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.