Category Archives: cargo

Spotted in Hayes Valley: The Faraday Porteur

New Hayes Valley parklet (not the park built on a closed street)

Although I don’t get much chance to socialize with adults given that we have two little kids, I try to meet my sister every once in a while. The last time, she suggested we meet in Hayes Valley, near Civic Center. I hadn’t been to Hayes Valley in a long time, and it turns out it’s a nice ride over. The entire neighborhood has been shifting in character from a seedy strip off the freeway to a shopping and dining destination. Part of that transition involved closing off a major street to car traffic, and building a park where the cars used to be. It was filled with families, even though Hayes Valley itself is more of a hipster neighborhood, packed with expensive housewares stores, wine shops, and expensive restaurants. It is a fantastic place to hang out, and I was not the only person who thought to ride my bike there: the racks and parking meters were packed.  It was one of the rare summer days in San Francisco that was not foggy and cold, and I pitied the drivers stuck in their cars, fuming as they searched for parking. That used to be me.

The Faraday Porteur

I met my sister at Propellor, which is kind of a hyper-local version of Design Within Reach. Propellor was an odd location to find a bicycle, other than the one I’d locked up outside, but a bicycle there was. It was, in fact, an electric bicycle, the Faraday Porteur, a creation of IDEO/Rock Lobster that was the Oregon Manifest People’s Choice winner. Oregon Manifest was a 2011 competition intended to encourage designers to create the ultimate utility bike. Given that hauling kids was not even a criterion in the Oregon Manifest, it was hard for me to take much of an interest. But although the Faraday reflects the goals of the Manifest rather than of many actual utility cyclists, it is an interesting bike nonetheless.

There are some issues that arise when attempting to market a bike in a modern housewares store. The main one is that the people staffing the store clearly had no idea what they had in their window, other than that it was an electric bike, and then only because it said so on the sign. I had a lot of questions, and they didn’t have a lot of answers. Eventually they found a brochure, and that helped. They are planning to sell the Faraday, which is actually going into production. With luck they’ll have someone in the store who can explain what it actually does by then. I’m interested to see how the whole sales process goes. They’re clearly reaching a market of people who would not normally spend a lot of time in bike stores. What will happen after one of them actually buys a bike is something of a mystery.

Front hub motor, apparently

The Faraday Porteur is clearly an effort to make utility bikes seem cool. I recognized from the front hub that it was an electric bicycle even without seeing the sign, but couldn’t spot the batteries. The brochure revealed that they were packed into the double top tube.  Although I think packing the batteries in the frame is a fantastic idea, I wonder about the choice to put them in a double top tube. You can forget about adding a rear child seat given that frame; you’d roundhouse your kid every time you got on the bike. Putting that much weight in the top tube seems like it would make the bike harder to balance, and my brother-in-law wondered what happened when someone needed to replace the battery. And the whole bike seemed designed for a sporty ride; there’s no way to ride upright on that frame. Maybe it’s meant to appeal to people who would otherwise ride fixies?

Those quibbles aside, there is a lot the Faraday gets right. The frame-mounted front rack comes off and on with one hand, and it is large enough to haul serious cargo. The mount for that rack has two headlights built into it, and the rear of the bike has an integrated taillight. They were very, very sweet. The electric assist (which is a pedal assist, but I got that from the website, not from the confused staff at the store) is beautifully integrated into the bike, looking exactly like a left-hand shifter. It’s not a particularly powerful assist, but for this kind of bike, I doubt it needs to be. And there is no question: this is a very pretty bike.

Pretty, but vague on the details

The Faraday got a lot of attention while we were there, from people who didn’t have my kinds of questions. Theirs were more along the lines of, “When will you have them in stock?” and, “How much will they cost?” The store couldn’t answer those questions either.

In a neighborhood like Hayes Valley, a bike built to carry a case of beer easily, rather than a kid, is right on target. The Faraday, which takes the brutality out of climbing the city’s hills and makes it possible to haul everything a single person could need,  was clearly making riding a bike seem practical to people who would never consider it otherwise. I hope they sell thousands of them, and that the next time I’m in Hayes Valley, I see them everywhere.

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Filed under cargo, commuting, electric assist, San Francisco

Book review: Traffic; why we drive the way we do

This is a street designed for traffic.

