Tag Archives: bike classes

San Francisco destinations: Everybody Bikes

Perhaps not the most practical use of the shop pump

I have mentioned before that our local bike shop is Everybody Bikes. This place belongs in our San Francisco destinations because we are there so often we have started to feel like stalkers. We’ll love you even if you get that restraining order, Everybody Bikes! However my son, who can be very literal, finds their name inappropriate.

“Not everybody bikes in San Francisco,” he says. “Their store should be in Copenhagen, not in San Francisco. That’s where everybody really bikes.”

Tires, small bikes and a folder in the attic

Our initial visit to Everybody Bikes came at the strenuous urging of my brother-in-law, who had bought his commuter there a few months earlier, when they opened. Unlike us, he knows a lot about bikes, and he was very impressed with their work. On first impression, we were not as infatuated. When we walked in the door, we immediately noticed that they primarily stocked mountain bikes (this has changed). They did not have child seats. Moreover, the hipster vibe was very strong. The shop’s owners wore the kind of tight pants that always make me want to check for gangrenous toes, accessorized with heavy black plastic glasses, knit skullcaps, and Rorschach facial hair. As a parent these visual cues make me twitchy. These looked to be the kind of people who screamed “Breeder!” at moms in minivans during Critical Mass rides.

The view from the spiral staircase

What’s more, on our first visit they weren’t too familiar with children. We usually bring toys for our kids when we are stopping in a store, but this is hopeless in a bike shop: no toy in our possession compares to bike accessories. Our kids bolted for the bike bells and pumps (we figured they could do little damage in this section of the store); one of the owners visibly flinched and asked us to please get them to play somewhere else. This was tough to do; the store is roughly the size of a suburban walk-in closet.

Since then, we have all gotten to know each other a little better. Despite our initial reservations (and, evidently, theirs) we’ve realized we’re fortunate to have a shop like this within walking distance. When we lived in Berkeley, our apartment was down the street from an independent hardware store legendary for its service. When I came in to buy nails one day, I saw one of the owners signing tentatively with a deaf customer. When she left, I commented that I didn’t know he knew how to sign. Oh, I just started taking a class because she moved into the neighborhood, he said. Everybody Bikes is like that hardware store. What they don’t know, they’re ready to learn. And although this is changing, family biking has a fairly steep learning curve. They’ve been game to help us figure it out.

Upstairs where the training wheels hide

Our kids made the shop owners nervous at first, but they have gotten more comfortable with families. They carry a couple of balance bikes and children’s bikes, and from day one they were able to fit a kid’s helmet. They are good-natured about our daughter’s efforts to pump air into the hole in the sidewalk at their front door, and endlessly concerned that both kids not injure themselves on the store’s spiral staircase or on our bikes. This is a hopeless cause in the case of our daughter, but we all make an effort. They have learned that kids need frequent bathroom visits and always volunteer theirs. Like Trader Joe’s, they offer stickers, and we have probably a hundred “Everybody Bikes” stickers now in various corners and drawers. I see other families in the shop now, and this attention isn’t unique to us.

The owners might look like hipsters, but they don’t act like them. They take the shop’s Kona Ute to the farmer’s market and to street fairs and give free bike tune-ups. They offer a bicycle maintenance class, which Matt is taking this year. They open the store for neighborhood movie nights and art shows (okay, this is kind of hipster-esque). When we talk to the owners at the door, neighbors walk by and greet them by name. We’re not the only people around here who like them. They stock more commuter bikes now, and a month ago I watched a family walk in and order a Linus from them that they planned to rig up with child seats. I’ll admit that I still wish they actually stocked child seats, but they’ll order and install them.

A variety of kids' helmets

The Sunset is one of the few places where families are relatively thick on the ground in San Francisco, and because they aspire to be a neighborhood bike shop, they’ll work out issues that come up when riding with kids. They’d never set up a Kona MinUte to carry kids before (ours was the first MinUte they’d ever sold, and they gave us a great price), but they found really nice stoker bars for us. When the footpegs they wanted to fit on the bike were out of stock, they found and ordered an alternative on eBay. They keep adjusting the MinUte’s crappy brakes for free. San Francisco can be hard on bicycles. They keep us moving, and they are unbelievably nice.

Everybody Bikes took over their location from an extremely successful and much-beloved shop, Roaring Mouse Cycles, when it moved to larger digs in the Presidio. Roaring Mouse would be a tough act for any bike shop to follow, but they have managed it with grace. When other parents in the neighborhood ask us where we got our MinUte or where to buy a kids’ helmet, we’re always delighted to tell them to head over to Everybody Bikes, at 15th and Irving, where they’ll be treated like human beings even if they are as clueless as we were.

