Monthly Archives: February 2013

Worst bike parking award: Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

The racks get crowded even at 4pm, way before the pickup rush.

The racks get crowded even at 4pm, way before the pickup rush.

Bike parking throughout San Francisco is getting pretty crowded, especially compared to last year, and I can’t imagine how bad it’s going to get when the weather gets better. Sometimes I have to park the bike as far as a block away, which is trivial by comparison to how far we used to have to park our car, back in the driving days. But it annoys me even so because bike parking is easy and cheap to install (and also because I have become hopelessly lazy about walking).

There is plenty of space to install more of the terrible racks they have (kind of a worst-best alternative) but they haven't even done this.

There is plenty of space to install more of the terrible racks they have (kind of a worst-best alternative) but they haven’t even done this.

But there is bad bike parking and there is terrible bike parking, and the worst bike parking by far on my daily rounds is at my son’s after school program at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. It is the worst because it is a half-hearted attempt to put in bike parking that was horrifically slipshod, and it is the worst because despite multiple complaints from me and others in person, and in writing, plus a dedicated meeting I had with a building manager about it, they have done absolutely nothing to fix it. In Matt’s most recent discussion with the building staff yesterday afternoon, they said they weren’t planning to do anything about it either, because “we need that space for drop offs and pickups by car.”

These tree cages aren't even attached to anything, but there aren't any better alternatives.

These tree cages aren’t even attached to anything, but there aren’t any better alternatives.

The bike racks are pretty standard U-loops along the sidewalk. However they were installed smack up against bollards placed on the sidewalk, so it is only possible to use one side of the rack, because the bollards keep a bike from getting close enough to the other side. There are only a few racks, so given how many people arrive by bike, there are never enough spaces and people end up parking bikes to the cages protecting the trees. And there’s still not enough space. Even worse, the racks are so close-packed against other obstacles built into the street that it is virtually impossible to park a cargo bike there unless you get the one rack that isn’t smack against a bollard that allows for a bike wider than a fixie. The JCCSF at 5pm has bikes piled up outside with child seats, cargo bikes, and trailer-bikes, all ridden by parents like me who have chosen to ride with their kids instead of drive. Yet parking a bike outside the JCC is so difficult that trying to pick up my son on the Bullitt sends me into a fury every evening that I try it. I would retreat to a meter but there are no meters in the huge drop-off/pickup/bus zone outside the building.

By contrast, the after school program gives every family two cards to put in the car(s), whether you drive or not, that allow you to park a car for free for 15 minutes in their underground garage to pick up kids. They have a carefully orchestrated car pickup zone at the end of the day, complete with walkie-talkies, to make sure that parents who drive barely have to slow down to pick up their kids. Yet this pickup is so notorious for road rage that I get emails from the director of the after school program asking driving parents to please chill out and act like adults.

The JCCSF pays lip service to active transportation, like everyone else, but their bike racks tell the real story. I pick up my son there by bike because I go everywhere by bike, although I’m astonished that anyone else does. Yet they do. And given that there is such unmet demand, imagine how much less space they’d “need for drop offs and pickups by car” if they had some decent bike racks.

[Thank you, internet! We’d been asking JCCSF to install new bike racks for months, and were being blown off as recently as the day before I wrote this post. After posting, I got an email that very evening saying that they’ll be installing 6 new custom bike racks that will hold 12 bikes. In addition, they’re going to try letting parents have keycode access to a locked courtyard with an additional bike rack for preschool and after school drop-offs and pickups. We are thrilled! I know that some readers wrote to to JCCSF on our behalf and it is very much appreciated.]


Filed under advocacy, family biking, San Francisco

Preschool EdgeRunner

Finally, another bike at preschool.

Finally, another bike at preschool.

This morning I saw the EdgeRunner I’d spotted last week parking next to my mamachari outside preschool as I was leaving. As the dad was unloading the bike and his son, Walking Mom came up the hill. Walking Mom is a friend from preschool who pushes her 3 and 5 year old five miles from home and up preschool hill in a double stroller every morning. Then she goes to work all day, and comes back in the evening to pick the boys up and walk them the five miles home. She is incredible. “We saw you going up the hill!” she yelled to the EdgeRunner dad , “That was AWESOME!”

When I talked to him he was still panting. “Well,” he said, “[gasp] we made it! [pant] I’m [wheeze] getting old.”

I sound exactly like that every morning.

“It’s just a really steep hill,” I said, “even with the assist.”

It's possible to ride up this part of the hill unassisted, but probably not with a four-year-old passenger.

It’s possible to ride up this part of the hill unassisted, but probably not with a four-year-old passenger.

