FERRARI!” Within a week, he’d found us a used Roland add+bike and its custom rack on German eBay for the unbelievable price of 77 Euros. It was a single speed model. (The Roland also comes in 3-speed and 7-speed models, both of which have internally geared hubs! On a trailer-bike!) But for that kind of savings we could live without gears. Oli said that used Rolands are cheap in Germany now because the fenders and chain guards are made of plastic, and everyone is concerned about potential BPA exposure. I was so thrilled that the trailer-bike came with fenders and a chain guard—totally non-standard in the US—that I was willing to tell our kids not to lick the parts. Also: unbeatable value!

Up, up, and away! Matt needed the car to catch up to us on this hill.

The Roland rack is the custom rear rack we fitted on the Breezer when upgrading a half-dozen other things. Our bike shop complained that this was, ultimately, not a particularly easy job. But it totally worked. When we picked up the Breezer, we brought the Roland with us and built a giant articulated bike right there on the sidewalk: Breezer+Bobike Maxi+Roland. After the bike shop adjusted the handlebars to our son’s height, we took it for a spin. It was quite a sight. Everyone ran out of the shop to watch.

This rod drops into a metal through-hole in the rear rack. The divot in the rod is for a smaller, sprung rod that is mounted horizontally below the rack itself, and which prevents the attachment rod from bouncing out on bumps.

The Roland is by far the nicest trailer-bike I have ever seen, and it boggles my mind that no one is importing it. The custom rack is very heavy-duty, and at the rear there is a metal through-hole welded to the rack itself. A rod points down from the latch-point of the trailer bike, and slips into the through-hole. It locks into place where a second rod springs into a divot on the side of the attachment rod to secure it. Although the weight of the trailer-bike alone would probably hold everything in position, the extra attachment-point makes it even more secure. (This is all very hard to explain in words; check out the pictures for details.) Once in place the trailer-bike can rotate through turns because the rod turns inside the through-hole.

Matt tried out riding the Breezer with the Roland add+bike–this is the end of the Wiggle (the unpleasant part).

As mentioned, the Roland is pretty plush by American standards. A chain guard and fender are standard. There are lots of accessories available, including a kid-sized rear rack for panniers, not to mention a cargo kickstand for the trailer-bike itself, as well as extra metal mounts—as this part is small and cheap to ship overseas, we are already thinking of ordering one and drilling a hole into the Kona MinUte’s deck for it. Why not? Our son loves this trailer-bike. He is thrilled to be pedaling without the stress of dealing with traffic, and with, let’s face it, with an adult power assist to get him up the hills.

Like any trailer-bike, the Roland adds extra weight, and this is not necessarily insignificant. Being able to carry two kids and two panniers plus whatever I can stuff in the new front basket means the Breezer can now really haul, and this is fantastically practical. However with the Bobike Maxi and my daughter on the back, in addition to my son on the Roland, getting up real hills is hard work even with a stoker, although it’s no problem where it’s flat. Even with the extra work, this is a welcome additional option for carrying two kids on one bike, especially if they’re squabbling, which can be a problem when they’re sharing the deck on the Kona MinUte. (That can be a problem on any longtail bike; it isn’t a MinUte-specific concern.)

So overall: we adore the Roland. I would suggest that anyone who is interested in a trailer-bike and who has access to a willing German get one. Apparently they’re cheap right now on German eBay. But I realize this isn’t the most helpful suggestion. It’s like suggesting that someone take their preschooler to school on an authentic Japanese mamachari. It is wildly unlikely that anyone who doesn’t have my recent phenomenal bicycle luck could find either one. At the same time, given the reaction I’ve gotten to both, it astonishes me that there are not already dozens of entrepreneurs rushing to import them.

Let’s ride!

Last but not least, the Roland has done something I didn’t think was possible. It has made my Breezer look cool. I have accepted that the Breezer is the least visibly impressive of all our bicycles; it has been compared to a vacuum cleaner, and this was not intended as a compliment. Yet I appreciate its practicality, and I ride it more than any of our other bicycles. For the first time ever, though, when I was riding the Breezer loaded up with a rear child seat and a trailer-bike in my own personal parade, people shouted “Cool bike!” as we rode by. And it was very sweet to have our most underrated bike finally get the appreciation it deserved.

