Tag Archives: Kona MinUte

#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.

1 Comment

Filed under cargo, family biking, Kona, rides, San Francisco, traffic

Preschool rider

This is the way we don't ride to preschool

For months our daughter has begged for a bike ride to preschool, and for just as long we have dismissed the idea as impractical. It is a smooth start up a slight incline, but once you turn the corner, the hill up to her school is extremely daunting. The usual nose-in parking by cars to prevent roll-aways, given the incline, implies that the hill is almost untouchable by anything but Tour riders (and not Tour de FU riders—totally NSFW) or electric bikes. Cars can make it, of course—but often parents park in a lower lot and take the freight elevator up. It’s not even fun to drive up that hill.

One preschooler on a Kona MinUte

But today when I was walking out the door, Matt came home from dropping off our son at nature camp for the furlough day. He had taken a new, hilly route back and was already pretty overheated. But he wasn’t too concerned about it because he is working from home today.

Headed up the shallow hill on the approach

As usual she asked for a ride on the MinUte and he said, “Why not?” So today she got her first ride to preschool on the bike. She had a blast. But Matt almost popped a wheelie with that much weight on the back on a steep hill. She may have been the first child ever to arrive at our preschool by bike. Maybe with some weight added in a front basket to balance the bike better we could try it again, though.

Leave a comment

Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

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.

1 Comment

Filed under destinations, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

The Kona MinUte, six months later

Maiden voyage of the Kona MinUte + 3

[Update: Our Kona MinUte was stolen from a rack at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco on November 16, 2012.]

When we bought the MinUte, it did a lot of what we wanted, but not everything we wanted. Most importantly, it seemed to be a one-person bike. Only Matt could ride it. We had hoped for a bike that I could use to take our son to school when he was away. Eventually that spot was filled by the Breezer Uptown + Bobike Junior.

With hindsight, it was odd that I couldn’t ride his bike. I am only 1.5 inches shorter than Matt is (5’7.5″ v. 5’9″), and both of us have successfully ridden bikes owned by people far shorter and taller than each other, respectively. But the seat on the MinUte simply couldn’t be lowered to a point where I could reach the pedals. Once again my brother-in-law resolved the problem. When we were complaining about it on a ride with him, he looked at the bike, and noted that the seat wouldn’t lower because the shim holding the stoker bars onto the seat post was too long; it extended way beyond the height of the stoker attachment and blocked the seat from moving. “You just need to have the shim cut down,” he said. I have never doubted that we are mechanically inept, but still.

Our other issue with the MinUte was that our daughter couldn’t safely ride on the back without a child seat, and this model was new enough that installing one using the Xtracycle accessories would have required a lot of tinkering. But she recently turned three, and as other parents have noted, this is an age when many kids start being able to understand the need to hold on. She had also indicated in no uncertain terms that she wanted to try riding the MinUte deck, jumping proudly off staircase landings onto it before we developed the good sense to move the bike far, far away from anyplace above ground level.

So while Matt’s injured calf was keeping him off the bike anyway, we took the MinUte over to Everybody Bikes to ask them to cut down the shim. “Oh, sure,” they said. They’d had no idea we’d ever want to adjust the seat height for me. “Of course you could ride it.” It turns out that the stoker bars take up a lot of room on the seat post regardless, and even lowered all the way to the stoker attachment, the seat was a bit higher than I’d prefer while carrying kids. I like to be able to get a foot flat on the ground even while I’m on the seat, and I’m happy to give up pedaling power for that extra bit of safety. But even though the seat was higher than I wanted, after that adjustment I rode the MinUte all the way home solo. No problem. Okay, then.

Matt was headed on a two-week trip to Atlanta and Miami, and that seemed like the perfect time to try riding with both kids. So the next day I rode both kids down to the farmer’s market. I still wasn’t totally comfortable on the bike, but they thought it was an awesome ride, and aside from a brief scuffle over the handlebar grips, they enjoyed each other’s company. Matt griped that he didn’t have a bike anymore, “Mommy has all the bikes.” I assumed that that was the injury talking, as he had had no prior plans to check the bike through on his tour of the U.S. Southeast.

