Monthly Archives: November 2012

We tried it: Yuba Boda Boda

Hey, Boda Boda!

There are some new entries in the land of midtail cargo bikes. For the last year we’ve been riding the Kona MinUte, the first of these, and until pretty recently, the only bike in its class. Then it was stolen. That totally sucked. But given that we had to replace it anyway, we took a hard look at the two other midtails on the market now, the Yuba Boda Boda and the Kinn Cascade Flyer. Happily for us, Yuba, which is here in the Bay Area, let us ride one of their Boda Bodas for a while last month. Thanks, Yuba!

For background, midtail bikes are a new-as-of-2011 variation on longtail cargo bikes. As the name implies, they’re shorter. Instead of a long deck that can hold 2-3 kids, they offer a short deck that can hold 1-2 kids (as always, the number of kids you can successfully pile on the back of a cargo bike depends on their mood). The disadvantage of a midtail bike is obvious: it can carry less stuff and fewer kids. But there are payoffs for the reduced payload. Midtails look and feel like normal bikes; people who are nervous about handling a big bike will be more comfortable on a midtail than on a longtail. I have never dropped either the MinUte or the Boda Boda with the kids on board and I doubt I ever will. Midtail bikes can also be put on a bus bike rack and on Amtrak for longer trips. And it is a kind of bike that transitions easily from dropping off kids to riding into the office, which is how Matt used it.

Yuba moved into making a midtail bike with some major innovations. Although we liked our Kona MinUte, Kona is not a company that’s made much of a commitment to the family biking market, and that can be annoying. Yuba, on the other hand, cares very much about families. They created the Boda Boda explicitly to carry both kids and cargo, and it shows. The other big innovation is that they developed the Boda Boda with an electric-assist option integrated into the design. The only other cargo bike I know that was developed this way was Xtracycle’s EdgeRunner, a longtail. If you’re riding a cargo bike over a lot of hills or long distances, both these bikes should be on the short list.

The Boda Boda looks wildly different than the MinUte, even though they were both apparently designed by the same person. Putting them side by side in our garage made it very obvious that the MinUte was meant to look like a mountain bike, while the Boda Boda was meant to look like a cruiser. The Boda Boda looks friendlier and has a step-through frame option. Weirdly, the Boda Boda also looks bigger, although it is not in fact bigger. It was a strange and entertaining optical illusion.

Advantages of the Boda Boda:

  • This is an extremely easy bike to ride, both with and without kids aboard. The Boda Boda looks and feels like a beach cruiser, with wide handlebars and a relaxed and upright ride, but has massively increased carrying capacity. We had some friends who were only occasional riders try it, and even when it was loaded they took off without a wobble. This is common to some extent with all midtails, but our loaner Boda Boda had an advantage over the MinUte: a step-through frame. Even shorter riders could get on and off with contorting over the top tube or round-housing a kid sitting on the back deck.
  • The Boda Boda is a slender bike that can move easily through traffic. It has the same kind of rear supports as the Mundo, which are handy because they can hold up the bags or be used as footrests for older riders, but they are much narrower than the ones on the Mundo (as are the bags themselves). A Mundo with the Go Getter bags packed is three feet across, wider than many bike trailers, and it can be nerve-wracking to ride one in San Francisco’s narrow bike lanes and heavy traffic—as a result, I sometimes see Mundos riding on the sidewalk, even though this is illegal in San Francisco. The Boda Boda’s Baguettes, even fully packed, still lie pretty flat and make it possible to weave the bike through pinch points without a second thought (Baguettes can apparently be used on a Mundo as well, by the way).
  • It is very difficult to dump the kids on the Boda Boda (this is true for all midtail bikes). I never managed it, which is more than I can say for the longtails. The weight on the back is so close to the rider that it isn’t hard to handle.
  • The Boda Boda can easily carry one kid, or two kids if they’re in a good mood. The best application for this size of bike is to either carry one kid and a friend (siblings are more likely to fight) or for parents who have two kids and two bikes and are riding with them separately most of the time (that’s how we used our MinUte).
  • Happily, this bike is lightweight for a cargo bike. That means that although it’s not easy to carry, it’s possible. After seven straight years of lifting my kids overhead I have pretty decent arm strength, so needing to carry this bike up a few stairs wouldn’t intimidate me (unless I needed to carry a young child at the same time). However, the much heavier assisted bike: out of the question.
  • It is not appalling to ride this bike up hills. I have been riding a lot with an electric assist lately, because I don’t enjoy walking into meetings covered in sweat (both the campuses where I work are on the top of steep hills). As a result I was slightly depressed by the prospect of riding the unassisted Boda Boda around the city. Although the Boda Boda was, from my perspective, under-geared (see below), it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I was able to follow a friend who was riding my assisted mamachari and who had my daughter on board up a moderate hill without major effort. Frankly I think riding with the assist has made me stronger. But still, credit to the Boda Boda.
  • It took less than 30 seconds to load the Boda Boda on this rack. No wobbling on the ride either (which involved going up and down steep hills at speeds I’d prefer to forget).

