Category Archives: rides

Parking a bike in San Francisco’s Tenderloin

It’s hard to see, but this new Tenderloin building has vertical wind turbines along the side to generate its own power–it was very cool.

Earlier this week the stars aligned and my husband and I headed out for a rare date night. Tuesday is not exactly the romantic night of choice in the city and the first restaurant we’d hoped to visit was not even open. Although riding our bikes through the Tenderloin was not our first choice, there was an open restaurant and a nearby movie theater, so to the Tenderloin we went.

The thought of parking a bike on the street in that neighborhood was unappealing. The Brompton was still in the shop. We were hoping that San Francisco’s law that all garages open to the public must provide bike parking would come through for us. It totally did.

This parklet on Polk Street was new to us. Note the electric bike parked in the racks alongside!

Riding to the Tenderloin turned out to be pretty easy; we had to cross over Alamo Square but the rest of the route was pretty flat. The main drag over is on McAllister, which goes through several blocks of public housing projects, but they are not the kinds of public housing projects that draw a lot of shootings (those are further south) although property crime rates are high. It turns out that riding through the Tenderloin feels much safer than driving through it; we both commented on this. I’m not sure why that is. The dedicated bike lanes certainly helped, but in the past driving on those same streets felt more intimidating.

The hotel had one tiny bike rack next to a dumpster, but no complaints! No one else was using it.

We went to a Moroccan restaurant in a hotel, which is surprisingly good. We hoped that we might be able to put the bikes in the bell room, as I’ve done in hotels in other cities. No such luck here, but they did have a garage below the hotel, and they did indeed meet the legal requirement for bike parking. The garage didn’t hold any actual cars; it was used for deliveries and storage. The tiny bike rack was next to a dumpster filled with rolls of carpet on one side and several dozen fold-up beds and portable cribs on the other. They closed the garage door after us, thankfully, because I realized I had forgotten my lock, a San Francisco disaster. Matt had his and was able to lock my bike with his cable, but total security fail on my part. But with the garage door locked behind us we felt we would have been safe no matter what.

The restaurant was more appealing than the garage, happily.

When we walked upstairs to the restaurant, I got the feeling we may have been the first people ever to use those racks, because the host was completely blown away that we’d ridden our bikes there, evident when we popped up through the garage door, not the typical entrance. “Let me get you some water right away! You must be thirsty after you RODE YOUR BIKES!” And then, “Do you want some more bread? You’re probably really hungry! After all, you RODE YOUR BIKES!” I appreciated the attentiveness but it started to get a little weird.

These are the bike racks at the AMC Van Ness parking garage (also unclaimed).

Feeling pretty lucky, we picked up our bikes, waited for them to unlock the garage, then headed to the movie theater. Matt really, really wanted to see The Avengers. I think this may have been the first movie we’ve seen in a theater since our son was born over six years ago. We had no idea that the theater garage now charges $17 to park a car during a movie. This is the validated rate! It’s higher if you’re just dropping by. But another score: per city ordinance, AMC Van Ness has a bike rack, right across from the staffed parking office and behind the limos. Again, this was a weird place to park a bike, and the racks themselves were crappy. But with only one lock between us, we couldn’t have asked for a safer place than next to a bunch of limo drivers waiting for their passengers and the parking attendant.  And it was free, an unbeatable price.

We both liked the Polk Street bike lanes; very mild uphill grades and lots of company.

We have found that there are often these unexpected great places to park bikes around the city, particularly in garages. I kind of wish there were a map that showed them all, because we always feel a bit uncertain. But so far so good.

Of course we had to ride home after the movie, and the eastern approach to Alamo Square is brutal, and then it’s followed by the usual slog up Mt. Sutro to get home. But it was a good night, better on the bikes that it would have been in a car, and unquestionably cheaper. It’s like a discount plan: ride your bike on four dates, and the cost of the babysitter for the fifth date is free.

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Along the Great Highway

Welcome to zoo parking.

On Monday we tried taking the holiday with no plans. What this ended up meaning was that our kids begged to watch movies all day. When we tired of this, we insisted that they go out somewhere with us. Their first few choices were closed for Memorial Day. Eventually we settled on the zoo.

The beach wants the Great Highway back. Eventually it will prevail.

The San Francisco Zoo is at the southwestern corner of the city and far enough away that we’ve never ridden there before. But we’ve been expanding our range lately, and for the first time ever we didn’t even consider driving. Instead we headed west through Golden Gate Park and then south along the Great Highway, which runs along the ocean at the western edge of the city. There is a multi-user path alongside the Great Highway. But we didn’t need the path. The Great Highway is constantly overwhelmed by blowing sand, and closed to cars increasingly often as it piles in deep drifts along the road. Monday, it turned out, was a surprise closure of the Great Highway all the way from Golden Gate Park to the zoo. Thank goodness we’d ridden our bikes.

