Category Archives: Breezer

These are the ways we ride to school

First day of first grade

We have found that our son’s elementary school contains an embarrassment of riches (for the record, this is an under-enrolled Title I public school in San Francisco, not the usual candidate for perceived awesomeness, a complete sleeper of a school). These riches extended, we learned this year, to a range of bicycle commute strategies with kids.

Bicycle commuting to school in San Francisco is not like it is in other locales. Kids enrolled in lower grades can’t usually ride on their own, due to traffic and hills and distance; this is a citywide school, and some families are coming from quite far away. Moreover, the after-school programs at our school are mostly off-site, and students take the bus from the school, meaning that there’s no way to take a kid’s bike along after school lets out. Finally, we haven’t yet had bike racks installed at the school (we’re on the list) so there’s no place to leave a bike even if kids could ride. The teachers who ride bring their bikes into the school building, but this isn’t something that would work for a bunch of kids.

So typically we all have to ride with the kids with us somehow, and as I’ve mentioned before, city people rarely use trailers (they ride below the sight line of cars, tip on uneven pavement, don’t fit in the bike lane, etc. etc.) That means kids on our bikes. It is more challenging than the run-of-the-mill bicycle commute to school, but it’s worth it. We are often ad hoc, but we are ready to roll. Herewith, a morning’s worth of photos; an incomplete list of the ways we ride to school.

School bike #1: Bike Friday triple tandem

#1 (and by far the coolest):  Bike Friday triple tandem. Our PTA treasurer and his partner ride this bike with their daughters, who are in kindergarten and 2nd grade. They say it is the best way to commute with two kids to school in the city, and I believe them. It is easier for their dad, who is about 6’ tall, to captain, than it is for their mom, who is more like 5’4”. She reports that she needs help on the hills from the girls and she needs to concentrate while riding. The girls have to synchronize their pedaling with the parent who’s captaining; this is, I am told, not necessary on all tandems, but it is necessary on the Bike Friday [update: not exactly true; my brother-in-law wrote to tell me that any tandem could be retrofitted to have freewheel cranks that let one rider stop pedaling]. Our kids desperately want a triple tandem.

How they afforded it: They used to ride the girls to school on a tricked-out Kona Ute, which they bought and modified by hand while their youngest was still in preschool. They sold the Ute to finance the tandem, which they got for about 1/3 the list price by buying it used on eBay after searching for a used triple tandem for some time. The seller, based in LA, was unwilling to ship it, but they had a cousin in LA they visit regularly. He picked it up, and on their next visit, they took it home with them. The Bike Friday packs up in a suitcase!

How they store it: Bike storage is no joke in San Francisco. The girls’ aunt lives on the same block they do and has extra storage space, so they keep the big bikes at her place (they also have an adult tandem that they found used for free and had their bike shop fix up).

School bike #2: Surly Big Dummy

#2: Surly Big Dummy. Our friend Shirley takes her girls (1st grade and 2nd grade) to school on the deck of her Big Dummy. While they’re in school, she takes the Dummy out to do errands. I have talked about the Dummy before. It is a fun bike.

How they afforded it: They have a car that was in a horrible accident and needs several thousand dollars in repairs. Last year, they decided to skip the repairs and drive it until it failed and buy a Big Dummy (plus another bike to come) with the money they saved. When the car dies, they will be car-free.

How they store it: “It’s a problem.” They have a very small garage space with their rental apartment and squeeze the bike alongside (I presume that they don’t care about the finish of the car as it’s effectively totaled). When the car finally dies and is hauled away, however, they’ll have a very generous bike stable.

School bike #3: Giant + spare saddle on the top tube

#3: Giant with a spare saddle. One of the kindergarten dads has bolted a spare saddle to the top tube of his bike. He puts his daughter on board and takes her to school that way. When I talked with him about it, he said that although his method was totally inappropriate for long rides, their commute to school is a gradual descent over about 10 blocks and so he just coasts slowly the whole way, then drops her off, pops off the spare saddle and commutes to work.

