Saturday, December 17, 2011

Biking News

Here's the biking-related news around here:

1) Yes, those were avocados that the little kids and I collected on a bike adventure last week and they were yummy!

2) Jeremy and I (and now the kids) have this crazy idea (daydream?) of biking from California to southeastern Idaho this summer for a family reunion. Thinking about hills, we found this really cool site that shows a graph of elevation change for any route you plot on googlemaps:

3) Also while thinking about hills, we decided it's finally time we put a drum brake on the triple. Even if we don't try to get to Idaho, there's enough hills here and there, that it'd be helpful. We waited too long on this, though. The Arai drum brake we need is no longer made. A local bike shop specializing in tandems has none and can't get any from Bike Friday or anywhere else. We did find one online... for $500! Is this really how much a drum brake should cost? Maybe we really don't need a drum brake after all (unless we really do go to Idaho...).

4) I had another little fall with bakfiets. It was from a standstill. I was on the side of the road fiddling with the saddle height and should have put the kickstand down before doing that. Jonah and Joseph were also leaning over the edge of the bakfiets putting stickers on the outside of the box. I just lost my grip on the handlebars. No one was hurt. Nathaniel stayed asleep through everything. Joseph was a little upset.

5) Jeremy and the girls have seen another bakfiets parked at their school some mornings. Jeremy finally met the owner, who hauls around his 1st grader and preschooler in it. That's a lot of weight!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Baby and Milk

Yesterday evening, Nathaniel and I went to the grocery store. We bought four gallons of milk. Don't they look cozy on the bakfiets bench (right by Nat cozy in his carseat)?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Not biking to school

Our oldest daughter had ear surgery. For 6 weeks after the surgery she is supposed to avoid physical activity. Since she is never one to "take it easy" biking, this means no biking to school. She vehemently turned down the option of riding the triple. The pride of watching her sister ride her own bike has too much for her to bear. Though I am not sure I would be comfortable with it either - she would find a way to over-exert herself.

We also offered her a ride in the bakfeits, but was a non-starter.

So, we are stuck driving the three and a half miles to school.

Well, its actually closer to three miles. We usually park a ways away from the school and walk the final stretch in. The kids constantly beg us to park further away, but there is the matter of actually leaving on time. (They have threatened to get up at 5:30am to walk to school, but sleep almost always beats out the convictions.)

On Friday, we parked a couple blocks from school. As we were walking in, we saw an SUV in the driveway. Two kids jumped in, and the SUV drove off - right to the school! At that distance, walking was faster than enduring the "drop-off" traffic at school, but I guess some people really like to drive. (To be fair, there are also plenty of people that leave further away that walk to school every day.)

The kids also joke about the large traffic jams they see near some neighborhood schools on the way: The kids are only allowed to drive if they leave early enough. If they are running late, they have to bike.

Luckily, most of the "recovery" period for our daughter's surgery will take place during the Christmas vacation, so its only two weeks of driving - and endless complaining about cars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Looking for animals, we found avocados.

Jonah has been asking for several days to go "see animals". We've made a few trips over the past few weeks to Rancho San Antonio's Deer Hollow Farm and he thoroughly enjoyed watching/chasing the goats, chickens, etc. Today, I decided to go explore Blackberry Farm and the neighboring McClellan Ranch. I visited several months ago and remembered a nice walking/biking trail in the area that went by fenced-in farm animals.

It was a beautiful winter day-- in the 50s, sunny, barely a breeze. Here are my three youngest boys all ready to go. They have sand toys to play with at Blackberry Farm's playground:

The ride there was pleasant, but-- because of the mostly slight uphill-- quite slow. With three boys plus car seat, diaper bag, etc. and a 100 lb. bike, I figured out I'm probably pedaling around 200 or more pounds. Whoa! That doesn't make me feel so bad when nearly every biker I see passes me.

After riding around a little bit to find an entrance to the park (I was going by my not-perfect memory), we rode the little bike path by the farm. Looking closer I learned that it's actually part of a 4-H club and not open to the public, but we were able to kind of see a few goats and a donkey through the fence. Even that little glimpse of animals made Jonah happy. After the animal viewing, we went back to the playground where we settled in for a few hours of play and snacks. Nathaniel took a long nap in his car seat in the bakfiets. I moved around from picnic table to picnic table to stay in the little bit of sun the wooded area provided. While enjoying the calm and quiet of one kid sleeping and two happily playing, I kept noticing something falling from a huge tree behind me. I poked around the ground to investigate. I'm 99% sure they were avocados falling from an avacado tree. Here's the tree:

And the fruit:

I stashed some in the bike pannier and will let it ripen on the counter and-- maybe with another opinion confirming what it really is-- eat it! I noticed a couple of older women grabbing a few fruits as they walked by too. I didn't get a chance to ask them if the fruit really was avocados since I'd moved to the other side of the playground by then; bummer! The thought of finding free, yummy fruit is wonderful-- like a little secret that few others care or know about. While living in Chicago, we ate juneberries from the park across the street and mulberries from another park. I looked forward to doing that each summer, but-- considering that the berries were never totally picked-- most of the rest of the city apparently didn't.

