Wednesday, November 17, 2010



It's painful.  It's expensive.  It's hard on equipment, on clothing, on bodies.  It takes a ton of time.

And, it turns out, we love it.

Without any training beyond our daily rides, Dave and I decided to try our hand at cyclocross this season.  With one race left locally, we'll be sad to see our weekends clearing up soon.

What to say about cyclocross?  The race format, as many laps as you can do in a 45-minute limit, means that it's pretty much a sprint the whole time.  Those 45 minutes of racing leave me with searing lungs, aching quads, and, inevitably, a bruised shoulder from carrying the bike.

Crusade #5 2:05 Women - 193

My favorite thing?  The mud.  While my technical skills (i.e. ability not to fall down in the mud) could use some work, I absolutely adore the pure, child-like feeling of riding straight through mud puddles, of feeling sloppy wet trails throw mud into your face, your teeth, up your back.  I love that when you fall down, it's not a scary high-speed crash onto pavement, but instead (usually) a tottering, oh-no-I'm-gonna-fall spill into-- you guessed it-- more mud.  When else in our adult lives is it ok to ride, run, or splash in mud puddles?


So, it turns out I'm not great at cyclocross.  Not terrible, but just mama biking isn't enough to get me into the sort of shape I'd need to be in to win races.  And we wanted to get by with minimal equipment costs, leading to a series of unfortunate mechanical failures that scuttled some of my best race starts.  The first day at Astoria I got to the front of the pack quickly and held onto the top 15 or so through some tricky bits... and then my chain dropped and got tangled around my bottom bracket.  I couldn't wrestle it out, so shouldered the bike and jogged out my last half-lap.  Sad.  But I had a great start, that day.


Dave, on the other hand, had some great races.  Sadly, the beginner men are the first to race with an 8:50 am start time, so there are many fewer photos of him than of me.   But he had two top-10 finishes this season, and came out 18th overall in the beginner men field. Not shabby.

The rhythm of our race days is a bit rough: up early to get to the race-- Dave slips out before Jasper and I are even awake to pick up a zipcar.  Then I get up and ready, putting pre-packed race bags in the car and clipping in the car seat-- then wake the baby, change his diaper, and tuck him into the car, often still in jammies.  When we get to the race-- almost always later than we'd planned-- Dave dashes off to register & warm up, while I swap Jaz into daytime clothes, buckle on the baby carrier, organize the diaper bag, jackets, umbrella, and Jasper's beloved cowbell (for cheering the racers on), and we dash off to watch the race start.

Watching cyclocross is a great time.  The racers are all working so hard, and because there are usually 4 or 5 laps, you get to see them figuring out how best to manage the tricky bits of the course as the race goes on, and kibbitz with your fellow spectators on how you'd take that hill/turn/barrier.  The racers are also extremely suggestible, and so a good time can be had by offering advice.  You stand there, bundled and warm, and yell: "Come on, blue jersey!  Take this guy on the turn!  He's lagging, you can take him!"  And more than half the time, he perks up, bears down, and passes the guy.  It's awesome.

Or, if you're under 1, you just ring your cowbell as much as you can.  And holler at the top of your lungs.  And smile at dogs.  And that's pretty fun too.

After Dave's race, it's naptime, so Dave changes into un-muddy clothes and straps on the baby carrier, rocking and bobbing Jasper to sleep while he recovers from his race.  We'll sometimes find some lunch, catch up with friends, or leave the race entirely at this point, but the most important thing is that everything gets calm for us, even as the action continues on the racecourse.

Two hours later, Jasper's up, and it's time for me to register and warm up.  We might watch some Kiddie Cross, and usually the single speed race that immediately precedes mine.

Kiddie Cross is great.  If he's mastered the skuut, Jasper can play next year, like this guy:
loving it

And then, bam, I'm racing.  And nothing else is happening in my head; only the monologue of a oxygen-deprived brain.  Which, most races, spends a lot of time trying to get me out of the situation.  "You could stop now," says my brain, as I gear up to pass some racers on a straightaway.  "No one would hold it against you," says my brain, and I'm off the bike, shouldering it, running up a muddy hill with little creeks coming down.  "You could say you had a mechanical, and just stop here in these trees," whispers my brain, as I slalom through a forested singletrack, bouncing off slick rocks.  "Or your could hit a tree, but not that hard, and then drop out.  Everyone crashes sometimes."  My thinking brain wants out, most races.  It is the enemy.

The bliss of racing comes to the degree that I can transcend that insidious thinking brain.  Because the kind of thinking that that part of my brain does isn't useful while I'm racing.  Telling that part of my brain to go faster is useless-- it replies "why should I?" every time.  Going faster, digging deeper, climbing harder, is a matter of not hearing that voice, of tapping into my body's potential and not holding back for later.

And then it's just pain.  Heart racing.  Muscles straining.  Mud everywhere.  Focus.  Speed.  Finding a fast line through the mud and the rocks and the potholes and the gravel.  And sometimes, there is clarity. Everything slows, even as I'm moving my fastest.  I can see the best line as if it were marked in lights.  On the run-ups, suddenly I see the next footstep, and the next, and don't worry about stumbling, because I know, I simply know where to go.

And then it's over, and there are hugs, and sometimes there's so much mud on my face that it frightens Jasper and I need to splash it off in a mudpuddle before we can be friends again.  And I zip down my jersey and, still gasping, still covered in mud, I find a log or bench or to sit right on the pavement and we nurse, a sort of balm for my being both mentally and physically away, for being in my own, baby-free space for so long.  And then we watch the elite race start, yelling and cheering and ringing the cowbell.  And then it's naptime again, and we head to the car to buckle in and drive home.

Sorting the muddy things.  Washing the muddy things.  Cleaning the zipcar.  Returning the zipcar, once Jasper wakes up from his carseat nap.  And then a slow evening of recovery, eating, finding bruises, stretching muscles, popping joints, and remembering bits and pieces of the race to tell each other.  And sleep, as hard and long as Jasper allows (which is rarely as hard or long as our bodies really need).

It's a way of using bikes I've never experienced.  It's not practical, or useful, or sensible, or dignified.  It is silly and sweaty and frivolous.  And I'm so glad we decided to try it out.

HUGE thanks to the photographers who come out every week and brave the muck to shoot great photos.  Photos here from: vitus1997, richtheneighbor, monovich, shetha, and mommypants. THANK YOU!  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kidical Mass!!

I've been spamming the heck out of local bikey and mama media for two months, but forgot to blog it: Civilized Conveyance is now bringing you Portland's Kidical Mass!!

Basically, it went down like this: I was sitting around lamenting the end of Sunday Parkways season, and more generally, feeling that there needed to be more opportunities for bikey families to get out and about, sniff each others' rigs, collectivize traffic riding skills and watchful eyes for little ones on their own bikes, and just plain have fun together.

And I was jealous of the Kidical Masses going down in Eugene, Seattle, and elsewhere.  So I sent out some emails trying to figure out what had happened to Portland's Kidical Mass, and the general consensus was: it just petered out.  And it didn't look like I'd be stepping on any toes by picking up the torch.  So I did!

Our first ride was in October, and was zombie-themed.  We gathered on the South Park Blocks just as the rain started to fall, and pedaled our way up to Pioneer Square through the drizzle.  Pioneer Square was filled with zombies mustering for the annual Zombie Walk, so there were lots of interesting (and sort of scary!) people to watch while we waited for the main event: hundreds of zombies simultaneously dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

After the dancing, we headed back to the bikes to loop back to our starting point.  But on our way there, we were stopped by the zombie walk-- and the zombies took pictures of us!!  When the stream of undead paused, we rolled on through and moseyed back to the park for lollipops and chatting.

Thanks to Jonathan at BikePortland for the great pictures!

This coming weekend, we'll ride again: This month, it's the Tour de Pie!  We'll meet at Ladd's Circle Park at 2:45 pm, rolling out at 3 to explore some places for pumpkin pie, pizza pie, and fried pie here in SE Portland.  And here's the best part: HotLips is donating free pizza for the kids!  This route is about three miles, and has one big climb (can't really avoid it in this part of town, but we'll go slow).  We'll ride rain or shine, but maybe a little less far if it's pouring.  We'll stop as a group for stop signs and stop lights, and will always regroup if we get separated.  We'll keep a pace that accommodates our littlest riders.  And we'd love to see you out there.