17 Comments

Filed under Bobike, Breezer, family biking, trailer-bike

Mission Sunday Streets with Loop-Frame Love

People of the family bike en route to Mission Sunday Streets

This year, Sunday Streets is in the Mission four months in a row. Sunday Streets in San Francisco has become so popular since it started in 2008 that it will happen twice in July–both in the Mission and in the Bayview/Dogpatch, down near my sister and brother-in-law’s condo. We are so there.

But the June Mission Sunday Streets was special. Gil Penalosa, credited with founding the entire Sunday Streets movement in 1995 when he developed Bogota’s Ciclovia, came to visit San Francisco to see Mission Sunday Streets (the Chronicle article I linked is appallingly dismissive, referring to Penalosa as a “wobbly” cyclist, which I doubt very much, but anyway). And Loop-Frame Love came down from Seattle to visit us! Okay, she was really in town for a conference, but close enough. I am sort of spacey at times and hadn’t realized that she was a scientist [swoon] but it meant we had three things to talk about: bicycles, kids, and science! How cool is that? Please come back soon, Loop-Frame Love, and stay longer next time. San Francisco has been very good to us, but it lacks Seattle’s incredible family biking community. We’re working on it.

Loop-Frame Love gives our daughter a lift uphill.

Our last visit to Mission Sunday Streets was great, but June’s Sunday Streets was even more impressive. There were thousands more people and many more family bikes out. This time we did not miss the capoeira demonstration. One of our son’s classmates who lives nearby is in one of the children’s classes and took a turn, and we saw some other friends there, including the school librarian. Our PTA president was there (sans triple tandem). From there we returned to Dynamo Donuts at the other end of the route, then turned around to go back.

Because we started much later in the day this year, on our way back we saw the streets reopening to cars. It was sadder than I had thought it would be. A police car and two motorcycles swept down the street with lights and sirens shooing happy pedestrians onto the sidewalk, where they piled up in crowds that struggled to move. On a few side streets people resisted. It is surprisingly depressing to watch a living street return to being a dead space. Cars use streets but they don’t interact with them. No one dances in a street occupied by moving cars.

New sharrow marker along the Wiggle: you can’t miss it.

Loop-Frame Love rode the Brompton (sans IT Chair) most of the afternoon. We also got to show off the new sharrow markers in the Wiggle, which make the route much, much clearer. There have been complaints about the shade of green, which is indeed very jarring. But given that drivers around this area routinely drive into the Muni tunnels despite warning signs, speed bumps, and the absence of a road, then get stuck for hours and block the trains, my sense is there is no much thing as too much visibility on any San Francisco street. That is, unless it is a Sunday Street, and there are not yet nearly enough of those.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brompton, destinations, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Family bikes we have seen

I am getting a little better about taking pictures of interesting family bikes we see around the city. Some of them are ridden by people we know, and some of them seem to be just passing through. There are now more manufacturers in the US focused on creating bicycles that work for families–Xtracycle (almost everything) and Surly (Big Dummy), Kona (Ute and MinUte) Yuba (Mundo, elMundo, maybe the as-yet-unrevealed Boda Boda), Metrofiets, KidzTandem–but it’s not a hugely developed market, especially as kids get older. So people often work out their own strategies, and they’re sometimes even more interesting.

Purple tandem with a trailer-bike attachment

This isn’t the best photo, but this bike belongs to a family we know and is a tandem with a trailer-bike attached. The dad is a former mountain bike racer and we see them during member hours at the Academy of Sciences sometimes. Matt caught this picture of one of their many bikes during a party at a mutual friend’s house in the Presidio, although he didn’t see them riding it.

