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Spring At Last: April and May in Edmonton

Spring At Last: April and May in Edmonton

 

DomOnNewBike-31Mar13
Dom on his Norco ZX-80 at the end of March.

During April, I spent a lot of time supervising my 7- and 9-year-olds as they rode up and down our cul-de-sac getting used to their new-to-them bikes from local not-quite-little bike shop United Cycle (they had both outgrown their previous rides). Dom (above) has a Norco ZX-80 steel-frame mountain bike. It has 20-inch wheels, a hand brake, and a rear coaster brake. Audrey (below) has a Norco Groove with 24-inch wheels,  an 18-speed derailleur setup with twist shifters, and hand brakes. Both of them are now riding confidently enough that we can go for longer rides, and travel the mile to their school in about 10 minutes (depending on the timing of the lights where we cross the busy road).

Audrey on her Norco Groove in mid-May.
Audrey on her Norco Groove in mid-May.

On April 9th, I did a 30 minute ride by myself to explore the other end of the multi-use path along the top of Whitemud Creek Ravine in my neighborhood, on Trudy Phillips. Had to do a snowbank portage around a crane that was installing windows in a house under construction, and the path was mostly largely wet and sandy, but it was just above zero and the sun was shining. I found a feather on the path, watched some crows and a raven about twice their size, and found a new secret entrance to the big field under the power lines beside the Henday.

Trudy ('72 3-speed Phillips) on a dry patch of the MUP.
Trudy (’72 3-speed Phillips) on a dry part of the MUP.
Much of the path looked more like this, wet and gritty. Also, long down winter jackets = I would have baked on a less windy day or a longer ride. If I do take up winter riding I need a layering re-think.
Much of the path looked more like this, wet and gritty. Also, long down winter jackets = I would have baked on a less windy day or a longer ride. If I do take up winter riding I need a layering re-think.
Look what I found! We think it's a great horned owl feather, but we'll check with the experts at John Janzen Nature Centre later this week.
Look what I found! We think it’s a great horned owl feather, since there are a few that live in the ravine.

Multiple snow storms plus a newly-discovered allergy to snow mould that knocked me flat for two weeks meant that I missed much of the rest of April. But look what came in the mail while I was waiting for conditions to improve:

Oh! Look what I got in the mail! Don't be jealous, visit the Society of Three Speeds to get your membership. Three speeds is all you need!
Don’t be jealous, just visit the Society of Three Speeds website to get your membership. Three speeds is all you need!

By early May, the snow had melted, the snow mold had dried up, the paths had dried out (although they’re *still* covered in grit), and it was warm enough that the pussywillows were coming out and we could wear tank tops.

May 5th. Audrey riding ahead of me on the MUP.
May 5th. Audrey riding ahead of me on the MUP.

The Canada Goose sightings were also giving us hope that spring had finally arrived:

As you can see, this goose was really close to the MUP and not at all afraid of the humans whizzing past.
As you can see, this goose was really close to the MUP and not at all afraid of the humans whizzing past.

A week later it was 20C and glorious. I often joke that Edmonton gets only a week of spring, but this year it really was true.

MidMaySunsetRide
Green grass and warm sunshine, and the rod-brake DL-1 out of hibernation. Aaaah.
Bike Seats for Bigger Kids, part 3: the Bobike Junior+

Bike Seats for Bigger Kids, part 3: the Bobike Junior+

Trudy Phillips, before upgradesTrudy, a 1972 Raleigh-built Phillips 3-speed, as found.

trudy-with-peonies
Trudy, right after her upgrades. New tires & tubes, a big bell, a new saddle, a double kickstand, a front basket with a basket support, and a Bobike Junior+ professionally installed using the universal seat tube bracket. The only things added since this are a Hebie steering damper, which holds the front wheel in place to make the bike as stable as possible when parked while getting a child into or out of the seat, and Bobike’s saddle spring protector.
CL7-a
Trudy, after her upgrades, after the first summer of use. Notice that the angle of the child seat has shifted a bit, with the seat post attachment up higher than in the previous photo. The clamp on the back of the seat was used to carry the insulated lunch bag, and can be used to help secure light loads when the seat is closed.