Civilized Conveyance Blogs Again

Oh, hi there!

That's a bit awkward, isn't it. The two-month silence, I mean.

Let's pretend that never happened.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

Often, this summer, we've gotten home from an outing where Jasper wore himself out, and fell asleep on the way home. These are moments where I am so grateful not to have to tend a baby in a car, or try to sneak the seat out and into the house; instead, I pull the bike into the shade of our fruit-laden fig tree, grab a novel, a glass of water, a snack, and enjoy the end of of the bike-nap in peace. Bliss.

Last week, when Jaz woke up from such a nap, he was squirmy right away-- so I set him down behind the bike to do some investigating. After more than seven months spent inside the baby bike, he's finally mobile enough to inspect it on the outside.

I think he approved.

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

Jasper's Yuba Walk-Around

And if THAT didn't get you your baby fix, there's lots more on Flickr.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Salinas Shoutouts

Salinas, California. Hometown of John Steinbeck, Fresh Express Lettuce, the California Rodeo, and me. When I was visiting last week, we spent a lot of time driving, mostly to Monterey and back-- much like my high school years. But I also got a small taste of the years before that, before I or my friends could drive, when bikes were the best way to get out for groceries or ice cream.

My folks have been making bikes a bigger part of their lives in the last year or so, and especially since their last visit to Portland in the spring. On this visit to Salinas, we helped my dad pick out a new city bike, a Raliegh Roadster, which fits him beautifully and should suit his needs for something fun and practical to zip around town on.

We had lots of visiting to do and not much time, so we decided Saturday afternoon that we'd host a Sunday brunch for people to stop by and meet the baby. And rather than drive out for groceries, my dad and I rode bikes! We brought backpacks for our stuff, as neither Bridget's Brompton nor dad's Raleigh have proper cargo capacity (yet). And as we were riding, I remembered how beautiful Salinas can be for bikes.

It's a flat city, lying smack in the center of a broad river valley, with mountains to the east and west. The streets are broad and, thanks to the mild weather, in excellent condition. Most houses have their own parking, so there are radically fewer cars parked on the streets than here in Portland. And if you stay off the main roads, there really isn't much traffic early on a Sunday morning.

While we were out and about in Salinas, I saw a few other glimpses of a burgeoning bike culture that made me smile.

There was the kid on the brakeless fixie jetting helmetless down S. Main, his electric green rims matching his electric green bar tape and bandanna as he ran a whole series of red lights. Shame on him, sure, but he could have come straight out of Portland, and I have to admit he made me smile. I hope he learns some manners and I hope he doesn't get killed, but I'm kind of glad he's there.

There's Bobcat Bikes, the LBS in Salinas, which carries a nice range of practical bikes along with gorgeous sport machines, and has sensible and friendly mechanics who are always happy to get us what we need (even when it's only a multitool and some lube).

There's the increasing number of roadies riding Hwy 68, which has been repaved since I left and looks like a gorgeous trip, though it still has more traffic than I'd like. Having spent high school bussing and driving that road twice a day, it's inspiring to see people using it with their own power. Someday soon I'd like to ride it myself.

And there's the family I saw out by Hartnell Park one evening while my mom, Jaz & I were out playing. Two parents, both on swoopy-tubed white cruisers, a bright green I-bert seat on mom's bike, a grinning kid riding between her handlebars. Everyone in helmets. I don't know who you folks are, but seeing you gave me real hope for the country.

This revolution doesn't just live in Portland. It is spreading, and quickly. Where have you seen bikes that you didn't expect them?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Join Team Full-Time Parent!

Today starts the BTA's Bike Commute Challenge. While Dave is impressively striving to ride to Hillsboro and back each day (36 miles round trip, and over a mountain!), I've decided to start Team Full-Time Parent and chronicle our baby miles over there.

Are your 'commutes' to play-dates, doctor's appointments, shoe shopping and the grocery store? Join Team Full-Time Parent and log your miles with us!!

Head to the Bike Commute Challenge site and enter Full-Time Parent as your company. While non-Portlanders won't be in the running for the BTA's fabulous prizes, I think it'd be fun to see y'all on there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Last Leg Was Made By Bike

Yesterday was a massively multi-modal day. Jasper and I had been in California for a week with my folks and were doing our first solo-travel on the trip home. We started the day with a walk to visit my kindergarten teacher (she was suitably impressed) and my mom's third graders. Then, after a flurry of packing and napping, we got in the car with my mom to drive to the airport.

We had a rocky start to the flight, as Jasper wanted to stand up during taxi and takeoff, but once the seatbelt sign was off I had him strapped into the baby carrier and, after some pacing and bouncing in the aisle, asleep. He woke up just as we landed.

Off the plane I threw backpack and messenger bag on my back, baby still on my front, carseat strapped to wheelie bag, and we headed for the train. On the train we chatted with visiting (only slightly lost) tourists and a homeless man enjoying the good weather. We hopped off at Lloyd Center, and before long Dave pulled up on the Yuba with the Brompton thrown in as cargo. The Brompton came out, the luggage got strapped down, Jasper got buckled in, and we rolled home, Portland style. It's really good to be home.

Home from the Airport by Yuba

Home from the Airport by Yuba

Home from the Airport by Yuba

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Commute

For the month of July, Jasper is serving as a training baby for the Northwest Montessori Institute's Assistants to Infancy class. This means that he gets to go to a beautiful prepared environment every afternoon, play with some teachers-in-training, stare at some other babies, shake rattles along to songs played on guitar and autoharp, learn to eat politely at a table, and generally have a great time. It also means that he and I have a daily commute, 2.5 miles each way on the Yuba.

The scheduling is tight. The observation period is from 1:00 to 3:30, and it takes us a little over 25 minutes to make the trip, as it is all uphill. Jasper can only go about three hours between naps before he melts down entirely, so in order to make class go well I try to let him sleep as long as possible beforehand, waking him at 12:30, changing his diaper, and putting him straight into the bike. This, of course, structures the morning as well: he needs at least a two-hour nap, so we have to be up by 8:30 so that he can go down by 10:30 and be successfully up at 12:30. He does great at school, attention hog that he is, and loves staring at the students who stare at him. But by 3:30 he's usually hitting his limit, and he invariably cries when I put him back into the bike. Every day so far he's fallen asleep in the bike on the way home, which I then roll into the shade of our front yard fig tree and get myself some much-needed lunch while I wait out the rest of the nap.

We've been doing it for nearly two weeks so far, and I love the routine. The rush out the door is frustrating, and I'd like to learn to do it more smoothly, but I'm really enjoying having so much structure in our days. Plus, having a standard daily commute is making me noticeably stronger-- before this, I'd go longer than 5 miles when we rode, but we weren't riding every day.

What I didn't expect is that, in spite of delegating Jasper's care durning the school period, I'm still not getting much other work done. It turns out that watching Jasper and the other babies play with help from their teachers is pretty absorbing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

So Much Bike Fun

I'm sitting here watching Jasper play his new game: knocking toys across the floor and then wiggling his newly-mobile-but-not-quite-crawling self on after them. We're spending lots of time on crawling these days... and lots of time on the bike.

Pedalpalooza has been a blast so far: we went on the Kick-off Ride where we met a dad called Jasper who pedals his baby in a locally-made box bike, visited the grand opening party for Splendid Cycles and checked out some slick cargo bikes there, competed in the Fiets of Parenthood, led a handful of families on the Teddy Bears' Picnic Ride, did half of the Labyrinth Ride (called on account of my and Jaz's bad moods), pedaled around SE Portland learning about solar power options on the SE Solar Tour, pursued the perfect pie late into the night on the Epic Pizza Ride, and this morning went out for waffles and silliness on the Pajama Party Ride. Still to come: leading a group ride for our CSA's farm tours tomorrow, and on Sunday brunch with some friends followed by Sunday Parkways followed by the Multnomah County Bike Fair. Followed by sound slumber.