Two recumbents and a trailer at the Palace of Fine Arts

I think these two recumbent bicycle pirates were just passing through, because I’ve never seen them before or since. But these recumbents had a kid trailer (there was a small helmet inside and stuffed animals), and both bikes had an electric assist; one in the front hub and one in the rear hub. I didn’t find the riders but would have liked to ask them the difference. They had very large battery packs which supports my suspicion that they were only visiting San Francisco. Also they were recumbent bicycles, and I’ve never met anyone who liked riding those in city traffic. Yay, tail pipe exhaust. Woo hoo, unlikely to be seen by drivers.

Custom Bilenky kitted out for a family ride

Last but not least is the custom Bilenky I spotted at the Golden Gate Bridge anniversary party, with a child seat added to the rear rack. The dad who was riding it said he had gotten it before he was a parent, but with that much cargo space it seems reasonable enough to squeeze a child seat on somewhere. I have seen pictures of cargo bikes (and cargo scooters) with kids on the front deck, but his son was young and a rear seat is probably safer at that age.

I have a lead on another wild family bike, but no photos yet: to be continued, I hope.

Leave a comment

Filed under family biking, San Francisco, Uncategorized

Summer time and a new commute

The day-glo orange t-shirt is issued to every wheelkids camper.

Now that school is out, our son will be spending most of June at wheelkids bike camp, learning to start, stop and with any luck, to scale some of San Francisco’s notorious topography. He had a slight edge over some other kids his age going into camp, having never used training wheels, so there were no bad habits to break. However I think I have mentioned before that his braking strategy to date has been to point the bike at one of us and yell, “Grab my bike! I need to stop!”

That’s fine at the park, but let’s draw the curtain of charity over what it was like at stop signs. The hills around our place were also an issue. Anyway, from the perspective of improved braking technique, especially on hills, so far so good. He is having a great time, and on the ride home from camp yesterday, pointed out hills he’d ridden up and down by himself, some of which were pretty respectable. Yesterday was his first ride on the Brompton IT Chair. He’s really too tall for it, but is now confident enough to climb aboard. Anyway it is very fun to have a conversation with a tall kid in an IT Chair, sort of like sitting in the corner of a coffee shop. A moving coffee shop.

One of the Presidio hills we face: Note the no bicycles sign. Go up if you can, but it’s too steep to ride down.

The only downside of wheelkids, from our perspective, was that it is in Fort Mason Center, on the northern edge of the city, nowhere near our usual commute routes. Not to mention there is that huge unavoidable hill in the Presidio between here and there. In addition, there was the issue of how to get our son’s bike to camp on the first day. I had hoped to attach it to the Brompton with the Trail-Gator we scored on craigslist, ride over with him, and drop off both kid and bike. But ultimately we were unable to get the bracket on. The Trail-Gator also wouldn’t fit over the MinUte‘s long rear deck. The Breezer seat post was blocked by rear child seats and their attachments. How could this be impossible? Late Sunday night we gave up. We drove our son to bike camp on Monday morning. Oh, the irony. It is a hellish commute by car in the morning, with unbearable traffic, and it consumed over 45 minutes. By comparison the bike ride takes about 35-40 minutes and goes through two nationally renowned parks. Driving was The Suck.

Heading out to wheelkids and the Financial District on the Kona MinUte. Note Matt is wearing dress pants for this commute; he is so hardcore that he does this route perspiration-free.

Evidently it is standard practice to drive kids to bike camp, however. Our son was picked up by his sitter and they rode the bus home on Monday, so we didn’t realize until Tuesday morning that as is SOP, the camp had kept his helmet along with his bike. After trying on other family members’ helmets for him, none of which fit, Matt had to drive him to camp again. Maybe those anti-helmet advocates have a point.

So Wednesday was the first day that any of us rode to bike camp. Matt took him on the MinUte because the trip from there to his office is relatively flat, and the camp is vaguely en route, comparatively speaking. As usual, although it sometimes takes longer than we anticipated to get everything working, the bike commute ended up being better than I’d dared to hope.

It’s hard to get a good shot of the Kona MinUte on the move.