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Filed under destinations, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

Free riders

A passel of kids' bikes waiting for riders

On Saturday I went back to the Outerlands, specifically to Sunset Elementary School, to attend one of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Family Biking Series classes, On Road with your Children. To my astonishment, I was asked to attend in a vaguely instructional capacity.

I find it a somewhat depressing comment about the number of families in San Francisco with school-age children (there aren’t many) that I would be considered even vaguely qualified for this assignment. The guy who built up the tricked-out Kona Ute our PTA treasurer used to ride was there. The co-owner of Ocean Cyclery, which sold us my Breezer and our child seats was there. I was outclassed. I can, it is true, research any topic into submission, because doing research is my job and because I’m compulsive. But research is no substitute for experience, so this class involved some ugly duckling moments. The class met at the back of the school, and I had trouble even finding it until other people showed up so I could follow them. The parents teaching the class had been riding bikes for years and it showed; they were more graceful on their bikes than I have ever even aspired to be. And I found out that I was wearing my helmet wrong. All in all, it was a humbling experience.

Lubricating chains: virtually all of them were rusty, because the Sunset is permanently socked in by fog

And it was a hugely informative experience. I didn’t bring my kids; they were at their swim lessons. It is just as well. Neither of them is competent enough on a bike yet to keep up with the kids who showed up for the class. (We are the blind leading the blind over here.) I will, however, take my son when he is more skilled. SFBC’s instructor for this class is fantastic, warm and lively and hugely competent at wrangling both kids and parents. Apparently he has been leading these classes for years. It shows.

This kind of thing isn't helping with the helmet either

Matt and I signed our son up for summer bicycle camp this year. We didn’t thrust this upon him; he has been angling to attend bike camp since he heard that such a thing existed. But we’re all pretty excited about it. We are having trouble teaching him to ride safely because we live on a great big honking hill. Our efforts to talk him into going down to the park, where it’s flatter, to ride always fizzle; his enthusiasm evaporates with the walk down and on the rare occasions when we’re successful, he is too tired to walk back home. Although it is ridiculous to drive such a short distance we would do it, but he hates riding in the car. Bike camp seems to resolve a lot of problems at once; most importantly, it’s taught by someone much more qualified than we are.

Practicing riding in a crowd

We had both harbored ambitions that at the end of a summer at bike camp, our son would be qualified to ride his own bike to school. Attending this class disabused me of this fantasy. The area around the school was slightly hilly, but nothing particularly troublesome for an adult rider used to the city. It was much more difficult for the kids, who were, I realized, mostly riding bicycles that weighed more than half what they do. I have ridden a heavy bike before, and remember how hard it was to start and stop and get up hills, but at least I had a lot of gears to use. The kids did not. No one is selling ultra-light bikes for kids, so I don’t see any realistic way for mine to handle anything more than minor elevation on their own. And the hills along our commute to school are anything but minor.

Practicing riding while looking for cars behind

What’s more, supervising kids on the streets of San Francisco was terrifying. The area around the school is very lightly trafficked, but at stop signs things fell apart. The kids attempted to wave drivers ahead of them, then lurched out into the intersection as those cars actually moved, or waited for cars to stop, then tried to take their turn only to be rushed by drivers who’d grown impatient. There are a lot of decent people behind the wheel in San Francisco, but a lot of jerks as well. I suspect that these kids, as well as our son, would learn to navigate neighborhood streets like these with more practice. But we go through much more serious traffic on our route to school, and I would not trust my kids in some of those intersections for years to come.

Bumpity bump

Overall, I realized that riding in the city is too much to expect our kids to do alone at this age. Our son will not be riding to school on his own bike next year, or the year after. He wants to pedal, so a trailer-bike or tandem may be in our future. But he will not be riding solo.

We are going to be working harder as he grows, and that is daunting. We had talked about possibly not needing an electric assist if our son began riding his own bike. But I cannot imagine hauling my kids up and down the hills to school without help once their combined weight exceeds 100 pounds. We are now in the position where buying a bike accessory that costs more than our bikes themselves seems inevitable.

Despite this, I find I don’t mind the thought of keeping them on our bikes longer. My children have been growing away from me since the day they were born. Even in the newborn barnacle months, they were already exploring the world. It is thrilling to watch them grow more independent, but I know that eventually they will tire of being hugged, of sitting on our laps, of being picked up. My son is in first grade and already conscious that being affectionate with parents is not something that older children do. But when we’re walking or riding up a hill, all of this is forgotten. They look at the climb and want to be small again. “Mommy, will you carry me?” they ask. And I say, yes, I will carry you. I’ll carry you up the hill. I could carry you forever.


Filed under commuting, family biking, rides, San Francisco, traffic