    The Boda Boda fits on a bus bike rack, even a small rack like the one on the university shuttles. One evening when my son forgot his helmet at pickup we rode the shuttle home instead of riding. One of the reasons I really like the midtail size is the ability to do stuff like this instead of being stranded. I wrote once about flipping the front wheel to put the Kona Minute on a bus bike rack; we did the same thing with the Boda Boda. The bike is light enough that lifting it to the rack wasn’t a problem (note that this was the unassisted bike, which is ~15 pounds lighter than the assisted bike). And it definitely impressed the other shuttle riders. “What a great design!” The Boda Boda fits on the rack slightly better than the MinUte, actually, because it has smaller 26” wheels.

  • Yuba has designed some nice accessories for this bike. Unlike a lot of cargo bikes, it has a chain guard. Most of the other accessories are not included in the base price of the bike, but they are probably worth the money. The Baguette bags in particular impressed me; they hold a lot more than they look like they would, and still lie flat against the bike itself. The deck and running boards are bamboo, and they look classy. Some of the standard Mundo accessories, like the front basket and the seat cushion for the deck, also work on the Boda Boda.
  • Many cargo bikes are one-size-fits-all, but the Boda Boda (like all three midtails now on the market) comes in two different frame sizes. This is very nice for shorter and taller riders who report that some bikes are really one-size-fits-most rather than one-size-fits-all. The smaller size has a step through option.
  • Although I rode the unassisted version of the bike, Yuba designed the Boda Boda with the expectation that many people would want an electric assist. The assist system they chose, which is made by BionX, is excellent (the same one we have on our Bullitt). The deck is designed to hold the BionX rack-mounted battery underneath and it’s unobtrusive. For people in hilly cities like ours, this feature, in combination with the excellent accessories and light weight, makes the Boda Boda unbeatable for the family with one child.
  • I often call Yuba the Ikea of bike manufacturers because they make cargo bikes at very approachable price points, and the Boda Boda is no exception. The unassisted Boda Boda is $1000, and the assisted version is $2700. By cargo bike standards, these are excellent prices (the assisted version seems like a particularly good deal). The Kona MinUte has the same base price (and the bags are included, but unfortunately the MinUte bags kind of suck) and is also a good deal, but as noted above Kona is not a family-focused company and there is no integrated electric assist system. That might not be a problem if you have a family-oriented local bike shop, but could be frustrating if you don’t.

Disadvantages of the Boda Boda:

  • This is not specific to the Boda Boda but to its class: like many parents, I prefer to ride with my kids in front of me rather than behind me.  You can see them and talk to them and it’s altogether a better experience (it also feels safer to me, probably because experience suggests I’m less likely to dump a front-loading bike). Realistically, however, the kids in front option is expensive. If you have the money, by all means get a bike that puts the kids in front, because it is fabulous. But most people don’t walk into family biking yelling, “Money is no object!” Also you could never get a front box bike onto a bus.
  • The Boda Boda is really a bike suited for carrying one kid regularly and no more than that. Yes, it is possible to put two kids on the back of a midtail, maybe even three for a short ride. Yes, there are probably siblings in this world who could ride that way regularly without trying to kill each other. However such kids would be exceptional.  I’ve been able to ride a MinUte for almost an hour without my kids fighting on occasion, but more often the ride gets cut short when they start smashing helmets. So the Boda Boda is really a bike for a one-kid family or for a family where both parents ride and split up the kids, or where only the youngest needs to be hauled.
  • The Boda Boda is under-geared for San Francisco. It has eight speeds and they were not enough for riding around our neighborhood loaded and unassisted. Yes, I could climb moderate hills, but trying to get up the steep hill to the main campus on this bike left me dripping with sweat. However, this wouldn’t be an issue with the electric assist version.
  • More expensive cargo bikes come with better parts, and cheaper bikes come with parts that are less good. The Boda Boda comes with many of the same parts that are on the Yuba Mundo, which where we ride would mean making several upgrades, either all at once or over time as various parts on the bike broke. In defense of the Boda Boda, it is a much lighter bike than the Mundo, so the riding experience with those components was much better than on the Mundo (in particular, using rim brakes felt less like flirting with death). Also in defense of the Boda Boda, we had to do the exact same thing with our MinUte, which is also built with cheaper parts. The components may not be an issue for an occasional rider or for someone riding in less demanding conditions.  However I had the chain drop off the front ring twice while riding the bike, and it was a huge pain to rethread given the chainguard.
  • I suspect that Yuba had a price point in mind building this bike, and that was: less than the Mundo. As a result, the standard Boda Boda is pretty stripped down if you want to haul a kid on it. The stock kickstand is totally inappropriate for loading kids, the bike lacks fenders, there aren’t stoker bars or footpegs for a kid riding in the back, and the bags are not included. There is an optional center stand appropriate for loading kids, plus bags, and so forth, but the costs of these upgrades add up and should be kept in mind. The bike I rode, incidentally, came with Baguette bags, which have a neat center outside pocket where my seven-year-old son could tuck his feet, and I definitely think they’re worth the money.  However I suspect that many parents would appreciate a “family package” where the obvious upgrades were bundled together.
  • The Boda Boda is still somewhat in development, and the accessories designed to carry kids are not yet perfected. The Boda Boda deck is much higher than the Mundo deck, so the Mundo stoker bars are too low for kids to hold. When my daughter (three years old) tried using them she was frustrated that she had to stick her face into my butt. My son, who can stay on by himself (although he prefers having stoker bars) simply ignored them.  If Yuba doesn’t come up with stoker bars for the Boda Boda, it would be better to have a bike shop rig up something.  Similarly, foot pegs for smaller kids like my daughter, who couldn’t put her feet into the bag pockets, are apparently not available.
  • I learned recently that some accessories are not compatible with putting the bike on a bus rack. Many San Francisco transit services, for example, don’t allow you to load bikes with front baskets on the bus racks. Normally I would suggest putting Yuba’s Bread Basket on to increase the Boda Boda’s carrying capacity, especially given that it can be tough to use the rear bags if you’re carrying a younger kid in a child seat on the back (Yuba’s Peanut Shell is compatible with the Boda Boda). But for anyone planning to put this bike on the bus, definitely check with the local transit agency first, because the Bread Basket cannot be removed without tools.
  • As with all of the longtail/midtail bikes, there isn’t really good technology yet for covering up kids in bad weather on the Boda Boda. People have jury-rigged rain covers and bundled up kids, but this is one area where front-loading bikes really shine: most of these bikes come with covers.
  • I found the deck on the Boda Boda really high for carrying kids (this is also a problem on the MinUte, which has bigger wheels). On a longtail, this can make the load less stable, meaning you’re more likely to dump the bike and scrape up the kids. On a midtail like the Boda Boda dumping the bike is extremely unlikely; that’s an advantage of the short deck. But there’s still a cost to putting weight up so high. Where I feel the most unstable on midtails and longtails with kids on board is turning at speed (especially at the bottom of a hill), when these bikes will pitch away from the turn like they’re going to roll over. This feeling is very unpleasant, and is much less likely to happen with the load lower down. Yuba built a high deck so there would be space to hold the BionX rear-rack mounted battery. However the Boda Boda would feel much more stable if both the deck and the battery were lower.

There’s been a lot of mugging for the camera lately. My son liked riding the bike. Hence the scary face, I am told.

Overall, I was impressed with the Boda Boda. It looks cute and easy to ride, and it is. That might sound trivial to people who already ride regularly who are considering a cargo bike, but for people who aren’t already riding bikes, it’s really important. The Boda Boda is very accessible.

I liked this bike so much that the electric assist Boda Boda is now what I recommend when San Francisco families with one child who are new to riding bikes ask me what bike they should get. So far two of them have gone for it (knowing that they’re probably going to have to upgrade some of the parts along the way).  Overall, for parents looking to start bike commuting with a kid, the Boda Boda is an excellent choice.


Filed under electric assist, family biking, reviews, San Francisco, Yuba

Not another “hills of San Francisco” post!

Happily, we don’t live on any of the hills featured in this movie short. But I definitely recognize them (and avoid them). “Russian Hill Roulette” is now several years old, and since it was made, people have identified many steeper streets. Now, nothing in it would make the top six list of steepest hills in San Francisco.

Welcome to San Francisco, and remember: going up can be difficult, but going down can be dangerous, so always maintain those brakes.

If watching this seems like a dream come true to you, head to San Francisco next July for the Seven Hells of San Francisco ride. I won’t be there.


Filed under rides, San Francisco


The Kona MinUte contemplates its sad future.

The good news about having a bike stolen by means of someone sawing through the frame is that there isn’t much debate about whether it’s worth trying to get it back. It’s not. Our bike shop put together an estimate of how much the MinUte cost and sent it to our insurance company. The bike was stolen Friday, and our claim was approved Monday afternoon. Our insurance company says the check is in the mail. So far, this has been the easiest insurance claim ever (knock on wood). Although I suppose our “have never made a claim” discount has gone the way of all things.

If it weren’t for the wind, our cheap umbrella-based rain cover would be just fine.