For the last two years, we have been using a Bobike Junior+ child seat on the back of Trudy (a ’72 Phillips 3-speed) to carry my son Dominic on longer rides. It has worked wonderfully for us, allowed us to take longer rides we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, and Dom (ages 5 to 7) has been thrilled with it, but we don’t have many photos of it in use – when I’m riding with a passenger, I feel less able to take a panda shot, and it never occurred to me to ask my husband to take some photos.

Closest we've gotten to a panda shot: our shadows.
Closest we’ve gotten to a panda shot: our shadows while parked.
Hebie-stabilizer
A beauty shot of the Hebie steering damper, which is essentially there to stop the front wheel flopping around while you load and unload your kid. I ordered mine from Dutch Bike Bits.

Until yesterday. We took a short family ride – our last one before we remove the seat. Dom is now able and independent enough to take longer rides under his own pedal power on his new-to-him bike, or as stoker on a trailer-bike. In fact, we hardly used the seat last summer. He is also is tall and heavy enough that when he is in the seat, it rests on top of our fender and moves the fender to one side, which it never used to do. (Also, he’s heavy enough that I’m starting to struggle to get him and a heavy old steel bike uphill. Oy vey.)

Hmm, looks like the back tire needs more air, too. Another reason for no photos: Dom hates to have his picture taken.
Hmm, the seat post attachment has definitely crept upward, and it looks like the back tire needs more air, too. Another reason for no photos: Dom hates having his picture taken.

Looking over all these photos, I can see now that the seat stays have moved a bit over time, and the seat post attachment point has gradually crept up the seat tube by a couple of inches (which may only be possible because old 3-speeds use different diameter seat tubes than modern bikes). So, that is my only point of caution with this seat – to make sure it’s in the correct position and the screws  are tightened up frequently, as part of your regular maintenance routine, especially if you’re installing it on a vintage bicycle. Maybe comparing with a photo taken right after installation would help you catch it instantly if the seat shifts position like it did on my bike. [Update: I just uninstalled the seat from the bicycle, and the hex-screws holding the seat stay attachment in place were indeed a bit loose, causing the whole seat and the seat stay attachments to change angle. If I had been more vigilant about checking the hex screws, I think the seat might never have moved.]

If we still needed the seat for Dom, I think we would have it re-installed on a lighter modern bicycle, to make it more secure and make it easier for me to get uphill. There’s a reason those Japanese mamachari come standard with pedal assist!

It would also be preferable to install this on a bike that has skirtguards/coat protectors. Bobike sells these as part of the Maxi’s assembly, but not the Junior’s. This wouldn’t be a problem in the European market, but it’s more of a challenge here in North America. Dom has been conscientious, and I’ve always ridden slowly with him on board, but it’s too easy for a foot to slip off a footrest into the spokes. If we’d been able to find solid skirtguards to install on the 3-speed, we would have – but we couldn’t, and we felt that crocheted ones wouldn’t have provided enough of a barrier.

My only other quibble with the Bobike seat has been that I couldn’t figure out how to carry anything on a rack underneath it, if I had been able to install a rack (which the geometry of my vintage bike plus the child seat forbade). That limited me to what could be carried in the front basket, a crossbody satchel, and a little lunch bag attached to the clamp – which meant, only little errands and no grocery runs for this bike. Hum has that issue all sussed out: Basil panniers on the rack of a newer bicycle are the answer! She discusses the options for both a regular bike and a mid-to-long-tail.

So. I hope this review of my experience with the Junior+ child seat helps those of you who are weighing your options, and I hope it helps Miss Sarah figure out which bike it will go on for rides with her little guy. It’s a great seat that fills an important niche in family biking – the ability to carry an older kid on the back of a bike is a huge thing for expanding how often you can use your bike. But it’s not optimal for installation on a vintage bicycle. A modern bicycle that’s not so heavy, isn’t undergeared, and has an integral rack (for panniers) and skirtguards – like, you know, a standard-issue city bike from Europe – would be the ideal ride to install this on.

