Tag Archives: Bullitt

One less fixie

Truthfully, the mamachari is better as a "ride right up to the farmers market stand and dump stuff in the baskets" bike.

Truthfully, the mamachari works best as a “ride right up to the farmers market stands and dump produce in the baskets” bike. I’ve got a reputation.

Last week Matt left the Bullitt in his office for a few days when he was away on business, so I ended up taking my son to school on the mamachari. Our kids prefer to be in the Bullitt for every trip so this never makes him happy. (I could go either way depending on the day: the Bullitt is faster, has more range, and carries more, plus there’s less whining, but then again it’s harder to park.)

No question that as rear child seats go, this one rocks.

No question that as rear child seats go, this one rocks.

On the Bullitt I’m used to a lot of attention by now—sometimes it verges into dangerous attention, as passing cars will slow and veer over when they see us—but to most people the mamachari just looks like an old bike (although parents are always asking me about the child seat). But on Friday on the Panhandle, at Masonic, another rider stopped to ask me about it. “Just how old is that bike?” he wanted to know. “I haven’t seen a Bridgestone sold in decades.” I think the idea of a decades-old bike with an electric assist was throwing him off.

I told him it was probably ten years old, but it came from Japan where Bridgestone was still selling new bikes. But I was completely distracted because his bike had a large “One Less Fixie” sticker on it even though the bike itself looked like a fixie. It was weirding me out. It was only when he grabbed onto a sign at a stop and spun the pedals backward without actually moving that I realized it was a single-speed non-fixie. As he rode ahead (everyone rides faster than I do when I’m carrying my son on the mamachari) I thought: a single speed bike advertising against fixies; now that’s really, really obscure.

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Filed under Bullitt, commuting, electric assist, San Francisco

How much does a bike like that cost?

Apparently these bikes are interesting.

Apparently the Bullitt is interesting.

People like to ask me how much our bikes cost. Usually this question comes when we’re riding the interesting bikes. I understand the impulse, but I almost never get these questions from the kind of people who normally ride bikes, people that I know have a sense of what bikes actually cost. It usually comes from the kind of people who say in the next breath, “It looks like it would be expensive; like: $200!”

Yes, sure. My “expensive” bike cost less than your mattress or the flat-screen television you keep in the kitchen. Riding bikes for transportation is cheap, but unless you get the bike for free, it’s not that cheap. And nobody picks up a free Bullitt at the dump.

The Bullitt is an expensive bike (and if you really want to know what it and bikes like it cost, check out my family bike reviews). Announcing how much we spent while standing around the park seems likely to encourage eavesdroppers to try stealing it. I finally came up with some decent answers. “It cost less than half of what we got for selling our six-year-old minivan!” I say. “Can you believe it?” Here in San Francisco, there are other meaningful comparisons. I sometimes tell people it costs about as much as a Vespa (this is true). “But a Vespa couldn’t carry my kids, of course, and I don’t have to pay for license or registration or gas—it costs a few cents to charge this bike up and ride for 30 miles! Or more!—and the maintenance cost is basically nonexistent. Can you believe it?”

I suppose I should use another picture of the Brompton sometime.

I suppose I should use another picture of the Brompton sometime.

I still never know what to say when people ask me what our Brompton cost. Usually something like, “Well, it depends on the options.” This is true, but it’s kind of lame.

Luckily for me, bikes really do cost less to maintain than scooters or cars, because right now the Bullitt is in the shop and won’t be fixed until Splendid Cycles comes back from vacation next week at the earliest (something has gone awry with our customized front shifter). Its long vacation has turned out to be a bigger hassle than I expected given that we have backup bikes. Now that we’re used to having a real cargo bike, it’s crazy-making to not be able to haul big loads and cover the kids in the cold or the rain.

Come back, Bullitt.

Come back, Bullitt.