Not seen in this photo: scuffling over handlebar grips

My kids got sick while he was away, and a kid who won’t get off the toilet, put on shoes or take off pajamas is not a kid who will or should ride a bike. And there were a couple of days I had meetings across town where the only possibility of even arriving late after dropping off the kids meant I had to drive the car. But I did, eventually, haul both kids on the MinUte to my son’s school, then my daughter solo back to her preschool. It was awesome.

The MinUte rides like a normal bike even with almost 100 pounds of kids and their gear on the back deck. I only felt the extra weight when I was turning corners; it turns out you need way, way more turning radius than usual with that kind of load. To my astonishment, I did not feel it much on the hills. On the way up to Alamo Square with both kids on the back I didn’t even need to drop to first gear. This bike likes to climb. I wouldn’t have needed to drop to first gear on the way back up with only one kid, either, if someone who shall remain nameless hadn’t decided to take off a mitten and throw it into the middle of the road, which required some backtracking.

This raises another point worth mentioning: riding with a three-year-old, at least MY three-year-old, on the deck instead of a child seat is not all sunshine and roses. With her brother behind her to catch flung mittens and otherwise impose basic safety precautions, I was willing to ride at something approaching normal speeds. Once we dropped him off I was riding very slowly indeed. One of her preschool teachers is a big fan of superheroes and as a result we and random strangers have been hearing a lot of speeches along the lines of, “I’m NOT a little girl! I’m an AMAZON PRINCESS! I’m WONDER WOMAN!” I’ll admit that this is a little rude at times but it’s also so totally righteous I pretty much let it slide. Anyway, Amazon princesses apparently see no need to sit down while riding and strongly prefer to hot dog it while heading up or down hills. Whereas I  had no desire to return to the Emergency Department for the third time in a month, and spent most of the ride saying, “You need to sit down. Sit down, please. I’m not starting the bike again until you sit down.”

[Aside: I’ve noticed that superheroes, with the notable exception of Batman, are not big on driving. Admittedly they don’t ride bicycles either, but still, as role models go, it could be worse.]

In the shop for a brake adjustment. Again.

And this brings up a more serious issue. BikeRadar recently reviewed the MinUte, and although they were basically positive, they noted that the disc brakes that come with the bike are kind of junky, and we agree. They have failed on Matt once, with our son on the back, and now he has them adjusted monthly, and they always need it. He wants new hydraulic brakes way more than he wants an electric assist. If we’d known this in advance we would have asked for an upgrade on the brakes before we first picked up the bike. As cargo bikes go the MinUte is pretty inexpensive even with this extra cost. Still it bugs me that any cargo bike would come standard with crappy brakes. Maybe it would be less of an issue for people who weren’t dealing with the kinds of hills that we are. I wouldn’t know.

While we were having new brakes installed, we also would have gotten a wheel stabilizer for the front wheel (the little spring that keeps the front wheel from flopping). These are very inexpensive, but although they come standard on the Kona Ute, one was not included on the MinUte even though there are hookups. The bike is a little too tippy with kids on the back when the front wheel can swing around. Yeah, it’s fallen over. The kids are fine. We’re getting a wheel stabilizer.

The MinUte can really haul; it’s not up to the loads of a regular cargo bike, but we live in the city and we’re not making Costco runs or moving furniture. It can certainly carry a week’s worth of groceries plus a kid or two. It makes it harder to get up the hill home, but that’s why that first gear is so low.

But maybe you’re not up for that kind of trip. Can you put it on a bus bike rack instead? No, you cannot. Matt tried for over 10 minutes to get it on the university shuttle bus rack, infuriating two dozen medical students in the process, and failed. It’s short enough to fit in a shared office cubicle but it’s still a longtail, and that means it’s too long to ride the bus. [UPDATE: We were wrong! Yes, you can put it on a bus bike rack. But it’s complicated. I posted an update explaining here.]