Stoker Stories

Stoker Stories

This is an X-wing starfighter pancake, with laser blasters.

Parents who bike with their kids will often talk about how connected they feel when riding together, compared to when they are in a car. This can, of course, have a downside – one of my friends swears that her son waits until she’s riding uphill before asking her for something. Perhaps on the theory that if she doesn’t say no (due to being short of breath), the answer is yes? Of course, they live in San Francisco, so they’re riding uphill about 50% of the time, creating plenty of opportunity for a hopeful 6 year old.

Many of our conversations revolve around Star Wars these days….
S: Mom, what’s your favorite thing about R2D2? Isn’t he so cool? ‘Cause he has rocket boosters! Can you sing the Darth Vader song at the same time I sing Luke Skywalker’s song?
Me: No. Pedaling. Uphill.

Sometime conversations start innocently and then take a much weirder turn.
S: Mom, what’s a club?
Me: A group of people who get together to do something, like your karate club.
S: Can I start a club?
Me: Well, I guess. If some of your friends want to be in the club with you.
S: I want a nerf gun club! Can I get one of the guns that shine a red light to help you aim?
Me: No! You can’t start a kindergarten gun club!
S: Well…can I have one that shoots water?

Other times, it’s surprisingly philosophical.
S: Why don’t I see a line right here? [he then reached forward to touch my back]
Me: I don’t understand. Why would you expect to see a line there?
S: Well… I have two eyes. Why isn’t there a line in the middle of where I see?
Me: Oh, I get it! Well, your eyes are close together and see mostly the same thing. Then your brain puts the pictures together so you see it all at once.
S: How does your brain do that?
Me: Can’t talk. Pedaling. Uphill.

S: Is Obama still trying to make things more fair so that girls don’t just have to marry boys and boys don’t just have to marry girls? That’s not fair!
Me: You’re right. Obama and a lot of other people are working together to try to make things more fair, so people can marry whoever they fall in love with.
S: Oh. Can I have a granola bar?
Me: No. We’re going to have supper as soon as we get home.
S: That’s not fair!

Tee ball, pie and more

Tee ball, pie and more

At this time of year, Seattlites are like flowers in the desert. 
No? Hear me out…
Growing up in Saskatchewan, I would have scoffed at Seattle’s winters. When the ground is covered in snow and ice and the most important part of the weather forecast is the windchill factor (i.e. how many minutes before exposed skin WILL FREEZE), grey skies with rain doesn’t sound that bad. This is why TROC* considers life in Vancouver to be pretty easy, the kind of place you go to retire. In January, I can’t complain about 40F/4C and I won’t pretend to. Where Seattle gets under your skin, is that over the next several months, those temperatures won’t change. By April, it would be really nice to see blue skies and to start feeling warm again. 

Two weeks ago, we finally had nice weather on a Saturday. Seattle opened the front door and rushed outside, trying to fit as many outdoor activities as possible into a single day, just like the proverbial plant in the desert that, after a rainfall, must flower, bear fruit and go to seed before the water disappears.  

First on the list was tee ball practice. It’s much more fun to get there by bike, especially when you have a shiny new family bike to ride. Carrying a ball glove and cleats is no problem if you have panniers!

Then, we rode to the Fremont neighborhood for food, shopping and a chance to walk in the sun. Mr. Jen isn’t very comfortable on a bike. I read a brilliant description of this mismatch as a bike-car interfaith marriage. However, he does like to walk a lot, so friends, whom I consider to be authorities on such matters, have classified this as more of a Catholic/Episcopalian difference. Joking aside, he was willing to walk the 4 miles to meet us.

Fremont is always fun, especially if you don’t have to park a car.  We ate Thai food, window shopped, and stopping at Hub and Bespoke, who have very stylish bicycle-friendly clothes and accessories. I tested my families patience by trying on clothes. They tested the employee’s patience by trying out bike bells and wind-up toys.