What is it with kids and bike racks?

Riding along the Great Highway during the closure was amazing. Usually this road is overwhelming; fast and noisy and terrifying. But on Monday, as we rode, all we heard were birds chirping, waves crashing into the shore, and the laughter of children building sandcastles alongside the road. We stopped to let our kids do the same before meandering on to the zoo. Although we slipped occasionally in the sand, we weren’t going fast enough that we risked falling over. Instead the bikes just stopped moving, and we pushed until we got to clear asphalt again.

After arriving at the zoo riding our bikes looked even more prescient. The rate for parking a car is now $10! And the lot was packed. But as usual there was plenty of space available on the bike racks right by the front entrance. The racks overlook the zebra enclosure, and it was hard to convince the kids that there were even more wonders to see if they left the bike racks and entered the zoo itself. But in a way I agreed with them; I enjoyed being outside the zoo more than going inside. Riding along the Great Highway was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.

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Happy 75th birthday, Golden Gate Bridge!

Hello, gorgeous!

If you live in San Francisco, you know that Sunday was the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge. We love this bridge. We have walked across it with our kids (although oddly, we have never ridden across it on the west side bike path). Matt and I have both had peek-a-boo views of the bridge from unlikely corners of old apartments. And we know the best hidden places on campus to watch the fireworks—either on the Fourth of July or on the bridge’s anniversary. Living on a mountain is not without its advantages. On Sunday, after our kids went to sleep, it was not possible for us to head out to see them, but you could hear them all over the city. I haven’t heard cheering like this since the Giants won the World Series (outcasts and misfits represent!)

No cars allowed

At the end of 30 days of biking, I said that I realized that our bicycles made us free. The crowds and traffic that mark every summer event in San Francisco have always overwhelmed us. This is no longer the case. This weekend was marked by an unbelievable confluence of street closures, including:

  • The main streetcar lines in the city, representing the western and southern trunk lines, are shut down and the roads they travel on closed for construction, with massive police presence for enforcement,
  • One East Bay bridge closure,
  • A partial shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge for its birthday,
  • The closure of the entire Presidio (the park around Golden Gate Bridge) to cars in recognition of same, again with the massive police presence,
  • A Carnaval parade in the Mission,
  • The usual Sunday closure of Golden Gate Park to cars.

Looking back at drivers who Did Not Get The Memo

None of these things affected us on our bikes. We were waved through barricades all over the city.

Matt and our son spent the first half of the weekend in Reno at a martial arts tournament. When they returned they wanted to get dim sum. And the kids’ shoes had actual holes in them, so we could no longer put off replacing them. And I wanted to visit the Golden Gate Bridge Festival in the Presidio, just because it seemed like the right thing to do. Historically, this is the kind of travel that we used the car for—unavoidable hills are all over this route. But with every news source and person we knew shrieking, “DON’T DRIVE ON SUNDAY!” we rode. And it was fantastic.

Bikes backed up at the end of the running race (nice Mundo)

Our preferred dim sum restaurant is near our old apartment, on the other side of Golden Gate Park, and parking a car there is a nightmare—but the bike racks in front of the restaurant? Unclaimed. On Sunday morning, riding through the closed-to-cars streets of Golden Gate Park on the way there is also unbelievably pleasant. There were hundreds of runners in the park, some of whom actually tried to race me. This is ridiculous. Even I, with a kid on the back of a heavy bicycle, can effortlessly outpace a fast runner. It turned out they were there for a footrace, and the finish line backed up the bicycles heading out of the park, so I guess the runners got their own back. I ended up behind a Yuba Mundo dad carrying two skateboards for his sons, one of whom was riding on the rear deck.

Looking down at the bridge festival

After dim sum we headed into the Presidio for the bridge festival. This was billed as an afternoon-to-evening event, but one of my yoga teachers was offering a sunrise class for the festival so I knew it was an all-day affair, and I figured it was better for the kids to get there early before the crowds got thick. On the way we passed the house of some of our son’s classmates who live in the Presidio and while catching up, played in their backyard, which has stunning views of the ocean and the coast. On the way in we also saw the first wave of unwitting drivers being turned away at the gates; this was a sight that would become familiar by afternoon.

Playing on the beach under the bridge

At the Presidio people were already staking out spots for the evening fireworks. Because we had no ambitions on that front we just watched the battleship Nimitz head under the bridge, and the fireboats spout water, and the kids built sandcastles on the beach. There was bike parking everywhere and three food plazas filled with representatives from food carts throughout the city—for once, we’d hit an event with organic ice cream and paella instead of cheap soft serve and nachos.