I feel lucky. Yesterday I rode by a man sitting on a park bench whittling a stick. Today on the same route, I saw the small pile of shavings he’d left behind. I like that over the next week, I’ll watch them drift away. I like the scale of our daily lives. I like noticing these things. I like that this morning I saw a blue Bullitt heading toward me and suddenly realized it was our blue Bullitt. Hi, Matt!

Last weekend we visited the Academy of Sciences: Let it snow!

I have a million things I want to say. In the last few weeks we have ridden the Yuba Boda Boda and the Xtracycle EdgeRunner, and both deserve a full report. I still mean to write about how much fun we had riding in Seattle and Portland in August and all the amazing people there. I’ll get to it eventually.

In the meantime, as if to offer a giant apology from the universe, our professional lives have had an amazing run even in this short week before Thanksgiving. On Monday, Matt was interviewed about clean energy on NPR’s California Report. On Tuesday, my university offered me tenure. I said yes.

We have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope you do too.


Filed under San Francisco


The MinUte deserved better than an ignominious end.

On Friday the Kona MinUte was stolen. Normally Matt rides with our son to school, drops him off, and then heads into work, where he keeps the bike inside his office. But on Friday he had a morning meeting, so after the school drop-off he rode downtown and locked the bike up to a city rack. When he came back it was gone.

U-lock untouched, cable snipped, and the bike is gone.

When your bike is stolen, everyone has a theory. He had locked up, after some consideration about the best option, at what he felt was the safest place nearby, the busy and very public Yerba Buena Gardens. I thought at first that he must have inadvertently have locked up to a sucker rack—one where the screws had been loosened to allow easy theft. But this was a legitimate city rack, both screwed and epoxied into the ground. Matt rides with a high-quality Kryptonite lock and uses it both and a cable whenever he locks up outside. The Kryptonite lock was untouched. Both the police and our local bike shop believe that the only possibility is that the MinUte it was stolen by thieves with an angle grinder, who cut the frame, loaded the bike into a van, and took it away to strip it for parts at their leisure. This is unfortunately a familiar story in San Francisco, although it happens more commonly with bikes left overnight.

I wouldn’t carry two kids on a $50 beater bike from craigslist (which was probably stolen anyway).

Some people have suggested that if we don’t want our bikes stolen, we should really be riding crappy beater bikes instead of nice cargo bikes. However there is a limit to how crappy a bike we can ride safely with our kids on board. And rest assured that crappy bikes are stolen too. Our son’s school principal had a beater he used to ride down to Civic Center for district meetings, which he left locked to a wrought iron fence with a U-lock. Then one afternoon he came out to find that thieves had sawed through the iron railings to steal his rusty bike, whose value he estimated at roughly $20. The district was less than thrilled about the cost of repairing the fence, and he had to find another way to get to meetings. I have heard similar stories countless times. Thieves are indiscriminate and they can’t be undersold. And any bike you ride regularly is a pain to replace, even a cheap one.

The MinUte could do almost anything–and we assumed that it would be around forever.

As victims of bike theft go, we are pretty fortunate. Our bikes are covered by our renters insurance, and although I resent that we’ll have to pay the deductible, we can afford it. We have more bikes than people in our stable, so Matt still has something to ride (he has been riding the Bullitt). Our local bike shop is preparing an estimate for the insurance adjuster so we don’t have to do it ourselves. And they are already investigating our options for a replacement—given that bike manufacturers are just closing out 2012 models and switching to 2013, this may be more complicated than we had expected.

The Kona MinUte carried home our Christmas tree last year.

Is there anything we could have done differently? The one thing that comes to mind is locking skewers. On the advice of a friend who has been locking up a wildly expensive bike around sketchy neighborhoods in San Francisco for over five years without it being stolen or stripped, we put Pitlocks on everything on the Bullitt (and they’ve already prevented the saddle from being stolen). If the MinUte had been Pitlocked, it would not have been worth stealing for parts, because they couldn’t have been removed even with an angle grinder. Our replacement bike will be Pitlocked to the hilt.

The kids are still confused about where the MinUte has gone.

Anyway. We were pretty depressed about all of this on Friday. The MinUte was our first bike, and the bike that made us realize we really could ride everywhere with our kids. We had put a lot of time and effort into making it work for our lives. We were fond of that bike, and the thought of its frame being casually cut with an angle grinder so it could be hauled away and disassembled is vaguely nauseating. What a waste.

I am more sanguine now (although we still have moments of “DAMMIT!”) Nothing in the world is permanent. Even our children will leave us one day. We did the best we could to protect the bike from theft, but anything can be stolen by someone who wants it badly enough. We are fortunate that the bike was insured, and that it was not the only bike we have. And in the grander scheme of things, I have no doubt that our lives are better than the lives of the people who stole it. We miss the bike, but we’ll be okay.