How they afforded it: He had a spare saddle lying around anyway: this modification was free. If you had to buy one, I don’t know, $10-$20?

How they store it: No extra storage needs; it’s just a normal bike with a saddle on the top tube!

School bike #4: Kona MinUte

#4: Kona MinUte: I’ve written about our MinUte before. We ride our son to school on the back deck; we added stoker bars and some foot-pegs. This is a great bike and a flexible set-up.

How we afforded it: We bought bikes in lieu of a second car we’d been saving to buy (thank goodness).

How we store it: The MinUte isn’t much longer than a normal bike and thus has no real storage issues; Matt keeps it in a shared cubicle at his office, for example. But at home we are rich in space suitable only for bicycle storage thanks to a vituperative 50-year grudge match between the university (we live in university housing) and the local neighborhood association that prevents the partially-conditioned basement under our building, which the university was legally obligated to make ADA-accessible, from being used for a more practical purpose such as housing, or, for that matter, parking more cars.

School bike #5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior

#5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior. I haven’t written much about riding with the Bobike Junior before, as it usually makes more sense for Matt to ride our son to school on the MinUte. But with his recent injury, I’ve been handling the daily trip to school, while Matt walks our daughter to preschool then takes the N-Judah to work.

The Bobike Junior takes some getting used to, as the seat rides high, which makes the bike more tippy. It felt unstable at first. But as I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve come to love this seat. My son rides very close to me, almost as close as a backpack, and I like that when we start the ride, he hugs me from behind. It is easy to have a conversation with him because he is so close. I can turn to talk with him at stoplights and he comments on the ride, encouraging me to go faster downhill (I’m cautious; I don’t have disc brakes). It is a bit of a hassle to fit a pannier underneath this seat, and once it’s on, it encroaches a little on his foot pegs. Nonetheless, I will happily ride with my son on the Junior until he won’t tolerate it anymore.

That said, I have a suspicion that this seat might be less appealing to a shorter rider. I am 5’7.5” (to be painfully precise) and that is apparently tall enough that I can handle loads put higher on the bike without much trouble. When our friends with the triple tandem had their Kona Ute, they report that the mom had trouble handling the bike with the girls up so high on the back; she is ~3-4 inches shorter than I am. I’ve noticed that shorter people often mention they prefer to keep the load down lower, but on the other hand, there is a metronome effect. The lower loads are more stable, but if you lose control, it is a nightmare righting the bike again. The higher loads are less stable, but if you lose control, it is much less trouble righting the bike again (assuming you are tall enough). I find that I like the ease of righting the bike given that my kids bounce around a little, but some people prefer just the opposite. This is not something I’ve seen discussed much but I suspect it may be part of the reason people have strong opinions about the Xtracycle/Yuba lines (lower loads) versus the Ute and regular bikes with child seats (higher loads).

How we afforded it, how we store it: See above, blah blah, didn’t get a planned second car, it’s a normal-length bike so no atypical storage concerns, but we have tons of bicycle storage space as a side effect of a long-running town-gown battle.

These are some of the ways we ride to school. And this explains, I imagine, why our kids are begging to get a bike as obscure as a triple tandem.


Filed under Bobike, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

We have a visitor! (Yuba Mundo)

We have continued the string of injuries with Matt now out of commission due to an errant dodgeball at one of our son’s classmate’s 7th birthday party. Hello again, N-Judah.

Hello, Mundo! Let's go for a ride

However. A while back a representative of Yuba Bicycles, just across the bridge, wrote to ask whether I would care to borrow one of their bikes and write about what it was like to ride it in the city. Would I! But honestly, it seemed implausible. Let’s be clear: I know almost nothing about bicycles. This cannot be overstated. Many days, I am just grateful that I managed to get to work in the morning without tipping over.

(The other days I have been known to tip over. It’s less common than it used to be. At least I am strong, and get compliments from my son when he’s riding the Bobike Junior that “You go up the hills faster than Daddy.” Yeah! I’m sure that has nothing at all to do with the fact that my Breezer weighs 10 pounds less than the MinUte. Cough, cough.)

