This Friday is the opening day for Bay Area Bike Share. I knew, idly, that it was coming, but hadn’t really paid much attention, as the station route map reveals it is too far east for me to use much. I forgot, of course, that Matt works downtown. There is a new bike share station right outside his office! My sister has one outside both her home and her office (and mystifyingly, she does not plan to join. Yet.)
Of course Matt rides to work already, but riding a big cargo bike around the Financial District is not always the most convenient option, especially since one time that he did that, his (U-locked) bike was stolen. At noon. In a location with lots of foot traffic. By a thief using a handheld angle grinder. At work, we can bring our bikes inside. Personally, if I had the option, I’d leave my bike inside all day and ride a bike share bike to meetings when I needed to leave the office. I think a docking station is designed to lock up a bike better than I ever could, and I suspect that it would be too tough to sell a bike share bike to make stealing one tempting. Not that it matters, because stolen bike share bikes wouldn’t really be my problem anyway.
Although I am not in the neighborhood and I can’t haul my kids on a bike share bicycle, I will eventually make it over to that part of the city (which is flat!) and try one out. You’ll hear about it here first.
However the grand opening of bike share is not the only reason that this will be a great weekend. This is also the long weekend of the empty city. On Wednesday night, the Bay Bridge was closed so that Cal Trans can transition the earthquake-damaged eastern span over to the new bridge. Virtually all of the traffic from the East Bay has evaporated. I noticed even this morning that there were far fewer cars on the road, which is always welcome. We have had this experience before during bridge closures, as well as on Thanksgiving and Christmas—visitors leave the city, and everything is suddenly completely accessible to those of us who live here. Restaurant reservations are available all evening and the lines at museums disappear. I’m sure that it’s not great for business, but it’s sometimes nice to have the city be a place just for its residents. Happy Labor Day!
Rosa Parks bikes rolling in… every day is like a cargo bike roll call!
San Francisco schools start mid-August, so we’ve been taking our son in for a week now. Now that our daughter is finally in a new preschool (at a Japanese immersion program a few blocks from Rosa Parks that we love) we have, for the first time ever, a shared commute. And for the new school year, there are new bikes to see as well. We arrived early on the first day of school, and we had to rent a car because our daughter woke up vomiting, but there were plenty of bicycles to see nonetheless.
Front seats rule!
Last year I wrote about the Oxford Leco top tube seat, and we were lucky enough that friends from Rosa Parks picked up for us one while they were in the UK. Circumstances conspired, so we have not installed our seat, but they are already using theirs. On the first day of school it was carrying their son (who goes to preschool with our daughter) but this is typically the way they take their daughter, now in the first grade, to school. They told me that the kids fight for the chance to sit in the front seat, which does not surprise me: front seats are fun!
This bike is too fast to catch in motion.
For a couple of years another family was also using an ad hoc top tube seat in the form of a spare saddle stuck on the top tube, but their daughter, in 2nd grade, has grown too tall for this option. Now she rides behind her dad, standing on the foot pegs he’s installed on his rear wheel and holding onto his shoulders. I continue to be impressed at the way he’s managed to haul a kid for six years now with the absolute minimum cost and hassle. They cut a mighty figure rolling through the streets—since he’s kept his bike so light they move very fast, unlike those of us on cargo bikes.
This is the second BionX Mundo I’ve seen at Rosa Parks.
At the welcome breakfast for new families there were: more bikes! And check out that newly assisted Yuba Mundo with BionX. This particular rack usually holds kids’ bikes that have been disengaged from their Trail-Gators and are locked up until the parental pick up later in the day, rather than this collection of parental bikes, because it’s inside the locked courtyard.
There is so much awesome in this bike that I cannot do it justice.
Most impressive of the new bikes was the Xtracycled tandem! This is the same family that formerly rode the Bike Friday triple tandem (aka Shrek 2). Their oldest is now riding solo, so they swapped the triple tandem for the Xtracycle tandem, and now they can carry three kids. And they do: they are the neighborhood bike-pool. Cargo bikes may be slow, but have their uses.
This is the way we ride to preschool.