Family Bilenky!

And most of the people we saw once we reached the park had heeded the advice not to drive, so, oh, the bikes we saw. I have never seen so many tandems (most were rentals). I saw an amazing cargo bike, with a flat bed in the front and a child seat in the back. “I love your bike!” I yelled, “What IS it?” It turned out to be a custom Bilenky, made in Philadelphia. The dad riding it had bought it when he lived in Manhattan. Now that he lived in the Presidio, he could ride it along the waterfront, but he was frustrated that it couldn’t handle hills and was thinking about an electric assist.

Hebb electric bicycle

At our next stop, fittingly, we saw a Hebb electric bicycle, and when I asked the woman riding about it, she told me that she used it to commute from the outer Avenues to her office on the top of Nob Hill (some of the steepest grades in the city, which make the hills around our place look like gentle slopes). She obviously loved her bicycle. It is not my kind of electric assist—the Hebb has a front hub motor that is independent of the pedaling, rather than a pedal assist—but it was the right bike for her commute. She even offered to let me ride it, which was very sweet, but in the crowds, given my inexperience and the potential speed of that bike on the flats, it seemed too risky.

My spendthrift road-bike adviser leaves us in the dust.

We rode back out of the Presidio to the kids’ shoe store, which was the emptiest we’ve ever seen it as everyone was headed toward the bridge by then. And we rode home down my normal commute route, meeting some road bikers along the way, who were entertained by our child-hauling ways. One of them told us we should make the kids work and get a tandem like he had for his kids: a Co-Motion, which can handle huge height differentials like those between parent and child, and can climb serious hills. I told him my brother-in-law had told us the same thing (he has!) but it was a pricey bike. “Think of it as a car replacement,” he told me. “The maintenance cost for a car is over $3,000 a year. That means you can buy an expensive bike every year instead and still come out ahead!” I told him my brother-in-law had used that logic for a decade and it was not making my sister happy.

I was so bummed that this stand was not actually selling chalk, glass, and ice. Just mildly spicy food.

When we got back near home we stopped by Everybody Bikes to pick up my Breezer, which was ready at last after a week. The shop was dead when we arrived, but things picked up 15 minutes later as a half-dozen people piled in after discovering their bikes had flat tires after months in the garage. They were all planning to ride those bikes to the bridge festival. Usually, our neighborhood is packed on weekends, but it was clearing out.

In past years, we would have avoided the bridge festival if we could, fearing the crowds and the traffic. Golden Gate Bridge itself would never have missed us, I know; it is, in the end, just cables and steel. But I feel better having gone. Celebrating the places we love with everyone else in the city is what makes us part of San Francisco. And on our bikes, I feel like we belong here.

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Wine country weekend

Calistoga=hot springs+vineyards+palm trees

On Saturday I met my sister and we headed to the wine country for a long ride. This was my first attempt at driving somewhere to ride a bike. I’ll admit that it was a little overwhelming.

As things head into summer, the wine country gets more and more crowded. Napa in particular turns into a parking lot on the one highway rolling through it, as everyone is trying to go to the same places on a single road. I hadn’t been there in summer for years, not since a visit in graduate school with friends where we ended up sitting in traffic for four hours at the end of the day while watching cars pull over to disgorge visibly drunk passengers (and sometimes drivers) who threw up at the side of road. What is it with driving and vomiting?

Road closed (to cars): no problem!

But the wine country is pretty and it seemed like a nice way to spend a few hours with my sister without interruption. It took longer than I remembered to get up north, with all the traffic, but I didn’t mind much because the company was good. When we got to Calistoga, the road was closed. No problem! We headed away from the town center until it was easy to park, then rode our bikes back.

Walking around looking at muscle cars: this seemed weird.

It turned out that the road was closed for a classic/muscle car festival. The irony inherent in closing off the street so that people could walk around and look at cars amused me.

At any rate, by the time we finished lunch and started riding it was pretty late. But it was still extremely hot, around 90 degrees. Living in San Francisco, west of the fog line, I haven’t been within 10 degrees of that temperature in years. So I was moving pretty slowly.

One of Calistoga’s rare and pretty bike paths

To my surprise, the wine country does not offer much in the way of dedicated bike paths. So we mostly rode on the road, which offered a marked bike lane in the form of the road shoulder. Sometimes it was generous and sometimes it was narrow (like 8” wide along a rock wall). Mostly the pavement was smooth, but sometimes it was so rough it set my bell ringing. There were hills, the long and rolling kind, but that was fine. The heat was overwhelming for me, though.