Look who’s back in the game

Matt has mixed feelings about the panniers. On the one hand they fit the bike perfectly, are totally waterproof, fold up beautifully when empty, and hold unbelievable amounts of stuff when full (and the kids’ legs just dangle over them). On the other hand, there’s no shoulder strap to carry them if you want to take them off the bike and they don’t look particularly professional when he brings them into the office. The tubes on the rear rack are thick enough that normal panniers won’t fit unless you can modify them somehow. Last week we saw a Ute outfitted with Xtracycle freeloaders, however, and I eyeballed while we were parked next to it that they’d fit on the MinUte as well.

Overall, six months after we bought, the MinUte is doing more than we had thought it could. And even though I only ride it while he’s away, Matt is so possessive of this bike that he thinks we should get a second one.

40 Comments

Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews

These are the ways we ride to school

First day of first grade

We have found that our son’s elementary school contains an embarrassment of riches (for the record, this is an under-enrolled Title I public school in San Francisco, not the usual candidate for perceived awesomeness, a complete sleeper of a school). These riches extended, we learned this year, to a range of bicycle commute strategies with kids.

Bicycle commuting to school in San Francisco is not like it is in other locales. Kids enrolled in lower grades can’t usually ride on their own, due to traffic and hills and distance; this is a citywide school, and some families are coming from quite far away. Moreover, the after-school programs at our school are mostly off-site, and students take the bus from the school, meaning that there’s no way to take a kid’s bike along after school lets out. Finally, we haven’t yet had bike racks installed at the school (we’re on the list) so there’s no place to leave a bike even if kids could ride. The teachers who ride bring their bikes into the school building, but this isn’t something that would work for a bunch of kids.

So typically we all have to ride with the kids with us somehow, and as I’ve mentioned before, city people rarely use trailers (they ride below the sight line of cars, tip on uneven pavement, don’t fit in the bike lane, etc. etc.) That means kids on our bikes. It is more challenging than the run-of-the-mill bicycle commute to school, but it’s worth it. We are often ad hoc, but we are ready to roll. Herewith, a morning’s worth of photos; an incomplete list of the ways we ride to school.

School bike #1: Bike Friday triple tandem

#1 (and by far the coolest):  Bike Friday triple tandem. Our PTA treasurer and his partner ride this bike with their daughters, who are in kindergarten and 2nd grade. They say it is the best way to commute with two kids to school in the city, and I believe them. It is easier for their dad, who is about 6’ tall, to captain, than it is for their mom, who is more like 5’4”. She reports that she needs help on the hills from the girls and she needs to concentrate while riding. The girls have to synchronize their pedaling with the parent who’s captaining; this is, I am told, not necessary on all tandems, but it is necessary on the Bike Friday [update: not exactly true; my brother-in-law wrote to tell me that any tandem could be retrofitted to have freewheel cranks that let one rider stop pedaling]. Our kids desperately want a triple tandem.

How they afforded it: They used to ride the girls to school on a tricked-out Kona Ute, which they bought and modified by hand while their youngest was still in preschool. They sold the Ute to finance the tandem, which they got for about 1/3 the list price by buying it used on eBay after searching for a used triple tandem for some time. The seller, based in LA, was unwilling to ship it, but they had a cousin in LA they visit regularly. He picked it up, and on their next visit, they took it home with them. The Bike Friday packs up in a suitcase!

How they store it: Bike storage is no joke in San Francisco. The girls’ aunt lives on the same block they do and has extra storage space, so they keep the big bikes at her place (they also have an adult tandem that they found used for free and had their bike shop fix up).

School bike #2: Surly Big Dummy

#2: Surly Big Dummy. Our friend Shirley takes her girls (1st grade and 2nd grade) to school on the deck of her Big Dummy. While they’re in school, she takes the Dummy out to do errands. I have talked about the Dummy before. It is a fun bike.

How they afforded it: They have a car that was in a horrible accident and needs several thousand dollars in repairs. Last year, they decided to skip the repairs and drive it until it failed and buy a Big Dummy (plus another bike to come) with the money they saved. When the car dies, they will be car-free.

How they store it: “It’s a problem.” They have a very small garage space with their rental apartment and squeeze the bike alongside (I presume that they don’t care about the finish of the car as it’s effectively totaled). When the car finally dies and is hauled away, however, they’ll have a very generous bike stable.