But it’s not going to cost a thousand dollars to fix. It’s not like repairing a car. And this confidence I have that even the most depressingly expensive bike repair is easy to cover from our monthly cash flow is probably the best news of all. How much does a bike like that cost? Over the long term: nothing worth mentioning.

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Filed under bike shops, Brompton, Bullitt, family biking, San Francisco

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Note that the kids don't necessarily bother to dress for the weather anymore.

Note that the kids don’t necessarily bother to dress for the weather anymore.

It’s been cold in San Francisco. Yesterday my kids found that a cup of water they’d left on the back deck had frozen. Since when does that happen? When I took them to school this morning they refused to get out from under the Bullitt’s canopy, which basically functions like a greenhouse (that Splendid canopy was worth every penny). After we dropped off my son, my daughter slept in the box all the way to preschool, and that is the kind of thing that definitely draws envious looks from other parents on bikes. But even with two pairs of gloves and the canopy covering my hands, they were freezing. At the Rosa Parks drop-off I talked with another parent and my son’s teacher about trying to find decent gloves for our rides to school–it is amazing how many parents are on bikes at school now. These are my people! Mighty mighty Dragons! Anyway Matt and I went to a sporting goods store a couple of weeks back and all their winter gloves and mittens were sold out already.

It could be worse. Matt is in upstate New York this work, where temperatures promise to be in the mid-teens. What’s more, he drew the short straw and is his group’s designated driver. Next week I’m heading to Atlanta, but I never get to go outside when I’m working in Atlanta, so I’ve stopped checking the weather for these trips. It’s all: airport to taxi to hotel to taxi to 16-hours-in-a-windowless-meeting-room, then reverse.

Like it or not, we're on the move.

Like it or not, we’re on the move.

But the biggest news around the HotC household is that everything is changing. We received notice last month that the cooperative university preschool my daughter attends was being sold off to a for-profit corporation. Much of our winter break was spent unsuccessfully searching for a new preschool. A couple of weeks ago I got notice that the university was selling off the campus where I work, although it lacked information about trivial details like where we’d all be moved when this happened. Then on Friday afternoon we were notified that the university is also clearing out the faculty housing where we live. Over a hundred tenants will be kicked out in July, and the rest, including us, will be kicked out next year. At least we’re in the second group, I guess.

In summary, it was not exactly a low-stress weekend. I’d like to know where I’m going to be working before we try to move house, and the preschool situation is too depressing to think about altogether. I realize that it’s not progress when everything stays the same, but this feels like a lot at once. At least I like my bike. When Matt’s away I spend almost two hours a day doing drop-offs and pickups on the Bullitt, and despite the cold it’s hard to stay frustrated on the bike (although lately there have been times that I’ve managed it). For this reasons, among others, updates are likely to be light-to-nonexistent over the next couple of weeks.

No way are we getting out from under here.

No way are we getting out from under here.

One thing for sure: we’ll be looking to live in a flatter neighborhood. Tips welcome.

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Filed under Bullitt, car-free, family biking, San Francisco

How much can a Bullitt bicycle haul? 1 kid, 2 kids, 3 kids, 4!

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.

A while ago my brother-in-law suggested that I was perhaps overly aggressive in testing the limits of our cargo bikes. I can’t deny it. I put two kids on a Brompton folding bicycle (and it was so much fun that I haven’t exactly stopped, although it I am sure the manufacturer’s lawyers would have aneurysms).

Biking with Brad demonstrates how much you can haul on a Big Dummy.

Biking with Brad demonstrates how much you can haul on a Big Dummy.

But I’m hardly alone. Family Ride is a one-woman toy shop on a Big Dummy, and A Simple Six put five people on a Yuba Mundo. I saw a photo of a dryer being carried on a Bullitt. When the Yuba Boda Boda and Kinn Cascade Flyer midtails came out, one of the first questions I heard people ask was whether there was a way to squeeze two or three kids on there. Definitely two: I’ve carried both my kids on the back of the MinUte when they’re not in a fighting mood. Something about cargo bikes makes you want to tempt fate.