After a while at the playground, we tootled around on a bridge over a creek-- dropping leaves into the water, playing with sticks, etc. We then headed over to the sunny sand-volleyball courts and Jonah and Joseph put their sand toys to good use while I nursed Jonah and took care of his leaked-everywhere very poopy mess.

I really needed a peaceful, outdoorsy morning like today. I was only sad that the rest of my family-- at school and work-- weren't there to enjoy it too. I especially thought of Gabriella. She had ear surgery last week and must not run or jump for five weeks in order for everything to heal (biking should be okay-- soon). I am extremely grateful for the good surgeon and modern medicine that have prevented what would have eventually caused total hearing loss and possibly neurological problems, but it just breaks my heart that something so pleasant as freely running about in the wild (or as close to that as you can get a few miles from home!) has to be temporarily restricted.

Our return trip was mostly uneventful-- a little fighting between the big boys and a sand toy (old yogurt container) dropped in traffic that I refused to try to retrieve, but a wonderful downhill on the home-side of the pedestrian bridge over the freeway.

And, as a finale, here's a few more photos from our morning:
Lots of sticks to play with.

This was actually pretty tricky to climb up on. Joey is proud of himself.

Very fast slide!

Sandbox fun.

Joey saved the chocolate pieces from his trail mix, and proceeded to make little designs with them. Here you also see the wonderful marker tattoo he adorned himself with this morning.
The boys spent a while looking at/dropping things in the creek. This evening, Jonah asked "see water?" (meaning,  "I want to see water".) It may be his new request, replacing the daily  "see animals"?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bike Lights

Lately, we've been riding a lot in the dark-- just because it's winter and the sun sets earlier and we're often still out and about. I've never been too concerned about doing that. All you need are lights and to be a little more attentive to whether drivers have seen you at intersections, driveways, etc. The past week or so though, night-riding has been a pain. We have two bikes with front and rear dynamos-- the Breezer bike and the bakfiets--  and one bike with a front dynamo-- the Japanese bike. Lighting for these bikes is easy and requires no forethought. The rest of the bikes (and the back of the Japanese bike) depend on battery-powered lights and we've had all kinds of little problems-- lights that have fallen off while riding, lights with dead batteries (kids mess with these and they'll get left on in the garage), lights that are poorly attached to handlebars, and lights that get moved around from bike to bike and aren't where you expect them to be. Yesterday afternoon, before leaving on a trip to Rancho San Antonio with my girls, we spent a good fifteen minutes making sure the girls were outfitted with working lights (and that they weren't stealing lights that Jeremy would need when he'd meet us later that afternoon!). I thought everything was great when the girls each had a front light attached to their handlebars and a red blinkie attached to the backs of their helmets (something I saw on a cyclist while driving-- more visible than a light attached low on a kid's bike, I think). After our final stops of the day (or by then, night) at Trader Joe's and a bike shop, however, Daniella had somehow managed to lose part (the part holding batteries!) of her back light/ helmet light. Jeremy and Gabriella were ahead of me and Daniella, so I just had Daniella ride in front of me, since I figured cars would see the back light on my bakfiets. For some reason, being in front made Daniella uncomfortable and I had to coax her toward home. In retrospect, I guess we could have just bought yet another light at the bike store (duh!), but Nathaniel was close to getting fussy, and we were close to home anyway, and I don't think I really would have wanted to shell out more money for another light we'd probably break or lose. Nothing dreadful happened on the way home. No car hit us or came close to us. No cop stopped us for Daniella's lacking light (and no rear reflector either). There's no real point to this post, except to express my opinion that seemingly small convenient things like dynamo lights make a huge positive difference when herding a posse around on bikes. And at the rate we go through lights and batteries, they're probably a lot more cost effective too! Does anyone else have reflections on riding at night? How do you keep you and your kids all lit up? Any recommendations for good after-market dynamo systems?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Psycho Donuts

Today, our ten year old had a doctor's appointment. It was only a dozen miles away, so of course she wanted to bike - on her own bike. Alas, I had the water bottles set up on the triple, so we were "water free". Luckily, urban routes tend to have a large amount of water sources (parks). We set out early, with a large packet of x-ray films in the pannier.