I recently started reading paper books again, the kind found at the neighborhood library, rather than scanning the digital library and downloading books without having to leave the relative comfort of home. The paper library is still substantially more diverse than the digital library, with a much broader selection of non-fiction in particular, although admittedly it appears to offer less in the realm of evangelical romance novels (which are surprisingly difficult to identify based solely on title and cover art; this is why now I only download books that have gotten a good review somewhere, sometime).

Even though we rarely drive, it still really ticks me off that drivers park their cars right in our driveway, like, daily. Drivers who are really committed can even block the bikes.

While in this less ephemeral realm I picked up a copy of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic, which is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in quite a while. For a long time I have accepted that getting on an airplane is the psychological equivalent of locking myself into a small prison cell, and I have prepared myself for flights accordingly. I drive more frequently than I fly (every week or so rather than every few months) but I hadn’t really thought before about how putting myself in a car is somewhat equivalent. I also only recently learned that cyclists call drivers “cagers,” which has a certain dark accuracy.

Riding a bike means never being stuck in traffic.

Vanderbilt discusses the many illusions of driving, including the expectation that early merging is more efficient than late merging, and the efforts of traffic engineers to reprogram people who resent late mergers and create traffic jams to force them out of merged lanes (I used to be one of these people). Even more fascinating was the illusion of queuing in traffic, where whichever lane you pick appears to be moving more slowly than all of the others. Ultimately, it turns out that they’re all moving at the same speed, but because everyone ends up waiting far longer than they end up passing—that’s what makes it heavy traffic—no one perceives the underlying equity.

This made me realize that one of the pleasures of cycling is never having to queue except at stop lights. Speaking as someone who cycled in Copenhagen, where bicycle traffic is thick, I can testify that this benefit is not an artifact of only having few riders on the road. Part of this is undoubtedly another counter-intuitive discovery by those who study traffic: slower speeds lead to faster movement; below certain speeds, there are no traffic jams. The rest is just inherent.

This is a street designed for people. Drivers complain that parklets are “too close to the road.”

It was particularly terrifying to read about just how awful most drivers are, which is something you can often ignore in the car because you’re busy being an awful driver yourself: trying to settle down kids, program acceptable music, talk to passengers, talk on the phone, or worse yet text. But I definitely notice it as a cyclist and pedestrian. Given that there is no feedback that all the dangerous things drivers do are dangerous until they actually hit something, why wouldn’t most drivers believe they’re doing a good job? Even when they do hit something, the fact that it doesn’t happen every day makes people believe the non-collision days are more meaningful. And my friends who work at power companies tell me that even people who hit utility poles argue that the pole was at fault (“It was too close to the curb!” or if seriously drunk, “The pole was in the road.”)

My husband is not a MAMIL

It was painfully familiar to read Vanderbilt’s discussion of how women end up creating and suffering in the worst traffic because of what is referred to as “serve passenger” driving. Taking the kids to school, picking up dry cleaning, doing the grocery shopping: these trips involve the most traffic—school pickup and dropoff zones are particularly notorious—because everyone needs to do them at the same time, and they are the least compatible with ride-sharing. And that’s before even mentioning parking. This is why there are dark jokes about the kinds of hardcore cyclists (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra, or MAMILs) who are able to commute the way they enjoy because their wives are doing all of the errands by car.

Doing errands by bike means never having to look for parking.

Although my husband handles his own dry cleaning and many other household tasks, he does far more business travel than I do, and when he’s away I do almost everything alone. This is part of the reason we’re in the market for a new family bike, and it’s part of the reason I get so annoyed that the market for bikes like these is so thin. I think there are more models of Trek Madone alone than there are family bikes of any brand. (I only recently learned that the Madone is a model of racing bike made by Trek that costs like $5k, and there are apparently a million versions, all of which sell like Big Gulps.)

My son will grow up riding his bicycle for transportation just like I did.

In my personal experience, when I transitioned to commuting primarily by bike I actually saved time, not to mention frustration, because I avoided so much traffic en route. In addition, as a working parent there is almost no other time to exercise. But it’s not possible to do these kinds of errands—picking up two kids at two different schools, etc., with a mountain bike or even a so-called commuter bike. You need something that can haul non-traditional cargo, like cartons of milk, kids themselves, and whatever fragile and emotionally significant popsicle-stick-and-cotton-ball art projects that they want to bring home unscathed.