Even last summer when we rented the Bullitt, both kids were sometimes willing to ride together.

Even last summer when we rented the Bullitt, both kids were sometimes willing to ride together.

So it is perhaps no surprise that Matt has now gotten in on the act. We’d had the Bullitt for less than a month when Matt took our son to a birthday party on it. When he came home he mentioned that he’d taken a ride with a few kids. On further questioning he admitted it was four kids, all in the box at the same time. I didn’t even think this was possible unless they were really little, but found out that the kids in question were a 7-year-old, his 5-year-old sister, and a pair of 4-year-old twins. I was depressed that he didn’t get a picture, but I can’t really complain, because I also didn’t get a picture when I hauled our PTA president (over six feet tall and wearing in a three-piece suit) in the box of the Bullitt. And we have the standard narrow box, not a custom box intended to carry multiple kids.

Loading up: three kids in the box of our Bullitt bicycle.

Loading up: three kids in the box of our Bullitt bicycle.

Over the winter break we met some friends at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, which our daughter is finally old enough to really enjoy. Because it was a cold day we had the rain cover on the Bullitt, so I was a little skeptical when they wanted to try riding in the box with our son (our daughter was busy climbing the bike racks and wasn’t interested).  But to my surprise, you can in fact pack two 7-year-olds and a 5-year-old in the box of a Bullitt with a rain cover on top. They didn’t have helmets so Matt rode them slowly around Yerba Buena Gardens, but credit to him; it may have been a slow ride but he took them up and down two stories of elevation.  It looked pretty cramped in there, but their verdict was, “It was AWESOME!” I completely underestimated the bike when we tried it last summer.

So how many kids could you put on a Bullitt? Up to four kids in the box if the weather is good and they don’t need the cover. Matt didn’t put any of them on the top tube, but he says he could have handled it. And our son sometimes rides on the Roland add+bike in back as well. I wouldn’t take a bike loaded up that way either up or down a hill. But if I ever see anyone try it, I’ll definitely take a picture.

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Filed under Bullitt, family biking, San Francisco

What we did on our winter vacation

There were enough other people at Muir Woods on Christmas Eve to get a family picture.

There were enough other people at Muir Woods on Christmas Eve to get a family picture.

There are some things we do every year over winter break. The main one is to go to Muir Woods on Christmas Eve. We rented all-electric Leaf this year (the trip up and down the mountainside is sobering even with the help of a motor) and had the unnerving experience of watching the “miles remaining” gauge tick away rapidly as the car grunted up the hills. Then we earned them all back as we coasted back down. This year half the road had washed out, and there were temporary stop signs where passing cars had to take turns, because one lane had crumbled away and dropped into the forest below. When we got to Muir Woods some of the trails were blocked by fallen trees due to all of the rain. But anything that discourages visitors is good from our perspective, and as usual it was quiet and peaceful, as long as listening to our kids yell, “Where are the beavers?!? Can I climb that stump?!?” fits your definition of peaceful.

It turns out that reindeer hate rain. Who knew?

It turns out that reindeer hate rain. Who knew? (at the California Academy of Sciences)

It would be an understatement to say that it rained the first week of our vacation. It poured. Trees fell over, and garbage cans rolled down the street. Astonishingly, our basement did not flood. When the kids got stir-crazy enough we finally packed them up and headed to the California Academy of Sciences, the closest indoor attraction to home. And thank goodness we sprung for the Bullitt rain cover last month. Matt rode the kids right up to the front door and dropped them off, and picked them up at the end of our visit the same way. We were soaked but they were completely dry. They could easily have done the whole trip in slippers. As we rode through the park, watching the wind make actual waves in the streets filled with rain and people walking back to their cars struggle to keep their umbrellas right side out, while our kids sung songs obliviously, we felt like parents of the year.