The doctor happened to be in the same direction as Psycho Donuts, so of course we had to make a stop. (We picked up a "crazy eights" reward card on our maiden voyage Saturday, so we just had to get an extra punch.) Since we were there earlier, the donut selection was better and we were able to both get "Canadian Morning Squeal Meal" donuts aka "bacon donuts". (Yes that was real bacon on top!)

Based on our experience Saturday, we avoided the "Prospect-Campbell" route that maps (and google bike directions) recommended, and instead went down Cox and Bucknall as our primary East-West route. It was a much more pleasant ride. We avoided the large retail intersections, and had plenty of quiet roads, with easy lights crossing the major streets. This also had the bike overpass over San Tomas expressway, eliminating one of the major road crossings altogether. When retracing the route, I had to work hard to convince Google maps that we really wanted to keep going on that street. (It tried to have us return to Campbell every chance it could.) Campbell does have a bike lane, but it is narrow. It is also filled with retail intersections and traffic lights. Bucknall is a quiet, low-traffic tree-lined street (that looks especially colorful this time of year). Alas, these details are not self evident from the maps.

From the donut shop, we went down the Los Gatos Creek trail. She said the trail was "boring" and she preferred to take the road on the way back. So, after a very long doctors visit, we headed back on the road. First, we took the "secret bike bridge" over Highway 85. The neighborhood was filled with "too-big houses", including some that we thought looked like mini-castles. We had to check them out.

View Larger Map

We stopped briefly at a park in the neighborhood. While there, I noticed my tire was a little flat. Alas, I couldn't seem to get my cheepo pump to get any air in. Oh well. We continued on our way, going a while down Bascom, one of those "wonderful" 6 lane roads that are symptomatic of contemporary suburbia. She much preferred this to the trail. (The road itself was not all that bad today.)

From there, we passed by Tread Bike Shop. They were kind enough to let us borrow their pump to fill the tire. (This worked much better than the cheapo!) We asked about a "touring" style bike for our daughter. Alas, there doesn't seem to be much available. They did mention that a couple came through a few days back. The were on their way from "Alaska or someplace" down to South America. They were looking for Schwable tires, but alas, none were in stock. We also passed by State Bicycle Shop, a fixed-gear bike specialist. Not quite our style.

And we were soon back at Psycho Donuts. We got the donuts for the rest of the family and tried some noses and eyeballs (custard filled donuts holes.) We also had a chat with the founders. He was a tech guy who just decided that donut shops need some invigorating. They are also considering expansion. Perhaps they can have one close to us. (As an aside, I first heard about this donut shop when I saw a Groupon offer. I didn't buy the offer, but we have now ended up there a few times. I wonder how often this "free" publicity helps lure in customers?)

We continued on home via a similar route, though this time we decided to try to go through a neighborhood near Saratoga Creek. Alas, there was a big hole in the bike map right in that area. However, it just "felt" like an area that may have a "secret bikeway" nearby. We eventually found a "back entrance" to Prospect High School. This took us around the edge of the school and out to Prospect, bypassing Lawrence and the retail area (yeah!). Perhaps it was a good thing we didn't have a map, because this was not listed on the map. Google also doesn't have it listed, though from street view you can make out the entrance.

View Larger Map

On the trip we passed schools in a number of different school districts. Almost all had the whole week off. (The exception was Fremont Union, which actually had school today!) We happened to pass by her school right as the morning bell rang. (A day off school, and we end up on the same schedule. Go figure.) On the way back, we were at the school right at early dismissal time. So, I guess it was like a school day. We saw her teacher busy typing away on the computer in the classroom. So much for a day off!)

We made a final stop at Trader Joe's to get some things to make smoothies. (We had only one pannier, and plenty of other stuff, so we couldn't get much.) It was packed with the pre-Thanksgiving Day crowds. There were also free samples of pies in front, in addition to the samples in the back. Yum! The parking lot was also a zoo. Luckily, we could sneak out a side ways on our bikes.

Later when we got back, my wife went off on a grocery store run with the Bakfiets. With the parking lot zoo, it probably ended up being much faster than driving. Go figure.

The 30 mile bike ride we did was not quite enough for our daughter. Later that evening the three big kids all wanted to bike to the library. It was chilly and dark, so I was inclined to stay home or drive, but they were insistent. (They absolutely detest cars!) So we went on the triple (with plenty of lights) and the Japanese Bike (with the generator.) Alas, my wife had adjusted it for her trip yesterday, and had accidentally made the seat too low for her. I'm 5 inches taller, so I was nearly kneeing my chest as we were going - and the adjustment tool was in the other bike. Going there was not too bad (downhill, with the wind.) The return trip? Well, it felt like pulling a trailer while kids were pedaling backwards. It is amazing what a workout you can get with a poorly positioned seat!