And how's Jasper handling all this bike fun? With the exception of the Labyrinth Ride, on which factors converged against us, he's been a really happy camper. He loves people, and attention, and he gets plenty of both on these rides, where kids are scarce and his rig is strange and remarkable. Facing backwards, he gets to stare at the people who ride behind us, who are usually obliging in making silly faces to entertain him. And he's made a new friend in Sarah's son Everett, who watched kept him entertained at the Fiets and pushed him in a swing on the Teddy Bear ride. Sometimes he just stares up at the trees as we ride. Unlike in his stationary life, when he gets tired on the bike he simply falls asleep (ok, sometimes there is crying between awake and asleep, but not much). And once asleep, he stays that way, sometimes for hours and hours. And then wakes up, cheerful and ready to play. A quick nurse, an on-board diaper change, and we're good for a few more hours of riding. The biggest problem is that these rides sometimes take a faster pace than we do in our everyday riding, and when the pavement is bad that can lead to a bumpier ride than he's used to. And that can result in some fussing and crying until the road smooths out again.

I've taken very few pictures, though there's lots of coverage over at BikePortland's Pedalpalooza page. Check our Flickr stream for shots from the Fiets of Parenthood and the Teddy Bear's Picnic. Featured are fellow bikey-parent bloggers Julian from Totcycle and Sarah Gilbert from cafe mama-- or rather, mostly, those bloggers' fabulous kids.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Feits of Parenthood and Teddy Bears' Picnic

Pedalpalooza is coming.  Pedalpalooza is coming!  Pedalpalooza!  Is coming!  And family cycling will be making a showing.

There are LOTS of events (like, pushing 300) planned for this 2.5 week festival of bikey goodness, starting this Thursday.  But we're associated with two.

FIRST: Feits of Parenthood.  A week from yesterday, at Clever Cycles (SE 9th & Hawthorne).  Here, the fabulous Sarah Gilbert describes the event:

To ride a bike with your children is this: a continuous unfolding of joy and a workout like no other. Nowhere does creativity and ingenuity and the soaring free spirit of the bicycle combine with such (literal) blood, sweat and tears. Fiets of Parenthood is a celebration of that: part time trial, part demonstration of skill, part showoff, part hilarity.
There will be a family bike obstacle course inspired by Julian's genius thread over at Totcycle.  There will be kindercross and parent-child figure cycling.  I'll be talking with a couple of other mamas at a workshop on cycling while pregnant.  There will be SolPops and Trailhead Coffee and snacks from Madison's Grill.  Crafts.  Bike decorating.  An opportunity to fondle a whole array of family biking setups.  Should be fun!

SECOND: The very next day, Sunday the 13th, Dave and Jasper and I will be leading a low-key family ride starting at the Abernathy School playground at 12:30.  The theme is Teddy Bears' Picnic, and we'll have a crew of stuffed friends along for the ride.  We'll stop at a few parks and playgrounds, do some picnicing and playing, and generally have a silly good time.

If you're in Portland and ride with young kids, we hope to see you!  If you don't ride with your family yet but want to know how it's done, or if you don't have kids yet but plan to ride with them when you do, we hope you'll come out!  If you'd like a low-stress way to introduce your family to riding together, you should come join us!  And if you're child-free and love it, but want to hang out with a bunch of parents and kids on bikes (because we're awesome, and kids on bikes are adorable) we'll see you there!

For the whole Pedalpalooza calendar, see here: Pedalpalooza 2010 Calendar

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Folks, Part One

My parents came to visit at the end of April.  It was the Stumptown Comics Fest, and their buddy Brig is a cartoonist, so they all came up to make a Portland-y, comic-y weekend of it.

We've gotten good enough at getting around town car-free that when our visitors ask, as my folks did, whether they should rent a car for their visit, we say no.  We prefer not to use one if we don't have to.  Getting the car seat into new cars is a pain.  So get a hotel close-in, we'll get you on a bike, and we'll all have a better time.

They were only in town from Friday late to Sunday midday.  They took the MAX from the airport to the Lloyd Center Doubletree, where the con was being held.  We met up with them Saturday morning at a restaurant in walking distance of the hotel, then walked around Broadway a bit before heading back to spend the morning comic-ing.  By lunch we were pretty done with the main exhibit hall, and while Brig had some workshops lined up, the rest of us were ready to do other things.

I rented them each a Brompton from Clever Cycles from mid-Saturday to mid-Sunday, and so headed over with Dave after lunch to pick up the bikes.  I think Bromptons are about the ideal rental: they fit everybody, you can keep them safely in your hotel room when you're not using them, and they're strange-looking enough that they turn on end any performance-oriented hang-ups you might have about "being a cyclist."

We put two bikes on the Yuba:

Two Bromptons and a Baby on the Yuba

And one bike on the Steamroller:

Brompton on the Steamroller

And rode them all up to the hotel.

That evening, we rode bikes to dinner a couple of miles away.  It felt great being out in the city with my folks: me on the giant mama bike, everyone else like little ducklings on the tiny Bromptons.  I had talked them through Portland-style bicycling beforehand (use your signals, use the bike lanes, take the lane when you need to) and then was calling out instructions from behind: left turn!  Right turn!  Stay out of the door zone!!

Dinner was tapas at Toro Bravo and was fantastic.  We ate outside and, for the first little while, parked the Yuba with sleeping baby on the sidewalk by the table to keep an eye on him.  When he woke, we moved the Yuba back down to the conveniently-located bike corral and continued with dinner.  Good service, great food & drink, and you can't beat the company.

The next day, we planned to bike until it was time for them to go home.  We met up for breakfast at Voodoo Too and then went down to the river to do the Waterfront Park/Esplanade loop.  After that we headed east up Salmon to visit the Hawthorne district, did some shopping at Powells, and then cruised back to return the bikes at Clever Cycles.  We walked from there to the food carts at 12th & Hawthorne for crepes and then put them on a 70 bus back to their hotel, where they would pick up their luggage, hop on the MAX, and fly home.

I think what I loved most about this visit was how ordinary it was.  Aside from the bike rental, everything we did was part of my normal life (though, not ordinarily all in one day).  Because of that, I felt like we got to show my folks how we really live here, and how fun and easy and simple life with bikes (and without cars) can be.

Turns out, we made an impact.  Stay tuned for The Folks, Part Two.

Friday, April 30, 2010


It was late, and dark.  Jasper was crying, and we'd already changed him, nursed him, and our attempts at cuddling and soothing were only delaying our arrival home.  Dave and I had switched bikes, so he was on the Yuba and I was on his single speed Surly Steamroller.  The Steamroller has only a front brake, which, as Uncle Sheldon wisely tells us, is adequate and safe-- if you're used to it.  I'm not used to it.

In the dark, the chill, the hurry, the stress, and accompanied by the soundtrack of a silent neighborhood pierced by our wailing child, we were zipping down a slight incline.  Dave, ahead of me, braked suddenly to soften the Yuba's ride over a speedbump.  I, surprised by his deceleration and assuming something more treacherous than a speedbump, slammed on the brakes (er, brake) to avoid hitting or passing him.  He continued on another block: apparently, it took me some time to yelp my distress.

In adrenaline-induced slow motion, I felt the bike stop.  I felt the rear wheel lift.  I felt my arms and my core tighten in response, and I felt the bike level off.  The rear wheel returned to the ground.  I even felt a brief moment of relief at my recovery.  Then, I fell over, hard.  And then I yelled, and Dave turned, and time began to move again.

I took the fall on my left knee and my left forearm.  There was definitely blood, and pain, and I'd knocked something out of alignment on the bike, but Jasper was still crying and we still needed to get home.  So I got back on and we started moving again.

This was the worst part.  With no ability to assess what damage I had done to myself or to Dave's bike, we passed the next few miles mostly in silence.  I realized we were out of hydrogen peroxide, and I wasn't sure where we stood on large bandages, either.  So I sent Dave home with Jasper and stopped at the store to pick up first aid supplies.

There, under the fluorescent lights, I examined my wounds.  Blood dripping down from an already-swollen knee, and some broad, but not deep, road rash on my arm.  Lost skin and embedded grit in both palms.  Bad, but not so bad.