And then there was Pie. It was delicious. You should go. We will be back.

Espresso-chocolate mocha
Peanut butter cream

 On our way home, we stopped to admire the shrubbery dinosaur.

I never know how to end these posts, so I’ll keep it simple – it was sunny, it was fun and I hope the weather cooperates so we can do it again soon.

*The Rest of Canada (i.e. not Vancouver. Or Victoria. We’re suspicious of them too).

Welcome to the Burley Piccolo

Welcome to the Burley Piccolo

As I posted before, we’ve been looking for a new family bike. I do want to start teaching my son to ride independently, but, given the traffic and hills in Seattle, we’ll still need a family bike for a couple of years, if not more.  There appear to be 3 options:  another trailer bike, a cargo bike, or a tandem. 
I did think about a cargo bike. I know folks who have Madsens and Xtracycles – come to think of it, one fellow has both a Madsen and an Xtracycle. They’re very cool, but Spencer’s very tall for his age and I suspect that he would outgrow the passenger stage before long. Plus I like having a co-pedaler. When I was discussing the options with my family and mentioned the Xtracycle, Spencer said “No, I like pedaling!” Then he paused, thought about it a little more, and looked at me with big eyes and a little grin. “Mommy, do you want a challenge? You should get a bike where I don’t pedal – and then ride it up a really big hill!” No way is that guy getting out of pedaling now. 
Then there’s the tandem – I have to admit, I was a little baffled by the options. How do they accommodate a growing kid? I don’t really want to buy one that we would have to replace in a couple of years. None of the shops nearby seemed to know anything about tandems for kids. So, without some ready examples, it seemed too complicated and I was impatient to get us back on the road.
What are the trailer-bike options? Well, I definitely didn’t want another Adams. Even if I got a post-recall hitch as a replacement, I’d still feel uneasy with it. Plus, the side-to-side wobble has always been annoying. One option that looked really cool is the FollowMe Tandem. It’s a device that attaches a kid bike to an adult bike, lifting up the front tire. This has the great advantage of being able to ride together to the park and separating the bikes so that the kid can ride independently. However, they’re not carried by any stores in Seattle – in fact, Clever Cycles in Portland is the only distributor in North America that I could find. I do plan to make the trip before long, but really wanted to check one out in person first. Bring in the cavalry! Madi of Family Ride, who has amazing bike sense, found a local FollowMe owner and got her email. After check it out, I was impressed. It seems to be very well made and it felt solid as a rock. Despite the steep price tag (about $400), I thought this was the way to go. Plus, I would surely be able to sell it to local bikey people when Spencer out grew it. Lots of them have kids younger than mine.  So, after carefully constructing my rationalizations for a week, I called Clever Cycles – who are sold out of the FollowMe and don’t expect to get more for months. Sigh. I picked my broken heart up off of the floor and moved on. 
The next choice also was by way of Madi, who found and tweeted about a used Burley Piccolo at Recycled Cycles (have I mentioned that she has amazing bike sense? She’s like Spider-Man for bicycles). The Piccolo is a trailer bike, but it connects to the parent bike by a special rear rack, rather than at the seat post, which is more secure, according to the reviews. After checking it out and liking what I saw, I decided to get it.
Meet the Burley Piccolo!

We’ve been riding the Piccolo for about a month now and are really happy with it. Our trips have been around the neighborhood, probably 4 miles at the longest. The connection to the rear rack does indeed feel very strong and secure. In addition to the locking post, there is a bar underneath that should prevent and accidental separation. I’m also very pleased to find the ride to be more stable, without the side to side wobble. It’s still not as solid as a single piece bike like an Xtracycle, but it’s a noticeable improvement over the Adams.

A darn strong connection via the rear rack.