My sister shows off one of the rare winery bike racks we spotted

And then there were the drivers. People go to the wine country to drink. And they drive from winery to winery. The inevitable result is drunk driving. I came to appreciate the sight of limos, as they were almost guaranteed to be driven by sober people, who obeyed the speed limit, did not honk at people on bicycles (or to be fair, other cars), or swerve unpredictably.

What, St. Helena? No bike racks?

My sister had planned a route of 22 miles, but we agreed after riding a little while that we should cut the ride short. We had stopped a couple of wineries by then, and one even had a bike rack. We had seen some entertaining and quintessentially California sights, like palm trees growing in the middle of vineyards. I had my first experience of hitting a head wind so strong that I had to pedal down a long hill, which I actually enjoyed because it cooled me off. From a bike, wineries look oddly out of scale, like Vegas-sized attractions, given that they’re meant to catch the attention of people whizzing by at 50 miles per hour. We headed to St. Helena to visit a bakery and chocolate shop and then turned back. Our shortcut ended up being 23 miles in total. Oops! Numb hands, numb seat.

My attempt to get a shot of the Silverado Trail sign

Would I go back to the wine country for a bike ride? Probably not, but it was still fun. Bike rides are always fun. And I liked having several uninterrupted hours of adult conversation with my sister. But it was too much driving for too little biking, and the drunk driving was unnerving. Next time I think we’ll ride around the city visiting wine bars.

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One weekend, two ways

At the Ferry Building, getting our protest on

Last weekend we spent one day driving and one day riding.

We have not yet found a route to Saturday swim classes that feels safe enough to ride with the kids, so we have only ridden the five miles to the pool once. We keep talking about trying again, but change is hard, and the Fell/Oak connectors are terrifying, and the speeding trucks near Mission Bay are so daunting, even on a weekend morning before 9 am. And Matt had a large package at his office to pick up, and we were getting a mystery box and a flat of strawberries a few blocks from there. It was going to be quite a load. Once a week on Saturdays, we drive.

Outside Matt’s office

While we were downtown at Matt’s office we took the kids for Mexican for lunch at the Ferry Building, given that it was Cinco de Mayo and our son’s half-birthday. Every year we intend to go to Kodomo No Hi in Japantown to make carp flags as well, but three festivities in one day never work out.

Heirloom beans at the Ferry Plaza market

I had forgotten that the Ferry Building farmers’ market is on Saturdays, and it was worth a visit. Although the market primarily seems to sell prepared food, the selection of unusual vegetables and beans is impressive. This is not a cheap market. For value, the Alemany Market under the freeway is unbeatable. But the Ferry Building is worth checking out even so.

“Uppy me, daddy.”

It was hot in San Francisco all weekend (by which I mean mid-70sF). This was a multi-stop trip—gym garage, Matt’s office and the Ferry Building, mystery box drop site—and we rarely do this kind of thing driving. It is surprisingly exhausting to get in and out of the car over and over again. And this was true even though we enjoyed impressively good parking fortune.

Too exhausted to blow a dandelion

By the time we made it home in the early afternoon we were all fried. The kids watched Kiki’s Delivery Service and Matt managed to talk our daughter into a stroller ride to pick up the dry cleaning, but despite walking much of the route, after spending a morning driving we were through for the day.

Sunday Streets traffic

Sunday, however, was Mission Sunday Streets. We have been working on getting over our fear of the Fell/Oak connectors to the Wiggle. I still can’t imagine riding this route with the kids on weekdays; these two streets are like freeways through the city. But on weekends we can cut around Oak on the way there, while the heavy bike traffic on Fell Street on the way back, plus the new lane markers, make us feel less invisible.

This is a sharrow marker for the Wiggle. Subtle.

So we rode through the park and along the Panhandle then cut across to the Wiggle, crossing Market. Even from the other side of Market Street, we could see the evidence of Sunday Streets—blocked streets and a waves of pedestrians in the intersection. Every summer San Francisco closes off a neighborhood to car traffic on the first Sunday of the month. For three months in a row, Sunday Streets is in the Mission.

With my daughter on the Breezer at Mission Sunday Streets

It has been ages since we visited the Mission. When we drove around the city, it wasn’t worth it as the traffic is unbearable and it is impossible to park a car. Now that we mostly ride around the city, we have been blocked from this side of the city by our fear of the Fell/Oak connectors. We have been missing out.

The parklet at Four Barrel Coffee

I have complained that other cities have more impressive bike corrals than San Francisco. This is true, but I realize now that unlike much of the city, the Mission is putting up an impressive show. There were both regular bike corrals and corrals integrated into parklets, and parklets are thick on the ground in the Mission. One of the most impressive was outside Four Barrel Coffee, which sponsors the weekly parent coffee klatch at our son’s elementary school.