Our kids mostly ignored the view from the tower of the de Young museum.

Our kids mostly ignored the view from the tower of the de Young museum.

Eventually it stopped raining but it stayed cold. Happily the cover handles that as well. We packed up the kids for trips to the Children’s Creativity Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young museum, and parks, and most of the time they refused to even put on a sweater. At the same time, I was wearing two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, and long underwear, and shivering. Matt had initially had second thoughts about getting a box bike rather than a longtail, but after the last two weeks, we’re both really glad we got the kind of bike that comes with a kid-cover.

The Children's Creativity Museum has its own carrousel.

The Children’s Creativity Museum has its own carrousel.

It can be hard to get on the bike when it gets cold. These days, however, because we don’t have a car sitting in the garage, if we want to go anywhere we’re going to get cold and/or wet no matter what. Most of the time, unless we’re leaving the city altogether, it’s easier to get on the bikes than to hike over to a car share pod. And we’re always glad when we ride. Matt and I took several trips downtown and beyond, beyond our usual stomping grounds, and it was good to be moving. Especially after a few days trapped indoors, even riding in a downpour so thick it’s impossible to see a block ahead seems appealing. At least, it does now that I have decent rain pants.

Check it out: we're all trend-setting and stuff.

Check it out: we’re all trend-setting and stuff.

We saw many more bikes on the road this year than we did the same time last year. But the biggest change was the massive increase in assisted bikes we’ve seen. I used to snap photos when I saw an electric assist in San Francisco. Now that I see at least one every day, even on the hills near home, it hardly seems worth the effort. We went electric in 2012, but for once it seems as though we were cutting edge. If we saw is any hint, it’s 2013 that will be the year of the electric assist.

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Filed under Bullitt, car-free, family biking, San Francisco

You can’t win them all: 2012 Holiday Lights Ride

Last night we headed out on for the 2012 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Holiday Lights Ride. We loved this ride in 2011. And we were feeling pretty good, as we were lighted up like Christmas trees. Literally. We’d picked up some light strings at Ikea on the way back from a Hanukkah party for $2 apiece. We’re hard to miss these days.

Light strings, dynamo front and tail lights, reflective sidewall tires and jackets: we like visibility.

Light strings, dynamo front and tail lights, reflective sidewall tires and jackets: we like visibility.

For the first time, we also set up the Bullitt with the Roland add+bike trailer bike. We may be one less minivan, but with that setup we’re almost as long as a minivan. But our son was really excited that he’d get to pedal on this ride without risking falling behind. He has complained about boredom when he’s riding as a passenger.  Our daughter was thrilled that she’d have room as the sole occupant of the box to stretch out and take a nap.

Even with our efforts to pack her in under a rain skirt, our preschooler was not enjoying this ride on the Bullitt.

Even with our efforts to pack her in under a rain skirt, our preschooler was not enjoying this ride on the Bullitt.

When we rolled outside, however, we realized that in the time it took to set up the kids and the bikes, it had started raining hard. Even with excellent rain gear, having rain driving into our faces was making us and the kids miserable. We headed over to the Panhandle statue anyway, figuring that we’d at least get a brief trip on the trailer-bike in for fun. Astonishingly, the ride was not called for rain. However instead of the hundreds of riders who’d showed up last year, there were maybe a dozen people.

The bedraggled riders slosh home.

American Gothic, in which the bedraggled riders decide discretion is the better part of valor and slosh home.

We didn’t make it far on that ride. Our son had rain pants, but had decided against boots, and although he was really enjoying pedaling he complained that his shoes were filled with water. We weren’t doing much better. When the ride headed into Golden Gate Park, we headed back up the hill toward home. We dried them off and took them out for udon noodles across the street as an apology. By then it had mostly stopped raining. Better luck next year.

Our son was actually so thrilled to be on the Roland trailer-bike he was willing to gut it out longer than anyone.