Filed under family biking, Kona, San Francisco

San Francisco is hard on bikes

Our kids “borrowing” the toys in our Copenhagen apartment’s courtyard

I feel like I should subtitle this post, “why I get whiny about components.”

When we started riding our bikes in San Francisco we did not go by half-measures. We got bikes and we rode them pretty much every day as transportation. We hauled our kids to school and their activities and back, rode to work, and got groceries. It was fun! And we assumed that that was what bikes were FOR. That’s what comes of picking up bike riding in Copenhagen.

We realized pretty quickly that lots of bike manufacturers had different ideas about how we would ride. That’s because we kept breaking things on our bikes. At first we assumed we were doing something wrong. It seemed entirely plausible that we were just lousy riders after such a long hiatus. But our excellent bike shop assured us this was not the case. We were just riding a lot more, and in much more difficult conditions, than the people who built our bikes had expected. What do I mean by difficult conditions? San Francisco streets where we live and work are steep, poorly paved, and dirty.

I have written about my brake paranoia before. We spend a lot of time going down steep hills, and that puts serious wear on the brakes.  It is no accident that I go on (and on and on) about hydraulic disc brakes, which last and last and stop on a dime. We also spend a lot of time going up hills. When we rode rental bikes in Portland we could go for several minutes without shifting, but this never happens here at home. Once, while wandering though Ikea, I saw a piston pressing a carved wooden bottom into a chair, over and over again, supposedly to demonstrate the chair’s longevity. That is essentially equivalent to what we do to our gears.

This street is in average-to-good condition by San Francisco standards. Lots of cars mean lots of damage.

The streets around San Francisco are also poorly maintained. Riding around my office and down the hill from home, the asphalt is so rough that it makes my bell ring as I bump over it. At first it was sort of annoying but also sort of funny. It became less funny when I realized that this was literally rattling parts off my bike. And the streets are dirty. At bike camp, my son was told to wash his bike at the end of the week, every week. We should do this, but we totally don’t. So our bikes look like crap a lot of the time, and all the grime doesn’t do the moving parts any favors either. And it is a rare day that I ride without having to dodge broken glass in the street.

So we learned to care about the components on our bikes. Most cargo bikes come with low to mid-range parts. High quality parts cost money, and my sense is that people already balk at the costs of cargo bikes, which unquestionably cost more than ordinary bikes. Plus a lot of people who take up riding bikes for transportation do so in conditions that are less extreme than ours. This makes sense to me: the barriers to entry are a lot lower in places without serious terrain to battle. And finally, most people who ride bikes in the United States do it as a supplement to car ownership, not to replace driving. They’re not riding every single day. Why not use cheaper parts? Most riders don’t need anything better than that.

The city brought goats in earlier this year to eat the garbage that had piled up around the bus depot across the street from my office. (I hate riding up this hill, incidentally.)

Yet over here in our stomping grounds things are different. Thus I find some bikes difficult to imagine owning because if I bought them, I would have to replace almost every part (or build up a bike from a frame, which exceeds my ambitions). This is essentially what happened with our Kona MinUte. It lists as a $1,000 bike. Thanks to our bike shop’s first year warranty, which replaced everything we broke, it is now really a $2,000 bike (and now we like it twice as much). In its first year, here is an incomplete list of what was replaced: brakes, pedals, shifters, chain, derailleur guide, tires, tubes, chain ring. And this is why we were told to buy a bike from a good local shop: we paid a fraction of the true cost of those upgrades. Even swapping out the crappy disc brakes with excellent hydraulic disc brakes was half-price. That’s because our shop called Kona and insisted that they give us a credit toward the upgrade. And although all of this was great, even better than great, these upgrades meant that the MinUte spent a lot of time in the shop the first year. That was frustrating given that it was supposed to be a daily commuter. It also meant there were some scary and annoying moments, like when the old brakes failed going down steep hills (twice!), or when one pedal snapped in half while riding, or when Matt got four flats in four days.

There was a time that I complained about having to invest so much more in a bike to get a comparable riding experience as people in other places, which reminded me of how much more we pay in rent to live in San Francisco than we would in other places. I am over it. We are lucky to be here, we both work and can afford the relatively trivial price of bike maintenance, and anyway we all have different burdens to bear. However when we went looking for a new bike, we knew that we were willing to pay up front to keep that bike out of the shop, not to mention to keep it from careening down a hill with no working brakes and two kids on board. Our new Bullitt came with outstanding components, and I haven’t regretted our decision to pay for that. In addition to being safer, it’s also more fun to ride a bike with better parts. The Bullitt will never drop a chain, and it shifts cleanly and without hesitation. And it’s never skidded past a stop sign at the bottom of a hill, even fully loaded.

