Oh, the places we go

Oh, the places we go

It sometimes strikes me as excessive that Matt and I have four bikes between us. Yet we are close enough in height that we can share, or perhaps we would have even more bikes. Matt rides the Kona MinUte to work, and I am the only one who rides the mamachari (it’s too girly for him). We both use the Bullitt to haul our kids around and for major shopping. And the Brompton, although it’s kind of slog getting it the hill where we live, is handy for multimodal trips (and it’s not actually necessary to ride it up the hill, not when there is an elevator, and buses).

Home storage of the Brompton (with my sneakers for scale)

Home storage of the Brompton (with my sneakers for scale)

Although four bikes, even if one fits in our boarded up fireplace, feels like a lot, we do actually use them all. Admittedly, our kids also each have a bike, and then there is the trailer bike. But when I thought about it, it didn’t feel outrageous to have all these bikes because we actually used them all last weekend. And this weekend wasn’t that different from most weeks.

Yes, the MinUte is a real cargo bike.

Yes, the MinUte is a real cargo bike.

Matt rides the Kona MinUte to work by preference, although he sometimes takes the Bullitt and has occasionally taken the Brompton. The MinUte is most useful for his commute because it can carry one kid and stuff like work supplies and groceries, but is roughly the size of a normal bike. The bike traffic on Market Street, which is his route downtown, can be pretty heavy, which makes a full-size cargo bike tough to maneuver, and there are often heavy winds, so although taking the Bullitt is nice for the kids, it isn’t the greatest without them. (Last week he had to take the wind cover off the Bullitt while he was downtown to keep it from blowing over once he dropped our son off—with weight in the bucket, wind isn’t an issue, and even if it were it would be worth it with kids aboard. But without them that cover is like a giant sail.) Matt also takes the MinUte to his martial arts class in the evenings, so he can pick up groceries on the way home. It’s not bad for dropping off library books on the weekend either.

Loading up: three kids in the box of our Bullitt bicycle.

Loading up: three kids in the box of our Bullitt bicycle.

The Bullitt, ah the Bullitt. We take the Bullitt when we’re riding with the kids. At this time of year, they are positively obnoxious about the thought of riding on any other bike. They like the comfy seat and the weather cover and the fact that they can sit and read in the bike and talk to us. They like asking their friends to join them in the bucket. The wails that ensue when our daughter learns that our son got to ride the Bullitt to school are matched only by the wails that ensue when our son learns that our daughter got to ride the Bullitt to preschool. We also take the Bullitt for trips when we know we’ll be carrying heavy loads.

Half a dozen pizzas? Please.

Half a dozen pizzas? Please.

On Saturday morning, while Matt and our daughter were taking a martial arts class, I loaded up our son and headed to Rainbow for groceries. Taking the Bullitt to Rainbow is fabulous because we can do all our shopping while cars are idling outside waiting for a spot to open up in the lot. Also I enjoy riding to Rainbow because their lovely, cargo-bike friendly racks have stickers on them saying, “Thank you for biking!” It was a lot of shopping and thus a little cramped in the bucket for our son on the way home, but we’ve yet to throw a load at the Bullitt that it can’t handle. However, like any cargo bike, the Bullitt can be a bear to park in San Francisco—parking is our number one topic of discussion with other cargo biking parents in San Francisco. I also worry about it being stolen in certain neighborhoods.  And without the kids, it can be a lot of bike. Even so I’d probably ride it all the time if it weren’t for the parking issue.

Parking wasn't a tight squeeze on this trip, but you never know.

Parking wasn’t a tight squeeze on this trip, but you never know.

The mamachari is what I ride when I am going someplace where I’m worried about bike parking or bike theft, or when Matt has the Bullitt. It is slow but assisted and can carry either kid. I rode it to the Rosa Parks school auction on Saturday night because Matt rode the Bullitt, and also because the mamachari has a step through frame and I was wearing a dress. Then I took it to the farmers market on Sunday morning, because it’s a small enough bike that I can walk it right up to the stands, at which point I can dump whatever produce we buy directly into the baskets. As a result, our farmers market shopping takes about 15 minutes these days.

Our son is now well over four feet tall and he still fits on the Brompton.

Our son is now well over four feet tall and he still fits on the Brompton.