Matt’s update: “BTW, the ride this morning was great — though one look at the Arguello hill and I wimped out.  I took Clay up to Presidio, which is a much milder slope up over Presidio Heights.  The trip from Ft. Mason to the office was a breeze.  Whole thing was ~1 hour, not including the 10 min stop at wheelkids.  Scenery is pretty unbeatable the whole way — water and bridge views everywhere along the Marina and Embarcadero.”

Back in the game!

Leave a comment

Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Upgrading the Breezer Uptown 8

That’s right, my Breezer didn’t have enough stuff hanging off it yet. I needed more.

One day when we were visiting our local bike shop, Everybody Bikes, I was complaining that it was getting increasingly difficult to get up hills as our kids gained weight every month. My Breezer Uptown 8 handles hills well with reasonable loads (like a single rider and a preschooler) but it was getting to be a slog with a 6.5 year old on the back. The shop owner suggested I gear the bike down. But it has an internal hub, I said. Oh, you can still change out the rear cog for a larger one, he said, and that would give you the equivalent of two extra low gears (at the cost of losing the two highest gears, which I never used: whatever). The cost? About $20. Whoa. Sign me up!

What’s more, the brakes were getting soft, again. This issue seems to crop up every couple of months. The Breezer’s brakes aren’t as bad as the original brakes on the Kona MinUte, but San Francisco does seem to eat through bicycle stopping power.

My new front basket, the Soma Gamoh.

I also wanted to be able to carry more cargo on the bike. They suggested a front basket. Putting one on would require rewiring the front dynamo light, but they could do that with some time.

And my kids wanted a cargo kickstand. They hated my little stock one-legged kickstand; they thought it was too wobbly, which was true. And that would argue for a front wheel stabilizer, for basically the same reason.

At last, a kickstand that is not pathetic.

Finally, we wanted to attach the custom rear rack for our new trailer-bike. And that meant rewiring the rear dynamo light, which attached to the stock rack.

This had all turned into a kind of major project, but upon reflection it seemed worth it. Two weeks ago the Breezer went into the shop for all these changes at once. For much of last week I came back for tweaks (the front light stopped working, then started again, the kickstand wasn’t in, then it came in, we had to fit the adjustable trailer-bike handlebars to our son, ad infinitum). Now the Breezer is back in action, and while some of the modifications are a bit kludgy—there was no pretty way to attach a stabilizer on my big fat down tube, and a trailer-bike always looks ad hoc—they all make the bike work better. The gearing change alone would have been worth it.

This is the Frankenstein of wheel stabilizers, but it gets the job done. Anyway no one has ever waxed rhapsodic about the Breezer’s clean lines.

Lowering the gears turned out to be the cheapest adjustment I have ever made to my bike, and the most practical. The rear cog original to the Breezer has 18 teeth, while my new rear cog has 22 teeth. It didn’t seem to me like four teeth would make a difference, but ignorance like that is why I don’t work at a bike shop. It makes a massive difference. I have had to completely relearn my gears, but the un-laden Breezer now cruises up serious hills like they’re barely there, and that’s without my first gear making much of an appearance—I’m almost always able to keep the granny gear in reserve. Laden up with a kid on the back or the trailer-bike (a bonus 30 pounds) or a heavy bag in the front basket, going up hills is significantly more challenging, so no worries: this bike will still keep me honest.

The new fork-mount for the headlight is unlovely but very effective.

The dynamo lights had to be rearranged to fit around the front rack, but this has actually increased my visibility. And the front cargo rack, a Soma Gamoh, is large enough to hold two grocery bags. It’s not frame-mounted, but it can take a lot of weight with the fork-mount. Combined with my two panniers I doubt that I’ll ever have to shuttle home after a grocery run again, especially now that the bike is geared to take the extra weight up hills. And the improved brakes will now stop me on the way back down.