The handlebars can be adjusted up and down, which is a real advantage for us and I expect to get at least 2 years out of it. It also has 7 gears. This delights Spencer and I now hear a continual chatter about what gear he’s using, and 7th gear is the best, because it has the most power, right Mommy? He’s actually right! I was surprised at how much more of a boost he can give me with this bike vs. the Adams. Now, if I can only get him to apply this power when we’re going up the hill, rather than down. Little speed demon. Some reviewers have complained that their panniers don’t fit. I can see how this could be a problem, as the tubing pinches in at the middle, leaving very little clear space for pannier attachments. Luckily, the hooks on my Ortliebs can slide back and forth, so I could adjust them to fit. Keeping my cargo capacity is VERY valuable. Apparently the new model has an additional straight bar along each side, so they should be compatible with a wider variety of panniers.

All in all, I’m pleased with the Piccolo. Aside from our mechanical issues with the Adams, the Piccolo handles better as it’s is less prone to squirreliness at low speeds and less affected by the kid’s motions. It looks like it will accommodate a taller kid, which should give us more time with it. The gears are definitely entertaining and potentially even useful.

Now, I can’t wait to take it out on longer rides!

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.
A Sweet Start to 2012

A Sweet Start to 2012

We visited our families in Canada over Christmas. It’s always great to see family (though we won’t talk about the trip itself). We were lucky that the weather cooperated – daily highs were about 20F/-5C, which meant we were able to have lots of fun playing in the snow. Still, we were more than ready to get back on our bikes by the time we returned to Seattle. Well, at least I was ready. And Spencer could be bribed. He was very excited to wear his new Lightening McQueen racing suit, courtesy of Grandma & Grandpa (step away from the Disney store and no one will be hurt….). 
Future cyclist of the month?

 While I hooked up the bikes, Spencer practiced his cool Jedi moves with the bike flag.

Vroom, vroom!

The goal of today’s outing was to enjoy the outdoors and get a couple of treats, so we stopped at a local pocket park. We met an senior citizen doing tai chi in the park, who asked about the trail-a-bike. Then, a couple of twin 8-year olds arrived and gave Spencer a spin. For the record, I don’t make Spencer wear his helmet at the park – he loves it and won’t take it off.

Ballard Corners Park

After we were finished at the park, we continued to the commercial district of Ballard. The bakery was closed, so we couldn’t buy bread. However, we could console ourselves with treats at Cupcake Royale. Aside from yummy cupcakes in many flavours, they make some of the best lattes in the neighbourhood. Given the high cupcake to mile ratio, I’m not certain if this trip was a net positive, health-wise, but it was very tasty.

Chocolate with cream cheese icing
This was eaten while wearing a bike helmet. We’re very safety-conscious. 

The nice weather brought out many other cyclists, as you can see by the full bike rack at Ballard Market, a local grocery store. This is a sweet rack – sturdy, lots of capacity, sheltered from the rain and close to the door. However, our rig is a little bit long and stuck out into the parking lot, so I thought it would be wiser to park at the plain, but functional rack that is further to the side.

 

What a sweet ride! 

Upon leaving the store, I was delighted to see a Little Tyke parked at the bike rack. I believe that counts as active transport by anyone’s definition! Particularly for the parent, who probably had to push the kid home. All in all, it was a terrific start to 2012. Happy New Year!

Kidical Mass rides in Novembrrr!

Kidical Mass rides in Novembrrr!

After following the Totcycle blog for a couple of years, I finally had a chance to join his Kidical Mass ride last week.  The occasion was the grand opening of the Ship Canal Trial. It’s a great piece of bike infrastructure as it lets people get from Magnolia and the Ballard Locks to the Fremont bridge, without having to take a confusing and not-particularly friendly interchange near the Ballard Bridge.
The forcast was for chilly, with a possibility of rain and/or snow. Chilly by Seattle standards, of course, which translates to 35-40F (2-4C). I hadn’t taken Spencer for a winter ride before, and I was a little concerned about how to dress him. I started digging through the closet to find last year’s winter gear. The snow pants fit great, but were probably unnecessary. Tried to find toques without pompom that would fit under bike helmets. The good mitts were left at karate class. And Spencer’s winter coat looked awfully short in the sleeves. This is when I began to feel like a lousy mother and a lousy Canadian. Didn’t I know that winter was coming? Has it ever skipped a year? In the end, the best solution was to wear last year’s coat and a warm pair of my mitts that were long enough to cover his wrist, even with the somewhat too short sleeves. Extra sweaters, scarfs and toques were added, I packed the pannier, and we were ready to roll.
When we got to the end of the driveway, it became clear that I had overreacted and we were both terribly overdressed. So, we stopped to strip off layers, and my pannier was then stuffed with fleece for the rest of the day. Still, I’m glad we had the mitts and scarf – little bodies get cold quickly. Especially, when they don’t help much with the pedaling. Finally, we were on our way and were only a little bit late to our meeting place at the Ballard Library. 
Spencer was ready to go.