This band was a family ranging from toddler (on the drums) to grandparents.

Sunday Streets closes off much of Valencia then turns down 24th Street for several blocks. This part of town is thick with Mexicatessans, cafes, restaurants, and bike shops. We arrived early, before the line at the artisanal donut shop got too deep, and just as the live music was starting. We spotted our friends’ family triple tandem, and they invited us to see the capoeira demonstration that the mom was doing later. (I sometimes wonder why people who are demonstrably so much cooler than I am consent to hang out with me.) We loved Sunday Streets!

Mission bike corral, first thing in the morning

Riding back, the crowds were getting thicker and the day was warming up. I fear sunburn so much that I almost never go outside in the sun without long sleeves, but I forgot on Sunday. I won’t make that mistake again. Matt and our son eventually peeled off to a birthday party at the Yerba Buena Gardens, while my daughter and I took advantage of our unexpected foray to the Mission to stop at Rainbow and pick up obscure groceries.

Riding in bicycle traffic feels safer.

As we rode home, the contrast between the streets closed to car traffic, which were crowded and happy and mellow, and the streets with cars, which were crowded and fuming and irritable, could not have been more stark. I watched a police officer bang on a car window and yell at the driver that no matter how much of a hurry he was in, he was not allowed to mow down pedestrians and bikes. (I thanked her.)

Check out San Francisco’s first bike box!

I rode home with my daughter through the Wiggle and along Fell, and although the car traffic was daunting as usual, it was at least respectful. The Fell connector features what I believe is San Francisco’s only bike box, which allows entry to the dedicated bicycle left-turn lane that gets you into the marked bike lanes. From there we entered the safety of the Panhandle.

It’s a tight squeeze, but I can actually fit two panniers under the Bobike Maxi

Despite the fact that we had been riding for a few hours, we both wanted to keep going. So we stopped at a local grocery store for a popsicle for my daughter, who was getting hot, and at our local bakery after that to pick up some bread for dinner. Making multiple stops on the bicycle is so easy I kept trying to think up reasons to go somewhere else, but my daughter was worried that her popsicle would melt, so we headed up the hill toward home. Also I’d run out of pannier space—it’s a tight squeeze under her Bobike Maxi seat.

Two days, two different experiences, and the verdict: the bike is so much better. Three hours of errands by cars left us exhausted, while five hours roaming the city by bike left us hoping for more. We are ready to try the Saturday trip to swim class again.

We are ready to ride.

Even more, we realized that the Mission is accessible to us again. We can visit restaurants and shops we’d long since written off as out of range by riding our bikes. It was a long ride, but not unpleasant. Matt and I are now talking about a date night in the Mission the next time we have a sitter (admittedly this is probably a long way away), but we could also go during the day with our kids. And I think this is the goal of Sunday Streets. The city feels both bigger and smaller to me now. It is bigger because there is so much more we can do, and smaller because it is all suddenly within our reach.

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San Francisco Parks and Recreation Eggstravaganza

My son's handmade Easter bag

Recently our son decided that Jewish holidays were depressing relative to Christian ones. On Passover you stop eating bread and on Yom Kippur you stop eating altogether. Whereas on Christmas you get presents and on Easter you get candy. Even Matt’s efforts to promote Hanukkah and Purim did not impress him, as he is not a fan of fried food or Hamentaschen. The Jewish tradition was starting to come off like the enemy of fun.

Technically we are an interfaith family (I come from a long line of Protestants). We usually have a Christmas tree but have never done anything for Easter. What can I say? We may be interfaith but our true religion is laziness. Before we had kids we exchanged unwrapped chocolate bars and went hiking for Christmas (still do!) At any rate, our son was ready to renounce his faith after contemplating Passover v. Easter this year. He wanted candy and he wanted to go on an egg hunt. The things kids learn at school! And one-third of his class is Jewish, too, although our son is the only Caucasian one, and that was a weird discovery at Rosh Hashanah last year, as each of these kids had been assuming they were the only representatives of the faith. I digress. Our son insisted he didn’t want to be Jewish anymore if he couldn’t celebrate Easter. We decided to play the interfaith card and start celebrating Easter.

Free parking!

Fortunately for us, we had all noticed the signs advertising the SF Parks and Rec Eggstravaganza the day before Easter in Sharon Meadow, next to the Children’s Quarter. As a bonus, like virtually all events in Golden Gate Park, it would have free valet bicycle parking. Our kids were over the moon with excitement at the prospect of going egg-hunting in the park. I was pleased I wouldn’t have to figure out something at home—we have no yard, so an egg hunt would have been challenging. And we wouldn’t have to drive anywhere or walk to the park (which would definitely imply carrying our kids up the hill) or worry about finding bike parking. Although I hate crowds I have found I’m willing to attempt a lot of events I wouldn’t otherwise consider if there is a bike valet.