School bike #3: Giant + spare saddle on the top tube

#3: Giant with a spare saddle. One of the kindergarten dads has bolted a spare saddle to the top tube of his bike. He puts his daughter on board and takes her to school that way. When I talked with him about it, he said that although his method was totally inappropriate for long rides, their commute to school is a gradual descent over about 10 blocks and so he just coasts slowly the whole way, then drops her off, pops off the spare saddle and commutes to work.

How they afforded it: He had a spare saddle lying around anyway: this modification was free. If you had to buy one, I don’t know, $10-$20?

How they store it: No extra storage needs; it’s just a normal bike with a saddle on the top tube!

School bike #4: Kona MinUte

#4: Kona MinUte: I’ve written about our MinUte before. We ride our son to school on the back deck; we added stoker bars and some foot-pegs. This is a great bike and a flexible set-up.

How we afforded it: We bought bikes in lieu of a second car we’d been saving to buy (thank goodness).

How we store it: The MinUte isn’t much longer than a normal bike and thus has no real storage issues; Matt keeps it in a shared cubicle at his office, for example. But at home we are rich in space suitable only for bicycle storage thanks to a vituperative 50-year grudge match between the university (we live in university housing) and the local neighborhood association that prevents the partially-conditioned basement under our building, which the university was legally obligated to make ADA-accessible, from being used for a more practical purpose such as housing, or, for that matter, parking more cars.

School bike #5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior

#5: Breezer Uptown 8 with Bobike Junior. I haven’t written much about riding with the Bobike Junior before, as it usually makes more sense for Matt to ride our son to school on the MinUte. But with his recent injury, I’ve been handling the daily trip to school, while Matt walks our daughter to preschool then takes the N-Judah to work.

The Bobike Junior takes some getting used to, as the seat rides high, which makes the bike more tippy. It felt unstable at first. But as I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve come to love this seat. My son rides very close to me, almost as close as a backpack, and I like that when we start the ride, he hugs me from behind. It is easy to have a conversation with him because he is so close. I can turn to talk with him at stoplights and he comments on the ride, encouraging me to go faster downhill (I’m cautious; I don’t have disc brakes). It is a bit of a hassle to fit a pannier underneath this seat, and once it’s on, it encroaches a little on his foot pegs. Nonetheless, I will happily ride with my son on the Junior until he won’t tolerate it anymore.

That said, I have a suspicion that this seat might be less appealing to a shorter rider. I am 5’7.5” (to be painfully precise) and that is apparently tall enough that I can handle loads put higher on the bike without much trouble. When our friends with the triple tandem had their Kona Ute, they report that the mom had trouble handling the bike with the girls up so high on the back; she is ~3-4 inches shorter than I am. I’ve noticed that shorter people often mention they prefer to keep the load down lower, but on the other hand, there is a metronome effect. The lower loads are more stable, but if you lose control, it is a nightmare righting the bike again. The higher loads are less stable, but if you lose control, it is much less trouble righting the bike again (assuming you are tall enough). I find that I like the ease of righting the bike given that my kids bounce around a little, but some people prefer just the opposite. This is not something I’ve seen discussed much but I suspect it may be part of the reason people have strong opinions about the Xtracycle/Yuba lines (lower loads) versus the Ute and regular bikes with child seats (higher loads).

How we afforded it, how we store it: See above, blah blah, didn’t get a planned second car, it’s a normal-length bike so no atypical storage concerns, but we have tons of bicycle storage space as a side effect of a long-running town-gown battle.

These are some of the ways we ride to school. And this explains, I imagine, why our kids are begging to get a bike as obscure as a triple tandem.

14 Comments

Filed under Bobike, Breezer, cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco

Bike v. bike: Yuba Mundo v4 meets the Surly Big Dummy

It's fun to say "Mundo"

Last week, while hauling around on the loaner Mundo, we met up with our friends from school who recently bought a Big Dummy. They were interested in the Mundo and we were interested in the Dummy. We all met up at Golden Gate Park on Sunday at Sunday Skate to compare the bikes.