Monday, November 21, 2011

10 miles to donuts

Last Saturday, I was itching to go out on a family bike adventure. I had in mind a hiking area about 5 miles away up in some hills. The rest of the family was interested in the bike riding part, but not so much the destination. Jeremy suggested a visit to Psycho Donuts instead. Despite the seemingly tons of candy and junk food we've been eating lately, I acquiesced. The kids were pretty excited and got dressed and ready pretty quickly. Gabriella even French-braided Daniella's hair:
I had no idea she could do this and it came out pretty well- -much better than I can do.

As is the case with bike adventures, we saw and stopped at lots of interesting things along the way. We saw/did:

1) Picked up Jeremy's new glasses (with transition lenses that turn dark in the sun). Here is Jonah happily waiting (holding a fan Daniella decorated last summer):

2) While stopped at an intersection, we saw a guy spray-painting fluorescent orange markings on the street. The little kids really liked this. (Sorry, no photo.)

3) About a mile from the donut shop, the girls insisted we stop at "Dolphin Pet Village". The girls have a thing for dolphins. There were, of course, no dolphins in the store (the girls, I think, understood this going in), but there were tons of fish and a few parrots.

4) Our third stop was the original destination of Psycho Donuts (about 10 miles from home). This was a totally weird (and a little pricey) store, but fun and yummy. Donuts had names like "headbanger" and "cereal killer" with all kinds of strange toppings/ fillings (like cereal). The lady behind the counter was dressed up in a 1950s era nurse outfit. When we walked up to the counter, she handed each of the kids a little chunk of bubble wrap to play with (very cool). There was also a little "insane asylum" area with a pile of dress-up clothes and all kinds of other wonky "psycho" kitsch.

The kids liked this sign.
5) After stuffing ourselves with donuts for lunch (it was about noon when we finally made it to the store), we spotted another bakfiets way down the road. A traffic light momentarily stopped us, but as soon as it turned green, Jeremy insisted we go "chase the bakfiets". We couldn't catch up and Nathaniel wanted to be held, so I stopped on a quiet street in a beautiful neighborhood full of fall colors while Jeremy and his two stokers (Joey and Joshua) and the girls on their own bikes went around a few blocks to see if they could find the bike. They couldn't, but had a nice look around anyway.

6)With the bakfiets chase over and a still fussy Nathaniel, we stopped at yet another park we've never been to before.
Leaving the park via a pedestrian overpass (over an expressway). 
7) And then we stopped at REI. At this point, the kids were a little cranky, but we really wanted to get a few things for Daniella's bike. We decided to just get the repairs done there while we waited.
Joseph watching kids on the climbing wall while we ate a snack in front of the store.
8) Since we never had a proper lunch, we stopped at Trader Joe's for real (as in, not donuts) food.
Big kids in front of Trader Joe's.
9) We brought the food and picnicked at a park we've been to several times.
Rainbow Park. It was getting chilly!
10) And, at dusk, we rode peacefully home-- enjoying the gentle downhill.

It was a wonderful outing. It wasn't about just getting donuts, but about the stops and sights on the way there and back. I'm wanting to go on more adventures. I'm still eager to try out some real hills with bakfiets and to see how I do!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Just biking along...

Life is just going along. Biking is pretty much an everyday thing. (We drive about twice a month.)  I downloaded photos from my camera card last night. Here's a selection of the biking photos:
Playing around in the garage...

Off to church...

Tired after a good play at the park...

Hurry up Joshua! We don't want to be late for school.

Grocery outing via bakfiets. I figure the helmet is good for more than just bikes. You always hear about kids tumbling from shopping carts..

Heading home from the YMCA.

When they're tired of the play structure, there's always the bakfiets to climb on...

Carrier of kids, Spiderman costume, and a pile of leaves...

The bakfiets is also good at carrying all kinds of things you forget about-- sand shovels, preschool crafts, sunglasses, piles of sweaters, a rotten banana... (Jeremy really made fun of me about the banana, but-- for the record-- it wasn't wasted. Gabi found it and used it to make a smoothie.)

And so goes life. I think my next bike adventure will be something in the hills nearby. Last night, I was enthusiastically plotting multi-day family bike trips while Jeremy listened. His response: "You've never ridden on hills, have you?" (Any multi-day outing would take us over hills.) Of course, I've ridden on hills! And of course I can ride the bakfiets on big hills too, right? I can't resist the challenge...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bike adventure with my girls

I'd been feeling like my girls and I needed some quality time together, so I set yesterday aside for us to do something special. We spent the previous few days trying to decide what to do, but never came up with anything more than "go out to lunch" and "ride bikes somewhere". With those vague ideas, we set off yesterday on our bikes a little bit before lunch. Here are my happy girls all ready to go:

We pedaled toward the Stevens Creek Trail-- a multi-use walking/biking trail that leads to the marshy southwest edge of the San Francisco bay. The weather was perfect (in my opinion) for biking. It was in the low 60s and overcast. A few layers of clothing and we were set. Nathaniel (the little nursling who always comes with me) was snug and warm in his carseat in the bakfiets under the rain/wind cover. He (making up for poor sleeping the night before?) slept nearly the whole trip.