Despite the chilly weather, there was a great turnout. I didn’t get a complete head count, but suspect it must have been about 40 people. And the bikes! There were at least three Madsens, one Bakfiet, a couple of trailers and two trail-a-bikes. Clearly, this was a very bikey crowd.

We rode west on NW 57th St., one of our candidates for a neighborhood greenway. It’s always fun riding with such a big group. We can chat with folks, admire the different bikes and swap stories. Of course we’re still careful about traffic, but we don’t really have to worry about visibility with a group of this size! We took 28th Ave NW and then Market St. to the Ballard Locks, where we had to dismount to cross the canal. There is no denying that this was a production. The walkways across the locks are relatively narrow – there’s just enough room for a bike and pedestrian to cross each other. A group of cargo and family bikes takes a long time to cross. Fortunately, traffic was very light – there aren’t many tourists out on a chilly November morning.

The locks were still pumped dry for their annual maintenance. We could see a few folks working away at the bottom, which gives a sense of how big it really is. The barnacles clinging to the wall were starting to get rather stinky by this point. It didn’t seem to bother the crows and gulls, though – they were still enjoying their sushi.

See the three white dots? Those are the workers in their white hard hats.

After many photos and three separate bathroom breaks, we were finally ready to continue on our way. We rode along Commodore Way and through Fisherman’s Terminal. It’s a light industrial area without a bike lane, but the road is relatively wide and there was hardly any traffic. We arrived under the Ballard Bridge just in time for the opening ceremony. A good sized crowd of cyclists and walkers had gathered by this time.

Peter Hahn, the head of SDOT, gave a speech and cut the ribbon with very big pair of scissors.

However, for our group, the big attraction was Julian’s thermos of hot apple cider to warm those chilly fingers.

Before too long, we were on our way. I don’t have any photos of the new trail, yet, but there’s a nice one here. It’s a pleasant ride that I’ll definitely check out again and will be my preferred route between the Pier 91 trail and the Fremont Bridge. However, there is a rather annoying double 2-curve to cross the train tracks. I know they need to slow bike traffic down and direct folks to cross at a right angle, but this really seems excessive. Still, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise great trail.

After crossing back across the Fremont Bridge, we split up to get food and then met again at the Fremont Brewery. This was my first time there, and I’m delighted to discover such a cool place. It’s a local microbrewery which makes absolutely delicious beer. It’s a tasting room, not a full-fledged bar and they don’t sell food, but allow you to bring your own it. It’s really a big room with picnic tables at one end and big, shiny vats at the other, but seemed cosy and friendly. It’s also remarkably family-friendly – they even have a couple of baskets of toys! Only in Seattle. Sadly, I have no good photos from this part of the trip, so you’ll have to take my word for it until you can go there yourself.

After food, a beer and lots of chatting and tracking down stray children, it was time to go. We’d had a full day and I knew we were in the pre-melt down phase. Plus, Spencer was getting tired too. We weren’t the only ones who’d had enough. Thirty seconds earlier, this little guy had been flopped over the edge of his bucket seat. If only I’d been able to get my camera out earlier…..

It was a great group and a terrific ride. I hope we can do it again soon! And I did buy my son a new winter coat the next day.