Every morning I feel like that dad. I’m simultaneously grateful and vaguely disbelieving that we made it up preschool hill again, even with the assist, even after almost a year. Looking up the hill I’m never quite sure I’ll make it.

When I look at the assists on our bikes I feel so happy that they’ve made something possible that was previously impossible. Anyone who calls an electric assist cheating can meet me at the top of preschool hill.


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

Xtracycle erumpent

Another EdgeRunner!

Another EdgeRunner!

Last week I spotted the first EdgeRunner I’d seen in the wild. I did a double-take last weekend when I saw it again at the Botanical Gardens. Except that it had different stoker bars. Given that stoker bars aren’t an accessory that people swap out casually, I realized it was an almost-identical EdgeRunner. This bike has been available for what, a month? And I’ve already spotted two? Evidently I’m not the only person who found it appealing. I think this one is a Rosa Parks bike, as I either saw it again or there is a third (!) EdgeRunner in our usual haunts–yesterday morning when I got to school with my son there was yes, a black EdgeRunner parked in the school yard. What’s more, we had dinner with friends last weekend, and the mom, who is in the market for a new family bike, is coveting the EdgeRunner as well.

On Monday, when we were walking with Matt’s parents to brunch, we spotted another Xtracycled bike heading up the hill the other way. Although it was moving fast, I realized it was a Cargo Joe, the folding Xtracycle, and given the speed it was ascending Mt. Sutro and the low hum it made as it went, it was clearly an electric-assist folding cargo bike. We puzzled over that one for a moment, but realized that here in San Francisco, there are thousands of people living in apartment buildings that lack dedicated bike parking (or any kind of parking) but do have elevators. In a hilly city of small spaces, there is evidently a previously untapped market for an assisted folding cargo bike.

We have missed our Bullitt sorely the last few weeks that it has been in the shop.  With it, we don’t need to organize our lives around not having a car. Riding the bike is always better. But not everyone can manage the parking demands and expense of an assisted front-loading box bike, and in San Francisco, which has so few families, the advantages of the front loaders are less widely relevant anyway. As I watched that Cargo Joe glide smoothly to the top of the hill, I couldn’t help thinking that I was seeing the future.


Filed under car-free, electric assist, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco, Xtracycle

Unusual child seats, continued

This was the most distinctive child seat I've seen in quite a while.

This was the most distinctive child seat I’ve seen in quite a while.

Last week I wrote about packing two children on a folding bike (arguably inappropriately). Evidently this is my week for spotting ad hoc child seats, because parking at the office I saw another one. This rider put a seat cushion/saddle (?) on the rear rack and hacked a piece of pipe as a footrest onto the rear wheel. Although this is a normal-sized bike and the frame itself is probably fine carrying more than one person, I have to wonder whether the rack is really rated for the weight of a kid old enough to sit without a harness or back rest.

What amused me most about the setup, though, was that the owner of the bike had carefully locked the scavenged seat and the “I sawed off a piece of aluminum tubing” footrest to the bike with old bike chains. Finally I have spotted a rider who is even more ridiculously paranoid than I am about bike theft.

Maybe I’m living dangerously, but dude, I think the footrest is safe from tweakers.


Filed under family biking, San Francisco

Scaling preschool hill

This is the approach to preschool hill, in a drier season.

This is the approach to preschool hill, in a drier season.

Lately the road to preschool has been slick due to a mysterious water leak, and with the cold the street is icing up. The university put down sand but cars are still slipping backwards on the hill (which actually happened to us once too, back when we owned a car, and which is absolutely terrifying).

Mornings this week I’ve come out to the sound of motors gunning as people try to power through the ice slick. San Francisco hills are far too steep to be scalable if there were actually ice on any regular basis.

But our assisted bikes are okay even on a steep and slick hill. It’s still not a fun trip, but it beats walking, and I when I see or hear cars losing traction I can peel off onto the sidewalk. But most drivers wait at the bottom of the hill until we get to the top. Even when the street is dry, they slow down to avoid passing us. Everyone moves pretty slowly on the uphill trip no matter what, frankly. Preschool hill is steep. It makes me paranoid about my brakes.

Anyway, I don’t see a lot of other parents riding bikes, although last year I met one dad on an assisted bike (a Walmart type model scored on craigslist), whose daughter is now in kindergarten. And occasionally there are parents who try the hill unassisted while hauling a trailer or child seat, walk in dripping with sweat, and vow while gasping for breath to never do it again.

At last there are two bikes at preschool drop off.

At last there are two bikes at preschool drop off.