And yet, fortuitously, despite my skepticism, I picked up this loaner last Friday. It has taken some getting used to. I have an internal hub on my bike and this does not. I had no idea how to shift, you know, like normal people, and for the first ride, we sounded like the bicycle equivalent of a car without a muffler. In my defense, someone informed suggested that the gears probably needed adjustment, which I am about as qualified to do as I would be to repair the Mars Rover.

Even outdoors, it kind of dominates the landscape

The Mundo is a big, big bike. It is heavy, and lurks in our basement like a small car. We are extremely fortunate that we can keep our increasingly ridiculous (albeit temporary) collection of bicycles in a very large locked ADA-accessible garage. Thanks to 50+ years of battles with the local neighborhood association, the university is not allowed to use the space to add another parking place (other residents’ preference) or a studio apartment (university housing’s preference). Thanks to a major flood last year that left everything 6-12 inches underwater for a few days, no one on our block, ourselves included, has the boxes of random crap on the floor anymore that typically litter garages. As a result it’s like a bicycle bar scene down there right now, assuming that people in bars were regularly U-locked to standpipes, that is.

Because I am all about overkill, we decided to see just how much we could do over the weekend on a bicycle that I cannot lift, can just barely ride (getting better…), and yes, tipped over. More than once.

So on Saturday morning we rode 5 miles to our kids’ swim class, to brunch with my sister and brother-in-law, to Rainbow Grocery to stock up, downtown to get a mystery box, and then back home. Our daughter slept for most of the ride home in her child seat. I learned that the bike lanes and traffic South of Market are flat, but terrifying.

Saddle up!

On Sunday we went to Golden Gate Park to see the Sunday Skate and meet friends from school with their Big Dummy, where we rolled up, unbelievably, right next to another Yuba Mundo. Then we stacked various combinations of our four kids on different bikes and rode them around until it started getting dark. The Yuba Mundo lacks dynamo lights, which has also taken some getting used to. I learned that my kids can hold a thought in their heads longer than I had thought possible, assuming that thought is: “Can we get roller skates?”

Further updates on all of these experiences pending. Riding this bike has been a fascinating experience. Having other people ride it (family members, friends, all of whom are more informed than I am) has been even more so–their opinions vary dramatically, based largely, it seems, on how much experience they have riding cargo bikes.

I thought I got a lot of comments about my ride when I was carrying one kid, but it’s a whole new world carrying two and a few bags of groceries. Perhaps a signature moment of San Francisco was while we riding near the ballpark. A City CarShare Prius carrying two white-haired couples came to a dead stop in the lane next to us, at which point all the passengers started waving wildly to my kids while chattering in Cantonese. Presumably they were saying “Would you look at that bike!”


Filed under Breezer, cargo, family biking, Kona, reviews, San Francisco, Yuba Mundo

The Breezer Uptown 8 (step-through)

Nice bikes… too nice

I knew what I wanted: a bicycle with all of the bells and whistles that commuters typically have to add to bicycles, unless they buy heavy, expensive Dutch bicycles: lights that didn’t need to be charged, gears that couldn’t drop off the chain, ability to hold tons of weight. Basically a dorkcycle.

It was easier to find the child seats I wanted, thanks to our European experience. And in retrospect there is good advice out there suggesting that you pick the child seat before the bike anyway. We’d become familiar with the Bobike Maxi, but our son, nearing six, had aged out of that seat. At that point most people stuck the kid on a trailer bike or their own bike, but we had length and school drop off and pick up problems that made that idea a non-starter. The other option to haul older kids was a longtail bike (and this idea still has some appeal) but my husband was riding a sorta-kinda cargo bike that seemed to be meeting that need.