At the end of this book, I understood why Vanderbilt apparently transitioned to riding a bicycle and public transit. I would have done the same thing if I hadn’t already. Public transit is unequivocally safer and the majority of research suggests cycling is as well (although people find this difficult to believe, or at least “not where I live!”–urban people insist they’d ride if they lived in the country where there’s less traffic, rural people insist they’d ride if they lived in the city where there are bike lanes, etc.) And either option is dramatically less grueling than driving.

When I was first hired at my university I went to a talk for junior faculty by a senior professor (who later won a Nobel Prize) about how to balance work and family. Although many of the things she did were not possible for me (e.g. having her first child at age 45—too late already!) her strongest advice was, “Kill your commute.” Do whatever it took to move close enough to work and school that almost all your time was spent doing something you valued (research, patient care, spending time with kids) rather than something you didn’t (driving, or more likely, sitting in traffic). And we took that advice. We moved from a large house in the suburbs to a small apartment in San Francisco that cost over 50% more per month, and my husband, after a long stint of unemployment and underemployment, found a new job within city limits. We slogged through the San Francisco public school lottery. (And we did all this before we had bikes. Between the hills of San Francisco and the absence of family bikes nationwide, cycling wasn’t an ambition for us at the time.) It was a long road, but our lives are infinitely better for it.

Streets can change. People can change.

Most people wouldn’t have to move and sell a car and change their jobs and their kids’ (pre)schools to change their commutes, as we did. And some of the best changes, which involve transforming streets themselves, are not individual decisions but collective decisions: removing parking, adding bike lanes, creating parklets, developing bike share programs, lowering speed limits, and narrowing roads. But having seen the result of changes like these, in our own lives in San Francisco and after visiting cities like Copenhagen and even Paris that have implemented them, those changes are most assuredly worth it. They scale cities back down to human size. Calming streets is really calming people. It takes the stress out of living.

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Filed under advocacy, cargo, commuting, Copenhagen, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

I didn’t kill the Breezer (phew), but even so

I had to walk the Breezer to the shop with my daughter in the backpack and the rear wheel seized up. It was exhausting.

So the good news is that I didn’t kill the internal hub on the Breezer. The bad news is that I have apparently been, entirely unintentionally, straining the bike well beyond its limits with the loads I’ve put on it. Our bike shop was concerned that the frame wasn’t meant to take that kind of weight and would eventually break. I have learned that this actually happens sometimes. Yeah. Oops. At a minimum they were sure I’d kill the hub eventually. The Breezer is a great commuter bike, but it has limits.

Here is the sobering summary from my brother-in-law: “You realize you carry more on your bikes sometimes than would fit in a SmartCar, right? I was just thinking yesterday that while you are not at all aggro, you may be the most aggressive cyclist I know in terms of what you are willing to try with your bike (you make full face mask downhillers look like wusses).”

He has obviously never met the mom who carries six kids and the shopping, and who makes my typical load look like a grocery bag full of paper towels. Admittedly she’s riding a bike designed for that.

My poor Breezer, asked to carry loads it was never meant to bear.

Anyway, there was, shall we say, strong advocacy from both our bike shop and family members that I should get a real cargo bike and stop trying to force my Franken-bike to do things it was never designed to do. Matt expressed similar concerns when he called from China. It is something that I had begun to suspect already, as I was trying to flag a cab in the Tenderloin and wondering whether I’d ever be able to ride the Breezer again.

Having proven that I’m up for riding fully-loaded through the seasons even on what is evidently a wholly inadequate bike, I am willing to consider bikes that are much more expensive than I would have a year ago as a primary bike. Also I learned what people pay for mountain and road bikes used only for entertainment value, which: whoa. For reasons of structural stability, I have been encouraged to learn to love the top tube. I’m also sure I want an electric assist.

Wanted: a cargo bike that can handle both hills and sand dunes

So we are now in the market for a new cargo bike. I’m not at all sure what kind. I was putting off another bike until finding out whether I’ll get the new position my department recommended, which is equivalent to my current position but with much more job security. At the last check-in, my department chair was optimistic that the university would offer a verdict “maybe even as soon as 2013.” Given that timeline and the fact that I thought the Breezer would carry two on child seat+trailer-bike for years to come, I wasn’t exactly scouring the market for its replacement. But circumstances conspire.