Shirley takes her girls (1st and 2nd grade) to school every day on the deck of the Big Dummy. On weekends, her husband B.D. rides the bike and she rides on the deck, with the girls riding alongside on their own bikes. She says she gets some great videos this way, and it is an awesome sight to see them riding en masse. The ride to school with the kids on deck is mostly downhill, but she’s got to get them back home again, and they live on Lone Mountain. There is evidently some pushing, but she’s made it up many hills with her legs alone, and reports receiving applause from passing drivers for this accomplishment. I went up to Alamo Square with my two kids on the Mundo: where is my applause? Honestly, there is no justice in the universe.

Two big bikes roll into a park...

So anyway, that afternoon they rode around on the Mundo for a while and I rode a bit on the Dummy. We were in the park, so we didn’t try any hills, but it was still an interesting comparison. These bikes look similar in some ways, but they are wildly different. If I had to summarize briefly (not my strongest suit), I would say that the Mundo is like an ox, and the Dummy is like a horse. They’re both useful, but sometimes you want the carrying capacity of an ox and sometimes you want the speed of a horse.

Learning to ride the Mundo was not easy for me (not just me). It is a heavy bike that feels more like a wagon sometimes, hard to start and slow to stop, although once the momentum kicks in, riding it is mellow enough. Getting on the Dummy felt like getting on a regular bicycle that just happened to be somewhat longer than usual. I couldn’t ride the Dummy with much of a load, because Shirley and B.D. are taller than I am, and none of us are the kind of people who carry Allen wrenches everywhere we go to adjust the seat height (as if that were not obvious). The frame size was fine, but I didn’t feel comfortable putting my daughter on a bike that I had to hop down from at a stop, and for that matter, they didn’t have a child seat. So I rode it mostly unloaded. It felt fast, and it was easy to pick up and ride.

Business in front, party in back

But B.D. and Shirley could ride both bikes fully loaded, and their opinions are more informed anyway. They liked riding the Mundo, particularly the fact that it could carry three kids effortlessly. They feel that two older kids is the maximum safe load on their Dummy. Because they’re used to riding a cargo bike already, they picked up riding the Mundo much more quickly than I did. They too found the Bread Basket disconcerting at first, and almost tipped the bike figuring it out (I am not alone!) But like me, they loved the carrying capacity it added with kids on board. The kids all agreed that the Mundo was awesome, and wanted to pile on as a foursome, which we did not allow them to do. We have limits: only three kids per bicycle! For that matter, they agreed the Dummy was awesome.

Okay, next bike

Both Shirley and B.D. liked the feel of riding the Dummy better, and we all agreed it was more nimble. They also noted that the Dummy had better components, including both a lighter frame and disc brakes (optional and an extra charge on the Mundo). I concur that disc brakes should not be optional on a cargo bike in San Francisco. But, as B.D. pointed out, “The Mundo is $1,000 cheaper!” And it comes with fenders and a double-kickstand that is fearsomely stable, but hard to use: this was the only part on either bicycle that I could operate better than they could, having practiced. Neither bicycle, to everyone’s annoyance, comes with hub dynamo lights. “Why doesn’t our bike have lights?” asked Shirley. “Why doesn’t ours?” I replied. Goodness knows you’re not going to be worrying about weight or drag with either bicycle.

After riding the Mundo, we realized what the MinUte can do (it is parked)

Which bicycle would I get if money were no object? Trick question: we’d get the Kona MinUte again. We have realized lately that we’ve underestimated the MinUte; it can do far more than we’d realized. I can ride it! With both kids on board! This is a story for another day. But it’s an honest answer in some ways: I think that both bikes are designed for families that have different needs than we do.

We are a small family living in a city with extensive shopping; by preference, we get groceries several times a week in small quantities, and we carry, at most, two children. And we live on a mountain. And we are car-light, not car-free. If we were a suburban/small city family with 3 kids, particularly if they were older and we were more experienced riders: no question, the Mundo. If we were a city family like Shirley and B.D., with more serious shopping loads and a different kind of commute, we’d get the Big Dummy. If we wanted to haul furniture or heavy loads regularly, we’d get the Mundo. If we took long rides, especially off-road, we’d get the Big Dummy—B.D. took their kids on the mountain biking trails around the Palace of the Legion of Honor on the Dummy, and they all had a great time. None of us would attempt that kind of ride on the Mundo.