Bicycle Sunday

Bicycle Sunday

On Sunday, Spencer and I set out on the trail-a-bike for a bicycle adventure. Bicycle Sunday is a program run by Seattle Parks, where Lake Washington Boulevard is closed to car traffic on summer Sundays. The weather was good and our schedule was clear, so we decided to try it out for the first time.

Technically, this is not a panda shot since we are beside our bikes, not on them.
Lake Washington Boulevard winds gently along Lake Washington with parks on one side and attractive houses on the other. It was a fun, family crowd, with trail-a-bikes, trailers, training wheels, and wobbly new-to-two-wheelers.

Friendly people from the Cascade Bicycle Club were out, selling and fitting helmets for new riders.
Neighbourhood kids had a lemonade stand. I don’t know how much business they did that day, but it was certainly a hit with my kid.

Now, Spencer wants to set up his own stand, so he can earn money to buy more toys.
Spencer: I could ask people for $5 for a glass of lemonade.
Me: No one is going to pay that much for lemonade.
Spencer: Well….what if I gave them lemonade AND let them play with one of my toys?
The protected road ends at Seward Park, home to a very nice playground.
Bicycle parking was at a premium!
And, of course, we had to end the day with ice cream. Hey! I just asked you to HOLD my ice cream while I took a picture!

I’d never gone to a Bicycle Sunday before, so I was curious to see how the experience compared to riding in the neighborhood or on the nearby trails. The combination of wide roads and the complete absence of cars created a remarkably relaxed and fun atmosphere. In comparison, the Burke-Gilman trail is quite narrow and, on a busy day, requires a lot of attention, especially when passing or being passed. Spencer is just learning to ride a two-wheeler (sans training wheels) right now. Once he gets a little steadier, he’ll want to move beyond the school playground, but won’t really be ready for streets or even the BG Trail for some time. Bicycle Sunday will be the perfect opportunity for him to spread his wings.
All in all, it was a lot of fun and we’ll certainly go again. However, it will never be an every weekend activity – I’m not a big fan of driving 12 miles in order to ride for 3. Now, if only we could convince Seattle Parks to do a similar event in north Seattle….
Gender Gap?

Gender Gap?

There’s a fascinating discussion going on in bike-blog-land as a result of Elly Blue’s Bicycling’s Gender Gap post at Grist. She makes an interesting argument that the gender disparity in ridership figures could be a result of economic disparity and additional caregiving and household duties, in addition to the ‘fear and fashion’ theories – and points out that both cycling infrastructure and appropriate, affordable bikes for carrying kids and cargo are missing in most North American cities. The lively comment section is well worth a read, with additional points about racism, class-ism, street harassment, and public perceptions of cyclists being made. It’s also well worth going back and reading the rest of the series of articles, which includes some especially salient points about political pressure to keep the status quo and the actual costs of freeways. The author also followed up on her own blog. Meanwhile the discussion has spun off onto one of our favourite bicycle blogs, Velo Vogue. Go read the links and meet me back here, mmkay?

You’ve read it now? Good stuff, right? If a bit counter-intuitive based on the explosion in lady-bike availability and number of women writing fantastic bicycle blogs.

So, instead of debating which is the most important, let’s say that all those factors are at play in preventing women from riding at the same rate as men do in North America – which they probably are, to some extent. How can we fix that? How do we encourage more ladies to get on their bikes? Can bike blogs like ours, and the social rides and bikey events organized by blogs like ours, actually make a difference?

Angel (my Loop-Frame Love coblogger) and I probably aren’t typical cycling activists (if such a person exists). We’re moms with 2 young kids each and minivans and small budgets who live in the suburbs – and we’d love for this blog to (eventually) demonstrate that it’s possible to live car-light under those circumstances, if not completely car-free – like our blogging heroes at Carfree With Kids, Car Free DaysChicargobike, full hands, mamafiets, and Totcycle are already doing on their blogs for their circumstances. So let’s be honest about the barriers we face to doing that, and how they relate to the factors mentioned above.