Two kids, now aged 3 and 6.5, too much traffic for them to commute solo, serious hills, a not-very-wide basement door (fortunately walk-in) and many pinch points and narrow bike lanes are the main issues we deal with when riding our bikes in San Francisco. I welcome any suggestions for bikes that could handle the challenge. Long, narrow, and assisted was one person’s summary of the best bike for me, and I suspect that’s right on.

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Filed under Breezer, cargo, commuting, electric assist, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

SF Pride: another year, another disaster

Breezer and trailer-bike: seemed like a good idea, but it didn’t work out that way.

We have struggled with getting to the SF Pride Parade for years. One year we stupidly tried to drive there: it was a disaster. Last year we tried to take Muni instead: it was also a disaster. The trains are packed, and the route is a long way for kids to stand, and we couldn’t get a return train, so we ended up carrying the kids through the downtown crowds to find an alternate way home. This year I thought I had it figured out: we were going to ride the bike. We were meeting my in-laws downtown: they would watch my daughter while my son and I were in Japanese class, then we’d all walk over post-Dykes on Bikes to watch the parade (the noise of Dykes on Bikes freaks the kids out, and I’m not much of a fan of it either).

With a week’s worth of clothes and books to haul for my son, and his newfound desire to ride, the obvious choice for the trip was the Breezer with Bobike Maxi plus trailer-bike. I loaded up the front basket with my son’s stuff, piled on the kids, and within a block of home, realized that the tires needed a lot more air than they had to handle that kind of load. We turned around and went back. While I was getting the pump, the bike fell over. I’m not sure whether to blame the wheel stabilizer (which isn’t that stable even with the basket unloaded) or the kids for this one, but it turned out to be no ordinary fall.

By the time we hit the Panhandle, the Breezer was making a buzzing noise every time the wheels turned. When we investigated it appeared to be a bent fender. So I tried to whack it back into place with moderate success and we continued on. Everything seemed okay until we got to the Tenderloin, when the gears started grinding and the chain fell off. I don’t enjoy putting the kids on the sidewalk to watch drug deals while I futz with a bike, but I didn’t have a lot of options. Mother of the year! When I got the chain back on, I realized that the damage must have been much more severe than I’d realized—the gears kept grinding and it was hard to shift. But we had little choice at that point: the buses we passed had broken down, and we’d hit the street closures by that point anyway, so there was no other alternative.

Yet another electric bicycle spotted at Golden Gate Park: I wish I’d had one on Nob Hill.

We finally got to Japanese class (late) and afterward, were all so exhausted that we skipped the parade and went out to lunch. I thought about trying to get home another way, but there were no cabs available around the parade route and transit was much too packed to allow us to board with a bike and a trailer-bike (maybe not even without them). I figured that if I’d made it there I could ride home.

My in-laws told me the parade was now over, so I assumed we could ride down Market Street on the way home, which is mostly flat, sparing my gears. This turned out to be totally not true; the parade just keeps going. So I headed up Nob Hill. About halfway to the top the chain fell off. And fell off. And fell off. I ended up walking up the rest of the hill and back down, figuring that I could manage the downhill Polk Street bike lane. But by the time I got there, the rear wheel had completely seized up. I was in the middle of the Tenderloin with a broken bike and a preschooler who desperately wanted a nap. I needed a cab.

This was a bike-friendly cab: it had the new “don’t door the bicycles” window sticker.

Hailing a cab in the Tenderloin is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Hailing a cab in the Tenderloin during the Pride Parade was harder: every cab that passed was already carrying a fare. I also wanted an SUV cab big enough to haul the Breezer and trailer-bike if possible, because leaving them in the Tenderloin would mean that I’d probably never see them again. Two very nice older gentlemen who’d been hanging out on a stoop helped me, but it still took almost a half hour. I have never been happier to see a car than when an empty SUV cab finally stopped for us. The driver helped us load the bikes and agreed to ignore the fact that my daughter was going to have to ride without a car seat. I have never given anyone a bigger tip. “You’re a long way from home,” he said. “It’s not that far with a working bike,” I said, “But right now, it definitely is.”

