Sunday, September 16, 2012

The bikey things we're up to...

I haven't posted here for a while because I've been torn about whether blogging is a good use of my time. I have kids and a home to take care of (or at least make sort-of not so messy). And although I love bicycling, there's obviously more important things in my life-- my family, my friends, helping and serving other people... I'm also not really sure what I want this blog to be or whether it paints a picture of who I really am. (Yes, I actually do other things besides ride and think and read about bicycles!). Sometimes I also hate taking pictures (a bunch of kids+ junk+ camera+ bike and only two hands can be quite a hassle) and I always hate uploading them (why, oh, why can't AT&T build infrastructure so that our DSL can be fast enough to actually watch a YouTube clip?). So anyway, if you wanted to know why I've given up writing for a bit (since I know that is such a fun, fun thing to read about on languishing blogs), there you a go. And if you want to know what bikey things we've been up to/thinking about, I guess I might as well write about those too. (It's your reward for reading through the boring part about why I haven't been blogging-- assuming you actually think our family does interesting things.)

We've been biking all over the place as usual. Gabriella started middle school and rides the 4 miles there and sometimes back with a somewhat elaborate bike pool/ carpool (with bikes on the back of a car) endeavor that always involves a bunch of emails and parent chaperones. (Hopefully, we'll trust the kids to ride on their own pretty soon.) There's four middle school kids participating and we're rooting for more. Gabriella really enjoys the riding, but with school and cross-country practice afterwards (Gabi's favorite thing about school), it makes for a long day. I've found myself really reflecting on why we ride bikes. It does take a lot longer than driving and especially since the school year has started, we've become slaves to schedules (3 different drop-off times and 5 different pick up times at three different places- arhhgh!) and evening homework. There's definitely an argument that we would have more "free time" if we did all that dropping-off and picking-up in the car-- "free time" that we could use to let the kids play, or to do homework or to fill up with extracurricular activities. And yet, biking just seems right and seems like "us".  We're already different (six kids, one of a few families without Chinese heritage in our school district's mandarin immersion program, etc.). Why not just go all out and ride lots of "weird" bikes too? Just kidding. We're even getting less weird; there are now three other cargo bikes regularly at school-- another bakfiets, an Xtracycle, and a new Yuba Mundo!

I've also been thinking some about the environmental impacts of riding a bicycle. While I guess it feels superficially good to say that we're being more "green" by riding our bikes, I really can't say that it's a reason why we ride or something that I feel passionately about. The whole "green" concept often seems very vague or convoluted to me, so I usually leave it alone. Money, however, is tangible and that is a motivator for bicycling-- or at least it creates fun math questions: How much money do we save on gas? How many miles must we bike on the bakfiets to recoup its purchase cost (by counting money we would have otherwise spent on gas)?, etc. Other aspects of our life appear "green" like this too, but are really just "cheap" or convenient.We use cloth diapers most of the time because I was curious about the phenomenon and so bought some and committed to using them for the amount of time we would have been using disposables if we'd spent the money on them instead (about two months, I believe). It turned out the cloth worked fine, so we just kept on using them-- and it's a lot easier to throw a bunch of diapers in a washing machine than to drag a bunch of kids to the store to buy more diapers. But we do buy a fair amount of food at Walmart (a "green" no-no, right?) and even have a truck deliver it to us. (Walmart has grocery delivery in some areas.) Yet, we did start raising chickens and we do grow a garden (until the chickens devoured it, anyway) and we've been making lots of applesauce from the apples on our trees... Anyway, I digress.

Also this summer (way back in June), Jeremy and Gabriella traveled to southern Taiwan for a school-related trip. I finally looked through all the photos. Want to see some with bikes?

Jeremy and Gabriella had one day with no plans before they returned home. They stayed the night at  Bike Tainan Hostel, where bike rental comes free with your accomodations, and the next morning rode 8 miles or so out to the ocean.
Home is just across this ocean...

