In honor of today’s half-hearted holiday, which has closed banks and K-12 schools yet left me with a day of teaching obligations, I offer a half-hearted post. Look what stopped by for a visit: a Yuba Boda Boda! This bike is a trip. My verdict: not bad at all. More to come.
Monthly Archives: October 2012
There are some insanely awesome family bikes in San Francisco. Granted, to the best of my knowledge no one in the city is hauling seven kids on a Bakfiets (although I hear there are a couple of Bakfietsen in San Francisco, in the Mission). However the fabulously varied terrain of the city has led to all kinds of family bikes on the move. We saw many of them at the SFBC Family Bike Day last Saturday.
My kids’ lust for a tandem has not dimmed in the last year, so we were all very excited to see our second Onderwater family tandem, now roaming the streets of San Francisco. This bike is so cool. The dad who rode it had gotten it from My Dutch Bike, and said that having the kids in front made a world of difference in riding with them. This was their school commute bike. It was amazing.
Almost as obscure was the now-discontinued Joe Bike Boxbike, which was evidently purchased sight unseen two years ago and shipped to the city from Portland. Most of the family bikes, like ours, were basically bikes with a child seat slapped on the back: child seats are a cheap and effective way to get a kid from here to there, but they lack some style when stacked up next to the dedicated family haulers.
The Rosa Parks crew was also there in force, some with bikes and some looking for bikes. Over the course of the day, as bikes came and went, I must have seen a dozen orange Yuba Mundos; a couple were assisted, including the unstoppable BionX Mundo that we see most days on the way to school. I am continually impressed at the way that Yuba has hit a price/functionality point that is getting so many families on bikes.
In the One Family Bike to Rule Them All category was the Metrofiets that showed up later in the afternoon, complete with (now discontinued) Stokemonkey assist and Follow-Me tandem. Jaws dropped. There is nowhere that bike cannot go. It got so much attention that I realized it must be a real burden sometimes to ride a bike that is such a work of art. I get enough attention as it is just on the mamachari and the Brompton, which are pretty weird by themselves, but they aren’t in the same class.
The Family Bike Day was partly about showcasing family bikes, but it wasn’t just a roll call. The SFBC had brought a bike blender, and my son was so delighted that he made four smoothies on it, stopping only when he got so tired that he smashed his crotch on the top tube. That was a bad moment. There were classes on Biking While Pregnant (pro tip: raise your handlebars) and Biking with Toddlers (world’s easiest class to teach: “Let’s go look at all the bikes people brought”). At one point attendees were asked to organize by neighborhood as a way to make friends—alas, we were the only representatives of the Inner Sunset, so ultimately we formed an unofficial alliance with Rosa Parks parents from the Haight and the Presidio. My kids bought t-shirts and played in the grass.
I ended up talking with a lot of the volunteers from SFBC, one of whom commented that it was frustrating that San Francisco was so far behind Portland in family biking. “Half the people here bought their bikes in Portland,” she sighed. “Uh, we just did the same thing,” I admitted. The reason why is pretty obvious: Portland has three bike shops targeting family biking, and San Francisco, well, doesn’t. We went into one bike shop that got annoyed when we tried to try out their demo child seat by putting my daughter into it (*cough* PUBLIC! *cough*) However I think that child-friendly bike shops are the result of the city becoming friendly to family biking rather than the cause of it. Several years ago, Portland started aggressively putting in bicycle infrastructure that felt safe enough to draw families. (Plus it’s mostly pretty flat. Yes, there are some hills in Portland, but not on the same scale.) If San Francisco continues on the same path, why wouldn’t the results be similar?
Even so I see many, many more families riding in the city than there were even a year ago. I see it at our son’s school: the kindergarten class has more regular riders than the entire school did last year. It’s still primarily dads that I see on the streets with kids, but at Rosa Parks it’s mostly moms. More families appear on the streets and more lanes go in that feel safe to ride with kids, and then even more parents think about riding themselves. I talk to these on-the-fence parents every week. They want to try riding with their kids one day a week. They want to figure out a route that is safe for kids. If they live on hills, they are thrilled to learn that there is such a thing as an electric assist.
I think my kids will be grown before this shift away from always driving with kids is complete. But I’m glad it’s happening. I can imagine how welcoming San Francisco could be with safe streets every day. We have traveled enough that I know what a city designed for people feels like. It would be worth the wait.
It was a busy weekend for our bikes. On Friday, we attended San Francisco’s first Kidical Mass, which was an auxiliary of the 20th anniversary Critical Mass. We don’t live anywhere near the Financial District where the ride starts, plus we have little kids and almost never go out on Friday nights. As a result it had been years since we had any exposure to Critical Mass whatsoever, and we’d never ridden in one.
To make things more complicated, Matt had rented a car for a work meeting in the South Bay in the morning, had left late, and was caught in traffic returning to the city. He didn’t make it home until 40 minutes after we were supposed to leave. It is fair to say that his delay caused a modicum of tension in in the Hum household. If I had had the new cargo bike already, I would have taken both kids myself, but I had no way of doing that with our current bikes and I couldn’t take one kid and leave one home either. The list of things we could do if we had the new bike has reached the point where I now wonder a couple of times a week if waiting until October in exchange for free delivery was my best decision ever.
