We’re grounded

We’re grounded

Update (4/1/12):  Since the crash, I’ve been looking into the issue. It turns out, there was a recall in 2005 because the bolts were too short, and the Trail-a-bike unit could fall off, which sounds awfully familiar. I bought ours from Recycled Cycles in 2009, so it’s certainly possible that it was a recalled unit. The mechanics there couldn’t find a clear way to tell, but intended to replace the hitch before selling it. Anyone buying an Adams at this point is very unlikely to have this problem, but it’s certainly possible.

As in can’t lift off the ground, got a broken wing (NOT a broken bone, luckily enough).

Since I joined the Loop Frame Love collective last spring, I’ve been writing about my adventures riding with my son, Spencer, now 6. We’ve been using an Adams Trail-a-Bike attached to a mountain bike for the past 2-3 years. My son was scared to use it at first, since the seat was higher than his little 12″ wheeler. Plus, there is a noticeable side to side wobble to it, that I could not get get rid of, no matter how much I tightened the connections. So, we took it slow and practiced at the local elementary school, which has a big paved area. Spencer gained confidence quickly – when he started yelling “Go faster, Mommy!”, I was pretty sure that we’d gotten the hang of it. 
We took it slowly the first year, sticking to multi-user paths in nearby parks. Last summer was a big step for us, as we started to use it a lot for trips within the neighborhood (about 2-3 miles round trip) and slowly venturing beyond that to perhaps 4-5 miles total. It’s been fantastic to be able to combine family time with an activity that I love. It also makes trips to the library and the store an adventure, rather than just a series of errands.
I’ve had rather mixed feelings about the Trail-a-bike itself, though. The relatively low price got us into family biking. Cargo bikes and Xtracycles were not even close to being on my radar at that time and I would not have spent that kind of money. It allowed us make the transition from occasional recreational use to weekly, though not daily, transportation use. I eventually asked about the wobble at a bike store and was told that it’s a characteristic of the joint. The universal joint does make it easier to take a tighter turn. However, that plus the wobble, has always meant that Spencer’s motion can swing the balance of both his bike and mine. He’s generally pretty good at staying upright, but will occasionally get spooked if he thinks we’re getting too close to something. He’ll then lean hard the other way, once even shouting “Mommy, I saved us!”. From a parked car, no less. I’ve never fallen over, but I’ve certainly had to quickly put my feet down and grab hard to hold us upright. A nearby friend of ours has an upstairs office that looks over the street, and he’s teased me now and then about the path we were weaving down the street. It’s pretty clear why I avoid bike lanes where we’re squeezed between fast traffic and parked cars, eh? The ability to take the trail-a-bike on and off does have some advantages – it allows me to put it on the car rack and I have been using this bike on my own for transportation purposes. However, as I found, it also increases the potential for problems. 
Last fall, we had a spill. We were riding home on a quiet street, when I could feel Spencer lean one way. Then, a crash. I looked behind me and, to my horror, Spencer and the trail-a-bike were on the ground. I rushed over, helped him up, and did all the parent checks (Where’s the blood? Can you move your arm? How about your leg?). A kind passerby picked up our bikes and moved them to the corner. A woman who lived nearby ran out with a bag of frozen peas. The final tally – a scrape on his elbow, a good scare and a big scrape on his helmet. When I looked at the bikes, I was dumbfounded. All the pieces were intact and, as far as I could tell, undamaged. But separate. How could we have ridden 3-4 miles without it being properly attached? The only explanation I could come up with was that it must be possible to put the hitch most of the way in so that the locking pin passed at the end, but not through the holes. The friction must have held it in until it received a sideways tug. We picked up the pieces and slowly made our way home. I promised Spencer that it wasn’t his fault, he hadn’t broken the bike, and that he could pick out any helmet he liked the next day. 
We did continue to use the trail-a-bike. I added a sideways tug to my pre-ride check to make sure everything was secure and wouldn’t come out. Then, two weeks ago, it fell apart once again, this time while making a turn. As we were picking up the pieces and checking for injuries, two friends rode by on their bikes. They stopped and helped me search the intersection for missing pieces and debris. Once again, we were lucky that we weren’t hurt beyond a couple of bruises and scrapes and that there were no cars nearby at the time.
I have not been able to find any mechanical damage. It could be my error in attaching the hitch. But, I have been using it for over 2 years now AND I’ve made checking the hitch part of my routine for months. If I can make a mistake under these circumstances, there is one hell of a design flaw. We will not be using it again. So, until I find a replacement that I’m happy with, we’re grounded.
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