These bikes can now handle whatever San Francisco can throw at them.

At times I have criticized bikes that I perceive to have middling parts because where I ride, it’s something that matters a lot. Should people in other places pay for higher quality parts? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how often they’ll be riding, how difficult the conditions are, and how much they care. The more you ride and the more hills, wet, and cold you face, the more likely it is that a low-maintenance bike with great parts will be worth the money. Where it’s flat, people often gravitate to Dutch bikes, which are built like tanks. But if riding a bike is a sometimes thing, or if you’re living in sunny Southern California, hitting a lower price point may be far more important than having a bike whose parts can weather all conditions.

But there isn’t a free lunch. One cargo bike may cost twice as much as another cargo bike, even though they look very similar. Cargo bikes aren’t sold based on sex appeal or brand names (because they have neither), so there is always a reason for a price difference. Sometimes that reason simply isn’t relevant to the local conditions or a family’s riding style, but it’s a real reason. And while there’s no wrong decision if it’s an informed decision, it is entirely possible to make a bad choice if you don’t know what you’re choosing. We bought a cheap cargo bike first because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t have to pay for that mistake because we bought it from a great shop. We got lucky.


Filed under bike shops, car-free, family biking, San Francisco

A week of riding

One kid on board, one kid yet to pick up

Earlier this week I found myself on the hook to pick up both kids because Matt was out of town. The complication was that I had to be in a Faculty Council meeting until 5pm. That meant I would have to run across campus to my daughter’s preschool, coax her out, then run across town to get my son at his after-school program before it closed at 6pm. I seriously considered hauling two car seats to my meeting and renting a car from the City Carshare in the preschool parking lot for this trip. Ultimately I decided against car share because I’d tried that once before and not gotten there in time—rush hour traffic is unbearable in the evening, and the after-school pickup line stretches back for three blocks. And after all, isn’t stuff like this what we got the Bullitt for?

With that in mind, I parked the Bullitt outside the preschool in advance. Then I sprinted out of my meeting at 5:01pm, hauled across campus to preschool, collected all of my daughter’s art for the day, and dragged her out with promises to finish the story they were reading at home. We got to my son’s after-school program at exactly 5:30pm (in the rain). That beats my previous record by car by almost 20 minutes. And that is why we got the electric assist! My son was the first kid in his class to be picked up. Unfortunately I’d forgotten the speaker, so I had to listen to “99 bottles of beer on the wall” all the way home. Nobody’s perfect, I guess. I cranked the assist up to “high” for the ride home to spare myself.

The New Wheel recently put together this drool-worthy BionX SOMA (also Pitlocked to the hilt).

I would actually have gotten to him even earlier if someone hadn’t tried to steal my saddle. The Bullitt came with a very nice Brooks saddle, so nice that I never would have purchased it on my own. Saddle theft is epidemic in San Francisco, and thieves learned years ago how to clip the chains traditionally used to lock saddles to frames. However on the advice of a friend whose very expensive SOMA bike has survived being locked up at SF General for five years without being stripped or stolen, the first thing I did when the Bullitt arrived was to take it to The New Wheel, where they put Pitlock locking skewers on everything, including on the seatpost and under the saddle screws. Thanks to that, the thief was able to loosen the saddle screws but not remove them. As a result my ride was slowed by the saddle slipping back and forth, and that was really, really annoying. But I am gratified that my paranoia has paid off, and that I still have my saddle. Two thumbs up for the Pitlocks!

The next morning, with the saddle screws re-tightened, I rode my son to school and came out to find the Bullitt being admired by two dads who work as contractors. When our PTA president rode up on his daughter’s bike, he looked at it and asked, “Will you give me a ride back to my bike?” and I said, “YEAH!” I didn’t get a picture, so you’ll just have to imagine me riding with a six foot tall man wearing a nice suit in the box. I can tell I’m getting better with the bike, because the prospect of carrying a heavy live load didn’t make me worry I’d dump the bike. And it was no problem at all.

What was a problem was an earlier morning ride I took with my daughter in Golden Gate Park. For the first time in my life a driver nearly clipped me while passing, ignoring the empty road to the left to gun past me ON THE RIGHT. It was terrifying. When I saw the car pulled over less than a block ahead I pulled over to ask, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT? Passing me on the right is incredibly dangerous!”  The driver turned to her husband in the passenger seat, who explained that she didn’t know the traffic rules and didn’t speak English. After he prompted her, she said, “Sorry! Sorry!” Okay, call me a xenophobe, but I feel that if you don’t know traffic rules or speak enough English to learn them, maybe you shouldn’t be driving. Although I’m glad that she wasn’t malicious, I suppose.

