Monday, September 26, 2011

guest post: fifteen miles on the bakfiets

I am so very pleased to introduce Full Hands' first guest blogger, David, my neighbor and a cycling papa. My hope is that in the next year, you'll be hearing from a number of guest bloggers discussing their families' bikey adventures. Cheers to David for being the first to actually take me up on my offer to contribute.  And thanks to David and his wife Kristin for being another local family to own more than one cargo bike, helping make the Full Hands crew feel a little less nutty....

My name is David, and along with Kristin and our daughter L., we are a two-cargo-bike family. We own a Surly Big Dummy with Peapod child seat and a Madsen Bucket bike. We have had the Big Dummy since March, and I primarily ride for commuting to/from work and for short trips around town. We've racked up a bit over 500 miles on the Dummy so far. We got the Madsen just about a week ago but it already feels normal to have two cargo bikes. Kristin is the primary rider on the Madsen, and she prefers it over the Dummy for lower step-through height, more upright riding position, and lower perceived center of gravity.  Kristin has used the Madsen for taking L. to play group and for similar trips. L. is pre-verbal, so we do not have her opinion on her riding experiences.

This past weekend was the “Moving Connecticut Day of Action” and there was a gathering on the New Haven Green. As part of this gathering, Kidical Mass wanted a representation of family bike / cargo bike options. We had Xtracycles and a Christiania trike and some trailers and a Madsen. Sara was generous to lend out her bakfiets as part of show and tell, and we got to try riding it for the weekend.

With me being used to the Big Dummy, I didn't think I would be surprised by the long wheelbase on the bakfiets, but it truly is a long bike. Turning the bike around is a little different than what I've come to expect from the Big Dummy for two reasons. The bakfiets has hard stops on the steering to prevent you from oversteering and dumping the bike over. This is a good idea, but in practice it means you cannot steer the bike as hard as you would sometimes prefer for making a tight radius when parking or backing up. The second difference is that the Dummy has a handle on the front of the deck, and when I'm trying to negotiate a tight spot I just grab the handle and drag the rear wheel wherever I want to repoint the bike. In retrospect, I just realized there is a handle near the base of the seatpost on the bakfiets, and I could probably use that handle to get the same effect.

Once rolling, more differences, and some similarities arise. Kristin especially noticed with the Madsen that the large plastic bucket acts as a speaker, amplifying the noise of potholes. You do get used to the effect but it's noticeable the first few rides. The bakfiets had the same properties, although not as substantial because the wood does deaden the vibrations. And then I realized that when riding the bakfiets on the second day I stopped hearing the sound. It turns out we had been carrying u-locks on the bottom of the bakfiets and Madsen, and when I stopped carrying the u-lock I stopped getting the loud bonk on the bumps. We will try putting some cloth between the u-lock and bucket with the
Madsen and see if this reduces the bump noise.
Photo credit: Maria Tupper
At speed, the bakfiets remote steering is intuitive if you can relax enough to let the bike teach you. If you carry enough speed into the corner you can do some subtle leaning, but you also have to do some steering. I did a lot of minor wiggling back and forth while I first felt it out, and by the end of the second day riding, it felt natural. The internal-geared 8-speed hub was more than enough for around-town use for fairly flat to minor hills.

On my second day of riding I gave myself a bakfiets challenge. New Haven has a neighborhood referred to as Science Hill (a lot of Yale science labs are housed there). I decided to try riding up Munson, onto Prospect, and down Edwards. I do not know the actual altitude gain and loss or the grade, and will leave that to somebody with GPS skills. I started uphill from Winchester in fourth or fifth gear. Just past Mansfield I was down to third and soon went down to second and first. By the end of the hill I was cranking as much as I could in first and doing a lot of weaving. The bakfiets can climb hills, but I recommend going around instead.

I did this in sandals on flat pedals, with no toe clips as a realistic test of the Dutch bike experience, where people bike in their everyday clothes. Now we were ready to go down Edwards, which is about the same slope, with glassy smooth pavement. The bakfiets does not have a speedometer, but we were over 20 mph. The Shimano drum brakes front and rear did a splendid job of bringing the bike to a smooth halt at the bottom. Something not entirely unexpected happened with the steering at high speed, and there was a noticeable shimmy. The shimmy is not in any way a dealbreaker, and in normal usage I never noticed this.

We rode up the Orange St. bike lane en route to East Rock Park, and got some smiles. Riding cargo bikes, we are used to getting laughs and smiles and waves. Riding the bakfiets brought this experience to a higher level. I believe this is due to the front-box design where people can spot a very different bike, compared with our Dummy and Madsen, where the front of the bike looks 'normal' to oncoming traffic or casual observers. We had people wave, we had people point, and on the ride back from the park, we had somebody come alongside in a car with the passenger shooting an iPhone video while saying 'that's one cool bike.' When parked we would get questions, and a lot of people assumed the wooden box meant we had made the bike ourselves. Almost home, a kid yelled that he wanted to try a ride in the box.

We also got to experience something very practical about having the cargo in front of the rider. On the way back from the park, L. started crying. My first instinct was to pull over. Then it occurred to me that I could reach her pacifier without having to stop, and this calmed her down. I had already placed her sippy cup and her snack container on the bakfiets seat bench, and by having her in front I could see if she was tempted to throw them overboard. It was really great to try the bakfiets for a weekend.

