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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.
Musical Bells

Musical Bells

On our way home from last week’s group ride, Spencer started to complain about his handlebars. I stopped to investigate and, sure enough, they were a little loose. “Well,” I told him, “I don’t have any tools with me. We’re close to home, so just hold them carefully and I’ll fix it when we get there.” That worked for less than a block before he started to shout again. I told him to hold them up and that I would ride very slowly and gently.

When we finally got home, I was shocked at how loose the handlebars had become. It was particularly embarrassing, since I had just been leading a bicycle advocacy group ride. Thank goodness the problem didn’t develop until we were on our own and almost home! I was also very surprised; I’m pretty good at remembering to check that the connection to my bike is secure and that the pedals are screwed in tight, but I’d never had a problem with this connection before. However, if you look at the photo below, it was so loose that the handle bars could spin right around and slide from side to side.

Fortunately, a quick twist with a hex wrench tightened everything up. I may need to start carrying a bike-combo tool with me.That was finished quickly, so I decided to do the other job that I’d been meaning to get around to – musical bells! Spencer has now outgrown his 16″ wheeler, so we decided to move the bell to the trail-a-bike.



Ta da! Secure handlebars and a bell that lights up!

Next, I re-installed a Bell bell on Ye Olde Mountaine Byckke. I had tried to put the bell on my road bike, but it never fit well on the handlebars, so back it goes.

Finally, a shiny new bell was installed on Spencer’s new 20″ wheeler.Because a boy this proud of his new bike deserves a shiny new bell to go with it!

This is my “perform a maintenance task on your bike” entry for the LGRAB 2011 Summer Games.

What a lovely day.

What a lovely day.

(This post is actually cowritten by Angel and Deborah with additional photographs by Nicki.)

Yesterday afternoon we went on our scaled-down suburban Critical Lass ride. It’s the first weekend of Fringe Fest, and it was women-and-transgendered day at EBC BikeWorks, and some people were probably nervous about leaving the city’s central neighborhoods by bicycle, so we had a smaller group than last time. Miss Sarah has already blogged about the ride from her perspective – if you haven’t already seen it check out her post too.

We met up at the playground closest to Deborah’s house, in a subdivision where the houses are a mix of faux-Victorian, -Georgian, and -Craftsman houses, like Halifax or Victoria rerendered in vinyl siding and concrete. We like it because the sidewalks, front porches, and garages placed on back alleys make it a more pedestrian-friendly area than the typical suburban front-garage development. Some of the bikes you see in the photo above belong to other families who had brought their kids to the park.

Bert isn’t fixed yet. So, we put Audrey’s trailer-bike on a borrowed 1980s CCM 5-speed named Violet (Thank you Monica!!! -D.). As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, Deb used basket straps to put her antique egg crate on the front – which really affected the steering once it had a heavy purse and water bottles in it. (I don’t think I’ll use the crate that way again, as pretty as it looks. -D.)



Angel adding some air while everyone chats.

Winnie’s coaster brake isn’t fixed yet, so Nicki borrowed Mary Poppins and Deb’s polkadot helmet for the ride. Both bikes have 28-inch wheels and coaster brakes, so it was a good way to get her back in the saddle. This was her first time riding a bicycle in nearly ten years. Felt good, didn’t it, gorgeous?

Angel rode Daisy. In the end neither of her kids came – Damien was hanging with his grandparents and Lili needed a nap. Notice the green purse in the milk crate that matches one of the shades of green in her floral dress. Dress and sandals both from Reitmans (different seasons) purse is from random mall luggage store. Would LOVE to find a lovely belt to make the dress less poofy (even though the poof comes in handy while biking in the heat, yaaaay built in “AC”). – A.

Sarah was kidless too, thanks to the older LRT cars not being able to accommodate a child trailer without taking the child out and folding it up. We can’t imagine doing that solo with a wiggly baby! Here she has just put a CL pin on one of her polka dots. LOVE the skirt and the pearl necklace.

These women are effortlessly chic. Marilyn was wearing a beautiful shirt-dress with a pop of ruffly colour underneath. So classic. (I can’t wait ’til my Uniform Project shirt-dress arrives in the mail. -D.)

Of course it is all about the shoes. Clockwise from top left: Sarah in shiny patent leather; Audrey in pink and Deborah with bows on; Angel’s new silver flats; and Marilyn’s divine Dr Marten’s heels (covet!).

Just kidding. It’s also all about the bikes. Here is Sarah’s road bike at rest, with a Brooks leather saddle and reflective super-skinny rims and the beautiful Po Campo bag she’s been trying out.

Mary Poppins awaiting action. Look how pretty the white saddlebag looks with the white vinyl saddle!