Because I’m ignorant, I’d never realized it was possible to make these kinds of changes to a bike. Apparently some bikes aren’t worth upgrading, and last week I overheard a conversation with another customer in which our shop told him exactly that. Nevertheless: I used to get frustrated by the limitations of our bikes. Now I don’t bother getting annoyed until I’ve asked whether it’s something that can be changed.  It’s been enlightening for me to realize that having a local bike shop hanging with us through the last several months means that we can often remake our bikes into the rides that we need them to be.

12 Comments

Filed under bike shops, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

Vacation: all I ever wanted

In 1st grade, our son learned to love reading

Last week my son finished first grade (this beggars belief, but is nonetheless good). When he finished kindergarten last year, we learned that summer camps in San Francisco typically take a week’s breather between the end of the school year and the first week of camp, which left us scrambling. This year we decided to sidestep this issue by staying home with our kids and goofing off all week.

Here comes trouble.

Matt and our son started the weekend off with a bang by driving to Reno for a martial arts tournament on Friday afternoon. My daughter and I headed to the 2nd annual Rosa Parks end-of-the-school-year Parental Happy Hour at the Park Chalet in Golden Gate Park. Although it was odd to be there without my son, we had a great time. My daughter spent most of the time there filching French fries from other families’ baskets and feeding them to unwitting toddlers. Then she ran out into the road (not closed to cars on Fridays) and I decided it was time to head home.

Headed to dinner and a movie in the Tenderloin

On Sunday we rode to the Golden Gate Bridge’s birthday party. On Monday we rode down the Great Highway to the zoo and back. On Tuesday we walked to the children’s playground at Golden Gate Park and rode the carrousel, and then headed out for the first date night we’ve had in, uh, a really long time. During which time a couple of bikes went back to the shop again. So on Wednesday we went back to the beach to build sandcastles—by that point, only the southbound side of the Great Highway was closed.

Taking a break from the swans at the Palace of Fine Arts

On Thursday we went to the Palace of Fine Arts and the Exploratorium—by car, this time, as Matt was not yet ready to face the Presidio hill again. After a long afternoon spent playing with sand and fog and building PythagoraSwitch, we finally talked the kids into heading home. Our daughter was thrilled on the way out to see “A PINK PRINCESS!” It was a lovely young lady celebrating her quinceanera, who was indeed dressed up like a princess, right down to the tiara.

Alas, we did not get the bike-in discount on this trip.

On Friday we drove with one of our son’s friends from school and his sister to Pescadero to pick strawberries. The boys were diligent pickers, and filled up three flats between them. Their sisters took a more relaxed approach. My daughter’s strategy was to walk up to me and ask me to give her some berries to fill her basket. Then she would sit down and eat them all. I have to admit that this was efficient.

Demonstrating the commitment to eating strawberries.

Ultimately we ended up with five flats of strawberries, only two of which we managed to pass off to our friends, and despite making freezer jam, a strawberry cake, strawberry mimosas, and freezing an entire flat of strawberries for some to-be-determined future use, in addition to serving strawberries at every meal and for random snacks, we still have unbelievable quantities of strawberries lying around, not to mention two boys that will not stop asking when we can go berry picking again, and who will eat strawberries until they gag and clench their stomachs in agony if you make the mistake of saying, “Not until we finish the ones we have already.”

Excavating the back yard with a jackhammer

On Saturday we went to visit another of my son’s classmates, who was celebrating his seventh birthday. Like my office, his home is located on the site of one of San Francisco’s former cemeteries, and over spring break, while digging in the back yard at random, he found a big rock that father identified as marble. For his birthday party, he wanted to dig up what he had decided was his tombstone. So that’s what we did. Another dad from school, who works at a major construction rental firm, brought a jackhammer, and everyone dug out the rock.

This is unquestionably from the former cemetery.

It turned out that it was in fact a grave marker. Random tombstones are evidently not uncommon in the city. When San Francisco moved all the graves to Colma, the workers at the time evidently often chose the move-the-bodies-but-leave-the-big-heavy-rocks-in-the-ground approach. The kids spent the rest of the party cleaning out the inscription, while the birthday dad began researching the identity of the deceased and the question of what exactly you do with a tombstone dug up for your son’s seventh birthday. This was unquestionably the most memorable birthday party I have ever attended.