It’s been hard to get pictures of the kids on the bike; they jump off and run to make faces at the camera.

That, however, was an unusual event. In general riding the Bullitt is a daily party. When I ride people shout, “Cool bike!” and other riders pace me to ask where I got it. “I want one to carry my kids!” they say, and the parents at our kids’ schools say the same. I found the attention disconcerting at first, but I’ve found that as time passes that I like it. Our Bullitt is apparently a wildly compelling advertisement for family biking. And I never have to worry about not being seen by drivers. Admittedly the way that drivers drift out of their lane while staring with their mouths open can be unnerving, but hey, they’re not going to hit our bike—an oncoming car, possibly, but not us.

It seems like we’ve spent quite enough on this bike, but this cover is pretty tempting.

Last night I took my son home with groceries piled around him. He complained that the wind made him cold. I’m beginning to wonder whether I should have gotten the rain cover after all. It’s not like it rains much here in San Francisco, but the winds can be pretty brutal in the winter, and the kids are right in front taking the brunt of it. It’s not too late, I suppose. What would you do?


Filed under Bullitt, car-free, electric assist, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Happy belated birthday to Hum of the city!

October 2012: Splendid Cycles delivers our Bullitt

Hey, I forgot my blog’s birthday. I’m so embarrassed! What can I say? There’s been some other stuff happening. Thank you, California, for funding public schools.

I started writing about riding our bikes on November 2, 2011. Writing about riding bikes isn’t as fun as actually riding bikes, but I have no complaints. It’s been a pretty great year, with lots of chances to meet other families, ride in other cities, and pick up some new bikes. And hey, we sold our car. I totally wasn’t expecting that. Last weekend, we met up with another San Francisco biking family we’ve known for a few years, and found out they just sold their car too.

I don’t delude myself that the United States is on the cusp of a wholesale transition to using bikes for transportation, even though it would make sense in many places. And I sympathize to some extent. Riding bikes is still pretty freaky and counter-cultural even in a place like San Francisco, which is so laughably counter-cultural that conservative media commentators practically cross themselves just saying the name.

Our two kids on our first bike, the Kona MinUte, laughing all the way

But we’re not alone out there. Last weekend I was out with a mom from our son’s school while she test-rode a Yuba Boda Boda. She sold her car on Friday and ordered the Boda Boda. When I asked why she wanted to buy a bike instead of a replacement car, she said, “There are so few chances to have fun once you grow up. Riding a bike is fun!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thanks for hanging with me, bikey people.


Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco

Grocery shopping by bicycle

I consider grocery shopping to be one of least interesting things that I do by bicycle. Compared to figuring out a way to carry two kids simultaneously up and down steep hills, it’s not particularly challenging. I am always surprised to find out that the question of how I carry groceries is interesting to people. Even weirder to me, people who don’t ride bikes regularly typically assume that we must use car share to shop, because no way could we carry groceries on a bike. And I am thinking: dude, we did our shopping by bike even when we owned a car (as a California resident, I am legally required to use the word “dude” at least five times a day).

We live in San Francisco, which is not packed with the kind of giant supermarkets featured in suburban locales. Thus we are not once-a-week shoppers, because we pick up groceries here and there en route to other destinations. Last week, just as an exercise, we shopped entirely without the Bullitt, which can carry anything, figuring that most people do not have a cargo bike.

Trader Joe’s by bike basket: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, box of wine, fruit, crackers, vanilla (plus my lunch bag)

General groceries: There is a Trader Joe’s a block from my office. There is no point in driving to this location, which is the busiest in the entire United States, and where the line to park stretches dozens of cars back at all hours. I usually walk to the Trader Joe’s once a week during my lunch break and pick up things like milk, yogurt, cheese, and pasta. The Trader Joe’s near my office does such a land-office business that its produce is actually okay, so I will also pick up organic fruit on sale.

This week’s farm share (carried in one MinUte pannier): apple pears, arugula, turnips, carrots, persimmons, bok choy, leeks, kale, potatoes

Farm share: Matt takes a martial arts class in our neighborhood on Thursday evenings. On the way home he detours a few blocks to pick up our farm share produce. He transfers the contents into a pannier for the ride home.

Farmers market: strawberries, kettle corn, carrots, apples, oranges, grapes, coffee cake

Farmers market: Our farm share doesn’t provide much fruit, but our kids eat a lot of it, so on Sunday mornings I go to the neighborhood farmers market. My son’s birthday party was this weekend so I bought a full flat of strawberries for the party instead of our usual half-flat. I also picked up four bags of kettle corn at a local grocery store because the boys watched a movie during the party and requested it.

A farm share + Rainbow trip by Kona MinUte: produce and bulk shopping in the panniers plus a 25 lb. box of apples strapped to the deck, no problem!

