Tag Archives: Brompton

Christmas tree by Bullitt, and three people on a Brompton

Last year, we brought our Christmas tree home on the Kona MinUte. It was the easiest way to bring a tree home ever. Longtails and their midtail cousins are custom-made for the long skinny load. This year, to address some of my grouchiness about having the MinUte stolen, I decided I’d try to bring our tree home on the Brompton.

Christmas tree by Bullitt: welcome home.

Christmas tree by Bullitt: welcome home.

Ambition, you have felled me again. We brought the tree home in the Bullitt. But the Brompton still had a surprise in store for us.

Many San Francisco residents will know the significance of the numbers 7 and 49. San Francisco is seven miles by seven miles square, and thus 49 square miles. San Francisco also came into its own as a city in 1849 with the Gold Rush. Thus the city is littered with references to both numbers: 49-mile drive, the 49ers, not to mention a vapid lifestyle magazine, 7×7 (which once referenced the city’s geography but now apparently alludes to days of the week). Anyway, I became very excited when I realized that this year I had both a seven year old and an opportunity to carry a seven foot tall Christmas tree. Surely this was meant to be!

Once again, my son found a tree and stood yelling, “This one!” as two other families were walking over talking about taking it home themselves, and once again a couple of other people made a move on our tree as the packing guys were wrapping it up. His ability to find the best tree on the lot is uncanny. Trying to carry both him and it on the Brompton, however, was a mistake.

If we'd gotten a smaller tree it TOTALLY WOULD HAVE WORKED.

If we’d gotten a smaller tree it TOTALLY WOULD HAVE WORKED.

Based on my test run with a load of lumber, I could almost certainly have carried a 4-5 foot tall tree standing up on the rear rack, with the center of the tree bungeed to the saddle rails (here’s proof). More than that height, though, and it was too top-heavy. We couldn’t keep the tree from toppling over just walking it across the Christmas tree lot. Oh well, that’s why we brought the real cargo bike. We had a backup plan.

Almost there, but note a crucial handlebar mistake on the left.

Almost there, but note a crucial handlebar mistake on the left.

So we plopped the tree on the Bullitt, bungeed it down (the Bullitt has many handy bolts to bungee things to) and put our son in the bulldog seat over the top tube. Hey, 7×7 after all! Unfortunately this setup lasted less than a block. We’d inadvertently put the tree stand too close to the handlebars, and when Matt tried to make the first turn, he hit it and dumped the bike. I have this disgraceful moment on video, but will never post it. It took less than a minute to rearrange the tree, but our son pretty understandably refused to get back on the Bullitt after that.

So Matt headed off again with just the tree on the Bullitt, drawing accolades from all and sundry, including a man walking by who stuttered, “That is… so cool! It’s like green… on green!” Honestly, you’d think these people had never seen someone carry a Christmas tree home by bike before.

Yep, that's two kids on one Brompton bicycle. We are our own clown car.

Yep, that’s two kids on one Brompton bicycle. We are our own clown car.

I followed, assuming we’d walk the Brompton home. But both kids wanted to ride in the IT Chair, and our daughter refused to get off. Our son was so dejected that I did something that the manufacturer definitely does not recommend: I offered him a ride on the rear rack. What can I say? He was so excited. He really didn’t want to walk. So after a little bit of testing (to make sure the rack wouldn’t collapse underneath him) we rode all the way home with him standing there whooping, and I have to say, it was fantastic. Following Matt as he carried the Christmas tree, however, made us look like lunatics. “LOOK NOW OH MY GOD, there are TWO kids on that bike!”

We were laughing all the way, ho ho ho, even on the uphill parts. Admittedly the trip was less than a mile. I realize that I have probably voided every warranty that the manufacturer offers on this bike based on my son’s weight alone; but I would totally do it again. It was really, really fun.

So last Christmas: tree by bike. This Christmas: tree by bike and three people on a Brompton. Next year, well, no idea yet, but I’m open to suggestions.

Home at last

Home at last

In the meantime, anyone can follow along with tree-hauling-by-bike exploits around the world by following the hashtag #ChristmasFeats on Twitter. Happy holidays!

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Filed under Brompton, Bullitt, cargo, family biking, San Francisco

Road rage redux (now with less road rage)

After my Thursday morning commute I had pretty mixed feelings about heading out again to pick up my son from bike camp. It is a little grueling no matter what because for that pickup I have to head straight uphill for several blocks to get over to the Presidio. But I figured it couldn’t be too bad, because half the route is in a separated bike lane along the Marina. And I was right: things got better.