So anyway, we got there late. Luckily for us, the ride started late too. Although many families had apparently left, pleading bedtimes, there were still a few people there with kids, and it was wonderful to meet them. I was particularly enamored of the family with stuffed animals zip tied to their helmets (who were understandably featured in all the local news coverage). The families riding in San Francisco are absolutely fabulous. Mostly I hang with the Rosa Parks parent crew, so I sometimes forget how many more people are out there.
This was a huge, huge ride, and as a result, there was about as much walking as there was riding. I was surprised at how philosophical many of the drivers caught in traffic were about the event. On some level, I suppose it is much like getting caught in traffic for any other event—game day, Occupy protest, whatever—just part of driving in the city. I am happy to have left this all far behind us.
Although it was a new experience, and a slow ride, my daughter and I were having fun being around all the bikes, especially the unusual ones: tall bikes, conference bike, music bikes. We also saw a Yuba elMundo with two kids on board (not part of the Kidical Mass crew) stopped on the hill up Market Street because the motor had overheated. Unfortunately my son, who had spent the day running around for Undokai (Japanese Sports Day), was hungry, tired and frustrated and started crying and demanding to leave. We told him we would leave early and take him to a Mexican restaurant off the Wiggle on the way home, which improved his mood.
And this is when the ride got funny. We peeled off from the main ride to the Market Street bike lanes heading west. “Where are all the bikes?” my daughter asked sadly. A few blocks later, the mass rushed into the lanes ahead of us. “Yay!” she said. We turned off from the ride and headed up another street. “Where are all the bikes?” A few minutes later, the mass rushed through the same street we turned onto. “Yay!” When we got onto the Wiggle, we rode for a few blocks on our own again, then whoosh! Critical Mass returned. We finally lost the ride for good when we headed directly up Page Street, which is far too steep for the fixie crew.
When we got home, my daughter was still missing all the bikes, and wondering at bedtime when they would come back. At the rate our ride was going, I think she expected them to show up in her room. But stuffed as she was on avocados and fried plantains, she fell asleep before she found out.
I would love to try another Kidical Mass ride, independent of other rides on a more child-friendly schedule. We had a lovely ride with some neighbors on Labor Day in Golden Gate Park, which started with the kids running around at Koret Playground. From there were headed through the closed streets to the food trucks on the Music Concourse for ice cream and onward from there down JFK Drive. For kids on their bikes, practicing on streets closed to cars is very nice. Matt suggested that a future ride go along JFK all the way to the Park Chalet at Ocean Beach, which despite its horrific service and indifferent food has extensive bike parking, a huge open yard and seating, and interesting woods behind the yard where kids can play and parents can practice their free-range parenting skills. Any interest? If so, perhaps one of these upcoming Sundays could be another Kidical Mass.
Last April, 30 days of biking was a challenge. There were some late night trips around the block, and unnecessary errands after the kids went to bed (sure, why not get another carton of yogurt?) to ensure I rode a bike every single day. This September, in the bonus round, it was very easy. The difference? At the end of May, I bought the electric- assist mamachari on craigslist. And at the end of June, we sold our car. With no car to fall back on and an assisted bike to crank up the hills at the end of a long day at work (with a 2nd grader on the back), riding a bike every day was such an obvious choice that 30 days straight was no struggle at all.
This week my mom is staying with us while Matt is in Brazil. She was sitting by the front window when I left this morning. “In the last five minutes,” she said, “I’ve seen six bikes, three walkers, a bus and a shuttle bus pass, and only 12 cars.” She lives in a very bike-friendly community, but the share of transportation held by anything other than private cars is nonetheless very low. And although she lives on a hill too, the one we live on is steeper. “Do all those bikes have electric assist?” she asked. Most don’t, although that’s changing—as the kind of people riding bikes changes, the demand for assisted bikes increases. Not everyone wants to shower when they get to work, even if they could.
This morning I rode my bike to work too. San Francisco has begun its real summer, at last, after four months of fog and chill. The city’s surreal climate always leaves me bemused. It has warmed up just as the leaves start falling from the trees. I grew up with more conventional weather. I never know what to expect until I step outside, and as a result I’m always attentive, in that same strange way that traveling to a strange place keeps me alert. We’ve lived in the city for five years now, and it still surprises.
On the ride in I watched the round moon hanging low in the pale blue sky. In the park, today’s naked jogger was the kind of man who did not make naked jogging repellent. This was a rare and welcome change of pace. The day seemed brighter than usual with the fog burned off.
In many ways, despite our itinerant ways, we are deliberate people. By my standards, our decision to start riding bikes with our children was unplanned, and our decision to sell our car was outright whimsical. I have no regrets. In hindsight, these choices seem like the culmination of many decisions taken over the years. We moved into the city to be close to my work, and later Matt also found a job within city limits. We jumped into San Francisco’s public school lottery hoping our children would grow up taking field trips to the opera and symphony and being comfortable with many definitions of families. This year, my son and his entire 2nd grade class will be dancing with the San Francisco Ballet. I couldn’t ask for more. Years ago, if I had looked at our future lives, it would have seemed that the things we gave up—two cars, a yard, months of sunny days, desirable neighborhood schools, the chance to own a house—were sacrifices. Instead we have more than we ever could have imagined.