Bobike has a seat that doesn’t get much attention in the US, the Bobike Junior. It holds a kid aged 6-10 weighing up to 75 pounds. It looked like what I wanted, assuming that I could find a bike that would take the weight. This is not a cheap child seat, but we were looking at using it for not one but two kids over the next decade, and what’s more we’d bought car seats around the same price point that didn’t get as much use. (And of course, if we’d bought a second car, we probably would have had to double our car seat collection too.) It seemed insanely difficult to find reviews of this seat in English, but eventually I found someone who’d not just noticed it and thought it looked interesting and then balked at the price, but actually hauled a kid on it for years. That was the indefatigable Adrienne of Change Your Life, Ride A Bike, who not only sang the praises of the Junior, but lived in San Francisco and recommended a local bike shop that stocked it. I had previously assumed that the seat was only available in the US from the family biking Promised Land of Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon.

Both of these were helpful recommendations. The Bobike Junior is an outstanding seat, and the only way that I could imagine hauling an older child on a normal bike. And Ocean Cyclery has been great to us, as one of the few San Francisco shops we’ve visited that has extensive familiarity with child seats (owned by an American/Dutch couple with kids of their own), welcomes kids who show up in the shop and start tearing around, and stocks an extensive selection of bikes set up for both commuters and kids themselves. The last time we visited, the bike in the front window was a commuter step through with a Bobike Mini on the front and a Bobike Maxi on the back. Other than shops with “Dutch” somewhere in the name, I’ve never seen anything similar elsewhere. And although I try to harp on price too much, reminding myself that we could buy a dozen bicycles without hitting the price point or storage problems we’d face acquiring a second car, Dutch bicycles sell at prices that made me concerned making a bad decision, especially given their weight. Maybe they’re a good value on a per pound basis. Whereas Ocean primarily carried bicycles with price tags way under $1,000.

Moreover, Ocean carried a line of commuter bicycles that I’d never seen in person, but was reading crazy-good reviews about from all over the place: Breezer. I do research for a living, and at this point have descended to the kind of intellectual tail-eating where I conduct systematic reviews and read articles about how to process too much information. As a result I no longer trust my own individual judgment much because research tells me it’s much less reliable than the experiences of lots of other people. And lots and lots of other people liked the Breezer Uptown. Big, heavy men liked it and said it hauled 300 pounds without a shudder. Almost everyone said that riding an Uptown was like riding a couch, in terms of nonexistent saddle soreness or lower back pain. It had a mountain bike pedigree and was, as a result, geared for hills. It came with every commuting accessory: fenders, dynamo lights, internal gears, a chain guard, even a rear wheel lock. And even loaded up with all of those extras, the bike weighed only 35 pounds; light enough that even after adding two child seats, I’d still only have achieved the weight of the single-speed Dutch bikes we’d rented in Europe when they were carrying nothing at all. I could imagine lifting this bike (and I do in fact lift it every time I park it at work).

There were, admittedly, comments that the Breezer Uptown was unlovely, with all the practicality and style of a vacuum cleaner. And it was not a bicycle that was setting any land speed records. These concerns struck me as aesthetic and irrelevant. I was looking for a dorkcycle, and anyone riding a bicycle in the United States is already hopelessly unfashionable anyway. I wanted to haul 75 pounds of children plus our gear up the non-trivial hill we lived on every day. I didn’t care if the bicycle looked like a cinder block if it was comfortable to ride and could climb. If anything, having a bicycle that didn’t turn heads might reduce the odds of it being stolen. Bicycle thefts in our neighborhood have progressed to the point where prevention means U-locking your bike inside a safety coffin in your bedroom.

Ocean Cyclery had a Breezer on the floor that I could try, although they warned me I was too tall for the medium frames they had in stock and it wasn’t really ready to ride. The shop is located near a weird but friendly test ride: a street converted from an old horse-racing track in the middle of the city that made a perfect 1-mile loop, with a couple of hills heading on and off. They were right that the frame was too small for me, and the front fender was loose and rattled the entire time, but even so the bike was more comfortable than anything else I’d been on in my visits to seven other bike shops in San Francisco. The owner thought my desire to put two child seats on the front and back was a nifty idea; it was something he’d wanted to do with his own kids before realizing they were too far apart in age. And unlike every other bike shop where I’d proposed this idea, he immediately understood why this meant I’d need a step-through frame. After hearing where we lived, he thought (and my brother-in-law confirmed) that the 8-speed was the best bet to get me home every evening.