That is, until yesterday, when I saw another bike snuggled up to the mamachari after I dropped my daughter off. I could hardly believe my eyes until I got outside: it was an assisted EdgeRunner! It was made exactly for this kind of job. I still don’t know who’s riding it, but it’s nice to have company at last.

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Filed under electric assist, family biking, San Francisco, Xtracycle

My Brompton gets schooled (2 kids on a folding bike, redux)

Here we go again.

Here we go again.

Over Christmas I started riding the Brompton occasionally with both kids on board. At the time, and again now, I noted that this almost certainly voided any manufacturer warranty and was nothing that I could in good conscience officially recommend, etc. etc.  I’m not sure how much it matters anyway, as the Brompton is not the cheapest folding bike, plus the IT Chair required to ride with a kid in front, which is awesome, is laughably expensive. We were only comfortable dropping that kind of dosh to celebrate my promotion last year. So this option is not likely to appeal to lots of people.

That's a rear child seat, a double front saddle, and a front cargo basket on a folding bike. Damn!

That’s a rear child seat, a double front saddle, and a front cargo basket on a folding bike. Whoa!

But it seems I’m not the only person to think about ways to squeeze a couple of kids on a folding bike. At my son’s after-school program, one parent is doing it on the cheap. I was awed when I saw this folding bike, which offers a way to haul a rider, two kids, and a fair amount of a cargo in the front basket, with even smaller wheels than the Brompton, and with parts that looked like they could easily be scored secondhand. I wouldn’t call the results pretty, but you know what? This bike could be put on a city bus and take up less room than a folded stroller, and I’m guessing the total rig would cost very little even if assembled brand new. Well played, mystery parent. Well played.


Filed under Brompton, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco

Soldiering on

Destination unknown

Destination unknown

I have been feeling embattled over the last few weeks. Blah blah blah housing, blah blah blah office move. Our daughter’s preschool changed hands and for the last week, has been run by a for-profit corporation. (We are familiar with the company and did not have a good experience.) As a result of this transition, many of our friends from preschool are leaving the city over the next six months.

At one point I said, “Well, at least everyone’s healthy.” Jinx. Our son ended up in the emergency department, on oxygen, with a tentative diagnosis of pneumonia. It wasn’t pneumonia, and after a week at home he was feeling better, thank goodness.

Going in circles, for now.

Going in circles, for now

The weather has been colder as well. It makes it just that extra bit harder to get on the bike. But given that we’ve chosen to live without a car, we mostly do it anyway.  We just keep swimming, more or less literally last Thursday morning, when the rain was coming down so hard that the street turned white. But my rain gear is incrementally improving every season, and I got to work dry. By mid-morning it was sunny again.

So far the preschool situation is hanging fire. There are many new teachers who are stymied when we show up on the bike every morning, who cannot really believe yet that there are people who ride to school (admittedly the hill is a beast even with the assist). But nothing bad has happened yet.

This week I finally ended up meeting with my school’s dean. I wanted to know where things were going, professionally speaking. It was a very reassuring conversation. Among other things, it turns out that a dean is more powerful than the university housing office. Things are going to be okay.

What we sent to the landfill last week: medical waste from ER visit, birthday party odds and ends, random odds and ends, and a XL serving of smug.

This is the total of what we sent to the landfill last week: medical waste from ER visit, birthday party odds and ends, and an extra-large serving of smug.

We keep doing what we’re doing. We are buying no new plastic and thus producing much less garbage, and to my surprise this transition has been fairly painless. Our son is fervently on board, for reasons I haven’t really figured out. We’ll be rooting out odds and ends of pre-packaged things for some time yet, but using up what we already have is good preparation for our eventual move. Riding with my daughter to the cheese shop last week (which sells cheese and hummus and crackers in bulk and is delighted to put them in our containers and basically makes this whole endeavor far less onerous) I thought: oh my god, we are those people. I am riding my bike with my kid on board to buy self-consciously local food in reusable glass jars and cloth bags. It must look appallingly smug. What’s next, an annual pilgrimage to Burning Man?

But a synonym for “smug” is “contented.” We soldier on, and it feels like life coming into balance.


Filed under car-free, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

The city and the city

This is light traffic by the standards of a driving commute in San Francisco.

This is light traffic by the standards of a driving commute in San Francisco.

Today, thanks to a complicated sequence of planned afternoon events, I took the shuttle to work. I was surprised to realize that this is the first time I’ve ridden a bus instead of a bike in months.

The university shuttle, compared to Muni, is fairly palatial. You always get a seat, there are no stops between most destinations, and people are quiet. A lot of people work on the shuttle, but now that we drive so rarely, I’ve found that I, like the kids, tend to get a little carsick. So I looked out the windows instead, which helps.