At the register: "How's your evening, ma'am?"  I look at my purchases, at the blood, at the clerk.  "I've had better."  He looks at me, all seriousness and sincerity.  "Are you ok to get home?"  I tell him I am.  I check out.  I limp the few blocks home.

And then I'm a mom: still bloodied, I nurse Jasper and rock him while Dave goes outside to check out the wounded bike.  No big deal out there, a few quick adjustments and it's better.  No big deal inside, either: exhausted Jasper goes right to sleep.  And only then do I get to really look over my own damage, get into the shower, lick my wounds.

Over the next few days, I had to endure a fair amount of clucking worry.  "Bicycling is so dangerous, you know."  But I didn't learn the story's true moral until a week later, in Tacoma.

Another beautiful day.  Out walking with friends.  A new, smooth walking path.  Jasper in a moby wrap.  And I take a header.  Slipping from the side of the path, I grab the baby's head and hit the ground in a sideways roll.  I take the fall on my left forearm, again, and on my right knee.  There is a lot of blood; I strap a disposable diaper around my elbow to staunch the flow.  Jasper is unscathed.

So, the moral of the story?  Cycling is dangerous.  Really.  About as dangerous as a walk with friends on a sunny day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


There's something really lovely about being ridiculously backlogged in a blog that is about active living.  "Get outside!" I say.  "Go ride your bike!"  And then I do, and then I eat, nurse, and sleep.  And then the blog gets neglected.  No apologies, but as I sit here and tickle Jasper and stretch my aching hamstrings, I'll try to tell you a story.

About a month ago, before Tacoma, we took advantage of some beautiful weather to have an adventure.  We could have just gone exploring, but we like trips with destinations (and needed an excuse to get it together) so we set our sights on that great Scandinavian edifice to the north, Ikea.

We actually started the morning with a smaller trip: out for brunch at Zell's, by F. H. Steinbart for some brewing equipment and some hop rhizomes, and then by the Urban Farm Store to pick up some seeds for the garden and contemplate tomato staking methods.  Before we headed home from there, we had to change the baby:


Next, I did some planting and some weeding, and then, later than we should have, we restocked the diaper bag, grabbed the cargo straps, and rolled out for Ikea.

Now, it is possible to get nearly all the way from our place to Ikea via off-street trails, but it adds a significant amount of milage to the trip-- increasing from 10 to 17 miles each way, or from a 20-mile to a 34-mile roundtrip.  So we opted to ride the first half of our adventure on bike boulevard, a trip that took us farther east than we'd ever biked in town before.

I was surprised by how rapidly the infrastructure deteriorates as you head east: roads badly in need of maintenance, poorly-designed crossings, and above all, an increase in scary large vehicles driven by people who either don't know or don't care about our right to the road.  But that said, it's still Portland, and we didn't have any particularly ugly run-ins on the trip.  And I was reminded of how much I love being in the parts of the city where you can see Mt. Hood:


We made it safely to the highway 205 bike path and headed north. We'd not yet been on that path, and were surprised to learn that while it looks pretty smooth on the maps, it in fact zigs and zags a bit, and is less well-labeled than one might hope for... and eventually, we missed our turn entirely and could see, but not seem to reach, the big blue-and-yellow box that was our destination.

We also found the Columbia River and a nice view of Mt. St. Helens, and so took some pictures before stopping to regroup, nurse, and get our bearings:

P1010925 P1010928

It was at this point that the previously-sleeping Jasper awoke and announced his need for immediate attention, and I snatched him up rather abruptly and took off down an embankment to nurse with some shelter from the highway noise. Dave creatively solved the problem of joining us without abandoning either bike on the trail:


After everyone had a snack and Jasper had his second outdoor diaper change of the day, we re-re-checked the map and figured out how to get from the river to Ikea, along a road that cut along the back edge of the airport.


We were the only bike there, but there was no shortage of bike parking should anyone, or a hundred anyones, suddenly decide to join us.



Creative bench placement:

Shopping carts impersonating bikes:

And with that, we locked up the bike and engaged in a bit of mainstream consumerism.

I try to be very specific about the stuff that we bring into the house.  I'm uncomfortable with the assumed disposable-ness of things, and I try to buy only what we need, and of a quality that will last.  I spend a lot of time on craigslist and in second-hand stores trying to buy the things we want used so that new materials don't need to go into them.


Sometimes, even a quasi-minimalist lifestyle needs stuff; with a baby in the house doubly so.  What did we pick up on our Ikea quest?  Mirror tiles, art, and a rug for Jasper's play spaces.  Some child-proofing gear for the toddling phase to come.  And some new canisters for the kitchen.  So: lots of glass, and some hefty cotton.  You know: dense, heavy things.

The bike was notably harder to move when we loaded and started back.  And a stiff headwind had blown up.

Jasper was fussy as we started home.  A change and nurse didn't fix it.


Singing loudly and continuously helped a bit, but was hard to sustain with the exertion.

I was really, really tired, and after a few miles Dave and I switched bikes so that he could haul for a bit and I could rest.  (Note to self: I am not a single speed sort of girl.)

Jasper continued to fuss and cry as his bedtime came and went, and the gathering darkness was also raising our stress level.

And then I crashed.  But that's a whole other story, really.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thoughts (and data!) on car ownership costs

I've bummed a ride home (in a car! the beauty of commuting on a folding bike) a couple times this winter during exceptionally bad weather or late workdays when the siren call of a warm, faster commute pulled too strongly to ignore. The co-worker from whom I've accepted rides mentioned last week that she had calculated that as long as she continues to car pool with another co-worker of ours, their combined costs for the car commute are less than the cost of two annual transit passes, even with the passes partially subsidized by our employer at a rate of around 35%. This sort of argument is one I've heard before, a different aspect of the siren song of automobiles, and I had a feeling that in this case, as in many others, it was based on an incomplete calculation.

I know this because during the process of selling our car I wrote a maintenance record summary in a spreadsheet as a service to the new owner as well as for my own records (I also gave the new owner my file of all the receipts and reports). Combining these tabulated maintenance costs with records of our insurance and registration payments, depreciation based on the actual purchase and sale price of the car, and a reasonable guess at fuel costs (using recorded distance driven, measured fuel efficiency, and average fuel price), I made a realistic estimate of the total cost of owning that car for almost exactly 5 years.

Make/model: 2001 Ford Focus ZTS sedan, 4-cyl, EFI, 1.8L, FWD
Primary place of use: Upstate NY
Primary mode of use: 24-mile round trip year-round 6-day per week commute on country roads (4-years)
Other use: Occasional trips to nearby cities, 3 cross-continent road trips
Special equipment/costs: Excellent snow tires ($600/set, two sets), ~$2000 extra repair due to driving on salted roads.
Length of ownership: 5 years
Total distance driven: 52373 miles

Maintenance, repairs, and tires: $6685.51
Value depreciation: $6000
Fuel (28 MPG, $2.60/gal): $4863.21
Insurance (2 drivers): $2760
License & registration: $90

Total cost of ownership: $20398.72
Annual cost of ownership: $4079.743
Cost of ownership per mile: $0.39

The estimate is large. Much larger than most people realize and much larger than I had realized until I finally tabulated all the costs. This accounted for almost 10% of our household income, spent to have the use of a single car. This estimate is also conservative, it doesn't account foe a few oil changes that happened in other states and the receipts didn't get filed, and the estimate of average fuel price is undoubtedly low. Most of the time it was much closed to $3.00/gal. Note that the current reimbursement rate for mileage on a personally-owned vehicle is $0.50. When most people see such a rate they think of it as exceptionally high and think they're getting paid to drive, when in fact our costs for a small, inexpensive, relatively efficient car were almost 80% of this figure!

This isn't to say that we didn't get something for our money. By being able to commit to a car commute (a dubious decision in hindsight) we were able to buy a house in an area with we could afford. On the other hand, before we moved out of town (our first year of owning the car we lived in town in a rental and only used the car for grocery and errand) we only put about 4500 miles on the car, after that we put on almost 12000 annually. The difference between these numbers is almost exactly the length of our 6-day/week commute.