And of course, if money is an issue, the Mundo’s price is dramatically cheaper, even with the shouldn’t-be-optional disc brake upgrade. If money isn’t as much of a concern, the Big Dummy has more range, and it is a lot easier to ride.

I couldn’t be more pleased I got the chance to ride both bikes, and our kids were crushed when we had to pack it up at dusk (no hub dynamo lights on these bikes! curse The Man!) Riding around on cargo bikes with our kids is the best way we’ve found yet to entertain ourselves on a weekend afternoon. I would never have imagined this and it is hard to explain. Shirley and B.D. had the same difficulty that I do communicating how wonderful it feels to ride with our kids, completely different from any other mode of transportation or even any other activity. We still can’t believe it’s cheaper and easier than driving, and we keep wondering what the catch is. Like them, I am so grateful that we started this wild ride.

11 Comments

Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, San Francisco, Yuba Mundo

Our first bike: The Kona MinUte

[February 2012: I have updated our experience with the MinUte here. And also here.]

So, a longtail: even though Matt wasn’t thrilled about the downsides he didn’t have any better ideas. We were getting him the first bike because I had the university shuttle taking me almost door to door, but most longtails seemed to be adjustable enough for two riders if it came to that, and all of them could carry two kids. At that point the only experience we had with longtails was some fellow school parents who liked their Ute. My brother-in-law, a former bike mechanic and bike messenger and our go-to person for all things bike-related, said that he liked Konas and was in fact, commuting on one. He didn’t like the Radish for reasons that I still don’t know enough about bikes to understand or even repeat, and didn’t like the Xtracycle because of what is apparently referred to as “flex” which is a concept I don’t really understand either. Plus he knew that we didn’t have any kind of handiness around bikes or a donor bike, which are apparently good things to have if you want to set up an Xtracycle. Nobody I asked knew anything about the Mundo or Big Dummy (I have since met someone who does know something about the Big Dummy and apparently that bike is awesome, with a price to match).  So I went online to look up Kona dealers and the closest one was the local bike shop that my brother-in-law had been raving about and urging us to visit since we got back from Europe. Okey dokey then, we’d check out the Kona Ute. While I was on the Kona site I figured I’d look up the price of the Ute (although I already knew it was definitely going to be cheaper than the second car we’d grudgingly been saving up for). Under the list of commuter bikes was something I’d never seen before, new for 2012: the MinUte.

Looking at the MinUte online, it was like someone had designed a bike just for us—a longtail with a normal bike’s footprint. Despite that the back deck was only 4” shorter than the Xtracycle deck, which meant plenty of room for the kids. It came stock with two giant bags, and they sat back behind where our son would sit. It had fenders to keep off road crap and mountain bike gears to grind up hills. The limited complaints about its big brother, the Ute, in reviews centered on the aluminum frame and limited cargo capacity (plus some complaints that it wasn’t Xtracycle-like enough that I assume make sense to people who know something about such things). But with our hill problem the lighter weight of an aluminum bike was appealing. Given that we had no desire to haul much more than a kid or two and some groceries, being unable to haul a surfboard, lumber, or 900 bananas wasn’t a big issue for us. Sure, it would be great if the bike came tricked out for commuting with wired lights, a chain guard, and internal gears, but Matt felt that the price, pretty competitive for a cargo bike, more than made up for wrapping up his pants leg on the way to work, and he was thrilled that he wouldn’t have to park it on the street. We are anything but adventurous as a rule but this brand-new bike (a medium tail?) seemed like the bike for us.

We went to Everybody Bikes (a fantastic shop for know-nothings like us despite its high hipster quotient) to check out the bike only to discover that it wasn’t available yet. But the shop did have a Kona Ute and some other bikes to try for size, and Matt liked them. They would be happy to stick on stoker bars and foot pegs for our son when the bike arrived, and our son, for his part, couldn’t wait to try it. Now all that we had to do was wait, and pray that it came in time to solve our soccer pickup problem.