(Our coblogger Jen’s situation differs from ours in that she’s living in a more central neighborhood in a different city, has one child, and is still commuting to full-time work instead of staying home or working part-time… so we hope she’ll chime in in the comment section.)

My favourite current setup for easy kid-hauling is the Bobike Junior seat on a Raleigh-built 3-speed (Ms. Trudy Phillips),
but my 8-year-old is a bit too big for the seat and the pretty wicker basket will only hold a small bag of groceries.

We’re pretty lucky in a lot of ways. We’re middle-class white Canadians, so our experiences are fairly sheltered. Our husbands are not themselves cyclists, but are happy to support our interest in cycling. We’re part of a bigger local community of cyclists, advocates, and bike bloggers who are demonstrating through their daily lives and organized rides just how much fun life on two wheels can be. We’re social creatures, so it’s probably important in helping us stay motivated that we have that support system.

We live in a city with progressive urban planners who are in the process of improving the infrastructure for public transit and active transport, and we live in neighborhoods that have multi-user paths and/or sharrowed bike lanes that we can safely ride to useful destinations. However, we also live in the closest big city to the Oilsands, in a politically conservative part of Canada, in a place where a large proportion of the automotive vehicles using the roads are pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. So, when we venture outside the MUPs and sharrows, we don’t always encounter drivers who are predisposed to be kind to bicycle users. We have been buzzed and yelled at. We totally understand when our friends who haven’t ridden since their teens ask hesitantly about traffic on the route for the next Critical Lass. That said, the infrastructure in our neighborhoods has made that a pretty minor concern for our day-to-day rides.

We’re also really lucky to be part of a community with an amazing not-for-profit (EBC) that makes it possible to buy a low-cost vintage bike and turn it into a safe, reliable ride we can wear our regular clothes on; but turning it into a grocery-getter and a good way to get young children from A to B can be a bit of a challenge. We still wish we could get our hands on a longtail or cargo bike without having to blow our budgets. Going car-free so we can increase our bicycle budgets is not in the cards for our families, and we’re both still figuring out how we can run bike errands with two kids in tow, since neither of our eldest children are strong solo cyclists yet, despite being too big to be passengers. We’ll be actively working on that during the summer holiday from school.

We can testify that how busy our day is and how pressed for time we feel does directly affect how much (or how little) we ride. A quick run to the grocery store without children for a few items is easily managed by bike, but multiple errands with the kids becomes an all-day adventure when you’re not properly set up to do it by bike. A longtail or cargo bike would make that much easier, but ferrying the kids to extracurricular activities in other parts of the city immediately after school still would require a car because of the distances involved. If we were commuting for work, public transit would probably be more time-efficient than cycling, because we both live walking distance from major suburban transit hubs (As it happens, my husband has found that taking the LRT downtown is usually quicker than driving, and more pleasant.). So, ability to use our bikes while caring for our children and living our busy lives has been our single biggest barrier to riding more.

Your turn, my friends. What’s your single biggest barrier to riding more? Which barriers do you feel apply to your friends (of either gender) who don’t use their bikes? How can bike bloggers and cycling advocates help remove those barriers?

Update: I’ve just been reading Velouria’s post on Lovely Bicycle about the different kinds of bicycle commuting, and I wonder how the study that’s being discussed accounted for office-job commuters versus freelancers and errand-runners, and how gender might skew which category you fall into?


Update 2: You need to also check out LGRAB’s new series of guest posts on commuting by novice cyclists, the first of which was just posted – they’ll be talking about their barriers and how they surmounted them, too! I love the ideas from the current post of learning to bike commute in steps, and seeking out social ties to the activity so you have friends and role models. 


3rd July, Update 3: We’ve been invited to crosspost this piece on the perfectly wonderful blog Lindsay’s List, which has necessitated a slight rewrite and the addition of a shout-out to a few of our car-free-and-car-light family blog heroes. I’ll also be adding a photo that wasn’t originally included, of my current setup, once it’s been taken.


10 July, Update 4: http://lindsayslist.org/2011/07/gender-gap/ It’s up!