Our son was actually so thrilled to be on the Roland trailer-bike he was willing to gut it out longer than anyone.

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Filed under Bullitt, family biking, rides, San Francisco

Upcoming: SFBC 9th Annual Holiday Lights Ride

Yeah, we're ready.

Yeah, we’re ready.

I just saw the posting: the 2012 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Holiday Lights Ride will be on December 16, 2012. We loved this ride last year, even though we had to peel off early with dozing kids. This year with the Bullitt in our stable I’m hoping our daughter can pass out on the bike if necessary and we can make it the whole way through. Meet at the Panhandle statue at 6:30pm–details copied below from the Chain of Events. Hope to see you there!

9th Annual Holiday Lights Ride (and Potluck)*

Sun., Dec. 16 | 6:30 | Meet at the Panhandle Statue, Fell and Baker Sts.

Get festive on our lively, annual two-wheelin’ pilgrimage to visit some of the city’s most stellar light displays. Summon your creative holiday spirit and ring your silver bells, caroling all the way. Bring potluck treats to share at a super special secret endpoint.

*Approx 11 miles, with moderate hills. Heavy rain cancels.

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Filed under Bullitt, family biking, rides, San Francisco

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

San Francisco is hard on bikes

Our kids “borrowing” the toys in our Copenhagen apartment’s courtyard

I feel like I should subtitle this post, “why I get whiny about components.”

When we started riding our bikes in San Francisco we did not go by half-measures. We got bikes and we rode them pretty much every day as transportation. We hauled our kids to school and their activities and back, rode to work, and got groceries. It was fun! And we assumed that that was what bikes were FOR. That’s what comes of picking up bike riding in Copenhagen.

We realized pretty quickly that lots of bike manufacturers had different ideas about how we would ride. That’s because we kept breaking things on our bikes. At first we assumed we were doing something wrong. It seemed entirely plausible that we were just lousy riders after such a long hiatus. But our excellent bike shop assured us this was not the case. We were just riding a lot more, and in much more difficult conditions, than the people who built our bikes had expected. What do I mean by difficult conditions? San Francisco streets where we live and work are steep, poorly paved, and dirty.

I have written about my brake paranoia before. We spend a lot of time going down steep hills, and that puts serious wear on the brakes.  It is no accident that I go on (and on and on) about hydraulic disc brakes, which last and last and stop on a dime. We also spend a lot of time going up hills. When we rode rental bikes in Portland we could go for several minutes without shifting, but this never happens here at home. Once, while wandering though Ikea, I saw a piston pressing a carved wooden bottom into a chair, over and over again, supposedly to demonstrate the chair’s longevity. That is essentially equivalent to what we do to our gears.

This street is in average-to-good condition by San Francisco standards. Lots of cars mean lots of damage.

The streets around San Francisco are also poorly maintained. Riding around my office and down the hill from home, the asphalt is so rough that it makes my bell ring as I bump over it. At first it was sort of annoying but also sort of funny. It became less funny when I realized that this was literally rattling parts off my bike. And the streets are dirty. At bike camp, my son was told to wash his bike at the end of the week, every week. We should do this, but we totally don’t. So our bikes look like crap a lot of the time, and all the grime doesn’t do the moving parts any favors either. And it is a rare day that I ride without having to dodge broken glass in the street.

So we learned to care about the components on our bikes. Most cargo bikes come with low to mid-range parts. High quality parts cost money, and my sense is that people already balk at the costs of cargo bikes, which unquestionably cost more than ordinary bikes. Plus a lot of people who take up riding bikes for transportation do so in conditions that are less extreme than ours. This makes sense to me: the barriers to entry are a lot lower in places without serious terrain to battle. And finally, most people who ride bikes in the United States do it as a supplement to car ownership, not to replace driving. They’re not riding every single day. Why not use cheaper parts? Most riders don’t need anything better than that.