I have since learned that nothing that involves getting a bike ever happens on time (unless you buy something in stock right there off the floor). I still resent this, but I have learned to accept it. If like me, you are new to the world of biking, you might as well know in advance. Your bike will arrive late, and some non-critical parts will probably arrive even later.

Luckily for us, although All Bike Orders Are Late, we only had to do one soccer pickup before it arrived, which we managed with car share. That sucked. But the MinUte arrived. It was missing some non-critical parts. The cargo bags were apparently stuck on a slow boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The (aftermarket) foot pegs were no longer in production. But the bike was there and it looked good, and the stoker bars swooped up at the perfect spot for a six-year-old. Matt was ready to take it for a spin: he pronounced it awesome.

Her punches are surprisingly ferocious

Our son was jumping up and down to get on and ride once Matt felt comfortable on the bike. Of course we had to pry our two-year-old daughter off the back deck, where she was already attempting to jump up and down while insisting that she be allowed to ride, because we should have just named her “Danger” and spared everyone the bother of having to figure it out. Our son climbed on board and decided it wasn’t so great after all: the bike was wobbly, it was scary. We bucked him up with memories of biking in Copenhagen, even though he wailed that he wanted to ride on the Bobike Maxi again (a seat he had since outgrown). Matt said he’d ride slowly. They took off and DISASTER. Without footpegs or panniers to block the spokes, our son’s foot, clinging to the bike as tightly as possible in fear, went directly into the spokes, cutting and bruising his ankle. Maybe those missing parts weren’t so non-critical after all. We felt like idiots.

So the first attempt to ride the MinUte ended with our son weeping in pain and fear and howling that he never wanted to go near a bike again. Matt rode home to get the minivan and we went home that way, feeling completely defeated.

We had about three days before the next soccer pickup to convince our son to try the bike again. The bike shop’s mortified owners called to say that they’d found the discontinued foot-pegs on Ebay for us, but it would be a couple of weeks before they arrived. No one had a clue when the bags would arrive. In the meantime we needed some motivation and we needed something to keep his feet out of the spokes.

Motivation came from massive amounts of screen time. We set up a slide show on Matt’s computer made up of shots of them riding in Copenhagen, which helped, but what helped even more was a movie from Car Free Days, showing their son jumping on and off the back deck of an Xtracycle. I could not be more grateful that they posted that movie; we must have watched it 100 times that afternoon. Our son thought it was the coolest thing ever. Something to keep his feet out of the pegs came after he went to bed. I kludged together the world’s most ghetto panniers; a piece of kraft paper folded to make two pockets, held together with duct tape (as noted: not handy).  He could put his feet in the pockets to prevent them going into the spokes until the real footpegs and bags arrived.

The MinUte kludged out with our ghetto duct tape panniers

The next morning we walked the bike down to Golden Gate Park—flat! no cars!—to try riding again. After a day of unrelenting motivational efforts our son was not totally repelled by the idea. We spent the walk talking up the safety features of the duct tape panniers.  (Because he is six this did not meet with the ridicule it deserved.) At the park, faced with the prospect of actually getting on the bike, he decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all. With much prompting, he finally tried it, feet firmly planted in the new duct tape pannier pockets, but immediately wailed that he wanted to get off. Matt lost patience and rode off anyway, leaving us with a dopplered, “NOOO!!!!!!!!” A few hundred feet later, our son was cheering and shouting that he loved riding the new bike. Success! Since then he’s been impossible to extricate from that bike. He is as proud as royalty riding it into school and wrote up his story of learning to ride it for a school project. His teacher assumed that it was fictional, given that everyone else in the class wrote about their superpowers (e.g. flying, invisibility). He now wants his own bike, which we’d previously assumed was months if not years away.

So is the MinUte everything we’d hoped for? Yes and no.