Making another reasonable estimate that half of the depreciation can be counted as mileage-based and half as time-based (a car that isn't driven doesn't lose value as quickly) while counting maintenance and fuel as purely mileage-based and insurance and registration and purely time-based, it comes out that about 71% of our costs were based on mileage and 29% were based on time-owned. This means that if we hadn't moved out of town our annual car costs would have been $2420 instead of $4080. The incremental cost of our commute was $1660 per year: 40% of our total cost of owning the car.

To me, this drove home the point that if you're going to own a car anyway and you carpool driving can be cheaper than an annual transit pass costing around $1000 per year per person. This is one of the financial traps of car ownership: the incremental cost of any extra usage is small enough that if you own a car it's hard to financially justify not using it. It's a pair of thrifty handcuffs, making the owners feel good about driving more. I consider this throwing good money after bad.

By using car rentals and car-sharing instead of owning our own car, we incur something very close to the actual per-trip cost of car ownership, but structured such that the overhead (the time-based costs) are paid on a usage basis. This shifts the thrift decision from saving money by driving more to saving money by driving less.

The financial incentive to not drive can't be entirely realized by not driving. It's realized by not owning a car. This is a huge psychological hurdle that can be difficult to get over, and there needs to be plenty of shared infrastructure in place to make it happen: good transit, convenient car-sharing, and walkable/bikeable everyday shopping were keys to getting over that hurdle for us. Once we had structured our lives to be able to take advantage of them, the financial decision to sell the car was easy.

As an aside, when I've succumbed to the offer of a ride home, traffic has always made it take longer than taking the train.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Paper Maps

Reflecting on paper maps.  Used to be, securing a paper map was a requisite part of trip planning.  One of the joys of leaving for a place I'd been before was digging through my store of maps for the relevant sheets.  Going somewhere new?  On arrival, find a shop and buy a map.

On the trips I've taken where I planned to travel by bike, I've made a point of securing the relevant bike map for the area: the ADC map for the Washington D. C. area and the Chicago municipal bike map allowed me to take work trips to those places and commute reliably by bike.

But lately I've been lax about getting paper maps.  I can look up where I'm going online, and have taken to travelling with lists of turn-by-turn directions for the places I need to get to, rather than with full maps of the places where I am.

This strategy is inferior for both practical and philosophical reasons.  Practical, because sometimes the point-to-point directions are inadequate.  Streets often close, my transcription is often imperfect, and Google has the unfortunate habit of, say, claiming that streets go through where they don't.  Plus, there is always the possibility of catastrophic user error, as was the case in Tacoma, where we searched for directions to Union Station rather than the Tacoma Amtrak Station, not realizing that the former was a historic building now used as a courthouse, and more than a mile from the station with, you know, trains.

Without a map, finding work-arounds is clumsy, slow, and more dangerous than it needs to be, leading us to choose obvious and clearly-signed auto-centric arterials over what are probably more bike-friendly streets just a few blocks away.

But there is a loss beyond the practical, a whole realm of experience that disappears with the paper map. When I get a new paper map, I spread it out on a bed or table, taking it all in at once.  I see what sorts of networks are available: are there off-street paths, bike lanes, traffic-calmed streets?  Is the biking infrastructure designed for someone moving fast or slow, more like a car or more like a pedestrian?  It allows me to contemplate not only where I have to go, but also where I might like to go.  It allows me to note landmarks and geography, as well as get a sense of how frequently I can expect to find a bike shop if I need one.

I am glad that there are online resources like the various online municipal bike maps, the excellent, the user-generated routes at and, and, bugs aside, the new bicycling directions at  But I need to return to the habit of doing what I can to secure proper paper maps.  They make travel safer, more efficient, and fundamentally more rich.  And I miss them.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Just a couple of weeks before Jasper entered our lives, my childhood best friend Alana announced her engagement. When we met, her dad was the new Rabbi at Temple Beth El in Salinas, where we grew up. Just before my wedding, her folks made the exciting move from Salinas to Tacoma, where her dad became the new rabbi (also at Temple Beth El). This past weekend, her family invited us along with some other family and friends to celebrate their engagement, and the beginning of Passover, at their home.

Because we like bikes, and like adventure, and like making things complicated, we decided to do the trip as car-free as possible. We booked spots for ourselves and our bikes on Amtrak.  Learning from Totcycle's recent misadventures we decided not to attempt to bring the Yuba, and instead got in touch with Matt from the Tacoma Bike Ranch to borrow the bike trailer that he had previously used to transport his youngest, Tula, when she was still carseat-bound.

The biggest challenges of the trip, it turns out, were the logistics of getting ourselves together and to the stations.  After quite a lot of deliberation, we concluded that the best way to get the two of us, all of our bags, two non-kid-enabled bikes, a carseat, and the baby to the train station was by bus.  But a series of mishaps and catastrophes preceded our Friday departure, and eventually we were standing in the living room, crying mom, crying baby, too many bags, and the last bus that could even reasonably promise getting to the train had left.

Unwilling to give up, we threw our Hail Mary pass: Dave secured the carseat to his porteur rack with an NRS strap, put the large pack containing most of our clothes on his back, and rode off as fast as he could to pick up our tickets and discuss baggage arrangements at the train station.  I took the baby in a wrap, three other bags draped around me, and walked my bike to the nearest bus stop to catch the next bus that would get me somewhere near the train station.

I got off about five blocks from the station, the driver kindly took my bike down from the front rack (having watched the ridiculous mess of me getting it up there in the first place), and I ran.  It was drizzling.  Downtown's homeless folks called supportive, pitying things after me as I made my way.  As I got to the station, Dave was at the doors waving me onward.  They had just announced the last call for boarding.  Dave ran the bikes down to the baggage car, while I got a ride with our bags on the baggage cart.  I was still wearing Jasper, who'd fallen asleep on the bus ride.  We checked bags and bikes and carseat train-side and collapsed into our seats, incredulous that we'd somehow made it.  After a bit, we headed to the cafe car, sat down with our first real food of the day and a couple of beers, and chatted with a musician bound for his home in Seattle.

Upon reaching Tacoma, we met Matt, who helped us with bikes and bags and carseat.  We strapped our seat into his trailer, facing forward, and loaded all but our most crucial bags onto his Xtracycled Karate Monkey to deliver to our B&B, by coincidence conveniently located a few blocks from his house.

And then we found the hill.  We'd been warned about the hill, and shrugged it off.  "Bah!  The Yuba weighs a hundred pounds, and the trailer will be lighter than that!  I've climbed Mt. Tabor!  No hill can defeat me!"  So, the Tacoma Amtrak station is at sea level, and the part of town we needed to get to is at about 400'.  You gain that elevation in about a mile.  It's just straight up.  We walked most of it.  On the sidewalk.  Oy.

Conclusion 1: Matt, and his family, are hardcore.  Conclusion 2: If I lived here, I'd ride a bike with some sort of electric assist.

Due to a series of unexpected changes, and some overly optimistic planning at the outset, we were running late.  The hill made us more late.  Matt took us to Tacoma's only dedicated bike path, which would get us nearly all the way to the synagogue, about five miles.  I was exhausted.  The baby needed changing, then feeding.  The path felt safe and was pretty smooth, but still ran along a freeway and so was loud and exhaust-filled.  It was getting dark, and cold, and it was Jasper's bedtime, and as we pulled in along a sound wall to sit on a bench, nurse Jasper and regroup, I was feeling pretty burnt out.

"I'm so glad we're here, doing this," says Dave.  I look up at him.  He's smiling at me.  And I realize I feel the same.  It's hard, and silly and stressful and scary and overcomplicated.  And still, a good place to be.  We discuss our options, and decide that we'll get to the synagogue and then our friends' house for dinner by bike, and then beg a ride back to the B&B in somebody's car.  Which, after some more riding and a little bit of getting lost, ended up being what we did.  And it was fine.

The next day, we hitched a ride back to our friends' by car, and returned to the B&B by bike.  It was a Saturday afternoon, there was very little traffic in the city, and while some of the bike facilities we encountered were a bit scary (hello, door-zone bike lane!) others were just downright pleasant (N 11th Ave is one of the nicest bike boulevards I've ever ridden on).