After several miles down the trail, we went down a major street for a few blocks to find lunch. We decided on a sushi restaurant, but it was-- unfortunately-- not open until dinnertime, so we opted for Subway instead, which we brought to a playground by the trail. Here are my lovely girls at the playground:

As I watched them play, I thought about my fifth grader and how in just a few years (or less?) playgrounds may no longer hold much appeal for her. I thought about how I felt at age 11 or 12-- sort of a kid, but sort of an adult. I remember very much wanting to play on playgrounds, but sometimes holding back because I felt clambering around on play structures was "babyish".

After our lunch break, we rode the trail (or rather one of the many trails in the marshy area) far out into the bay where it dead-ended . It was peaceful, but not totally silent. We could still hear some very distant traffic, a few gunshots from waterfowl hunters, and an occasional plane landing at Moffett Field. That far out though, there weren't too many people and we stood alone for a bit watching birds. Here are photos of the area:
Something about the lighting and the contrast of the orange bike and brown surroundings really struck me here; the photo, unfortunately, didn't quite capture what I wanted.
A llittle while later, we backtracked a little inland and took the Bay Trail south-- still going through the marshy area. These trails in the marshes were unpaved, but were firm dirt or gravel that was easy  to ride on at our slow pace. The only trouble we ran into was on a short (maybe 10 feet or less) but very steep uphill. I couldn't make it up with the bakfiets, so got off to push, but couldn't get a good enough grip on the loose gravel with my feet in order to get the bike up. I planted myself at a standstill on the hill and then asked Gabriella to help by pushing on the back of the bike and we made it up easily.

One of the highlights of our time by the bay, was looking through these binoculars:

Next to the binoculars were a few signs showing the different types of birds living in the surrounding area. One interesting thing I learned was that the ponds weren't natural, but were old salt evaporation ponds that are now part of a wildlife refuge. A little googling brought up the site, which explains the recent (starting in 2003) project to restore the ponds to a wildlife habitat. Not all salt ponds in the bay are being restored, though. You can see lots of them flying into the San Francisco airport, brightly colored because (according to Wikipedia) of various types of algae.

After some bird watching (I think we all liked the big cormorants), we went to another playground-- quite deserted because it had started drizzling. The girls thought it was super-cool because the spring riders were super boingy and they could rock them hard enough to touch the ground. This was for them a highlight of our trip; it was the first thing they told their brothers about when we got home. It was also here that Daniella went to the bathroom and walked out wanting help getting foamy soap out of her eyes. I had to restrain my laughter as I helped her wash it out. I still don't quite understand how soap that was difficult to dispense (her reason for the soap disaster) got on her face, but oh well... Here are a few pictures from the park (not spring riders or soapy eyes, though):

Snug in the bakfiets (and fleecy frog costume!)
After this stop, I decided it was time to head the 7 or so miles home. At Jeremy's suggestion (he's biked the area more than I have), we headed over a couple new pedestrian bridges, stopping just once at a playground to fill our water bottles (and climb the play structure for a minute, of course, too). We got home about 5:30. Jeremy was cooking dinner (a real treat!), and I was happy to see the rest of my family and chat. We had the usual dinner craziness of spilled food, yelling, eating with hands, standing on chairs, but also some nice family time, including a talk about math. Joshua (recently interested in division, but still learning) asked about dividing π. Daniella had a cute sassy answer about how the answer "depends on how thin you slice it." Jeremy-- in his random way-- then started to explain how to calculate the area of a circle and eventually explained that the r in πr2 is a spoke on a bicycle wheel. The kids understood. And so ends our wonderful adventure...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Family Bike Touring

Lately, I've been captivated by the idea of bicycle touring with my young family. At some point in the last few months and weeks, I've found several other blogging families that have done/are doing exactly this:

On my blog sidebar are the Pedal Powered Family, the Family on Bikes, and the Global Mobile Family (I absolutely love the photos on this blog). Lately, my favorite reading has been about the Harrison family, who've nicknamed themselves the Pedouins. I've spent way too many nights up late reading their blog about their journey on a quint bike from Kentucky to Alaska and then their winter in a cabin near Fairbanks. Something about the writing just resonates with me. They've also written a book about their trip and are currently on a book tour (in an old school bus that they restored!). I'm bummed that I didn't find out about them, their journey, and their book a little sooner. They stopped just a few miles from our home in September! I'm definitely planning on reading their book, A Pedouin Life: Stop and Smell the Artichokes.