Photo credit: Domingo Medina

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cali: Cargo Bike Jubilee

I am on Xtracycle's mailing list, in particular the one that sends out notices about Car-Lite and Car-Free Living.    Scrolling down the page from today's e-mail blast, I got excited reading about Marin County's upcoming CARGO BIKE JUBILEE.  Reading about the event made me realize the brilliant pairing: similar to our Touch-A-Cargo-Bike event WITH Portland's Fiets of Parenthood.   It got me excited about next summer. Yes, we need to plan one of these.

Imagining our take on the Family Bike Obstacle Course, I could not help but be drawn to "Mommy needs a fix: buy & carry a double espresso from Java Hut."  Yes, of course, I have a coffee carrying ring installed on my handlebars! 

Finally, browsing through the accompanying photos, I couldn't help be drawn to a picture of two cute fellas sitting in a polka-dotted box of a bakfiets.  Hey, we are spreading the cargo bike love-- even in Cali.

Monday, September 19, 2011

success! touch-a-cargo-bike

Our recently formed family bicycling group gathered on Saturday, September 10, to join in the CT Folk Festival and Green Expo festivities.  Teaming up with, we set up our own booth at the Expo and gathered together as many family biking set-ups that we could.  While other cities may call similar events "Cargo Bike Roll Calls," we rifted off those popular kid events called Touch-a-Truck.

I present to you photos from the New Haven area's first ever "TOUCH-A-CARGO-BIKE!" event:

What an amazing time we had! We were thrilled with the cargo bikes represented: multiple Xtracycles, two Madsens, a Yuba Mundo, two different cargo trikes, a family tandem, etc. We had back and front-mounted child carrier seats and some bike trailers. Lots of people stopped by to test out the bikes and talk family bicycling and cargo bikes.

It was an affirming day for those of us who have been riding with our families. Interest is high and true community is forming.  A highlight -- riding to and from the park with other cargo bicycling families as we had a line of seven cargo bikes cruising across town.  Thinking back to our first solo days out on the streets with our bakfiets nearly three years ago, this felt BIG. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

momentum mag: sept/oct 2011 edition

Hey! Recognize anyone on page 33 of the newest edition of Momentum Mag?

MomentumSept/Oct 2011


pages 32-33

      Table of Contents

We also appreciate the mini-feature on Momentum Mag's blog.  Thanks, Anna Bowen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

TOUCH-A-CARGO-BIKE! saturday, 9/10, in new haven

It's our first attempt at a full gathering of local cargo bikes.  And it's next weekend. To share that I am a bit nervous about it all, would be an understatement. School begins Tuesday. Some local areas are still without power almost a week after Hurrican Irene.  I don't have a complete sense of who will be there and with what bikes.  But we are going for it!

Three years ago, such an event here would be unthinkable. But now, we've seen such an increase of interest and equipment in/for family bicycling 'round these parts.  Now, we are not the only nutty family with multiple cargo bikes in the area.  So we've made an attempt to organize and entice others to see what fun can be had as a family getting around town on two (and for some, three) wheels.

Check out Kidical Mass New Haven's Fb page.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

family bike date

Somehow the summer got away from us. We spent loads of time together as a family but I just looked up and it is September 1.  School starts for four of us in a few days and life takes on a new rhythm, quicker, more frantic, just far busier.  While I so appreciate the idea of making time together just as a couple, P and I managed not to go out on a lone date, not once, this summer (not since this rockin' weekend anyway).  He's still my guy and we just marked 15 years of hanging together, but we didn't get our act together to find a summer babysitter nor make plans to sneak away, even for a few hours.  But, it was lots of good family time, spending loads of time outdoors, swimming into the evenings, visiting siblings and cousins and parents.

On Wednesday, though, the five of us went out on a great family date.  Two terrific local businesses-- The Devil's Gear and Kitchen Zinc-- teamed up together and we didn't want to miss the official launching of Kitchen Zinc's new bike racks.  Really, who can resist bikes and really good pizza coming together?  And we are talking really good pizza.  

We took out the bakfiets and Yuba and navigated the streets filled with new and just returning university students and head downtown. (Quick aside and public service announcement: Please avoid death by cellphone. Stop texting and look up while you are jaywalking across a busy street at rush hour.)

We popped through the alley with this and found this:
New bike racks right next to Kitchen Zinc's outdoor patio
We got a great table outside and the boys drank yummy fresh lemonade while P and I enjoyed beer and wine.  After ordering our pies, the boys ran around a bit outside of the patio, making friends and oogling an awfully cute small dog.  P and I realized what a rare thing this was as our boys are far from adventurous eaters and have particularly limited diets. Going out to real restaurants all together has not been something we've done much as it has tended to cause more stress and unhappiness than enjoyment and good memories.  However, we rocked it this night! Gotta give props to our server who was super kind to the fellas and didn't blink an eye when we requested the plainest pie possible despite all the wonderful, amazing choices.  And damn, the special pizza with peaches, carmelized onions, apple-smoked bacon, gorgonzola cheese, and a drizzle of honey that P and I wolfed down was truly incredible.

Other bonuses of the evening-- We ran into our neighbors. A and J (and their cute daughters!) who it turns out do the coolest graphics and marketing for Kitchen Zinc.  Thanks, A, for sharing these photos. And, of course, there was Matt from the Devil's Gear
who did the honors of christening the bike racks.

We then pedaled off to finish the evening at Ashley's Ice Cream with happy boys and high-fivin' parents, glad to live where we live.