I rode the Brompton down to Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoon to meet a lovely family considering buying their own IT Chair (and not for the first time, either). I would ride the Brompton more if it weren’t for the big hill we live on, but I’ve taken it to the park many times because it’s easy to stash it in odd corners and because the kids love to ride it when the weather is nice. If they can’t be in the Bullitt, the other bike with a front seat is the bike they choose. Even at seven years old, our son still likes riding it. And for days that involve a bus ride or a train ride or meeting Matt somewhere after he’s taken a business trip that involved a rental car, there is no better choice than the Brompton. It is also our alternate farmers market bike, although the bag is not quite as great for produce as the mamachari’s double baskets.

Two adults and four bikes: we could certainly survive with fewer, but this turns out to be the right number to make our lives easy. It’s true that added together, our four very nice bikes cost almost as much as a cheap used car, but they cost almost nothing to own and maintain (we could have bought a fifth bike with what it cost to replace the tires on our old minivan). Plus it’s easier to get around the city on our bikes than it was with one car and transit. And given that we literally swapped our car for our bikes—plus a car share membership for trips out of town—we feel like we’ve come out ahead.


Filed under Brompton, Bullitt, car-free, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

10 responses to “We ride ALL THE BIKES

  1. todd

    by the time our boy was 7, he was standing on the top tube of the brommie. i’ve carted adults that way, too, though you have to be on intimate nose-in-ass terms with the passenger. totally voids the warranty, totally do-able if you go easy on the kerb-hopping.

  2. tb

    And how DO you lock up your bikes? What locks or methods do you use? My main fear of owning an expensive cargo or mid-tail electric bike is losing it to theft.

    • The Bullitt and Kona are Pitlocked to the hilt (wheels, brakes, saddle, seat post, headset, etc.), and we lock the frame to city racks with the highest-security-rated Abus locks. The Bullitt also has an Abus rear wheel lock, and we are somewhat cautious about where we park it. Our bikes are also listed on our insurance, given that our first MinUte was in fact stolen. When that happened, our renters’ insurance paid us the replacement value in a week. I’ve accepted that the insurance rider for the bikes is a price we have to pay for peace of mind in the city, and honestly it’s not that expensive. Our bikes are also registered with the SF police, which anyone in the city can do by filling out a form and mailing it to the Ingleside station.

      The mamachari has a rear wheel lock (built into the bike frame, which is standard in Japan) and we use the same kind of Abus lock for the frame, but I don’t worry about it much. It’s a low theft risk because it looks girly and the parts are Japanese and even our local bike shop couldn’t work on it without ordering special tools. Also I bought it on craigslist for bupkis so I’d be sad but not out a ton of cash if it were stolen. The Brompton we bring inside whenever possible, which is most of the time, and fold up and lock with the same major-league Abus lock we use on the other bikes when we can’t. But this is rare.

  3. Jonathan

    What kind of elevator do you have? Does it get you up to the top of your hill? I too live on top of a hill, and we have an elevator to take us up to the top, but I thought this was a comparatively rare thing. Please elaborate.

    • We live on a university campus. There is an elevator that runs from the bottom of the main hill, where the streetcar stop is, to the top of the hill, where most of the campus is located, through a building that is built into the side of the hill. Primarily the elevator shuttles students and campus workers from that streetcar stop to the buildings at the top of the hill. It is usually not super-convenient for us, but bikes are allowed in the elevator. If we take it, when we get out it’s actually a slight downhill to where we live on the edge of campus.

      Parts of the campus extend even further uphill and there are a couple more elevators that run from the main campus to those buildings. There’s also a series of shuttles that go up each of those hills, with bike racks on the front. Their schedules are more tricky, however.

      And yes, this is a very rare thing in our experience.

      • Jonathan

        Wow, can your guests use the elevator too or do you have to have uni ID? Our elevator is part of the NYC subway system but outside of fare control; if you walk through a 400-meter creepy tunnel from Broadway at the bottom of the hill, you get to the subway mezzanine, and a left turn brings you to the elevators up to St Nicholas Ave, around the block from our building.

        My 18mo kid loves riding the elevator; we go down and up every afternoon after day care.

      • The main elevator is open to the public but this is not widely advertised. The shuttles are too, but if they’re crowded university affiliates have priority and they’ll start asking people without IDs to wait for the next bus.

  4. Ted T

    Hmm, I have 4 bikes between me and don’t fell guilty because I ride them all also.

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