The city brought goats in earlier this year to eat the garbage that had piled up around the bus depot across the street from my office. (I hate riding up this hill, incidentally.)

Yet over here in our stomping grounds things are different. Thus I find some bikes difficult to imagine owning because if I bought them, I would have to replace almost every part (or build up a bike from a frame, which exceeds my ambitions). This is essentially what happened with our Kona MinUte. It lists as a $1,000 bike. Thanks to our bike shop’s first year warranty, which replaced everything we broke, it is now really a $2,000 bike (and now we like it twice as much). In its first year, here is an incomplete list of what was replaced: brakes, pedals, shifters, chain, derailleur guide, tires, tubes, chain ring. And this is why we were told to buy a bike from a good local shop: we paid a fraction of the true cost of those upgrades. Even swapping out the crappy disc brakes with excellent hydraulic disc brakes was half-price. That’s because our shop called Kona and insisted that they give us a credit toward the upgrade. And although all of this was great, even better than great, these upgrades meant that the MinUte spent a lot of time in the shop the first year. That was frustrating given that it was supposed to be a daily commuter. It also meant there were some scary and annoying moments, like when the old brakes failed going down steep hills (twice!), or when one pedal snapped in half while riding, or when Matt got four flats in four days.

There was a time that I complained about having to invest so much more in a bike to get a comparable riding experience as people in other places, which reminded me of how much more we pay in rent to live in San Francisco than we would in other places. I am over it. We are lucky to be here, we both work and can afford the relatively trivial price of bike maintenance, and anyway we all have different burdens to bear. However when we went looking for a new bike, we knew that we were willing to pay up front to keep that bike out of the shop, not to mention to keep it from careening down a hill with no working brakes and two kids on board. Our new Bullitt came with outstanding components, and I haven’t regretted our decision to pay for that. In addition to being safer, it’s also more fun to ride a bike with better parts. The Bullitt will never drop a chain, and it shifts cleanly and without hesitation. And it’s never skidded past a stop sign at the bottom of a hill, even fully loaded.

These bikes can now handle whatever San Francisco can throw at them.

At times I have criticized bikes that I perceive to have middling parts because where I ride, it’s something that matters a lot. Should people in other places pay for higher quality parts? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how often they’ll be riding, how difficult the conditions are, and how much they care. The more you ride and the more hills, wet, and cold you face, the more likely it is that a low-maintenance bike with great parts will be worth the money. Where it’s flat, people often gravitate to Dutch bikes, which are built like tanks. But if riding a bike is a sometimes thing, or if you’re living in sunny Southern California, hitting a lower price point may be far more important than having a bike whose parts can weather all conditions.

But there isn’t a free lunch. One cargo bike may cost twice as much as another cargo bike, even though they look very similar. Cargo bikes aren’t sold based on sex appeal or brand names (because they have neither), so there is always a reason for a price difference. Sometimes that reason simply isn’t relevant to the local conditions or a family’s riding style, but it’s a real reason. And while there’s no wrong decision if it’s an informed decision, it is entirely possible to make a bad choice if you don’t know what you’re choosing. We bought a cheap cargo bike first because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t have to pay for that mistake because we bought it from a great shop. We got lucky.

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Filed under bike shops, car-free, family biking, San Francisco

A week of riding

One kid on board, one kid yet to pick up

Earlier this week I found myself on the hook to pick up both kids because Matt was out of town. The complication was that I had to be in a Faculty Council meeting until 5pm. That meant I would have to run across campus to my daughter’s preschool, coax her out, then run across town to get my son at his after-school program before it closed at 6pm. I seriously considered hauling two car seats to my meeting and renting a car from the City Carshare in the preschool parking lot for this trip. Ultimately I decided against car share because I’d tried that once before and not gotten there in time—rush hour traffic is unbearable in the evening, and the after-school pickup line stretches back for three blocks. And after all, isn’t stuff like this what we got the Bullitt for?