Also this summer, I decided to apply for an open position on our city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. I didn't get elected, but applying and interviewing were a good experience. To prepare for the interview, I also became familiar with the current bike/pedestrian issues in our city, which made me decide to attend the last city council meeting to speak in support of some proposed bicycle lanes. The council voted against them (building them involved removing street parking), but it was worth adding my voice. Too often I complain but don't act.

And more bicycling things... I finally purchased a Follow-Me Tandem. I ordered it from the German and it took only a week to arrive with no customs, import fees, etc. I attached it to the bakfiets late Wednesday night and took it out on Thursday. I was intending to ride it around the block a bit to test things out, but ended up leaving in a bit of a rush to meet Jeremy at a bike shop, where he and Joseph had scooted the triple after kindergarten pick-up; a loose bottom bracket had somehow gotten very jammed. On my way (towing the bike with no rider) I went over a crack in the pavement, heard a loud crash behind me and saw the kid bike lying in the bike lane behind me. After pushing the bakfiets up onto the sidewalk and parking it, I retrieved the kid bike and then tried to figure out what happened. There were two things: one of the knobs that holds the telescopic arm in position on the kids bike wasn't tightened (I'm pretty sure a kid was playing with it and I didn't double check before leaving) and the attachment on the kid bike wasn't very secure (which I knew, but since I was in a rush, figured it would be good enough). I reattached things as best I could and rode to the bike shop, where I put things together properly-- using a piece of bicycle inner tube, as suggested in the instruction manual, around the kid bike downtube to better keep the attachment there in place. I rode maybe 6 or so more miles doing school pick-ups and to Gabi's cross-country meet. On Saturday, Jeremy took Joshua (and snacks for the team) to his soccer game on the bakfiets/FollowMe . All was well, but I spent some time looking at the attachment last night again and readjusted it so the kid bike tire would be firmly pushed forward against the FollowMe, which allowed for less wiggle room on the connection to the kid bike. Ideally, I think I should change out the knobby front tire on the kid bike and put a slick tire on; it would then fully fit into the slot on the FollowMe. Anyway, that probably makes no sense if you haven't played with the FollowMe up close. So, how about some pictures?

Before dumping the bike on the road...

The whole rig, downtube now securely attached...
As far as how the FollowMe handles... I've only ridden it 15 miles or so, but have so far been pretty happy. I feel very little wobble on my bike. It's only really detectable when Joshua is pedaling hard. After several more months, I hope to write a longer review.

And in more bike news.... I've been trying to find a good bike for me (since my Breezer Villager was stolen). I bought an old Schwinn ten-speed a few months ago and while I love the way it feels as it goes over rough ground (because it's steel?), I just can't get used to or feel comfortable on the drop bars. So, I decided to see what would happen if I put on a pair of handlebars from the now in pieces Trek bike (it had too many broken things to make it worth repairing). I got the handlebars on, but I don't like the way they feel either. So, I've just been riding around on the Breezer folder (when I'm not riding the bakfiets), which is fine... but, well, I think I'm just becoming a bike snob because that's not the feel I really want either.

I've also been messing around in the garage and on my sewing machine over the past several months trying to make a good sunshade for the bakfiets. Here is a very unsuccessful first attempt using irrigation tubing:

Then came the (now broken) cheap wagon canopy, which worked OK:

And then another attempt at a homemade canopy, which sort of works. But it makes the bike feel really wide, which I don't like:

Tried sewing fabric on the sides a bit to block the sun better... 
When I have a chance, I think I'll alter it so that the canopy frame is attached to the inside of the box instead of the outside. I'll probably open up the front so the kids can see forward too, since next summer Nathaniel will no longer be riding in the carseat. PEX tubing seems great (and cheap) for building the canopy. Thanks to Pedal Powered Family for inspiration. (They built a sun/rain cover out of PEX tubing for their Xtracycle.) I also got ideas from photos of box trike canopies.

I also had fun attaching a rack and milk crate to the back of Gabi's new (used) bike, complete with some reflective tape we had sitting around. Unfortunately, Gabriella decided she did not like the milk crate (not so cool, I guess) and I had sympathy for her (middle school social life is awful!), so after a day or two took it off and stuck on a pannier (which barely fits her backpack).
Milk crate...

And that's all for now.