I still have no idea what happened to the Breezer (I have an appointment at the bike shop tomorrow). My guess is that whatever it is will be expensive. I am trying not to think about that right now. Sunday made my brush with road rage last week feel like meandering through Golden Gate Park during a street closure. I have never been more miserable or exhausted on a bike ride. And I can’t help feeling disappointed by the Breezer. I worry that our needs for a bike (the ability to haul up to two kids plus cargo) are beyond its capabilities. It’s really a commuter bike and not a family bike.

This man was handing out leftover Pride parade balloons to all the kids. Very exciting!

I almost couldn’t bring myself leave home after all of that, but we’d agreed to meet our Big Dummy-riding friends from school for Sunday Skate in the late afternoon.  Once we got there, we had a great time. My daughter loves their youngest daughter, and we ended up riding to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The only downside of the whole evening was that everyone else was out on bikes as well, so the nearest parking was a half-block away. Oh, the humanity.

I sometimes think that the number of bikes I have now is a bit excessive but I’m reconsidering.  If I didn’t have another bike, I wouldn’t have even left the house that afternoon, let alone by bike, and I was glad that I did.

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Filed under Breezer, cargo, family biking, San Francisco, traffic, trailer-bike

Upgrading the Breezer Uptown 8

That’s right, my Breezer didn’t have enough stuff hanging off it yet. I needed more.

One day when we were visiting our local bike shop, Everybody Bikes, I was complaining that it was getting increasingly difficult to get up hills as our kids gained weight every month. My Breezer Uptown 8 handles hills well with reasonable loads (like a single rider and a preschooler) but it was getting to be a slog with a 6.5 year old on the back. The shop owner suggested I gear the bike down. But it has an internal hub, I said. Oh, you can still change out the rear cog for a larger one, he said, and that would give you the equivalent of two extra low gears (at the cost of losing the two highest gears, which I never used: whatever). The cost? About $20. Whoa. Sign me up!

What’s more, the brakes were getting soft, again. This issue seems to crop up every couple of months. The Breezer’s brakes aren’t as bad as the original brakes on the Kona MinUte, but San Francisco does seem to eat through bicycle stopping power.

My new front basket, the Soma Gamoh.

I also wanted to be able to carry more cargo on the bike. They suggested a front basket. Putting one on would require rewiring the front dynamo light, but they could do that with some time.

And my kids wanted a cargo kickstand. They hated my little stock one-legged kickstand; they thought it was too wobbly, which was true. And that would argue for a front wheel stabilizer, for basically the same reason.

At last, a kickstand that is not pathetic.

Finally, we wanted to attach the custom rear rack for our new trailer-bike. And that meant rewiring the rear dynamo light, which attached to the stock rack.

This had all turned into a kind of major project, but upon reflection it seemed worth it. Two weeks ago the Breezer went into the shop for all these changes at once. For much of last week I came back for tweaks (the front light stopped working, then started again, the kickstand wasn’t in, then it came in, we had to fit the adjustable trailer-bike handlebars to our son, ad infinitum). Now the Breezer is back in action, and while some of the modifications are a bit kludgy—there was no pretty way to attach a stabilizer on my big fat down tube, and a trailer-bike always looks ad hoc—they all make the bike work better. The gearing change alone would have been worth it.

This is the Frankenstein of wheel stabilizers, but it gets the job done. Anyway no one has ever waxed rhapsodic about the Breezer’s clean lines.

Lowering the gears turned out to be the cheapest adjustment I have ever made to my bike, and the most practical. The rear cog original to the Breezer has 18 teeth, while my new rear cog has 22 teeth. It didn’t seem to me like four teeth would make a difference, but ignorance like that is why I don’t work at a bike shop. It makes a massive difference. I have had to completely relearn my gears, but the un-laden Breezer now cruises up serious hills like they’re barely there, and that’s without my first gear making much of an appearance—I’m almost always able to keep the granny gear in reserve. Laden up with a kid on the back or the trailer-bike (a bonus 30 pounds) or a heavy bag in the front basket, going up hills is significantly more challenging, so no worries: this bike will still keep me honest.

The new fork-mount for the headlight is unlovely but very effective.

The dynamo lights had to be rearranged to fit around the front rack, but this has actually increased my visibility. And the front cargo rack, a Soma Gamoh, is large enough to hold two grocery bags. It’s not frame-mounted, but it can take a lot of weight with the fork-mount. Combined with my two panniers I doubt that I’ll ever have to shuttle home after a grocery run again, especially now that the bike is geared to take the extra weight up hills. And the improved brakes will now stop me on the way back down.