It'll be my second family bike touring memoir that I've read, the first being Mud, Sweat, and Tears by Joe Kurmaskie:

I liked this well enough, but it was a little crass, I missed a good chunk of all the pop culture references (I seem to often be clueless about these), and I didn't like how stories about the actual tour were mixed together with stories about the author's mom and the author's falling in love with his wife. Maybe I was just reading too fast to get it, but putting those three themes together in the same book seemed weird.

As far as bike touring goes for my family... I doubt we'll do anything longer than a few days. We have several day outings in mind, and we are toying with idea of traveling 100 miles to my inlaws. I worry about Nathaniel fussing, about hills (would we take the bakfiets touring?), and about just being tired/thirsty/hungry with nowhere to sleep. But it's fun to dream... Maybe someday, we'll be the ones out on the open road.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lots of biking miles

Yesterday, our family put a lot of miles on our bikes. Big kids: 3.5 miles. Jeremy: 20. Kimberly and little kids: 16. Jeremy rode extra because of another off-site work conference. I rode so far because it was just too beautiful a day to stay home and do nothing. So... I loaded up the little kids into the bakfiets and we went on an "adventure". I had as a general, possible, final destination Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, but instead we stopped at the Rosacrucian Egyptian Museum. It wasn't too kid-friendly, but we did get to walk through a replica of a tomb and I enjoyed an exhibit on giving birth in ancient Egypt. The boys liked best watching the lift that carried several elderly visitors down a set of stairs (oh, well-- a little young for the museum yet). Here are the boys as we left the museum-- next to the cool "open" sign:

And here is a picture of the front of the museum, inspired by an ancient temple:

On the way home, we cut through Santa Clara University and found a little environmental/green living sort-of fair going on. We bought a few baked goods (look closely at the kids' hands), the proceeds going to saving ocean life:

We also stopped at a park we've never been to (always a novelty):

I decided our visit was over when Jonah threw sand at a little girl. He's been doing things like this (always to girls just a little smaller than him) a lot lately-- no amount of talking about it (or time-outs, or leaving the park) seems to help.

The rest of the way home involved some poking, a lot of whining from Joseph, a fussy Nathaniel who eventually fell asleep and a potty break at another park. I guess life on a bike isn't always perfect :) I enjoyed the journey, though. I grew up in the SF bay area, but have no memory of ever visiting the museum and the surrounding neighborhood. I'm excited to go on more bike adventures in that direction.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bakfiets to the rescue

Yesterday, I biked all of the kids to school. Jeremy usually gets this job and then continues on to work, but yesterday had a work conference he needed to leave extra-early for. I was planning on just jamming all six kids into the car and dropping the three school-age ones off at the curb, but the big kids really wanted to bike and were willing to get ready quickly to do it. I figured we needed to leave a little earlier than usual because Joshua and Daniella would be riding their own bikes instead of the triple. The three littles got to be in the bakfiets. About halfway to school, Joshua started getting way behind. I figured he was just tired, but then Gabriella informed me his tire was flat. I was thoughtlessly unprepared-- no tools or patch kit or even a pump. Quickly, I decided to just lock Joshua's bike to a signpost and have him ride on the bakfiets rack. He wasn't happy about leaving his bike, but the set-up worked great. I barely noticed the extra 50 or so pounds. We got to school on time. On the way home from drop-off, I picked up Joshua's bike, strapped it to the back of the bakfiets and rode home-- this time being careful not to snag it on bollards. After getting home, I looked carefully at the tire. It wasn't just flat, but the rubber was worn so thin that there was a hole in it. The bike adventures never end...
Joshua's well-worn back tire-- now with a hole. I really should have noticed this before!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sticks and Spokes

Jonah and I were loafing around at a playground this morning. I took this photo after he set himself beside the front wheel of the bakfiets. He had a pile of sticks with him and began to spin the wheel (it is off the ground when the bike is parked) and to poke a nice fat stick between the spokes. I sat down with him to make sure he wouldn't get hurt or hurt the bike. I named the different parts on the front of the bike. He remembered "fender" and put together the nice phrase"hit fender!" as he whacked the fender with a stick. Just a fun parenting moment that happened to involve a bike... 

Monday, October 17, 2011

A "stupid me!" crash with the bakfiets

Last Saturday, I had a little crash with the bakfiets. No one was hurt (just a slightly skinned knee for me). The reason I crashed had to do with a screaming infant, the dark, bollards and a junky bike (not the bakfiets, but a different one)... but let me begin from the beginning.