Odds and ends: We are vegetarians so we don’t buy meat. We also don’t usually buy things like cereal and bread because we make them.  However that means that every few months we need to make a trip to Rainbow Grocery for staples like flour, along with occasional bulk purchases of olive oil, salt, grains and beans. We also stop by Costco (which is across the street from Rainbow) on roughly the same schedule for things like compost bags, toilet paper, and the tissues that we donate to our son’s school.

Historically these stock-up trips have been by car share if we’re with both kids (or if Matt passes by the neighborhood while in a business-related car rental), or by bike if one of us was going solo. Matt’s Kona MinUte can carry anything we’ve ever bought at Rainbow and then some, and it’s not even a full-sized cargo bike. Lots of people shop at Costco with ordinary bikes.

Five pizzas for a kid’s birthday party in the Bullitt is also no problem.

Our future bulk shopping trips will almost certainly be by Bullitt, because it’s more fun and has zero marginal cost. We haven’t used car share since this bike rode into our lives in the middle of last month. For our son’s birthday party on Sunday, Matt took the Bullitt to pick up five pizzas. A load like that isn’t even a challenge for a bike like this.

If you get a real cargo bike your ambitions scale up accordingly. But even with just a midtail and our limited ambitions, we have carried a Christmas tree, two kids and their gear, each other, and the Brompton. A week or even a month’s worth of groceries barely ranks on this scale. Ride on, shoppers.


Filed under Bullitt, car-free, cargo, San Francisco

Halloween is for people

Two giraffes are better than one

I loved Halloween as a kid because, duh, candy. I grew up in a small town and for as long as I can remember, our parents sent us out with friends to run around the neighborhood until we got tired of trick-or-treating. Neighborhood parents rightly rolled their eyes about the bogus poisoned-candy and razor blade scares. The only horrible thing that ever happened was that once some teenagers ran by, pushed us over and stole all of our candy. They are surely going straight to hell.

My kids love Halloween because, duh, candy. I still love it, although for different reasons now. I like that it’s the one time of the year that most of the city throws a giant block party. Everyone welcome! If the price I pay for that is that my children stuff themselves with candy until they get sick for a couple of nights afterward, well, that’s a learning experience too. I also like that this is one way San Francisco is like where I grew up; older kids go trick-or-treating on their own, and their parents stay home to hand out candy. In San Francisco parents walking around with younger kids aren’t forgotten either; if we’d wanted to, we could have enjoyed a full cocktail hour thanks to the beer, wine and cheese and cracker spreads laid out for parents.

Where the kids are: Rosa Parks’ Halloween parade!

The only downside of trick-or-treating in San Francisco from our perspective is that there aren’t enough kids. As a result, when our kids went out in our neighborhood last year their bags broke, because everyone was so excited to get trick-or-treaters that they gave out candy by the handful. Even with all the stair-climbing in our neighborhood (roughly 20 steps per building) to tire them out, it was out of control. I’m guilty of the same thing: we were so excited to double our trick-or-treaters—two this year instead of one last year—that we were like shills for tooth decay.

One of the many amazing displays on Belvedere Street: garage as haunted house

So this year we headed to Belvedere Street, where the neighborhood decorates to the hilt, and where with 2,000 trick-or-treaters coming from as far away as Marin, the one-piece-per-kid rule is very strictly enforced. The decorations were amazing. But because most people decorate their garages, they move their cars to the street. And it’s tough to park a car in that neighborhood under the best of circumstances. And 2,000 families come to check it all out. A good proportion of them, sadly, come by car.

VIP parking for cargo bikes!

We can top that! We took the Bullitt, of course. I had two giraffes riding in my Bullitt, and on Halloween even more than usual, people were impressed. “What’s that bike and where can I get one?!?” people asked, and then they took pictures. I’m sure we would have gotten even more attention if we weren’t so quick by bike. In the time it took us to ride up the hill, park, walk the kids up and down both sides of the street, load up, and head back home to do an abbreviated circuit of our neighborhood, other families who’d arrived when we did (but by car) were still circling for parking. That must suck.

San Francisco says: “Top this, Trunk-or-Treat!”

The only bad news for me this year was discovering that there is such a thing as “Trunk or Treat.” Apparently this is a suburban thing, where churches or schools (!!!) encourage families to drive to a parking lot with a trunk full of candy, then have the kids run around from car to car bagging it up. Someone called it “tailgating for kids.” I’d like to stab this “new tradition” in the heart with a plastic sword. I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the spirit of Halloween as I understand it. Handing out candy isn’t the point of the holiday. It’s an excuse, an incentive strong enough for kids to pull their parents out of the house, and make a city a place again. On Halloween we talk to the neighbors. We take the streets back for people.

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Filed under Bullitt, family biking, San Francisco