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A tale of two street fairs

A tale of two street fairs

Part 1:  San Francisco’s Mission District

In May, I went to San Francisco for a business trip. I booked a Sunday morning flight, so that I could have the afternoon free for fun. With great luck, I was able to join Hum of the City and her family to the Mission District Street Fair. We’d only “met” via twitter and blog comments before and it was a delight to meet her in person. Fun fact – we’re both in the medical sciences field, but had no idea until we met that day.

“Hum” rode her honest-to-god Japanese Mamachari, which she’s posted on extensively. All I can add is that any bike shop that doesn’t think there is a market for ready-made family transportation bikes is in denial. Or doesn’t talk to parents. Seriously – every time she takes this bike out, people stop her to ask where they can get one. I want one – and my kid’s far too big for it.

Her husband and son rode this fantastically designed trailer bike. It’s attached via a rear rack, making it super stable, just like our Burley Piccolo. However, it attaches at the very back, leaving the top of the rack available for cargo or a rear child seat. In contrast, the Piccolo has a giant knob in the middle of the rack, so the sides can be used for panniers, but a child seat cannot be attached. The downside? It’s only available in Germany. I need to start expanding my linkedin network to more international scientists, so that I have access to some of the cool bikes available overseas. 
I got to ride the Brompton – see how many cool bikes they have? I found the handling a little weird at first, but quickly got used to it. I’ve been admiring these baby-wheeled devices for well over a year now. I haven’t come up with a convincing rational for why I need to buy one yet, but it’s only a matter of time. 
Once we reached the Mission District, the party was in full swing and the streets were filled with people. People walking, people riding bikes – the atmosphere was incredibly mellow and happy. We did need to use our slow-biking skills to weave through the crowd. But hey – at this point we were already at our destination, so what’s the hurry?

We traveled the whole length of the street fair, stopping to watch performances, including this cabaret/acrobatics group, and the obligatory bathroom & snacks stop. We were very sad when the party ended with a police sweep and a return to normal traffic.

Yes, I have now joined the ranks of people who take pictures of infrastructure in their spare time. At least I didn’t run out into traffic to get a better shot.

Our route home went along “The Wiggle”, which wins for the best named bike route EVAH. The city has recently replaced the original sharrows with the green version above. They’re bright and I love them. There is no way you could miss a turn marked with these babies.

Part 2: Seattle’s Greenwood Street Fair

Last month, Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood had their street fair. By a terrific coincidence, Hum of the City was here for a visit, staying with Family Ride! The family biking blogosphere can be such a small world some times. This time we were there at the very start of the street fair, which was a strangely gradual affair. “Oh look, they’ve closed off the street! Let’s go, kids! Whoops, there are still cars coming, get back to the side!” Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before the streets were really, truly closed to cars and the party began.

Spencer did loops. And needs his seat raised. How did he grow so quickly?
I was really happy to see Spencer and Theo have so much fun together. A lot of my Seattle bikey friends have younger kids, so he really enjoyed having a new friend his age.
Despite the difference in height, Theo is 2 weeks older than Spencer.
Family Ride, being lapped by a balance bike.
The streets were full, but not quite as crowded as at the San Francisco Fair. We ran into a number of friends with whom we had to stop and chat. There was bike decorating, a (very) brief kids’ parade,  and some fun performances, including a high rise trapeze act.

My photo doesn’t do this justice – her act involved a lot of spinning around and was a lot of fun.
The audience was enthralled.

A Hawaiian dance troupe put on a performance and let the boys try out the poi balls. The difference between poi and nunchuks is thin, particularly to 6 year old boys. Oh well, at least they were wearing helmets. Alway dance in helmets, folks – think of your brains!

Look out!

A bouquet of helmets

After a lot of street partying, we were all getting hungry. There really weren’t any street vendors, so we locked our bikes and helmets into an impressive pile and tried to get a table at a nearby restaurant. Alas the wait was long and our party was large, containing many children, so it was not to be. We had to say our goodbyes and get home before dark. It was so much fun to be out and having fun in the street and meeting friends, new and old!

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!

Critical Lass Seattle!

Critical Lass Seattle!