And although we did not ride to school on Monday due to sick kid, we did ride for the rest of the week. I took our daughter to preschool solo twice last week, and picked her up too. I still get tired much too easily, so I can’t ride every day, or for that matter go to work every day (I’m still on half-time disability). Yet riding is still easier than driving+walking—even with my handicapped parking sticker, we can rarely park close enough to our destination that it’s an easy walk for me. People are still surprised to see me on the bike again, but riding is still so much easier than walking that it almost feels like cheating.
Even more astonishing, I’m not the only one back in action.
I have been trying to practice riding more, although I have hit some limits. Riding two days in a row, I have learned, now leaves me saddle sore. I get a little antsy when I have to go through the intersection in Golden Gate Park where I was hit, which is unfortunately en route to almost everything, but it’s been reasonably mellow other than that. I don’t have the stamina or strength to go long distances or up hills, but hey, that’s the kind of thing electric assists were made to fix.
Now that I am riding every other day or so, I remember what I like about riding my bike. I’ve been in cars and buses a lot in the last few months, and it is isolating. Plus, even though I now have a handicapped placard, I end up having to walk a lot when we drive somewhere because the competition for handicapped parking places is ferocious. But on the bike the world returns to human scale (plus I can park by the front door). When I was coming back from grocery shopping—my current level of grocery shopping competency by bicycle involves carrying one glass jar of yogurt—two guys on the corner waved me over to ask about my bike. On my way to the office, the only other person who stopped at the red light besides me struck up a conversation. “I can’t believe I get grief about not wearing a helmet sometimes from people who run red lights,” he said. I agreed that this was pretty irritating. This nice man was in the full roadie kit; not the usual stop-at-red-lights type in my experience. I am learning not to judge hastily.
I get a lot of funny looks when I get off the bike and unfold my cane. This amuses me. In physical therapy I can do exactly zero of the exercises I’m supposed to be able to do 25 times in a row when I’m fully recovered. I am still a slow walker, and I limp, and I can’t go far on foot, but on my bike I’m almost as fast as everyone else. On the bike no one knows I’m still crippled.
Surly Xtracycled Karate Monkey with Stokemonkey electric assist–so many kinds of awesome!
Now that I am getting out and about more, I can continue my effort to catalog every unusual bike in San Francisco. There are more interesting hobbies, I’ll admit, but it entertains me (my other hobby is the even more obscure effort to catalog every word that means its own opposite, e.g. sanction).
This bike isn’t a kid-hauler, which is my favorite kind of bicycle by far, but it could have been (update from a more observant friend: yes it is! check out those stoker bars). I was not familiar with the Surly Karate Monkey before I saw this Xtracycle outside a café one weekend morning. But check it out: it’s a Stokemonkeyed Karate Monkey! That’s an awful lot of monkeys on one bike. It must own the hills. I couldn’t tell whether the box was a battery backup, but this bike looks like it gets around. The sticker references a shop in Seattle. You’re a long way from home, monkeys.
[Note: As of April 2014, release of the Ridekick child trailer has been postponed to 2015.]
When I thought about getting back on the bike after my injury, I thought immediately about electric assist. We live on a big hill. I was surprised that I could get up part of it on the Brompton by myself when I tried riding for the first time last weekend. But a little more experimentation made it clear that I wasn’t able to ride up all of it. This is better than I’d expected, but still: not useful. It doesn’t help much to go partway up the hill. And when I tried to walk the bike up the hill instead, it made the pins in my leg ache so badly that I had to lie down. This was predictable but still unwelcome.
A mid-drive spotted near work
What’s more, it’s not very useful to be riding again if I can’t pick up and drop off a kid occasionally. I figured I would get my strength back eventually, but in the meantime I needed a better solution. Option one is a new mid-drive electric-assist bike, but that’s really expensive for short-term use and depending on how much strength I got back, could potentially be overkill in the long term. Ideally I wanted a temporary assist that I could stick on the Brompton, which is basically the only bike we have that I can use right now given my limited strength and range of motion. I did try getting on the MinUte, and technically it’s possible, but it wouldn’t be safe yet with a kid on the deck. I can get on and off the Bullitt, but it’s too heavy for me to ride for the time being.
Introducing: the Ridekick electric assist trailer!