Because I’m ignorant, I’d never realized it was possible to make these kinds of changes to a bike. Apparently some bikes aren’t worth upgrading, and last week I overheard a conversation with another customer in which our shop told him exactly that. Nevertheless: I used to get frustrated by the limitations of our bikes. Now I don’t bother getting annoyed until I’ve asked whether it’s something that can be changed.  It’s been enlightening for me to realize that having a local bike shop hanging with us through the last several months means that we can often remake our bikes into the rides that we need them to be.

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Filed under bike shops, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, San Francisco

Vacation: all I ever wanted

In 1st grade, our son learned to love reading

Last week my son finished first grade (this beggars belief, but is nonetheless good). When he finished kindergarten last year, we learned that summer camps in San Francisco typically take a week’s breather between the end of the school year and the first week of camp, which left us scrambling. This year we decided to sidestep this issue by staying home with our kids and goofing off all week.

Here comes trouble.

Matt and our son started the weekend off with a bang by driving to Reno for a martial arts tournament on Friday afternoon. My daughter and I headed to the 2nd annual Rosa Parks end-of-the-school-year Parental Happy Hour at the Park Chalet in Golden Gate Park. Although it was odd to be there without my son, we had a great time. My daughter spent most of the time there filching French fries from other families’ baskets and feeding them to unwitting toddlers. Then she ran out into the road (not closed to cars on Fridays) and I decided it was time to head home.

Headed to dinner and a movie in the Tenderloin

On Sunday we rode to the Golden Gate Bridge’s birthday party. On Monday we rode down the Great Highway to the zoo and back. On Tuesday we walked to the children’s playground at Golden Gate Park and rode the carrousel, and then headed out for the first date night we’ve had in, uh, a really long time. During which time a couple of bikes went back to the shop again. So on Wednesday we went back to the beach to build sandcastles—by that point, only the southbound side of the Great Highway was closed.

Taking a break from the swans at the Palace of Fine Arts

On Thursday we went to the Palace of Fine Arts and the Exploratorium—by car, this time, as Matt was not yet ready to face the Presidio hill again. After a long afternoon spent playing with sand and fog and building PythagoraSwitch, we finally talked the kids into heading home. Our daughter was thrilled on the way out to see “A PINK PRINCESS!” It was a lovely young lady celebrating her quinceanera, who was indeed dressed up like a princess, right down to the tiara.

Alas, we did not get the bike-in discount on this trip.

On Friday we drove with one of our son’s friends from school and his sister to Pescadero to pick strawberries. The boys were diligent pickers, and filled up three flats between them. Their sisters took a more relaxed approach. My daughter’s strategy was to walk up to me and ask me to give her some berries to fill her basket. Then she would sit down and eat them all. I have to admit that this was efficient.

Demonstrating the commitment to eating strawberries.

Ultimately we ended up with five flats of strawberries, only two of which we managed to pass off to our friends, and despite making freezer jam, a strawberry cake, strawberry mimosas, and freezing an entire flat of strawberries for some to-be-determined future use, in addition to serving strawberries at every meal and for random snacks, we still have unbelievable quantities of strawberries lying around, not to mention two boys that will not stop asking when we can go berry picking again, and who will eat strawberries until they gag and clench their stomachs in agony if you make the mistake of saying, “Not until we finish the ones we have already.”

Excavating the back yard with a jackhammer

On Saturday we went to visit another of my son’s classmates, who was celebrating his seventh birthday. Like my office, his home is located on the site of one of San Francisco’s former cemeteries, and over spring break, while digging in the back yard at random, he found a big rock that father identified as marble. For his birthday party, he wanted to dig up what he had decided was his tombstone. So that’s what we did. Another dad from school, who works at a major construction rental firm, brought a jackhammer, and everyone dug out the rock.

This is unquestionably from the former cemetery.

It turned out that it was in fact a grave marker. Random tombstones are evidently not uncommon in the city. When San Francisco moved all the graves to Colma, the workers at the time evidently often chose the move-the-bodies-but-leave-the-big-heavy-rocks-in-the-ground approach. The kids spent the rest of the party cleaning out the inscription, while the birthday dad began researching the identity of the deceased and the question of what exactly you do with a tombstone dug up for your son’s seventh birthday. This was unquestionably the most memorable birthday party I have ever attended.