Spotted at Sunday Streets: kid sleeping in Xtracycle FreeLoader

Our last day of vacation was a return to Mission Sunday Streets. This is always great by itself, but was even better with a visit from Jen of Loop-Frame Love, who was visiting San Francisco for a conference. Our son was delighted to see another classmate’s family performing in the capoeira demonstration (and some friends watching from the sidelines), and as usual we hit the doughnut shop. Our PTA president, who was there with their triple tandem, took my mamachari for a test ride and loved it (ha!) Sunday Streets was even more packed than last month, and it was sad to see the party on the streets die off as cars appeared again at the end of the afternoon. So we rode home to catch a last dinner with some of our favorite neighbors, who are, alas, moving to Marin.

Capoeira!

Although I stayed up too late most nights, I am not sure, after this week, that I will ever be able to convince myself to leave San Francisco again. This city is unmatchable. This week, our son starts bike camp. And on the weekend we are going camping with the tombstone family and some other friends from school—we will of course haul our supplies to the campsite by cargo bike. And I can’t wait to find out what will happen next.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brompton, cargo, destinations, family biking, rides, San Francisco

Bicycle loans at San Francisco Fire Credit Union

This behemoth fixie could be yours! (Yes, it’s really a fixie. I asked.)

When I started talking about commuting by bike with some of the parents at our son’s school, I realized that a lot of people found our plan for buying a cargo bike unfeasible. Our plan was: pay cash. In the case of our most recent bike, that was absolutely literal. I went to the ATM and got out some cash. (It was a cheap bike.) But most cargo bikes are expensive, far beyond even the daily withdrawal limit allowed by ATMs, which I personally have never even come near. And Matt and I are save-y people.

For normal American families who have two cars and are thinking about cargo and family biking, there is often a transition problem. Most people have a fair bit of debt already: cars, student loans, consumer debt, maybe a house (a long shot in San Francisco, more likely elsewhere). If you want to ditch a car and switch to the bike, what do you do in the interim period, while waiting for the money from selling a car when you don’t yet have a bike? If you’re not sure about getting a bike but want to try it out, how do you afford a relatively expensive bike while holding onto the option of driving? Sure, it’s possible to get something cheap on craigslist once you know enough—astonishingly, this has even happened to me—but most people don’t start at that point. I was talking to a lot of people who were interested in trying out this riding-a-bike-with-kids thing but didn’t feel able to throw a thousand dollars in cash, sometimes much more if they lived on a steep hill and needed electric assist, at the idea. And they certainly didn’t have the confidence to try finding a used bike.

These bikes could also be yours: a selection from the awesome Splendid Cycles.

So when I heard that Portland credit unions offered bicycle loans (always Portland!), I thought that sounded very clever. It elevated bicycle purchases to the status of cars or motorcycles by treating them as installment loans, rather than “max out your credit card” loans. And it solved the transition problem of going from a car-using family to a bike-using family. Sure, it involved taking on more debt in the short term, but for families who really used the bike,  they’d start saving money soon enough–less gas, lower insurance rates, the freedom to drop a second car if relevant. And personally, although we believed we were committed, it took several months before we started defaulting to riding a bike with our kids rather than driving the car. And this is true even though getting our car out of our parking place is a nightmare. Finding a way to buy new riders time made sense to me.

How about a Brompton? If you live in PORTLAND, there’s no shortage of choices at Clever Cycles.

So I asked our credit union if they offered bicycle loans. They said no, never even considered it, but tell us more. So I did. They said, huh, interesting, we’ll get back to you. And I assumed I would never hear anything more again. So it was unexpected to say the least when I got an email earlier this week from the CEO of our credit union saying that they had decided to offer bicycle loans starting June 1st, 2012. There is a $5,000 maximum and terms of up to three years (update: the rate is currently 7%). But how cool is that? San Francisco Fire Credit Union is open to all city residents. If you’re looking for a new bike and think a bike loan might make getting it easier, well, now there’s a way.