I knew what I wanted, but unfortunately I didn’t know of any temporary, immediate on-off electric assists currently in production. At least, I didn’t until a blog reader pointed me to the Ridekick trailer (thanks David!) The only Ridekick currently on the market is a small cargo trailer with an electric assist built in. It was cute and it looked like it would do what I wanted, but when I went to their website, I saw that they were taking pre-orders for what looked like my rehabilitation holy grail: an electric assist child trailer.
This is a complete stealth assist system, if you want to look super-tough on hills.
Although I’m not the world’s biggest child trailer fan (hard to see in city traffic, don’t always fit in urban bike lanes, won’t make it up many San Francisco steep uphills, can be terrifying on many San Francisco steep downhills, we prefer to have the kids in front), we had been considering getting a bike trailer for travel, and for upgrading our one-kid bikes to two-kid bikes on occasion. The trailer also has the advantage of offering weather protection, just like the Bullitt, but in a far more portable package. The Ridekick assisted child trailer also seemed way more promising than an ordinary trailer because with an assist we’d no longer have to worry about drag on the bike. The pull of a weighted trailer can really be a problem on hills and in strong winds, both of which San Francisco has in abundance. And if the assist were up to it, I could attach it to any bike and make it up hills with one or both kids even in my reduced state.
So I wrote to Ridekick, hoping against hope that the child trailer was close enough to production that I could get one by August. The answer was no. But they were coming to San Francisco in August with the prototype to look for venture capital funding, and would I like to try it? Yes!
This is the cargo hold with the battery for the assist.
We met Dee and Mark from Ridekick in Golden Gate Park. They are great people. The prototype trailer that they brought is built up from the same Burley Bee model that we rented last year when we visited my mom in Bellingham. To my surprise, the assist doesn’t really intrude into the trailer’s cargo space. There’s a lithium ion battery with an on-off controller attached, about the size of a hardback book, that slides into the rear cargo compartment and that’s basically it. There is a throttle attachment that they Velcro-tied onto our handlebars, and then strung the wire for it back along the frame with more Velcro ties. It clipped into the wire coming from the motor at the rear wheel bolt, which is the same place that the trailer itself attaches. For novices like me: a Burley trailer attaches with a hitch plate that is threaded onto the same bolt that holds the rear wheel onto the bicycle frame. The trailer frame has a drop-in pin that goes through the hole in the hitch plate, with a back-up strap that loops around the bicycle frame in case it fails. Ridekick estimates that the trailer can go about 15 miles on a charge, depending very much on local conditions (how much weight and how big a hill?)
Technically both boys are too old for the trailer, but we never pay attention to stuff like that.
“Oh, if I must.”
My kids hadn’t ridden in a trailer for a year and were thrilled to get back in one. They also brought a friend. For our first test ride, we attached the assisted trailer to the Kona MinUte and then Matt took the two 7-year-olds for a spin through Golden Gate Park.
Something I may not have mentioned before is that Matt is less enamored of new bike experiences than I am. He mostly just treats all the experimentation I do like my weird hobby. He’s not big into optimizing his riding experience. The first bike he got was the Kona MinUte, and when it was stolen, he bought another one just like it. I got him a new pannier for Christmas one year when he complained that the ones that come standard on the MinUte were not office-appropriate (definitely true), but he has never used it. When we got the Bullitt he said for two months that we should have replaced the car instead, although he has since come around. So Matt was actually pretty grouchy about coming down to Golden Gate Park on a Saturday morning for “another bike thing.” He had had other plans.
It is in this context that I say that Matt loved the Ridekick child trailer from the moment he started riding with it. Generally neither of us is a big fan of throttle assists (the kind that go when you push the button, whether you are pedaling or not), but in the context of pulling well over a hundred pounds of weight behind the bike, the throttle assist is extremely appealing, especially at intersections. At steep intersections it is sometimes impossible for us to start a heavily loaded bicycle, even with the BionX, because the BionX doesn’t kick in until your speed exceeds 2 mph. Although Golden Gate Park is a little thin on steep hills—its grades top out at about 12%—Matt took it on a moderate hill, probably 10% grade, behind the Conservatory and had no trouble hauling both 7-year-olds up. When you’re riding with an assisted trailer, you don’t have to feel like you’re dragging an anvil.
It was a struggle to get him out of the trailer so his sister could have a turn.