Funny, you don’t look 75 years old.

I like riding along the Marina, which has a wide, flat multi-use path to the side of the main road along the water. There are always lots of tourists heading to and from the Golden Gate Bridge, and I love seeing their goofy smiles as they stare over to the bridge and to Alcatraz Island and watch the ferries pass by. They look like I feel. And en route to Fort Mason I can see the city unwinding down the hills like a long white skirt. People sometimes say San Francisco looks like a young girl. You can almost see it smiling.

Yes, you can carry a six-year-old on a Brompton (assuming you don’t mind looking goofy, but let’s face it, you already look goofy)

There was still a surprising amount of car hostility on the road, although nothing like the morning, but if no one is honking I find that pretty easy to ignore. And once my son is on board the Brompton most people are so overcome by disbelief that it is apparently hard to stay hostile. The wheelkids staff managed to get a photo of me with my son on the IT Chair; although he used to be too nervous to ride it, he has developed a new fearlessness about bicycles and wants to ride every bike he sees.

We rode through the flats for a while and then hitched a ride on Muni before the biggest hill. I’m not sure I could get up it with him as a passenger, and he was so exhausted after a long day’s ride that he nearly passed out anyway.

I’m glad I got back on the bike.

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Filed under Brompton, commuting, family biking, Muni, San Francisco

Mission Sunday Streets with Loop-Frame Love

People of the family bike en route to Mission Sunday Streets

This year, Sunday Streets is in the Mission four months in a row. Sunday Streets in San Francisco has become so popular since it started in 2008 that it will happen twice in July–both in the Mission and in the Bayview/Dogpatch, down near my sister and brother-in-law’s condo. We are so there.

But the June Mission Sunday Streets was special. Gil Penalosa, credited with founding the entire Sunday Streets movement in 1995 when he developed Bogota’s Ciclovia, came to visit San Francisco to see Mission Sunday Streets (the Chronicle article I linked is appallingly dismissive, referring to Penalosa as a “wobbly” cyclist, which I doubt very much, but anyway). And Loop-Frame Love came down from Seattle to visit us! Okay, she was really in town for a conference, but close enough. I am sort of spacey at times and hadn’t realized that she was a scientist [swoon] but it meant we had three things to talk about: bicycles, kids, and science! How cool is that? Please come back soon, Loop-Frame Love, and stay longer next time. San Francisco has been very good to us, but it lacks Seattle’s incredible family biking community. We’re working on it.

Loop-Frame Love gives our daughter a lift uphill.

Our last visit to Mission Sunday Streets was great, but June’s Sunday Streets was even more impressive. There were thousands more people and many more family bikes out. This time we did not miss the capoeira demonstration. One of our son’s classmates who lives nearby is in one of the children’s classes and took a turn, and we saw some other friends there, including the school librarian. Our PTA president was there (sans triple tandem). From there we returned to Dynamo Donuts at the other end of the route, then turned around to go back.

Because we started much later in the day this year, on our way back we saw the streets reopening to cars. It was sadder than I had thought it would be. A police car and two motorcycles swept down the street with lights and sirens shooing happy pedestrians onto the sidewalk, where they piled up in crowds that struggled to move. On a few side streets people resisted. It is surprisingly depressing to watch a living street return to being a dead space. Cars use streets but they don’t interact with them. No one dances in a street occupied by moving cars.

New sharrow marker along the Wiggle: you can’t miss it.

Loop-Frame Love rode the Brompton (sans IT Chair) most of the afternoon. We also got to show off the new sharrow markers in the Wiggle, which make the route much, much clearer. There have been complaints about the shade of green, which is indeed very jarring. But given that drivers around this area routinely drive into the Muni tunnels despite warning signs, speed bumps, and the absence of a road, then get stuck for hours and block the trains, my sense is there is no much thing as too much visibility on any San Francisco street. That is, unless it is a Sunday Street, and there are not yet nearly enough of those.

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Filed under Brompton, destinations, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Brompton M6R, with IT Chair

Brompton with IT Chair in Golden Gate Park

When I got the news of my promotion I bought a folding bike. But not just any folding bike: a Brompton. How come? Because it’s the only folding bike with a child seat, that’s how come. No bike will enter our lives for years to come unless it can haul the small.