Making Easter bags for the egg hunt

Much of the Eggstravaganza was not really our kind of thing. It was obscenely crowded, featured terrible food (stale popcorn and “nachos” with neon orange cheese sauce), politically incorrect rides (the ghastly “Hillbilly”), a petting zoo filled with terrorized rabbits and goats, and long, long lines for all of these things. But there were also less crowded craft booths for making hats and Easter bags, egg hunts with almost no lines, play areas with dancing, and napping tents. After the first 30 minutes we realized we could stick to the fun stuff—making things, dancing, and hunting for eggs. The kids were absolutely delighted. The egg hunt was a huge hit. You would have thought those cheap plastic eggs had been laid by unicorns.

My daughter's handmade Easter bag

Also we were two of only six bikes at the bike valet, in a crowd of thousands. The valets had started parking kids’ scooters by the time we left just to have something to do. Our choice to ride our bikes did at least draw envious comments from people saying that they should have done that, probably because parking for cars was beyond nightmarish. I realized that the bike valet had not been well-advertised, as most people who talked with us had not realized it was there.

When we got home I made our kids a morning Easter surprise using little green plastic strawberry baskets, some paper grass we’d picked up at the Eggstravaganza, a bag of peanut butter M&Ms chosen for their vaguely eggy shapes, and lavender Peeps. To my shock, they actually ate the Peeps. And they declared it the best Easter ever. Clearly we have kept their expectations low.

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#virtualfamilybikegangride

Park panda

Saturday was the #virtualfamilybikegangride. Thanks for the inspiration, cargo biking families! I had a complicated morning, because I had to give a talk on campus just after Matt and my son left for a week in Boston. This violated one of my parenting principles, which is Do Not Work On Weekends (Especially When Your Spouse Is Out Of Town And You Must Pay A Sitter), but it made my department chair and my dean happy, and this is worth something too, given that I am currently up for review. And I was home in time to make lunch and attempt to get my daughter down for a nap. No nap, unfortunately, but the effort meant we got a late start.

"I say 'Cheese!' and 'Shy cookie!'"

For a change of pace, we took the Kona MinUte, now that my daughter is old enough to ride on the deck safely. At my kids’ current ages (3 and 6.5) the medium-tail really shines, as it can carry either or both of them without any need to attach a child seat. There are things I would change about that bike (e.g. compatibility with bus rack, better brakes, more stable kickstand, chain guard, dynamo lights, front basket—and even making the possible changes would run a tab higher than the list price of the bike), but it is very easy to use for multiple purposes, and that alone makes it probably our best ride almost all of the time.

Bikes and helmets locked; let's play!

My daughter wanted to go to the park, and was thrilled at the chance to ride Daddy’s bike. We headed to the Koret Children’s Quarter at Golden Gate Park, a quick downhill from home. I am always amazed to find ample bike parking there, as it is packed with both people and bikes, but I think that most people must be unaware of the racks under the Sharon Building, or just like to keep their bikes on the playground itself. Also there are mostly kids’ bikes on the playground, which suggests that a lot of people are driving with the bikes in the car.

Happy happy.

The weather was unbelievable for San Francisco, sunny and warm, verging on hot. And I was struck once again as we arrived at how effortless it is to travel this city by bicycle, assuming you’re not facing a hill. We rode past dozens of cars circling for parking or stopped, complete with fuming drivers, hopped off, locked up the bike and helmets, and went to play. No waiting, and easy. And for the first time all day, even as I watched my daughter express her lust for danger by climbing up various ladders and ropes, hanging off monkey bars, jumping off decks and barreling down giant slides, I felt relaxed.

Delighted to get a second ride.

After some time on the playground we headed to the carrousel, and as we are regulars there, even got a free second ride on request. (Nothing will ever top the day, years ago, that we were the first and only family to arrive one morning and the operator ran the carrousel for my son for almost 20 minutes nonstop, blasting Tom Waits rather than the usual Julius Fucik. But my daughter, who was as yet unborn on that occasion, was delighted just the same.)

Slowing down at the Academy

I wasn’t sure where to go next, except that we should ride somewhere, and after some consideration (and probably because it was getting seriously hot by San Francisco standards) my daughter decided on the California Academy of Sciences. We visited the Rainforest (a poor choice given it was even hotter than the outdoors), went to the aquarium to see colored jellyfish (“Medusas!” yelled one little girl) and even saw a pregnant daddy seahorse, which was hanging out in the seadragon tank, presumably as encouragement. Although it was getting toward dinner time, we stopped at the café for a pink jellyfish cookie, then headed home.