Join us tomorrow for Seattle’s first Critical Lass ride! After seeing how much fun folks are having in Edmonton and Chicago, we knew we had to join the fun and do the same in Seattle! We’re meeting Sunday, May 13 (tomorrow!) at 2 pm at the Ballard Library.
What does “an easy, social ride” mean? It means a slow pace, lots of chatting and no one gets left behind. Street clothes, easy routes, and refreshments! 
This is also part of CycloFemme, a world wide celebration of women & cycling. There will be rides all over the world, which we think is awesome. Let’s ride!

UPDATE: The Critical Lass rides in Seattle are now happening monthly! Please visit the Seattle Critical Lass blog and facebook page for updates, summaries of past rides, and photos of participants!

30 Days of Biking – Things Fall Apart

30 Days of Biking – Things Fall Apart

#30 Days of Biking has now ended. I did quite well for the first 2 weeks, but the number of days that I rode dropped significantly after that. First the chart:

Week 3

Day 15:  Sunday 4/15  Distance:  0 miles
And on the 15th day, she gardened.

Day 16:  Monday 4/16  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. Rainy commute, but at least my new plants got some water. ‘Cause I forgot to do that after planing them.

Day 17:  Tuesday 4/17  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. Seattle Survival tip #2:  Always bring your rain pants.

Day 18:  Wednesday 4/18  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. Sun. Bike. Good.

Day 19:  Thursday 4/19  Distance:  6 miles
Half a commute. Discovered my front tire was flat just as I was about to head home on my evening commute. Had evening events and just didn’t have time to change it, so I called for back up. As in, calling Mr. Jen and whining for a ride.

Day 20:  Friday 4/20  Distance:  0 miles
Vacation day. Took the train to Portland!

Day 21:  Saturday 4/21  Distance:  3.5 miles
Rented a family tandem bike from Clever Cycles and rode to a nearby park and coffee shop. It was hardly an extensive tour of Portland, but fun never the less.

Week 3 Total:  45.5 miles

Week 4


Day 22:  Sunday 4/22  Distance:  0 miles
Portland is exactly as bike-crazy as people say, but I was just an observer, not a participant.

Day 23:  Monday 4/23  Distance:  0 miles
Had a neighborhood greenways event in an unfamiliar neighborhood after work, so I took the bus. Oh, the irony.

Day 24:  Tuesday 4/24  Distance:  0 miles
Took the bus to work. Eventually fixed the flat tire, with the help of a kind co-worker. Then discovered that the back tire had a scary-looking bulge in it. By this point, I’d had enough, so I took the bus home.

Day 25:  Wednesday 4/25  Distance: 12 miles
Regular commute. Took the city bike to work. Getting caught in the rain doesn’t take away from the fun of riding after so many days away.

Day 26:  Thursday 4/26  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. City bike!

Day 27:  Friday  4/27  Distance:  0 miles
Telecommuted. Good lunch time plans, but they didn’t involve my bike.

Day 28:  Saturday 4/28  Distance:  5 miles
Took my son to tee ball via the Piccolo. It was a fun trip, but my shifter broke on the way home. This has just not been my month.

Day 29:  Sunday 4/29  Distance:  0 miles
Errands by car, including fetching and fixing bikes.

Day 30:  Monday 4/30  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. And the month ends with a tail wind!

Week 4 Total:  41 miles

Monthly total:  218 miles

Sometimes schedules, life and mechanical problems keep me off my bike. I miss a few days every month for one reason or another, but this was unusual to have so many issues in a two month period. In retrospect, I’m surprised, but not disappointed. When I decided to participate in 30 Days of biking, I decided to document how I use bikes for transportation & fun, but not to make a special effort. That meant no rides around the block to meet an arbitrary standard*. Are there any lessons? Well, sometimes you need to be flexible. It really helps to have back up transportation options – being able to take the bus home or get a ride with someone else can make difficult days go much more smoothly. Even if every trip can’t be made by bike, far more trips can be than I ever imagined a couple of years ago.   Finally, though I need to get better at changing flat tires, I hope I don’t have the occasion to do so very often.

*See? That was a guiding principle, not laziness. Honestly.

30 Days of Biking: Week 2

30 Days of Biking: Week 2

Week 2:

Day 8:  Sunday 4/8   Distance:  0.25 miles
Wanted to take Spencer’s bike to a trail for some independent riding, but couldn’t get both bikes on the car rack at the same time*. Sadly, there’s no route to get there that is safe enough for a 6 year old. Rode up and down the block instead.