About a year ago, I decided we had to have some sort of schedule for household chores and general pick-up. As part of that, Jeremy and I decided that every evening we would pick up toys, clothes, etc. for a set amount of time (at first it was 30 min., then later on 20 min.) and that if everything was reasonably well picked-up in that amount of time, we'd get a "Great America point". A "Great America point" was equal to one dollar toward the purchase of season passes for our family to California's Great America amusement park. The kids had been asking to go to Great America for a long time, the request seemed reasonable, but we also wanted to make it something special and hard-earned. So, we kept on chugging away at the "nightly clean-up" and began adding up points. After a while, the clean-up became somewhat routine and we didn't keep track of points as carefully, but by this fall it was clear we definitely had enough for the passes. We picked a day-- last Saturday-- for our visit to Great America and made the decision to bike the 8 or so miles there.

After Saturday morning chores (mopping, vacuuming, etc. that we also instituted about a year ago), Saturday morning donuts (the established reward for completing Saturday morning chores), and Joshua's gymnastics class, we headed to the park-- the girls on their own bikes; Jeremy, Joshua and Joseph on the triple pulling an empty trailer (for Jonah and/or Joseph if/when they wanted to sleep); and me, Jonah, and Nathaniel in the bakfiets. The ride there was quick (less than an hour I think?) and uneventful. It was mostly a slight downhill and there is a great bike-path that brings you right to the backside of Great America's parking lot. We rode past all the parked cars and right up to the entrance. We picnicked at some nicely shaded tables by the entrance and found a fence to lock our bikes on (no bike racks; we even asked). Here is our bike menagerie:
The left half of the bike line-up...
And the right half.
Jeremy got locking-up-the-bikes duty. Usually we just use a few cheap cable locks or the simple wheel-locks that some of our bikes have, but we figured theft might be more of a concern at the amusement park, so we brought along all the locks in our garage-- 3 U-locks and 4 (I think) cable locks. It took Jeremy a good few minutes to get everything to his liking.

After the big bike-lock-up, we got the photos for our season passes and entered the park. Here's two very happy girls right after entering:

We actually had a bit of a rough time in the park, however. The kids all wanted to go different ways and ride different things, and most rides had minimum or maximum height requirements that meant only some of the kids could ride. At one point-- a little frustrated-- we let the "big" 8 year-old and 10 year-old go off by themselves for a little bit because they were desperate to go on a few rides without waiting around for the littles. I was relieved when we shelled out way too much money for some funnel cake and then, around 5 p.m., left the park. (We decided that all return visits would involve just one or two kids.)

The return bike-ride took forever. We were tired, it was a little uphill and Nathaniel was fussing. The girls and I got ahead of Jeremy since he was pulling an almost-instantly-asleep Jonah and the two big boys weren't pedaling much. I was focused on trying to figure out what fussing Nathaniel needed. We stopped at some benches in front of a high school and I pulled out Nathaniel to try to nurse and calm him. Jeremy never caught up. He'd assumed we'd gone a different way. After a few cell-phone calls back and forth, and another stop to try to calm Nathaniel we met up at a park. It was almost dark by then, but a little time at the park gave everyone-- including Nathaniel-- the refresher we needed. We headed off in the dark-- all lit up with our collection of dynamos and blinkies.