Audrey (the only child who ended up coming) didn’t feel like staying at the playground, so we were quickly off on our ride and didn’t stop at any of the other four playgrounds on our route (yes, four). We headed to a strip-mall area with a lot of cafes and restaurants and neat little shops. On the way, we were riding mostly on residential streets, where one driver was unconscionably rude, and a few were clueless about driving around bicycles, but many were great.

We parked our bikes at the library. It was disappointing to see so few racks in a relatively newly-built area, when  according to the bylaws they should be more. Guess we’ll need to call the mall’s management and ask some questions? Then we sat in a franchise cafe and had iced strawberry lemonade and a wide-ranging chat. During which we totally forgot to take photos. Oops. It was delightful to be able to all sit at the same table this time and really get to talk. Unfortunately Sarah and Marilyn needed to take off after the cafe and head back to the LRT, so they didn’t get to shop. Also, the locally-owned toy store has just closed this location (much to Audrey’s disappointment). However, Angel found a great locally-owned kitchen tool shop where she can register for her wedding. Score!

Audrey took this shot of Deborah in the cafe’s washroom. She is wearing windowpane-check bermuda shorts from Ricki’s, a ruffled scoop-neck t-shirt from Old Navy, a thrift-shop straw-and-leather bag, a gold-plated necklace and fabric flower from Anthropologie, a cloche from local Etsy crafter Sugar Soul to cover the helmet-head.

Audrey did magnificently, especially considering that it was only her second time riding without training wheels (her first was the day before when we were testing the trailer-bike on Violet). We walked the uphills because she felt unsteady when I had to stand on the pedals. We think she’ll be riding without training wheels on her own bike by the end of the summer. Oh, and yes, she did choose her outfit specifically to go with the pins for the riders, then lavishly accessorized it Fancy Nancy style. -D.

Attempted panda shot. I am wearing an older sport-style helmet that has never fit my head properly. It is actually not possible with the way it is shaped to get it to sit over my forehead… but it’s a decent slightly-small backup when loaning helmets to friends who forgot theirs. – D.
View of downtown Edmonton from the bridge over Terwillegar Drive. It’s rather pretty, except for the freeway and utility poles in the foreground – and it gives a nice idea of how sprawled out this city is. Our location here is about halfway between the inner ring road (the Whitemud) and outer ring road (the Henday).  

Taking pictures at the end of the pedestrian bridge.

Nicki, Deborah, and Audrey walking up the hill. Angel was able to ride up with Daisy’s 6 speed!
They made it!!

Nicki and the downtown view.

Despite being on the outer edge of town, many of our city’s suburban neighborhoods are blessed with a well-planned system of multiuse trails, and most of them have sidewalks as well. Wide roads with two lanes in each direction on the collector roads make it less nerve-wracking to take the lane when needed than on some of the narrower roads in the city’s core, and some of the collector roads are having sharrows painted on them that will help to make road-sharing more of a habit for suburban drivers. It may not be practical to go completely car-free, and it takes a little planning, but we think that using a bike instead of a motor vehicle so that you’re driving less often is totally doable in the suburbs. Not to mention fun!

To end the ride we headed back to Deborah’s, where some other friends with children met us for a barbeque. Good food and good friends, what could be better?

Canada Day Bike Decorations (LGRAB Summer Games post 5)

Canada Day Bike Decorations (LGRAB Summer Games post 5)

Today I’m blogging about decorating a bicycle, as part of the Learning Experiences section of the LGRAB Summer Games.

This evening I spent some time decorating the CCM Bike Buddy that we acquired last week (from Kijiji once again). It’s rather plain, so my girly-girl Audrey was really excited today when I suggested that we pick up some craft supplies and decorate it for Canada Day. We got some sparkly wired maple-leaf garland, wired polyester ribbon, and some flags of varying sizes. Here’s the result:
We: poked small flags into the holes for streamers in the handles; used clear packing tape to attach a larger flag at the top of the safety-flag pole; and wrapped the garland around the frame of the bike. Nothing we did is permanent, although it should be pretty durable if Audrey doesn’t want to remove it all as soon as Canada Day is over.
The ribbon-woven spokes were really time-consuming, but they look great! Basically they’re a slightly more sophisticated, more permanent version of the crepe-paper streamer spoke decorating you see on sites for kids like the ones in this roundup. (Aside: I am jonesing to make a grownup version of the beaded handlebar streamers they link to!)
Here is what it looked like before decorating, when I was trying it on Bert for size. I think we’ll add some stickers on the chainguard as the finishing touch. Now we just need to finish getting Bert running before the 1st of July!