NO: Matt got the larger frame size (20”), and it turns out that it is too large for me to ride. My brother-in-law says that this is a design decision and the frame could easily be modified by Kona to be more adjustable for people of varying heights; whatever the reason, this is a one-person bike in our household. We also had hoped that our daughter could ride on the back deck with our son. This was unrealistic; although there’s plenty of room, she is too young and too adventurous for that to be safe unless she’s strapped into a child seat. The can-do folks at Everybody Bikes could probably figure out a way to convert one of the Xtracycle UteDecks to a MinUte deck (the MinUte deck is 24”, while the Ute’s is 31” and the Xtracycle’s is 28”) and use it to mount a seat for her behind our son, and we might still do that. But if the kids were 4 and 6 instead of 2 and 6, both of them could ride on the deck without adding seats. As expected, this bike isn’t grab-and-go as a commuter; Matt needed lights and he has to strap up his pants. He works in an office with a dress code and no shower, so on days when everyone’s in a suit for foreign visitors, it’s easier to take the train. I think that this would be true for any bike though. The cargo bags, which arrived two months later, lack a shoulder strap so they’re hard to carry around once off the bike. We had initially thought that we’d both get MinUtes, but we now feel that doesn’t make sense given our kids’ ages and our daughter’s need for a child seat.

MAYBE: We are not sure if it will fit on the bus rack, although I suppose it’s a good sign that we haven’t yet had to try. Standard bus racks apparently fit bikes with a wheelbase of up to 46” (I had to look this up) and his frame’s wheelbase is…  46.4” (the 18” MinUte frame’s wheelbase is about an inch shorter). I’ve been told that people have squeezed recumbent bikes with 47-48” wheelbases on Muni racks, though, so, possible? Further updates as events warrant.

All parts on board (it’s not cold, but my son likes looking like a ninja)

YES: There is a lot to love about this bike. Matt has no problem taking the hills with our son on the back and with cargo. Granted, for the first week he came home drenched with sweat every day even after taking the elevator (which doesn’t cover the whole hill). But it’s gotten easier; he now only rarely takes the elevator and doesn’t always need a shower, and we live at the top of a really steep hill (veloroutes says 16% if you take the direct route), a situation that has led to my classifying any city in the world other than La Paz, Bolivia, as “flat.” And as promised, the MinUte is basically the length of a normal bike—my bike is ~68” front to back and the MinUte is ~73”. It fits in the elevator (barely) and it fits in Matt’s cubicle. Matt enjoys riding it to work and finds it pretty nimble, although it’s definitely heavy. He gets a lot of envy and questions from other dads with Trail-a-bikes riding on Market Street, one of the more challenging parts of his route to the Financial District, who say that the bike+trail-a-bike is often frighteningly unstable and that hauling an extra bike length in back is limiting, especially after dropping off the kid. Based on that feedback alone we’re glad we didn’t go with that option (or for that matter, with a trailer). With the foot-pegs and stoker bars the bike looks made for two riders, but when our son’s not on board the bike looks like a heavy-duty commuter; no need to add a child seat. After our son’s drop-off Matt can use the back deck to carry more stuff, not that there’s ever been any need for that given that the bags hold a ton already. When we’re riding together even a single bag swallows everything from extra jackets and clothing to both U-locks to whatever we buy while we’re out, and he can grab things without getting off the bike; it has the capacity of a trailer without any of the hassles involved in hauling a trailer in the city. Our son can easily ride the back deck until middle school if he wants to, and his sister can ride there once he’s an independent rider.

The MinUte isn’t the bike for everyone—I doubt you could fit two child seats on the deck—but we like it very much. I’m sure that it can carry less than a standard longtail, but it holds plenty for a small urban family, and it’s much more adaptable because it fits in small spaces like Matt’s cubicle. For new bikers like us, it’s been a nice entrée into cargo/family biking, precisely because it’s short enough that it’s possible to take it everywhere a normal bike could go. The thought of getting a big bike as our first bike was kind of scary. It is also easy to carry a kid (maybe two) and cargo without having to figure out how to add accessories like a trailer, another thing that felt kind of scary. And it is definitely a conversation starter, particularly with our son on board. Family biking is still enough of an oddity in San Francisco that even at events with valet bike parking, where it’s safe to say you’ll see a lot of bicycle diversity, people are always asking us about our bikes and where we got them. This bike was so much fun for Matt and our son that my daughter and I grew jealous. One day a couple weeks after they’d started riding, my son leaned over at dinner, patted my hand, and said, “It’s okay, mommy. You can get your own bike soon.”

17 Comments

Filed under cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews, San Francisco