I would advise the potential purchaser of a Brompton+IT Chair to be very sure that they are going to be okay with a lot of attention from strangers. And I do mean a LOT of attention. It’s not something that I was expecting. This setup stops traffic of all kinds. Jaws drop. People run over to see your bike. People in San Francisco are typically extremely cool in the face of the unusual. Piano bike? Sequined gold hot pants on a drag queen sashaying through the Financial District on a weekday afternoon? Bike Friday triple tandem? Naked people hiking through Golden Gate Park with fanny packs? Nothing worth noticing here! But people here gawk when they see me with my daughter on the Brompton, and yell, “COOL BIKE!”

The Brompton is both outrageously goofy and breathtakingly awesome. Even though I swear a blue streak at its makers every time I go up a steep hill (and I got the “San Francisco” gearing!), I love this bike. And although I was not really looking for practicality, this may actually be the most practical bicycle purchase a city rider could make: it’s a utility bike.

Brompton (with IT Chair) in a small shopping cart

I am sidestepping the fundamental question here, which is why I got a folding bike at all. Part of the answer is that it was cool and unlike any other bike, which fit with my desire to get a bike that could compete with a pretentious chair. But most of the answer is that it seemed like a great bike for riding in the grittier parts of the city and for taking on the road. It makes bike rides possible that weren’t possible before. I would never lock up my Breezer outside when I am visiting homeless shelters in the Tenderloin, but there’s been no problem bringing a folding bike inside to meetings. The Brompton also fits in a shopping cart at the grocery store, and when I don’t feel like locking it up, that’s exactly what I do with it. Moreover the Brompton is a clever travel bike. The Capitol Corridor Amtrak line that I took to Sacramento often runs out of bike spaces. Having been warned, I took the Brompton. The Amtrak folks recognized it instantly, but they do not count it as a bike. Later, when I hitched a ride in a friend’s car back to San Francisco, the Brompton fit in the trunk with plenty of room left over for our luggage. I may be taking an extended trip to Washington DC next year; if that happens, I will take the Brompton with me. If we lived in a small apartment again, this bike would easily fit in any random corner.

The Brompton tucked under a shuttle bus seat

The Brompton isn’t the cheapest folding bike you can buy, but it’s not the most expensive either. And this surprises me, because the incredible fold means you can put it almost anywhere. Most of the time mine hangs out in our non-functional fireplace, which it turns out is basically a Brompton-sized hole in the wall.

Home storage of the Brompton (with my sneakers for scale)

I ordered my Brompton from Warm Planet, which sells only folding bikes. They had never heard of the IT Chair before, but they didn’t have experience with any other child seats either. This may be the one bike shop that I forgive for this ignorance, as they primarily serve multi-modal commuters heading to CalTrain (they offer free bike valet parking every weekday). But they were bemused that such a thing existed, and impressed that it folded with the bike. The IT Chair had to be ordered from the UK after being hand-machined in Spain. It turns out that this takes a while, but it also takes a while to get a Brompton, so ultimately they arrived within a week of each other. This is good, because I refused on principle to pick up the bike without the child seat.

IT Chair, detached (2012 model: no folding footpegs)

The design of the IT Chair seems to have changed. Formerly it had folding footpegs, but my IT Chair does not. It makes folding the bike with the seat a little more tricky, and you have to get the sequence just right. It also is ridiculously, laughably expensive given that it is essentially just a piece of bent pipe. On the other hand, given the sporadic-at-best production line, IT Chairs apparently lose nearly zero value on resale, when the time comes that we can no longer use it. We were unable to find one used, but did find lots of desperate requests for them posted in the years when they weren’t being made.

Maiden voyage on the IT Chair

My daughter loves the IT Chair. Given the choice, she always asks to ride “mommy’s present bike.” She loves it because she can stand on the footpegs and ring (and ring and ring) the bell. I love it because a front seat is outrageously fun and makes conversation with her easy. My former experience with a front seat (the Co-Rider debacle) was not reassuring. But my brother-in-law assures me that design-wise, the IT Chair is bombproof, for all practical purposes an extension of the frame. To my surprise, he loved the Brompton, and proposed that we should get one for everyone in the family, once the kids are big enough, arguing that we could park four Bromptons in the space of one ordinary bike. In the meantime, my son has thus far refused to ride the IT Chair, as the design does not appeal to his cautious nature (no kid handlebars). But recently he realized that his reluctance meant that his sister has now ridden more bikes than he has, and evidently this will not stand.