We stopped on the way at a Walgreens for some necessities we'd forgotten, and finding no bike parking decided that I'd hang out in the parking lot with the bikes, trailer, and baby, and Dave would run in.  Waiting there, I got the whole gamut of responses to our rig: everything from the angry woman muttering under her breath about irresponsible parenting to the minivan full of kids who jumped out shouting "Cool!"  Mostly, it was notable to *be* notable, where in Portland this setup would hardly draw a second glance.

Sunday we were meeting Matt and his wife Sara to ride over for some beers and food at The Hub, an adorable bike-themed restaurant affiliated with the Harmon Brewery.  The ride there was lovely, but while we were inside it turned quickly and radically wet, and we rode home in the sort of thunderstorm downpour that is virtually unheard of here in the PNW.

First it was cold and gross, and then, as the rain escalated and the thunder roared, it became amazing.  We could barely see.  There were almost no cars on the roads.  The water was pouring down the hills in sheets.  My shoes were filled with water.  Dave was roaring with laughter.  Jasper was shouting, I suspect not in distress but just to join all the noise around him.  The ride passed in a flash, so absorbing was the effort of moving through the overwhelming wet.  And then they were gone, and our clothes were in the dryer, and Jasper was napping, and we were so, so glad to have come.  Met new friends.  Decided to go by bike.

That evening, we walked over to the Tacoma Bike Ranch (i. e. Matt's Place) to see the stable in person.  We got to meet the kids and dogs of the household, and see their delightful Madsen rain cover.  It was good to be with our family biking brethren, and to get a small preview of what our tiniest cyclist has to look forward to.  The kids of the Bike Ranch were funny and articulate and whip-smart, all traits attributable to good parenting and, I think we can all agree, lots of fresh air and time on two wheels.

Monday, the bikes sat idle in anticipation of a long day's seder preparation and a late night of celebration and wine.  We had a wonderful day, and not riding was without question the right call.

Tuesday, we had more logistical wrangling.  Matt's schedule wouldn't let him join us to get to the station, so we dropped the trailer off at his house and then met Alana at the B&B to load her car with the carseat, the baby, and the luggage, and then planned to meet her at the station.  We had the wrong directions, and then, it turned out we'd mis-remembered the time of our train (and had therefore already missed it by several hours.)  But you know what?  It was all fine.  We got re-booked.  We made it work.  We were rained on getting to the bus to take us home, and people were mean to me about having the baby out in the wrap in the rain, and we were all ok in the end.

Would this trip have been easier if we hadn't taken the bikes?  Probably.  Would it have been as stressful?  Probably not.  But it wouldn't have been as interesting, either.  We know more now: about travelling with bikes, and with the kiddo, and about what it's like to bike in Tacoma, and about carrying the baby in a trailer (the subject of another post).  And while I may not make the same choices again, I'm glad we did it this way, this time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When the Bike Makes it Harder

One of my academic conferences, the American Society for Environmental History, has been in town this week. As it's just across the river, I'm attending with Jasper in tow, stepping out of talks when he fusses and otherwise just standing in the back, bouncing the baby and enjoying the feeling of being an academic, rather than just a mommy, for a little while. And learning some cool stuff, too.

Yesterday, we rode the Yuba over. We left about Jasper's naptime and he was asleep after just a few minutes of fuss. There was no good place to park, so I left the bike on the sidewalk locked to a parking meter. It poured all day, and the rain cover on the kid seat was wholly unworthy of the task. Although I had pulled out the snuzzler insert to make sure Jaz had something dry to sit on for the way home, the cold seat, soaked harness straps, and drippy roof really set him off. To make it worse, my friend and colleague Daegan and I tried to join some folks at a bar at the end of the day, rather than going home. Jasper cried the whole mile to the bar, and when we got there, didn't settle. It was getting dark. My light had shorted out, and the bike we had loaned Daegan had had its lights 'borrowed' for a different bike the week before and not returned. We had to suck it up and go home.

The trip to the bar had been in the opposite direction from home, so we now had nearly three miles to go. It was rush hour. It was pouring. Jasper cried his most miserable, shrieking cry the whole way home, but there was nothing to do but go, as it was only getting darker.

We arrived home soaked to the skin. Frightened. Cold. And most of all, emotionally battered by Jasper's unadulterated misery.

After a change of clothes and a few minutes of nursing, Jasper was grinning at me again. But I'm still not recovered from the experience. And today, we took the bus.

It's supposed to stop raining Sunday. I think we'll take a nice long ride (it will be nearly 60F!) to remind ourselves why this is fun. Because yesterday, in the cold, wet, dark, lungs searing as I climbed the hills as fast as I could, eyes searching into the darkness for unseen hazards, imagination creating doom around each bend, I found myself wanting to never, ever do that again.

Sometimes, getting around by bike makes life harder.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Napping Trouble

So, I've been on the bike less lately, and napping is the reason. Apparently, around three months is when babies start sorting out their sleep rhythms, and it became obvious fairly quickly that protecting Jasper's nap times was a crucial part of having easy bed times and a generally un-cranky child.

Two weeks ago, I strapped Jasper into the bike and took off for yoga like I do every week. He was just off a nap and so cheerful and chatty on the ride. He was pretty happy through yoga, but ready for his next nap by the time we were done. No problem, I thought. I need to get home, and he always sleeps on the bike. So I took off for home, but when I got to my neighborhood he was still awake, and still cranky. I did a few extra laps of the rose garden. No dice. Still cranky. I turned up a big hill and climbed it, just to go somewhere. A stranger pulled in behind me and I asked him if the kiddo was sleeping yet.

Kindly stranger: Nope. Eyes wide open.

Me: Damn. I'm trying to get him a nap.

Kindly stranger: Oh. What's his name?

Me: Jasper.

Kindly stranger: What's your favorite band, Jasper?

Me: He's a big Pink Martini fan.

Kindly stranger: Hm. [long pause] [singing] When I was just a little girl/ I asked my mother/ what will I be?/ Will I be pretty/ Will I be rich/ Here's what she said to me...

[I laugh]

Kindly stranger: A yawn! Eyes closing... nope, open again... [singing] Que sera, sera/ Whatever will be, will be/ The future's not ours to see/ Que sera, sera. [spoken] It's not working.

Me: Thanks for trying!

Kindly stranger: Any time! And I wanted to tell you, nice ride!

We were at the top of the hill. I was a bit winded, and beginning to feel the lunch I hadn't eaten. I wooshed down the hill. Baby still awake. We went to a park. I nursed. We played. I rocked him. He fussed. I put him back on the bike and rode home. I put on the baby wrap and put him in it. He immediately fell asleep without a peep. Oh.

So, for the rest of that week, and most of the next, we stayed off the bike and returned to walking everywhere. He naps well while I walk, and the naps are too crucial to his general mood to risk skipping.

But on Friday he needed to go to the doctor for a vaccination, and I needed to mail a package. So we hopped on the bike. I gave the trip an hour for five miles, because shit happens and I didn't want to be late for our 15-minute "vaccination only" slot. I hopped on the Springwater trail and apparently flew southward, because by the time I locked up and checked the time, only 20 minutes had passed. As I turned off the trail, a passing roadie had slowed to tell me that my passenger was wide awake. But by the time I pulled up to the doctor's, he was fast asleep. And it was nap time, so that was good. But I had 40 minutes to kill before the appointment, and man, did I not want to wake this baby by moving him.

My next decision? Not my greatest parenting moment so far. Let's blame the cloudy judgment on sleep deprivation. But I decided that I should fill the time by mailing my package at the UPS store that was (I thought) right across the street. And I decided that I was going to leave the bike locked, and the baby in it, while I did so.

But I couldn't just leave him on the curb. That would be pretty clearly negligent. Instead, I moved the bike (carefully, slowly) half a block to the staple in front of Bike Commuter. Then, I stuck my head in and asked Eric, the shop owner and mechanic, if he could keep an eye on my kiddo while I walked across the street to mail a package.

Eric: Do you want a loaner bike to get there?

Me: Isn't it just across the street?

Eric: Nope. It's on Tacoma, two blocks up and a block east.

Me: Oh. Then yes, a loaner would be great.

He brought me a bike. I kissed the kiddo and hopped on, enjoying the zippiness of a bike that didn't weigh one hundred pounds. It was a minute, maybe, to get to the store. Where I got the trainee. Who took five minutes to process the mailing of an already-addressed priority mail shipment.