The evening before, I'd been looking through Freecycle posts and noticed one for a 24" mountain bike. I didn't think anything of it. (Don't we have enough bikes and why would we want another junk one anyway?). Jeremy saw the post, however, liked it (he seems to be enjoying honing his fix-it-up skills) and sent an email off right away. We "got" the bike and agreed to pick up Saturday evening. The pick-up place was just a block off our route home from Great America, so we figured we'd head by there. We hadn't quite figured out if/how we would get the bike at that moment, but went anyway. The bike was in semi-rideable condition, but we had no one to ride it, so I strapped it to the back of the bakfiets. I rode very carefully the first few blocks and then, seeing the strapping job was fine, just headed happily along. The weight was no big deal. I just had to remember I had a really wide load. But I kind of stopped thinking about that when Nathaniel woke up from his nap and started screaming again. I stopped at a park to feed and calm him and Jeremy went ahead with the big boys to start cooking dinner. The girls wanted to stay with me. I thought that was sweet. We actually had some nice time to chat. Gabriella was super-excited about the roller coaster she'd gone on (a first for her) and Daniella had interesting things to say about the birds she'd seen in the creek that paralleled the bike trail. I honestly hadn't noticed the birds at all, but she gave some detailed descriptions-- including a little demonstration with her arms about how the "white birds" (herons, maybe?) flapped their wings slowly. After a bathroom break for the girls, we started off again... and Nathaniel began screaming again. We pushed on again and then stopped at the park close to home. I couldn't stand hearing poor Nathaniel crying again. After a little calming time, I put Nathaniel back in the bike and we headed through the park toward home with Nathaniel immediately beginning to scream again. I was focused on Nathaniel, rushing just a little bit to get home, and not thinking when we came to the row of bollards (several short poles spaced a few feet apart) on the edge of the park that are meant to keep cars out. I've become pretty comfortable maneuvering the bakfiets, so just picked two poles and aimed between them, and then-- bam!-- the bike stopped, fell to the right, and dumped me off. I realized then that-- oh,yeah-- there was that junky bike strapped to my rack; it had gotten caught on the poles. After the moment of surprise at the fall hit me, I focused immediately on Nathaniel. He was totally fine. He was crying in just the same tone as he had been before the crash (the hold-me-nurse-me-I'm-grumpy fuss). I tried to lift the bike upright, couldn't do it then, so removed the car seat (still well-secured to its base, which was still well-secured to the bakfiets), set the carseat on the ground and removed fussing Nathaniel. He stopped crying when I bounced him a bit and I handed him to Gabriella and then tried to get the bike in order. It was really dark and even with Daniella's blinkie focused on the little crash-site I had a bit of a time untangling the bike from the bungees and poles and strapping it back on the bakfiets. A guy walking his dog stopped to ask if we were fine. I'm not sure if he saw the crash or just a bunch of bikes and people stopped in a strange place, but either way I felt quite stupid and embarrassed, told him politely that we were okay, and he went on his way. I got the bike strapped on and baby back into his carseat, rode back home, scooped dear Nathaniel into my arms, and went into the house for an 8 pm dinner, getting the kids to bed, etc. Some time later, Jeremy and I went  into the garage to fully assess any damage to the bakfiets. I wrecked up the rack just a little bit and knocked loose the leads to the rear light:

I will try to bend the metal back to shape, though it might require more strength than I have. The junk-bike that caused all the trouble ended up with a broken water bottle cage:

Of course, I don't wish we crashed, but there's a few things I'm glad I learned from the experience. I learned-- even before the crash-- that evening biking with Nathaniel right now just isn't a good idea. He's fussy at home at that time and, apparently, being out just doesn't change that pattern (he was fussy on Friday evening too on the shorter ride home from church). More importantly, I learned that our carseat-in-the-bike set-up seems to keep Nathaniel safe in relatively low-speed (i.e. the speed I always travel) crashes. When we originally set up the carseat, I did intentionally shake the bike up a bit, tip it sideways, etc. to try to figure out what might happen if it fell. I also knew from past experience that when an infant is securely buckled into an infant carseat and you (I mean, your toddler) turn(s) that carseat completely upside down, the baby isn't harmed. This is why I felt comfortable toting around such a precious little being in the bike the way we do. My biggest concern was actually the road vibrations, which we damped with a chunk of old crib mattress under the carseat base and which, as Nathaniel gets bigger, is becoming less of a concern. One thing I do wonder about is what would have happened to Jonah if he was sitting on the bench (he was with Jeremy in the trailer). None of the sweaters/kid books/snack wrappers, etc. in the box fell out when it tipped. Would Jonah have just stayed in too? Would the seemingly useless and annoying three-point harness (a post for another day) have helped? Would it have mattered whether Jonah was wearing a helmet or not? (He always does.) What if he was laying down on the bench to sleep like he sometimes does?

The little crash also made me reflect on bike crashes in general. When talking to people about biking, the concerns about safety always seem to be about traffic-- the ultimate concern being injured or killed by a car. Yet despite riding almost daily in traffic, all of the bike falls Jeremy and I have had did not involve cars (moving ones, at least). Jeremy has run into a parked car (looking at his messed-up kickstand instead of the road), slipped on loose gravel (while trying to set up a hands-free device on his cell-phone so he could listen to a conference call while commuting), and slipped on mud. He's also caught the bike trailer on a curb and tipped the towing bike. I've slipped on ice and wet leaves. None of these falls resulted in more than a few scrapes and bruises. Jeremy and Gabriella, if I remember correctly, were slightly tapped by a car on the trail-a-bike set-up a few years ago, but never even came close to falling. Thinking hard, I know of no one personally who has been hit by a car while biking (though I believe my sister was "doored"). Do most bike accidents not involve cars and do most bike accidents involve just minor injury? I definitely hear and read about tragic fatal bike/car crashes. How common are they, and when they happen are the often fatal? A little googling brings up some studies, but I think I'll leave analysis (it seems difficult) for some other time. If anyone (of my near-zero readers!) knows of a great summary of biking risks/types of accidents, I'd love the link!

And that's all for this post... I'm off to living my life of being "mommy".