The city that I saw on the shuttle is very different than the city I see on a bike. The bus got caught in traffic at one point, which was unnerving (San Francisco keeps postponing the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit lanes). And most of what I saw on the way to work was roads and cars, an endless expanse of gray asphalt and metal. It was unpleasant. The bus is high enough that I could look down on cars, which were filled, almost without exception, with drivers texting on their cell phones. I did not find that reassuring. And from my perspective, every car I saw, even the “compact” cars, was comically oversized for its typical load of one or two people. People on foot sprinted across major intersections. The city I traveled in today is filled with noise and fumes and traffic. It feels dangerous and unwelcoming.

At the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

At the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

I normally ride to work through Golden Gate Park and on back streets, and aside from a few transitions on major roads, the trip is quiet. I ride either in the park or on back streets lined with trees. My city is mostly filled with bird song and nature and brief conversations with people walking to work. “Please,” I say, “go ahead.”

No cars allowed

No cars allowed

I live in one place, but it contains two cities. I realize now why I haven’t ridden the shuttle in months. Why would I want to?

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Filed under commuting, San Francisco, traffic, Uncategorized

The EdgeRunner has landed

Here it is.

Here it is.

Last week I heard from Clever Cycles that they had the new Xtracycle EdgeRunner in stock. And they have the pictures to prove it. On the way to work last week, I saw one parked outside a local bike shop. What a good-looking bike! When I test-rode the EdgeRunner at Xtracycle world headquarters, I wasn’t sure when they’d be in stores. They’re here now.

The EdgeRunner is the longtail we would probably buy if we were in the market for a longtail, which we totally are not, even though the Bullitt is in the shop for a while. 



The Xtracycle website offers the specs on the electric version (which I did not ride)—the assist is the latest from eZee and there are photos of the new system and new console. The total weight of the assisted version is, according to the website, an astonishing 65 pounds, which is less than many unassisted cargo bikes weigh.  And it comes with a built-in front headlight! I am seriously in love with Xtracycle for making lights on a cargo bike stock (even though they didn’t include a rear light).

I’m not in the market for another cargo bike, but I’m feeling the urge to take another cargo bike test ride. We’ll ride some hills this time.


Filed under electric assist, family biking, San Francisco, Xtracycle

How much does a bike like that cost?

Apparently these bikes are interesting.

Apparently the Bullitt is interesting.

People like to ask me how much our bikes cost. Usually this question comes when we’re riding the interesting bikes. I understand the impulse, but I almost never get these questions from the kind of people who normally ride bikes, people that I know have a sense of what bikes actually cost. It usually comes from the kind of people who say in the next breath, “It looks like it would be expensive; like: $200!”

Yes, sure. My “expensive” bike cost less than your mattress or the flat-screen television you keep in the kitchen. Riding bikes for transportation is cheap, but unless you get the bike for free, it’s not that cheap. And nobody picks up a free Bullitt at the dump.

The Bullitt is an expensive bike (and if you really want to know what it and bikes like it cost, check out my family bike reviews). Announcing how much we spent while standing around the park seems likely to encourage eavesdroppers to try stealing it. I finally came up with some decent answers. “It cost less than half of what we got for selling our six-year-old minivan!” I say. “Can you believe it?” Here in San Francisco, there are other meaningful comparisons. I sometimes tell people it costs about as much as a Vespa (this is true). “But a Vespa couldn’t carry my kids, of course, and I don’t have to pay for license or registration or gas—it costs a few cents to charge this bike up and ride for 30 miles! Or more!—and the maintenance cost is basically nonexistent. Can you believe it?”

I suppose I should use another picture of the Brompton sometime.

I suppose I should use another picture of the Brompton sometime.

I still never know what to say when people ask me what our Brompton cost. Usually something like, “Well, it depends on the options.” This is true, but it’s kind of lame.

Luckily for me, bikes really do cost less to maintain than scooters or cars, because right now the Bullitt is in the shop and won’t be fixed until Splendid Cycles comes back from vacation next week at the earliest (something has gone awry with our customized front shifter). Its long vacation has turned out to be a bigger hassle than I expected given that we have backup bikes. Now that we’re used to having a real cargo bike, it’s crazy-making to not be able to haul big loads and cover the kids in the cold or the rain.

Come back, Bullitt.

Come back, Bullitt.

But it’s not going to cost a thousand dollars to fix. It’s not like repairing a car. And this confidence I have that even the most depressingly expensive bike repair is easy to cover from our monthly cash flow is probably the best news of all. How much does a bike like that cost? Over the long term: nothing worth mentioning.


Filed under bike shops, Brompton, Bullitt, family biking, San Francisco