With that in mind, I parked the Bullitt outside the preschool in advance. Then I sprinted out of my meeting at 5:01pm, hauled across campus to preschool, collected all of my daughter’s art for the day, and dragged her out with promises to finish the story they were reading at home. We got to my son’s after-school program at exactly 5:30pm (in the rain). That beats my previous record by car by almost 20 minutes. And that is why we got the electric assist! My son was the first kid in his class to be picked up. Unfortunately I’d forgotten the speaker, so I had to listen to “99 bottles of beer on the wall” all the way home. Nobody’s perfect, I guess. I cranked the assist up to “high” for the ride home to spare myself.

The New Wheel recently put together this drool-worthy BionX SOMA (also Pitlocked to the hilt).

I would actually have gotten to him even earlier if someone hadn’t tried to steal my saddle. The Bullitt came with a very nice Brooks saddle, so nice that I never would have purchased it on my own. Saddle theft is epidemic in San Francisco, and thieves learned years ago how to clip the chains traditionally used to lock saddles to frames. However on the advice of a friend whose very expensive SOMA bike has survived being locked up at SF General for five years without being stripped or stolen, the first thing I did when the Bullitt arrived was to take it to The New Wheel, where they put Pitlock locking skewers on everything, including on the seatpost and under the saddle screws. Thanks to that, the thief was able to loosen the saddle screws but not remove them. As a result my ride was slowed by the saddle slipping back and forth, and that was really, really annoying. But I am gratified that my paranoia has paid off, and that I still have my saddle. Two thumbs up for the Pitlocks!

The next morning, with the saddle screws re-tightened, I rode my son to school and came out to find the Bullitt being admired by two dads who work as contractors. When our PTA president rode up on his daughter’s bike, he looked at it and asked, “Will you give me a ride back to my bike?” and I said, “YEAH!” I didn’t get a picture, so you’ll just have to imagine me riding with a six foot tall man wearing a nice suit in the box. I can tell I’m getting better with the bike, because the prospect of carrying a heavy live load didn’t make me worry I’d dump the bike. And it was no problem at all.

What was a problem was an earlier morning ride I took with my daughter in Golden Gate Park. For the first time in my life a driver nearly clipped me while passing, ignoring the empty road to the left to gun past me ON THE RIGHT. It was terrifying. When I saw the car pulled over less than a block ahead I pulled over to ask, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT? Passing me on the right is incredibly dangerous!”  The driver turned to her husband in the passenger seat, who explained that she didn’t know the traffic rules and didn’t speak English. After he prompted her, she said, “Sorry! Sorry!” Okay, call me a xenophobe, but I feel that if you don’t know traffic rules or speak enough English to learn them, maybe you shouldn’t be driving. Although I’m glad that she wasn’t malicious, I suppose.

It’s been hard to get pictures of the kids on the bike; they jump off and run to make faces at the camera.

That, however, was an unusual event. In general riding the Bullitt is a daily party. When I ride people shout, “Cool bike!” and other riders pace me to ask where I got it. “I want one to carry my kids!” they say, and the parents at our kids’ schools say the same. I found the attention disconcerting at first, but I’ve found that as time passes that I like it. Our Bullitt is apparently a wildly compelling advertisement for family biking. And I never have to worry about not being seen by drivers. Admittedly the way that drivers drift out of their lane while staring with their mouths open can be unnerving, but hey, they’re not going to hit our bike—an oncoming car, possibly, but not us.

It seems like we’ve spent quite enough on this bike, but this cover is pretty tempting.

Last night I took my son home with groceries piled around him. He complained that the wind made him cold. I’m beginning to wonder whether I should have gotten the rain cover after all. It’s not like it rains much here in San Francisco, but the winds can be pretty brutal in the winter, and the kids are right in front taking the brunt of it. It’s not too late, I suppose. What would you do?

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Filed under Bullitt, car-free, electric assist, family biking, San Francisco, traffic