I made a deposit on a Breezer Uptown 8 that afternoon. Buying a new bike in the late fall meant that the price was way below list; in the same range as the (estimated, wildly varying) price of buying a used bike of dubious provenance and trying to upgrade it to something like what I wanted, and astonishingly, cheaper than buying it online and having to assemble it myself (which I couldn’t do anyway). Bonus! The owner was sure it would arrive and be ready before my husband’s next trip to China, making it possible for me to ride my son to school while Matt was away. Of course it was late. We drove to school that entire week.

As always, my bike needs more stuff hanging off it

When the bike arrived, my daughter was ecstatic. On my first ride she insisted on climbing aboard and shrieking, “I’m riding it! I’m riding it!” until my significantly more cautious son couldn’t take the humiliation any longer and jumped aboard despite the absence of the stoker bars he’d grown accustomed to. He likes riding the Bobike Junior on my bike. I like this bike too.

I did not dip my toe slowly into bicycle commuting. My first few rides were with both kids on board up hills with double-digit grades. Because I was totally ignorant I did that with the hub dynamo lights on, which meant even more drag. Even so, I did not have to walk. For the first month I never took off either child seat, even when the kids weren’t riding along, because I didn’t know how, meaning that I was regularly hauling an extra 20 pounds no matter what. I take my son to school on this bike once a week, haul my daughter around all weekend long, and on days that they’re not on board, load up two panniers and a front basket with most of our weekly groceries. I ride this bike pretty much everywhere but the Tenderloin (where it would be covered with piss and/or vomit if I were lucky enough not to have it stolen) and the Mission (where it would simply be stolen). I have never been saddle-sore, and only rarely, after a long ride with kids and gear, have I felt any pain at all after riding. Braking on the downhills with a kid on the back can be unnerving—it takes quite a bit more preparation than it does when riding alone—and I’ve nearly popped a wheelie going up some steeper hills in the city with one of them on the back, but more informed people tell me that these things would happen on any bicycle.

Off road, on road

The Breezer, as I’d hoped when I bought a bike tricked out with every commuting accessory known to nerds, makes it easier to ride my bike most of the time than to drive our car. Thanks to the Bobike oeuvre, that’s true even when I’m going somewhere with one kid in tow. When I step onto this bike I feel like I’m ten feet tall. The lights come on with the flick of a switch. The lock is always on board, although given where we live I think that all bikes should come with a U-lock holder in lieu of the largely-decorative rear wheel lock. Even with kids on board, it glides up the endless San Francisco hills, and I can even afford to keep the lights on. I’ve only had to walk it once, when I lost momentum because Matt was weaving in front of me (and he had reason). As I’ve gotten stronger I’ve been able to reserve the first gear more and more for heavy loads. I wouldn’t call this a fast bike, but I’m just trying to get to work with my teaching clothes looking decent, and anyway I ride through Golden Gate Park most days and it’s gorgeous there, so I’m in no special hurry. And once I started taking the child seats off when the kids weren’t on board, my commute got noticeably faster. On days when I’m whizzing down the hill out of the park past a row of stopped cars, our household’s Pixar obsession has led me to yell, “Ride like the wind, Bullseye!”

I can imagine that someday when the kids are older and riding on their own I may want a prettier, faster bike. For the foreseeable future I feel like I’ve made the right decision, even though this bike, like Matt’s Kona, isn’t always everything I want it to be. I would be happier if the bike could still carry both kids at once, and if the rear rack were longer so it fit panniers when the Bobike Maxi is attached (panniers do at least fit under the Junior) or if came with a front rack. The front light could be brighter. I would happily swap the top two gears for an even lower first gear. These are not big complaints.

When I am riding around the city, my Danish helmet and our child seats draw lots of attention and compliments. No one has ever complimented me on my Breezer. I cannot bring myself to care.


Filed under Bobike, Breezer, commuting, family biking, reviews, San Francisco