Spotted at Sunday Streets: kid sleeping in Xtracycle FreeLoader

Our last day of vacation was a return to Mission Sunday Streets. This is always great by itself, but was even better with a visit from Jen of Loop-Frame Love, who was visiting San Francisco for a conference. Our son was delighted to see another classmate’s family performing in the capoeira demonstration (and some friends watching from the sidelines), and as usual we hit the doughnut shop. Our PTA president, who was there with their triple tandem, took my mamachari for a test ride and loved it (ha!) Sunday Streets was even more packed than last month, and it was sad to see the party on the streets die off as cars appeared again at the end of the afternoon. So we rode home to catch a last dinner with some of our favorite neighbors, who are, alas, moving to Marin.

Capoeira!

Although I stayed up too late most nights, I am not sure, after this week, that I will ever be able to convince myself to leave San Francisco again. This city is unmatchable. This week, our son starts bike camp. And on the weekend we are going camping with the tombstone family and some other friends from school—we will of course haul our supplies to the campsite by cargo bike. And I can’t wait to find out what will happen next.

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Filed under Brompton, cargo, destinations, family biking, rides, San Francisco

Bicycle loans at San Francisco Fire Credit Union

This behemoth fixie could be yours! (Yes, it’s really a fixie. I asked.)

When I started talking about commuting by bike with some of the parents at our son’s school, I realized that a lot of people found our plan for buying a cargo bike unfeasible. Our plan was: pay cash. In the case of our most recent bike, that was absolutely literal. I went to the ATM and got out some cash. (It was a cheap bike.) But most cargo bikes are expensive, far beyond even the daily withdrawal limit allowed by ATMs, which I personally have never even come near. And Matt and I are save-y people.

For normal American families who have two cars and are thinking about cargo and family biking, there is often a transition problem. Most people have a fair bit of debt already: cars, student loans, consumer debt, maybe a house (a long shot in San Francisco, more likely elsewhere). If you want to ditch a car and switch to the bike, what do you do in the interim period, while waiting for the money from selling a car when you don’t yet have a bike? If you’re not sure about getting a bike but want to try it out, how do you afford a relatively expensive bike while holding onto the option of driving? Sure, it’s possible to get something cheap on craigslist once you know enough—astonishingly, this has even happened to me—but most people don’t start at that point. I was talking to a lot of people who were interested in trying out this riding-a-bike-with-kids thing but didn’t feel able to throw a thousand dollars in cash, sometimes much more if they lived on a steep hill and needed electric assist, at the idea. And they certainly didn’t have the confidence to try finding a used bike.

These bikes could also be yours: a selection from the awesome Splendid Cycles.

So when I heard that Portland credit unions offered bicycle loans (always Portland!), I thought that sounded very clever. It elevated bicycle purchases to the status of cars or motorcycles by treating them as installment loans, rather than “max out your credit card” loans. And it solved the transition problem of going from a car-using family to a bike-using family. Sure, it involved taking on more debt in the short term, but for families who really used the bike,  they’d start saving money soon enough–less gas, lower insurance rates, the freedom to drop a second car if relevant. And personally, although we believed we were committed, it took several months before we started defaulting to riding a bike with our kids rather than driving the car. And this is true even though getting our car out of our parking place is a nightmare. Finding a way to buy new riders time made sense to me.

How about a Brompton? If you live in PORTLAND, there’s no shortage of choices at Clever Cycles.

So I asked our credit union if they offered bicycle loans. They said no, never even considered it, but tell us more. So I did. They said, huh, interesting, we’ll get back to you. And I assumed I would never hear anything more again. So it was unexpected to say the least when I got an email earlier this week from the CEO of our credit union saying that they had decided to offer bicycle loans starting June 1st, 2012. There is a $5,000 maximum and terms of up to three years (update: the rate is currently 7%). But how cool is that? San Francisco Fire Credit Union is open to all city residents. If you’re looking for a new bike and think a bike loan might make getting it easier, well, now there’s a way.

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Filed under advocacy, bike shops, Brompton, cargo, family biking, San Francisco