When he came back I took our daughter for a solo turn around the park on the bike. Despite the fact that I was on the MinUte, which is a huge hassle to get on and off for me at the moment, I loved the Ridekick child trailer too. It resolves a lot of child trailer problems all at once. There’s no drag from the trailer unless you want to work harder. When you get tired, you can have it push you along for a little while. Taking breaks like this, interspersed with pedaling, got me up the same hill behind the Conservatory that Matt had ridden. That felt amazing! And it’s something that is currently completely out of reach for me on an unassisted bicycle.
There is probably a limit to the Ridekick’s capabilities. We have the advantage that we are using to riding up hills, and so we just need an extra boost now and again when we have extra weight on the bike. Even I, in my reduced state, tended to use the assist for a while, then pedal solo for a little bit, then repeat. My guess is that a weak rider could burn it out on the steepest hills, given that Matt has overheated the BionX on the steeper hills in our neighborhood occasionally. We’d have to ride with it a lot more to be sure. Then again, how many families really deal with hills like ours on a regular basis?
In the world of trailers, which tend to be useful but not that fun, the Ridekick assisted child trailer is a killer app, both useful AND fun. Normal trailers drag, and pulling them can be exhausting. As a result, even though most cargo bikes ride like tanks, cargo bikes are a lot easier. Still, in a situation where one parent drops off and another one picks up, you’d need two cargo bikes (which is exactly what we have now, but that’s a big commitment to start). But an assisted child trailer? Awesome! The assist means that riding is not a chore, it could be passed between parents’ bikes as needed, and it can keep the kids warm and dry, all for a (suggested) price of a single unassisted cargo bike. And as a rehab tool, it would be amazing.
If we could have, we would have bought it on the spot. But there is only one in the entire world. Our kids were crushed. “Can we keep it, please?” our daughter begged. “It goes fast! Can we keep it?” Alas, no.
Evidently Ridekick has gotten a fair bit of interest from parents who would like an aftermarket kit to assist their existing trailers. This doesn’t surprise me, but they still don’t even have the basic model in production. Ideally they could find a partner with an existing child trailer company (e.g. Burley, Chariot, Wike) and add the assist option to their standard product lineup. I’m sure there is sufficient demand.
This trailer is so much fun!
How cool is the Ridekick assisted child trailer? It’s so cool that if it had been on the market when we started riding with our kids, we might never have gotten cargo bikes. Even with my misgivings about the width of trailers versus bike lanes and having the kids behind me in city traffic instead of in front, having a trailer that could glide up hills, as well as being able to swap it between bikes, would be worth compromising in other areas. I have zero regrets about getting cargo bikes, especially given that the Ridekick child trailer isn’t actually available yet, but an assisted trailer would have been a much lower stakes way to ease into family biking, and it would travel well. I could be biased by the fact that this trailer allowed me to ride up hills that I couldn’t have otherwise attempted, but I loved the Ridekick.
It’s been 3.5 months since I, in the words of one friend, “got run-ded over.” For all that people worry about the dangers of commuting I actually got hit while riding around Golden Gate Park on a Sunday afternoon. Go figure. You can never tell.
After my second surgery–looking much better with the external fixator removed.
I had no idea what I was in for when we were sent to San Francisco General in April. I thought that at worst I’d get a cast on my leg and go home that evening. Maybe I should have been more aware when we jumped the trauma queue—did you know that they don’t even ask your name when you get admitted through trauma? I was Trauma Romeo and our son was Trauma Sierra. I’m still amazed that I spent two weeks in the hospital—nobody spends two weeks in the hospital anymore. Two surgeries later, two months stuck in bed on the continuous passive motion machine, and many physical therapy visits later, and here I am: back to full weight bearing. Admittedly I have a bad limp. That’s okay. I have a cane; it looks very hard core.
Let’s draw the curtain of charity over what I looked like getting on and off the bike.
Last Friday I got tired of waiting around. We had test rides to do over the weekend (more on that later), and that meant it was time to get back on the bike. My range of motion is not all that it could be, so for now I’m on the Brompton, because it has a nice low step-over.
My right leg is pretty atrophied, and that makes starting from a full stop very hard. But to my surprise I can still make it up a moderate hill unassisted on the Brompton. I’m still kind of nervous on the streets, and the less said about left turns, the better. But I’m back on the bike.