8 Comments

Filed under advocacy, bike shops, Brompton, cargo, family biking, San Francisco

Parking a bike in San Francisco’s Tenderloin

It’s hard to see, but this new Tenderloin building has vertical wind turbines along the side to generate its own power–it was very cool.

Earlier this week the stars aligned and my husband and I headed out for a rare date night. Tuesday is not exactly the romantic night of choice in the city and the first restaurant we’d hoped to visit was not even open. Although riding our bikes through the Tenderloin was not our first choice, there was an open restaurant and a nearby movie theater, so to the Tenderloin we went.

The thought of parking a bike on the street in that neighborhood was unappealing. The Brompton was still in the shop. We were hoping that San Francisco’s law that all garages open to the public must provide bike parking would come through for us. It totally did.

This parklet on Polk Street was new to us. Note the electric bike parked in the racks alongside!

Riding to the Tenderloin turned out to be pretty easy; we had to cross over Alamo Square but the rest of the route was pretty flat. The main drag over is on McAllister, which goes through several blocks of public housing projects, but they are not the kinds of public housing projects that draw a lot of shootings (those are further south) although property crime rates are high. It turns out that riding through the Tenderloin feels much safer than driving through it; we both commented on this. I’m not sure why that is. The dedicated bike lanes certainly helped, but in the past driving on those same streets felt more intimidating.

The hotel had one tiny bike rack next to a dumpster, but no complaints! No one else was using it.

We went to a Moroccan restaurant in a hotel, which is surprisingly good. We hoped that we might be able to put the bikes in the bell room, as I’ve done in hotels in other cities. No such luck here, but they did have a garage below the hotel, and they did indeed meet the legal requirement for bike parking. The garage didn’t hold any actual cars; it was used for deliveries and storage. The tiny bike rack was next to a dumpster filled with rolls of carpet on one side and several dozen fold-up beds and portable cribs on the other. They closed the garage door after us, thankfully, because I realized I had forgotten my lock, a San Francisco disaster. Matt had his and was able to lock my bike with his cable, but total security fail on my part. But with the garage door locked behind us we felt we would have been safe no matter what.

The restaurant was more appealing than the garage, happily.

When we walked upstairs to the restaurant, I got the feeling we may have been the first people ever to use those racks, because the host was completely blown away that we’d ridden our bikes there, evident when we popped up through the garage door, not the typical entrance. “Let me get you some water right away! You must be thirsty after you RODE YOUR BIKES!” And then, “Do you want some more bread? You’re probably really hungry! After all, you RODE YOUR BIKES!” I appreciated the attentiveness but it started to get a little weird.

These are the bike racks at the AMC Van Ness parking garage (also unclaimed).

Feeling pretty lucky, we picked up our bikes, waited for them to unlock the garage, then headed to the movie theater. Matt really, really wanted to see The Avengers. I think this may have been the first movie we’ve seen in a theater since our son was born over six years ago. We had no idea that the theater garage now charges $17 to park a car during a movie. This is the validated rate! It’s higher if you’re just dropping by. But another score: per city ordinance, AMC Van Ness has a bike rack, right across from the staffed parking office and behind the limos. Again, this was a weird place to park a bike, and the racks themselves were crappy. But with only one lock between us, we couldn’t have asked for a safer place than next to a bunch of limo drivers waiting for their passengers and the parking attendant.  And it was free, an unbeatable price.

We both liked the Polk Street bike lanes; very mild uphill grades and lots of company.

We have found that there are often these unexpected great places to park bikes around the city, particularly in garages. I kind of wish there were a map that showed them all, because we always feel a bit uncertain. But so far so good.

Of course we had to ride home after the movie, and the eastern approach to Alamo Square is brutal, and then it’s followed by the usual slog up Mt. Sutro to get home. But it was a good night, better on the bikes that it would have been in a car, and unquestionably cheaper. It’s like a discount plan: ride your bike on four dates, and the cost of the babysitter for the fifth date is free.

3 Comments

Filed under rides, San Francisco