My goal while Matt is away is usually just to keep the kids occupied enough that they don’t obsess about his absence. With our son away as well I was concerned that our daughter would be more lonely than usual, but she was cheerful all day long. As sometimes happens, I screwed up at bedtime. But when I went in later to check on her, she forgave me, as she always does.

"I love you and you love me," my daughter says. "We love each other." Yes, we do.

For most of the rest of 30 days of biking, I will be either commuting or riding with my daughter. When I have time alone with her, I am always struck with amazement that we have this brave and strong little girl, who lights up our lives like a second sun. I couldn’t ask for better company.

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Families ride!

We love Seattle!

When Stacy at A Simple Six heard I was headed up to Seattle for spring break, she introduced me to Family Ride (she knows everyone!) We don’t have much opportunity to ride our bikes with other families in San Francisco. We have friends who ride with their kids to school, and we see them on the playground in the morning, but there are no city rides along the lines of Kidical Mass, unless you count Bike to School Day, which I don’t, really, as it is once a year. Anyway people in San Francisco tend to flinch when they hear anything that sounds like “Critical Mass” in this city; its reputation is mixed at best. I know I do. So I’d only taken my kids on a ride with friends just for the fun of it once before, when we had the Yuba. But after spending the day with Family Ride, I wish San Francisco had more kid rides, even if they were called Spawn of Critical Mass.

All lathered up after a nice long ride in the rain

We didn’t have much choice about the day we visited; my mom works in Seattle one day each week, so that’s when we went. After scoring incredible good fortune weather-wise while in Portland and during most of my stay with my mom, my luck finally ran out when we headed to Seattle. It rained the entire time we were in the city. I grew up in the constant drizzle of the Pacific Northwest, and although generally I find any non-temperate climate appalling and think that central heat is a wonder of the modern age, I can handle drizzle. Unfortunately I didn’t think to pack rain clothes. My kids spent the entire ride in rain gear cobbled out of garbage bags. I got wet. And soapy! Evidently the rinse cycle on our washer leaves something to be desired, because after a couple of hours pedaling in the rain, my pants actually began to lather up. I was glad I packed a change of clothes.

Four little monkeys

Despite all of this, we had a great time. Family Ride was an awesome host, arranging a ride with multiple stops to dry out and refuel the kids. Mine were on what I think of as “vacation strike” and eating a diet that consisted largely of chocolate chip cookies. But a stop at Theo Chocolate led them to expand their horizons by consuming several handfuls of chocolate samples as well. Theo Chocolate was an inspired stop; the kids clambered on the bike rack and had to be coaxed inside. My son was so enamored that he spent the entire trip home telling me about his plans to open a Theo Chocolate branch in San Francisco when he grew up.  I only wish that we had taken the tour, because he has little understanding of the chocolate making process and wants to start trying to create new flavors at home, and it is difficult to communicate to him that the specialized equipment involved makes this the kind of thing you need a factory to develop. Plus I have no idea how to import cacao beans for personal use.

Let's think of some other things that start with C... oh, who cares about the other things! C is for Cookie!

The end of the line was a Dutch bike shop, complete with café and a return to chocolate chip cookies. This was the first time I’d been in a Dutch bike shop, and it was interesting—all the bikes there looked great for riding in the flats, but improbable for hills. Family Ride told me she knew a mom who actually had a bike like this and lived on a hill, and she walked it home every day. I don’t think I could live like that. From there we turned around and headed back. The official detour for the closed path was on a sidewalk, and it felt like living dangerously to ride there, as this is totally illegal in San Francisco.

My kids were both wildly impressed with the pink bike

How good a host is Family Ride? She let us ride her new pink Big Dummy for the day! It is a great bike, and although I did not come anywhere near testing its capacity to haul stuff, it carries two kids with ease. I felt very lucky, and also tried very hard not to drop it. I was successful, although the turning radius was wider than I expected. Keeping the seat down helped me maneuver it.

Guess which hill? There's no way to ride on it.

I also got a taste of Seattle hills, which are different than San Francisco’s but challenging nonetheless. Here the hills tend to be either steep and short or long and shallow. In Seattle they were long and moderate—10 or more blocks at a time of real climbing. None of it is so steep as to be impossible, but after the first three or four blocks, the prospect of going another six or seven feels very grim indeed. I’m pretty impressed that Family Ride does this every day with two kids on deck.

