Monthly Archives: June 2012

Road rage

Usually my commute to work is a quiet and unremarkable affair. Either something happened while I was in Atlanta or this is National Road Rage Day, because I have never had a commute like the one I had today before. At every stop sign I stopped only to be passed by a speeding car that barely slowed, driver honking frantically, as they spun directly in front of me to make a right or left turn. The fact that I caught up at the next stop sign/stop light without breaking a sweat or even trying hard only served to further enrage them. But the fact that bicycles are faster than cars in traffic is not news in San Francisco.

At one stop sign a scooter rider passed me on the right to jump in front of me in queue as I was making a left turn. When I caught up to her at the next stop light, she had moved (illegally) into the bike lane to jump the queue of cars at the light. I rode up to her and said, “It’s very rude to go around me on the right just to jump the line.” She looked shocked that I had pierced her bubble and ran the red light to get away from me. On the bright side, she stopped poaching the bike lane. Instead she swerved into oncoming traffic to get ahead of cars.

As my dissertation adviser used to say, “These people eventually fall of their own weight.”

On the last leg to work, which is on a quiet residential street, I was puttering away up the hill when I heard frantic honking behind me and a revving engine. So I stopped and looked. “What?” I asked. Directly behind me a woman in a giant SUV appeared to be screaming curses (soundproofing: it works both ways) and waving me toward the sidewalk. “I’M SUPPOSED TO TAKE THE LANE,” I said loudly and slowly. Continuing to honk, she swerved in a screech around me and drove off… to the stop sign 100 feet ahead (which she ignored, granted). San Francisco residents will not be surprised that two small children were sitting in the back seat of her SUV.

A pedestrian on the sidewalk stopped dead in disbelief. “You were right!” he yelled to me. “F#@% that lady!”

I’ve never seriously considered a helmet cam until today. If I had had one, I wouldn’t be kicking myself now that I didn’t get photos of all these people’s license plates. None of them should be behind the wheel of a car.


Filed under commuting, San Francisco, traffic

Kids on bike racks: jump in the pool!

This has become a familiar sight.

I don’t remember when I noticed my kids liked climbing on bike racks. I assumed at first it was just my kids, until I started seeing photos of other peoples’ kids also climbing on bike racks. What is it with kids and bike racks?

The attraction is so strong that we have seriously considered installing a bike rack in our basement. It would make it easy to lock the bikes but the thought of drilling into concrete is pretty unappealing. And of course our basement floods, so it could end up looking a little gross.

When I commented on one of A Simple Six’s photos of her kids climbing on a bike rack, she suggested I create a Flickr pool, and I thought, yeah, right. What I know about Flickr could be written in crayon on the rim of a shot glass, to quote David Foster Wallace. But in the spirit of lifelong learning I recently went to Flickr and figured out how to create a “Kids on bike racks” group pool. Do you have a picture of kids treating a bike rack like a jungle gym? Or a ballet bar? Or a tunnel? If so, I’d love to see it.


Filed under family biking

Destinations: Redwood Regional Park Girls’ Camp

At the entrance to Redwood Regional Park Girls’ Camp

A week ago we headed to Redwood Regional Park with a group of families from our son’s school on a camping trip. I had ambitions, initially, of trying to cargo bike into the campsite. Anyone who knows anything about the Oakland hills is now laughing.

The trip to Redwood goes up steep hills on roads with names like “Snake” which are meant to evoke the serpentine path they follow up a hill so steep that attempting to scale it even in a motorized vehicle involves a nauseating number of switchbacks. Redwood Regional Park’s gates are at the ridge, and from there the way in is basically straight downhill in the other direction. The paths down into the park, although portions can be ridden or driven, are not only extremely steep but deeply rutted and narrow. So yeah, we drove and walked in.

Tents up: time to explore them

Girls’ Camp is about a half-mile from the Skyline Gate, straight downhill. If you reserve the campsite, you get a code to open the padlock to the Stream Trail entrance. Only two cars are allowed to park overnight at the site, but by shuttling back and forth all of the families we camped with were able to portage down, empty out their gear, and then head back up to park at Skyline Gate overnight (you also get overnight parking passes).

Parking was near the bathroom at the far end

The camp site itself can hold up to 75 people, and with 30 or so we were nowhere near this limit. Girls’ Camp has a bathroom and cold running water, as well as tables, benches, and grills. Next to the firepit at the far end there is a shelter that the kids used as a stage and a place to run around.  This site is in the middle of a well-traveled trail, but by evening anyone not camping is gone, and we had the park to ourselves. The site itself is beautiful, and Oakland parks are almost completely free of bugs other than yellow jackets (which stung two kids over the weekend, but I think this is atypical).

Some kind of game involving balls was played, but let’s not get hung up on the details

We hadn’t been camping with our two kids before and this was a great introduction. They spent the first few hours checking out all of the tents and spotting bunnies in the woods. The tombstone family had brought a badminton/volleyball net and for much of our stay the older boys played these two games simultaneously.

For some reason it was extremely important that we carry this stick around

One of our friends is the Martha Stewart of family camping and had stopped at the Civic Center farmers’ market, where she had picked up, among other things, four dozen free-range organic eggs for $12. I had always shunned the Civic Center market because of its historic live-chicken-slaughtering reputation, but apparently the city cracked down on that and now the Heart of the City market is the place to shop. At any rate we all ate well. The first night the kids spent hours making s’mores which in the case of our kids may well have been the peak experience of their lives to date.

We had planned to stay two nights, but learned on the first night that our daughter is still too young for overnight camping. For two hours straight after bedtime she was so amped up she was yelling randomly, “I have a bike! I saw a bee! Stop bothering me! I need to sleep! Did you see the bunny! I saw a bee! Stop bothering me!” Of course she was up at the crack of dawn. Our only consolation was that the other three year old held his two-hour screaming fest at midnight, making us only the second-most obnoxious family at Girls’ Camp.

Walking along the Stream Trail

So on the second day we hiked the Stream Trail out and back, which was beautiful. We returned to head further into the park to the Roberts swimming pool, and deciding to quit while we were ahead, packed up after dinner and headed home. Both kids slept like the dead in the house, thankfully, although our son turned up in our bed and did his level best to shove both of us out of it. We still had a great time.

It is, evidently possible to ride bikes in Redwood, although not to ride them the way we do. One family had brought mountain bikes and took a side trip; mom drove them uphill to the start of the trail and then drove downhill to wait for them at the end. There is so much gender politics wrapped up in that story I can’t hope to unpack it all. But it struck me as the mirror image of much of bike commuting in the United States. Mom is the sag wagon. If people couldn’t rely on that free ride, how different would bicycling be?

Lots of families looking for shade

Sometime, when our kids are older and our daughter might sleep through the night, we will try camping again. Although Redwood is beautiful, another possibility was the destination of another family in our group the next week: Angel Island. The only way onto Angel Island is by ferry, and only walkers and cyclists can ride the ferry.  That would be a different kind of trip, but we had such a good time, we’d like to try it again once sleep is a real possibility.


Filed under family biking, San Francisco

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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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Filed under family biking, San Francisco, Uncategorized