Parked in my office on a rainy day, bag still attached

I was surprised at some of the ways that the Brompton excels. Its fenders are the best I’ve ever seen, so this is now my bike of choice for rainy day commutes. Assuming (correctly), that putting a kid on the bike would imply lots of things to carry, I also got the largest Brompton bag, the T-bag (an extremely poor choice of name). All the Brompton bags are frame-mounted, which means that they can haul massive amounts of weight. And although I find the bag sort of ugly, it is big enough to hold all four of our helmets when parked at the bike valet, plus a few jackets. With this kind of cargo space, plus the small footprint, the Brompton has also become our bike of choice for trips to the farmers’ market. It effortlessly manages a week’s worth of groceries, up to and including a half-flat of strawberries and Matt’s boxes of wine.

It doesn’t do everything well. Although there are people who take this bike on long trips, I prefer my Breezer for distances longer than a few miles, particularly given that my daughter likes to stand up on the footpegs while we’re riding. And then there are the hills. For mild to moderate inclines, the supposedly-designed-for-hills gearing I got is more than adequate, even pleasant, although the shifting itself is bizarre, as it switches between an internal hub and a derailleur, so every gear change involves both handlebars. When I hit a steep incline, however, it suddenly feels like I’m dragging a cinder block behind the bike. I’ll admit that this may be because I’m often hauling more weight at the front of the bike than it was really designed to carry when I put both a preschooler in the IT Chair and a week’s worth of groceries in the bag. (And it doesn’t help at all when that preschooler decides it would be fun to shift the gears randomly. This is a downside of the front seat. That and the endless bell ringing.) But it can be a problem even on days when I am relatively unladen. I appreciate that this problem may be unique to San Francisco. Let us say that this bike has made me stronger.

Brompton with IT Chair, folded up (I have become one of those people who folds and unfolds my bike for fun: I know, I know)

Getting a Brompton also involved the purchase of several pricey accessories. It’s a good thing that I was thinking of this as a “yay, I got a promotion” bike, because otherwise the total cost of all the extras could have ruined my mood. The IT Chair is the most obvious (price varies based on exchange rate at the time of order, assuming it’s in production), and the Brompton frame-mounted bags are expensive as well. It also turns out that it is difficult, if not impossible, to lock up a Brompton with a typical U-lock, and in San Francisco we do sometimes go places that are so small that even a folded Brompton is unwelcome. So on the recommendation of other folding bike owners I ended up getting a folding lock to go with my folding bike, the Abus Bordo Granit X-Plus. (However this lock is so fabulous that I ended up using it all the time. Matt asks to use it when we go out on rides together. So I can only really claim part of the price of this lock is specific to the Brompton.) On the other hand, the Ikea Dimpa bag that I sometimes use to carry it around was a steal at $4. Somebody at Ikea owns a Brompton.

Yet I would get this bike again in a heartbeat. It is surprisingly fun to ride, nimble and responsive. It is also fun to fold and unfold, and although it weighs are much as my daughter with all the accessories, it is fun to carry around. (I’m carrying my daughter around all the time anyway, so it’s not like a bike that weighs the same amount is a big deal.) It is safe in places where other bikes are not. It goes almost anywhere and stores almost anywhere. The Brompton may be the ultimate city bike. As a celebration of my promotion, it is infinitely better than a set of pretentious chairs.

The attention we get on the bike still surprises me a little, because riding it seems unremarkable to us now, but I find myself minding this less over time. The Brompton turns out to be the ultimate ambassador of family biking for people who’ve never thought of riding with kids before, which I find funny, because to me, my Brompton still looks like a clown bike. I think it seems less intimidating than a cargo bike; some moms see longtails and box-bikes and can’t imagine maneuvering them, but it is immediately obvious that any able-bodied person could handle a Brompton–and mine is usually hauling both a kid and two bags of groceries. (It could even haul two kids with a Trail-Gator, which another parent at our son’s school suggested.) And the Brompton, although it is by no means a cheap bike, costs less than a traditional cargo bike.

The Brompton is not my everyday bike, but I ride it every week. It proved to me that you should buy the cool bike. I keep it in the living room! And I smile every time I see it.

Update on the child seat from the manufacturer:

“About the website itchair.info it does no longer work; now, all our products are shown in www.milianparts.com

Still all our production is based in Europe –mainly in Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain)- and the It-Chair is now called PERE (http://www.milianparts.com/en/products/pere/)”

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Filed under Brompton, cargo, commuting, family biking, folding bicycle, San Francisco