Day 9:  Monday 4/9  Distance: 12 miles
Regular commute. When the weather’s this nice, my commute is one of the best parts of my day.

Day 10:  Tuesday 4/10  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute.  Had a happy ride home, chatting with a co-worker and fellow neighborhood greenways fan.

Day 11:  Wednesday 4/11  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute.  The tiny new leaves give the trees a delicate and lacy air.

Day 12:  Thursday 4/12  Distance:  12 miles

Regular commute.  Riding a bike to work makes it easy to stop and visit with a friend. And admire her new bike!
Day 13:  Friday 4/13  Distance:  16 miles
Worked from home, but doing errands mid-day was a perfect excuse for get on my bike.
Day 14:  Saturday 4/14  Distance:  12 miles
Had a day full of kid activities, but doing it by bike makes me happy too.
Total distance:  76.25 miles

*I think I’ve figured out how to fix this. If it works, I’ll post it.

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).

30 Days of Biking

30 Days of Biking

30 Days of Biking is an internet game, where you ride your bike every day for a month and blog, tweet or post on facebook about your rides. Since I ride a bike almost every day, I thought it would be fun to track what I really do. I don’t expect to collect any impressive totals for distance, cargo-carrying capacity or much else. However, I thought it would be kind of interesting to see how riding a bike does (or does not) fit into my life. I tweet it everyday, but will just post a weekly summary here, because writing every day is just too much work.

Week 1:

Day 1: Sunday 4/1/12    Distance:  0.5 miles
Rode up & down the closed street to start teaching Spencer to ride on-street.

Day 2: Monday 4/2/12   Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute on a beautifully sunny day. 14 cyclists waiting for the Ballard Locks to open as a big gravel barge came through.

Day 3: Tuesday 4/3/12 Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. Caught in the rain twice, once while the sun was shining at the same time. Great rainbow.

Day 4: Wednesday 4/4/12  Distance:  2 miles
Took the bus to work, but only so that I could pick up the road bike from it’s tuneup on my way home.

Day 5: Thursday 4/5/12 Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. Road bikes are fun too.

Day 6:  Friday 4/6/12  Distance:  12 miles
Regular commute. Yes, it’s fun to go fast.

Day 7:  Saturday 4/7/12 Distance:  5 miles
Took the mama bike to tee ball & a coffee date. Phinney ridge is very steep, but a lovely day for a ride.

Weekly total:  55.5 miles

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!

Why Ortlieb panniers are ubiquitous

Why Ortlieb panniers are ubiquitous

Ortlieb panniers are ubiquitous in Seattle. I tried to resist when I was shopping for a set of panniers last year, but soon gave in. Sometimes when everyone has something, it’s for a good reason*.  It turns out, they’re popular for a few reasons – they’re tough, waterproof, and can hold a ridiculous amount of stuff.

Here’s what I was hauling last weekend:
1. Wallet
2. Camera
3. Water bottle
4. My son’s cleats
5. His baseball glove
6. His baseball hat
7. My sweater, which I needed in the morning, but not by the afternoon
8. My new sweater, from Hub & Bespoke
9. Zucchini
10. Mushrooms
11. Hotdogs
12. Hotdog buns
13. Jacket (also too warm by mid-afternoon)
14. Gloves (ditto)

I should also mention that this was all in a single Ortlieb, not spread between the pair. When we left, we were wearing all of the layers so I didn’t think that I needed to bring both. It’s remarkable how much they’ll carry. Maybe we can even try an overnight bike trip sometime this year.

*Subaru Outbacks are also ubiquitous in Seattle. I have friends in the neighborhood who have a 2 year daughter. “Subaru” may not have been her first word, but it was an early one.

The 6 year old urban planner. Part 3.

The 6 year old urban planner. Part 3.

During our downtown adventure of a couple of weeks ago, my son and I came to the intersection of 1st Ave and Cherry St.  As we were waiting at the corner, I explained that it was an all-way-walk signal and that when it changed, we could cross in any direction, even diagonally.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “We don’t have to wait and cross twice! I bet everyone wants one of these!”