30 days of biking: almost as crazy as Theo Chocolate calling their World Bicycle Relief bicycle "not a bike"

Talking with Family Ride was what tipped me over the edge to try 30 Days of Biking, even though it was going to require a commitment to do some things that normal people would consider genuinely crazy, like haul my bike to Sacramento so I could ride around the block while attending a conference where I could not, this time, avoid several sessions and visit bike shops. But if Family Ride could go around the block before midnight in pajamas the first year to make all 30 days, hauling a bike to Sacramento and barely riding it seemed like small beans by comparison. She said that 30 Days of Biking was what made her the hard-core bike commuter that she is today—and she rides everywhere, at all hours. It is very impressive. I’m still a reluctant night rider and whine about hills. But with such a good example, maybe I can get better.

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30 days of biking

I draw the line at renting a surrey again, however. (Oh Portland, how could you?)

Have you signed up for 30 days of biking? All the cool kids are doing it.

I was on the fence about 30 days of biking, which predictably involves committing to ride a bike every day of April, because I knew I was going out of town for a conference for part of the month. I am compulsive about, uh, everything. Signing up for 30 days of biking knowing that I’d only be doing 27 days sounded like cheating to me.

But I ended up riding a bike every day that I was in Portland. There was a bike stop within walking distance that offered rentals, and the hotel was happy to store my rental in their bell room when I wasn’t riding it. No problem! If I could fly to Portland and ride a bike (or two) every day, surely I could manage to get to Sacramento and ride a bike every day. It was close enough that I shouldn’t even need a rental bike.

One of my co-workers is going to Sacramento as well, and she doesn’t own a car (she rides a Bianchi Milano, upgraded with an internally geared hub; a lovely bike). She said she took Amtrak there every year. Of course! You can take a bike on Amtrak. Unfortunately the train doesn’t stop in San Francisco; instead, Amtrak sends a bus over to the city to take passengers to Emeryville. This sounded more complicated than I’d hoped, but evidently it is possible.

So I signed up for 30 days of biking. And although I had not intended any such thing, it appears I may be turning into a bicycle tourist of sorts after all. I still draw the line at Atlanta, though.

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Hello, Portland

Hello, stranger

I went to Portland to present a conference paper. Stacy at A Simple Six suggested once that I take advantage of my professional travel to write about riding bikes in multiple cities, which is an excellent idea but seemed like way too much work for me to do consistently. And my trip to Atlanta did not swell my ambition on this front. But I figured I could manage to rent a bike in Portland, especially since it turned out Clever Cycles was about 10 blocks away from my conference hotel.

They rented me a Breezer Uptown 8 (ha ha!) It was both familiar and unfamiliar. They put the seat up higher than I’m used to—I have kept my seat low because I like to be able to get a foot down flat with a kid on the back. But I found I liked the new height, and I will move my seat up when I get home. They also had a nifty Axa lock with an integrated chain, which made locking up the bike very easy. And finally, I have to admit that their bike is significantly better maintained. Overall their Breezer was a pleasure to ride, and I should take better care of mine.

My co-author Todd picked me up at the airport, because he lives in Portland and because he’s that kind of guy. Thanks to some professional meet-and-greet obligations, we had to squeeze the trip to pick up the rental between a reception and dinner, which meant shoving the bike in the back of his car for a few hours.  It felt a little stupid to rent a bike and then drive it around, but oh well. I’ve done stranger things.

Guess who's coming to Portland?

After dinner he dropped me off at Powell’s Books, with its expansive bike racks and world-renowned selection of reading material. I was sure they’d have a city bicycle route map somewhere. But despite the four bicycles locked up immediately outside the cash register, the guy staffing the information desk was completely mystified as to where I might find a bike map. Eventually a co-worker stopped by to investigate. “In the bicycling section, of course,” she said. With that hint he could point me in the right direction, but it turned out that there were copies of the map strewn through every room. He could have sent me anywhere.

These bikes evidently know where they're going

I left Powell’s after browsing for a while with two books and a bike map. I would have left sooner, but it felt very intimidating to ride out into a strange city after dark, on a sort-of-strange bike, with only a limited sense of where I was going. However I decided a few years back to stop making choices based on fear, and feel like overall this decision has made my life better, at least on the occasions when I follow through. And I certainly wasn’t going to walk that bike back to the hotel.

The river path by day (my camera is too cheap for a night shot)

In the first few minutes of the ride back, I realized that despite my nervousness, riding a bike in Portland was going to be okay. Drivers in Portland are clearly used to bicycles, and were predictable and courteous. Eventually I ended up riding along the river, where I wished that I had thought to wear my winter gloves. I saw a crowd of people, some with bicycles, along the way, mixed in with shopping carts; it turned out they were there to meet a homeless services van. I passed other riders and pedestrians and looked over the city and the lights on the bridges. Portland is pretty, and it is flat; I can’t remember the last time I rode in San Francisco for over ten minutes without having to shift gears. Maybe never.

By the time I got to the hotel, I decided that riding a bike in Portland was much better than okay.

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