As the minutes crept by, images of fear, panic, and doom crept into my head. What if the baby started crying and Eric had stepped away? My poor miserable baby! Alone and abandoned! And what if someone called the cops? Hell, what if Eric decided that near-stranger cyclists shouldn't be trusting him with their babies and he called the cops? To be honest, I couldn't conjure an image of anything harmful happening to Jasper: worst case, he wakes up, inconveniences Eric by making him pick him up, refuses to be soothed, and I come back to a pissed-off mechanic and a hysterical baby. But Eric's a dad, has little kids, and knows how to take care of babies. So even that scenario only ended in tears, not pain and suffering. Nonetheless, the five minutes in the UPS store made me utterly nuts, and my heart was racing when I got back to the bike shop.

Where Jasper was still napping.

And Eric was standing nearby.

And everything was fine.

And I was very grateful, and Eric went back to his wrenching, and the sun shone, and the birds sang. But I probably won't do that again.

I slipped Jaz out of the bike and into his wrap, where he woke up with tears and general baby despair. I got him settled down, went to the doctor, got the shot, nursed our way through more baby despair, said goodbye and more thanks to Eric, and zipped off for home.

And Jasper slept most of the way.

So we seem to have gotten over whatever caused the bike nap strike, and I look forward to going back to riding from here to there. But I'm still not sure what to do when he falls asleep on a 20-minute ride, and what he needs is a 60-minute nap. Wake him? Leave him? Keep riding? Sit on the sidewalk until he wakes? Slip him into the wrap and hope he falls back asleep? Practically, I'm sure we'll mostly do that last one, because days must be gotten on with. But I wish there were better options.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New new centerstand!

A centerstand is a must for any serious cargo bike, otherwise loading and unloading becomes almost prohibitively difficult. A box bike has a couple advantages over a longtail in this respect: there is a great place ready-made to put a big honkin' center stand (under the box) and you have the option of loading the bike on the centerline, avoiding the tipping issue entirely. With a longtail you need to fit a center stand somewhere amongst the drivetrain and rear wheel and it needs to be wide enough to let you load one side of the bike at a time without tipping. This is one place where Madsen hit the nail on the head with their bucket bike: it has a centerstand as wide as the bucket. The design for that bike is a little less constrained than on a Yuba or Xtracycle because the rear wheel is so much smaller.

Yuba recommended the Hebie BiPod centerstand when I purchased the frame. It's a $70 piece of kit and operates just fine but is far from cargo-worthy. It would only hold the Yuba upright unloaded and on perfectly level pavement. It also flexed wildly under the weight of an unladen Mundo. I did some searching at that point and came across the Rolling Jackass centerstand but didn't seriously consider buying one because of the $350 price tag. I considered long and hard the problem of building a wide centerstand with an eye towards it carrying a child, and ultimately decided to buy a Rolling Jackass. The amount of time it takes to design and fabricate something like this was worth more to me than the price. the equation might have come out differently if A) I still had access to a machine shop, B) I knew how to weld, or C) had an abundance of free time. Val Kleitz, a fixture of the Seattle cycling scene, is Rolling Jackass.

The thing that really sold me on the Rolling Jackass was remote deployment. The centerstand is actuated by a mini BMX brake lever so you can put the bike on the stand before getting off it. On a good day with a reasonable load keeping the bike steady while dismounting isn't a problem, but on a bad day, in the rain, with a completely unreasonable load (who would buy a Mundo without plans to carry loads that would make an Xtracycle unridable?), remote deployment brings surety to a literally shaky situation. It's a feature that I really wanted and didn't want to take the time to design and test.

So the Rolling Jackass has been on the Yuba since the boxes went on and the Hebie will go on Katie's Volpe. The stand action is great, but mounting it was a bit on an adventure. Val designed the stand around Xtracycles, and he makes a version that fits the V1 Mundo just fine. The V2 required slightly narrower mounting holes and the unceremonious removal of the kickstand mount by hacksaw and file. I won't miss it. Any stand that can mount to a traditional kickstand mounting plate will not stand up to cargo use. So, if anyone with a Mundo reads this and decides to get a stand from Val, tell him what version you have. Also, if anyone fits one on a V3, please post pics!

The stock stand isn't quite wide enough for the boxes on our bike (especially when one has a 15 lb baby and the other has two bags of groceries and a case of beer), which led to me receiving an e-mail from Val a couple weeks ago with an offer to test out a prototype stand intended for heavy use that was wider and longer than the normal one. The only condition was that I push it to its limits and document the process. Well, I finally got around to installing it today, along with permanently mounting the top deck, and upgrading the mounting of the chainguard.

Here's the business ends of the two stands, stock in on bottom, prototype on top:


The new stand puts the feet almost as wide as the Yuba's H-racks and can hold the bike up with only one box mounted:


Look forward to more "I carried this on my bike" pics.

Friday, March 5, 2010

More rear hub information

I know, I'm getting redundant. One of the things that's bugged me about my delightful rear hub (with 14mm adapters from the manufacturer!) is the hollow rear axle. During the light rail portion of my morning commute I decided to take the issue to the source and e-mailed Halo about it directly.

My query:
I have one of your Spin Doctor Pro DH hubs, and I was wondering why the axle is hollow. Is part HUHAPRA1 actually a solid axle? I was under the impression that the DH model was a MTB with a HUHAPRA1 already installed, but was surprised to find a hollow axle.

Also, just an FYI, as far as I know the SD Pro DH with the 14mm axe men is the only hub that can fit a 135mm x 14mm frame without modifications, and I'm grateful you make it. I use it in my Yuba Mundo cargo bike. Thanks for making a hub that fits this monster of a frame and lets me run a normal drivetrain.

-Dave Proctor, Portland, Oregon, USA

Their response:
Hi David,
Thanks for the e-mail and props for our hubs.
You are correct the axles that come in the DH hubs are hollow and the after-market axles are solid.
This is a peculiar situation that we are still trying to get to the bottom of with our manufacturers!
Matt Andrews
Sales & Marketing Manager

So the aftermarket axle is solid! Not that I've had a problem with the hollow one, but the load capacity has got to be higher for the solid axle. It's not too expensive either, too bad it's out of stock at BTI.

Also, Halo appears to make some generic 14mm axle adapters that might work better than the ones Yuba sells:

The outer flange would act as a nice big washer, too bad it's not serrated. I bet a few minutes with a sharp file would fix that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Riding with Two Kids

I'm out of the blogging stride, with nearly a month since last posting. But now that Jasper is temporarily transfixed by his new fish mobile, I'm going to jump right in and see about managing some of the backlog of bike fun that I'd like to share with you!


My sister-in-law, her husband, and their little boy came to visit us over Presidents' Day weekend so that they all could meet the baby. They live in Roy, UT, home of wide streets and big cars. But they know we don't have a car, and wanted to know if they needed to rent one when they visited. We said no, and then set to figuring out how we would all get around without one.

The grown-ups were no problem, of course-- they are both able-bodied and terrifically good sports, so they borrowed a few bikes to get around. Our local shop very sweetly loaned us a couple of helmets for them to use, and we were good to go!

But their son, Forrest, is two-and-a-half, and while he walks and runs with more agility every time I see him, he's certainly not big enough to get himself around on a bike.


Dave's sister and I had talked about her wanting to get Forrest around by bike before this, so I took the risk that she would be pleased by our surprise for them: a seat for Forrest in the Yuba box! Dave and I set to work on design, and then Dave took over the construction: a small, plywood shelf, firmly but temporarily affixed to permanently installed cleats inside the box. We put two holes in the shelf to pass an NRS strap through for a seatbelt, and voila! Kid seat. We picked up a kid-size helmet at Clever Cycles, and were good to go.

We got to take three rides on the Yuba with both kids. First, to brunch-- Forrest was a bit stunned on the way out, but was cheerful on the way home. Later that afternoon, we mentioned taking the bikes out for bagels, and when we were too slow to get moving on that, Forrest wandered away and came back with his helmet on his head, holding his parents' helmets for them: "Come ON guys, it's time to get back on the bikes!" So off we went, into the drizzly twilight, for a mid-afternoon bagel snack.



The next day we first set to wrestling with carseats and zipcars to get to a lovely suburban Valentine's brunch with friends. We loved the brunch, but found the whole carseat/driving ordeal a bit draining. On the other hand, I did get to make and give out bikey valentines!


After that, we took a cleansing, longer ride to Trader Joe's, where Forrest's folks wanted to pick up some things. It was five miles round trip, long enough for Forrest to compose and sing me a song about bumps, to soothe the crying baby beside him, and to wave at lots of dogs and kids we passed along the way.


In each case I was struck by how little Forrest cared where we were going: the point was to get on the bike and go. Even in the rain--put on a raincoat! Even in the dark-- turn on some lights!

His mom tells me that the bike rides, and his helmet, were his favorite parts of the trip, and that he talked about them on the plane all the way home.


It will be a while yet before Jasper can tell me what he thinks about riding on the bike. But I hope he loves it that much. And though I know he'll sometimes be grouchy about it, I hope he can share with me some of that childish enthusiasm about getting on the bike. No matter where we're going. No matter if it's dark. No matter if it's raining.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Busy Bikey Life

We've had the baby bike up and running for three weeks, and I think I've put about 80 miles on it, maybe a bit more. We've been out every day, sometimes just heading to adjacent neighborhoods, but often going all the way to north Portland for visits, or down to Sellwood to see Jasper's pediatrician, or all over town on last weekend's Tweed Ride. Jasper's naps happen most easily on the bike or in the wrap, and so I find myself out at least once a day, on foot or in the saddle, making laps of the neighborhood trying to get the boy some sleep. It's been awesome for my waistline, exhausting for my muscles, and dreadful for my writing habit. But man, are we having fun.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Mostly, we ride bikes to get from here to there. And mostly, I thought I wanted this baby-on-a-bike setup to get us where we needed to go faster, and without the hassles of transit or driving. Even in our first week, the still nameless Yuba has been put to those tasks: getting us to and from mommy group and out and about with friends with ease.

Back from Mommy Group 3

And all that errand-running is more fun on a bike, less stressful, more satisfying. But focusing on that can make me forget what it was that made me fall in love with bikes nearly a decade ago: the unadulterated joy of riding just because you can. I love the way my body feels on a bike. I love the speed and the momentum-- and boy, does this bike have momentum! I love the wind. And I love the lack of hurry: knowing that my pace is just for me, going fast without rushing, and slowing down for hills or fatigue without worrying. With the focus on bikes as tools in my day-to-day life, I spend more time on the bike than your typical weekend rider, but much of that time is spent focusing on something other than the ride.

Yesterday, the skies cleared. The sun came out. The weather, contrary to all prediction, settled in the high fifties with just a few, gorgeous clouds. It was too nice to stay in. So we went out.

I wanted to ride the Springwater Trail so that Jasper and I could cruise without frequent stops and without worrying about traffic. Unfortunately, some massive construction between here and there made it unexpectedly difficult to reach the trailhead. We spent some time on sidewalks in the industrial district trying to make our way while avoiding the bigger roads. And when we reached the trailhead, Jasper had started to fuss, necessitating an open-air diaper change. He didn't seem to mind.

"Changing Table" 1 "Changing Table" 2

After the change he needed a nurse, and after the nurse a burp, so we ended up hanging out on those benches for a good long time. Biking with baby certainly looks different than biking alone. But hanging out there meant we got to chat with quite a few people passing who stopped to check out the parked bike. It was fun being so conspicuous, and delightfully, we didn't get a single negative comment. He was sleeping again by the time we were ready to roll.

A Lovely Afternoon on the Willamette

We were able to pass through the bollards at the entrance to the Springwater Trail, though just barely, and rolled gently through wildlife refuge for several miles before I got tired and headed back. We got passed a lot, of course: anything on that trail with two wheels was faster than we were. But every single person was good-natured and polite about it, and a few even slowed to comment on the rig or to let me know what he was up to. There was some baby fussing: his hat fell into his eyes once, and once he was too warm and needed help throwing off his quilt. But the rest of the ride out he spent wide-eyed and looking around, and at some point on the way back he fell asleep again.

End of the Ride 2

The worst part of the ride was the part from the trail back to the house. It was rush hour at that point, and a lot of people in cars seemed to be cutting through the industrial district to get around the construction, just like I was. The result was a lot of cars on little roads where a lot of cars aren't really supposed to be, and long waits at the intersections with arterials as rush hour traffic rushed by. At the first of these long waits, amidst the exhaust and noise and annoyed by our not-moving, Jaz woke up and started to cry. And he kept crying for the mile left to get home, only calming down when we reached our peaceful neighborhood. Then, the rolling motion and road noise calmed him, and he was pretty chill when we got to the garage.

I know how he feels. Being stuck in traffic, intimately close to cars that could kill us with a bad swerve, staring into the faces of rush-hour drivers anxious to get home faster and seemingly-oblivious to other folks on the road, makes me tense too. But that part in between-- the momentum, the sunshine, the birds, the comradery of the other riders on the trail-- that part was pure joy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Faces of Baby on a Bike

Jasper got his first bike ride on Sunday night. We headed to a restaurant about a mile and a half away, an easy little test ride in case anything went wrong.

Here's me on the bike:

There are three red flashies on the rear there, but obviously they aren't enough to properly illuminate this monster. More running lights on the boxes, in particular, are required, along with some well-applied reflective tape.

The headlight behind me is Dave's parked Brompton. The rack at the restaurant looked a bit odd, with our biggest bike snuggled up next to our smallest.

Jasper didn't like getting strapped into the harness, but was quiet within a few blocks. By the time we got to dinner, he was sound asleep.

The bike had a different effect coming home, though. He seems to have had a great time, because when we opened the rain cover in the garage, he was wide awake and grinning!

So, here are the faces of the baby on the bike, immediately post-ride:
P1010625.JPG P1010623.JPG
P1010626.JPG P1010624.JPG

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yuba boxes technical

The boxes for the Yuba aren't complicated in construction, but there are a few things that might interest other enterprising V2 owners.

First, I made a few modifications to the rack to simplify the project. The V2 is unique in the way its rack bolts to the main frame where the front two of the four vertical stays bolt both to the top rack and the frame. On the V1 the stays are all welded to the top rack and bolt to the frame, and on the V3 everything is welded together. The bolt-on stays on the V2 stick out past the plane formed by the edge of the top rack and the welded rear stays, so if you strap a flat thing to the vertical rack (like a sheet of plywood, for instance) the front stays will mar and gouge the surface. I did a little more work with files to get them back to a position safe for cargo. I neglected to take before photos, but the notes on the Flickr pages should be clear enough to anyone who's spent time with a V2. I painted the filed surfaces with clear nail polish as a quick-and-dirty rust preventative.


This let me make simple boxes without any weird contortions to make up for the funny shape of the bike.

The boxes themselves are made from almost a whole 4'x8' sheet of 12mm marine plywood using glue-and-screw assembly with 3/4" quarter-round oak trim on the inside edges. The width of the vertical rack is 10" at it's base and 7" at the top rack. Each box is 13" wide at the base and 16" wide at the top, with the same 1.5" bottom-to-top slope on each side to match the rack on the inside and look nice and symmetric on the outside. The slopes on the front and back were chosen to be reminiscent of a Bakfiets and maintain heel clearance for the pilot. The finish is a water-based stain under a UV-absorbing spar varnish, both low-VOC.

The baby seat is a second-hand infant car seat with the carry handle cut off. It's strapped in with a high-strength NRS cargo strap with a layer of closed-cell foam (pipe insulation) between the seat and the box for suspension. The rain cover shown is the same UPPAbaby Bubble that Totcycle used for his Madsen infant seat. I'm less than impressed with the cover, as it doesn't actually act as a rain cover because the ventilation mesh on the sides isn't covered by the rain shield. Also, the rain cover is also the sun cover and therefore opaque. This bike needs to be all-conditions for Portland weather, which means great rain protection while letting Jasper look out and us look in. It'll do for now, but Katie and I are scheming a sweet ventilated rain cover for the whole box.

Also in the works is a matching top deck and dyno-powered lighting system.