Sunday, December 16, 2012

Horsing around

The girls had a horse riding class at a ranch a mere 20 miles away, up in the foothills. Of course they wanted to go there on bike. We checked out the profile of the trip online. It looked like a few miles of gradual downhill. Then a lot of flat as we go along the bay, and finally a couple miles uphill with 5-10% grade.

What the maps missed out was the multitude of overpasses and underpasses that we would go through along the way especially on the way.

Our route took us down the San Tomas Aquino trail for a while. This is easily the best north-south route in the area. There are underpasses at almost all major streets, and the trail is fairly straight. In the winter the not-so-nice weather means that not so many others are on the trail. (It also means that some of the underpasses could be flooded, but we got lucky on that count.)

The trail was pretty much the same as it was on our last trip to Great America - except for the 49ers stadium. The construction staging area blocked off the direct access to Great America. There is also the framework of a billion dollar stadium on the corner of the trail and Tasman. The construction also took up a chunk of Tasman where we got off the trail. However, Tasman is an "office park" street, so was basically a 6 lane ghost street on the weekend.

While the trail had underpasses, Tasman had plenty of overpasses. These were over creeks, train tracks, and who-knows-what else. Tasman also had a light rail running down the middle of the street. (If only our three year old were with us!) Part of the street had a bike lane, while part didn't, though it hardly matter. The girls got a kick of counting all of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 advertisements on the way. (Just about every bus shelter and light rail station had one.) I wondered if we passed more of those ads, or Cisco buildings along the way.

Tasman turned in to Great Mall Parkway, and we eventually turned left on Able. As about a billion cars seemed to pop up next to the mall (how does that always happen right before Christmas?), we had to do a two-point turn. Abel seemed to be an OK biking street. Not great, but not horrid. The neighborhood seemed a little "different". They did have a lot of new looking parks, with a lot of modern car-centric development. (I guess being near the "great mall" does that.)

Our "Google Map" bike route had us continuing a way and going around to stay on bike routes. But, we hit a red light at Calaveras Rd., so we decided to take the "direct route". This road looked pretty nice at first. There was a nice wide marked shoulder as it started to go up a long bridge over the railroad tracks. This wide shoulder soon got smaller and smaller, until it seemed to be just a few inches as we went over the bridge. It was not the most pleasant road, but not intolerable, either. (The older girls were fine. It may have been hairy if we had some of the younger ones on their own.) After the bridge there was a lot of traffic, Milpitas city hall, a cloverleaf freeway interchange, and then the traffic started to peter out.

The road suddenly narrowed down from about 6 lanes to 2 lanes. The first part of this narrow section was fairly flat, but then it seemed to head straight up. The girls didn't shift in to their low gears in time, so they came to an "unable to pedal anymore" halt. Without the momentum, it was hard to get started again, so we went over to the "sidewalk" and walked up the hill. Luckily, there was a fairly flat part after a while, and we were able to get started again. (This time in lower gears!)

We made it up a ways before some exhaustion kicked in. We walked the bikes a bit, and stopped for some trail mix in the county park before continuing on the way. As we continued on the road, we saw the small "turn here for Chaparral ranch" sign. (It seems all the other class participants missed the sign and went on a long detour up in the hills. I guess that is an advantage of slow biking speeds!)

The final road up to the ranch continued up for a bit at a fairly easy grade and even had a small downhill. As we were going, we saw a little house way up in the hills. We hoped this wasn't our destination. Luckily, it wasn't, and we reached the ranch at the end of the road.

We ended up arriving about 58 minutes early. The timing turned out to be perfect. Just a few minutes after arriving it started raining, and then it started raining harder and harder. They let us park our bikes in the horse barn so they wouldn't get wet. (Luckily, none of the horses decided to go for a bike ride.)
Arriving at the ranch

After eating our lunch, the girls enjoyed their horsemanship class and their horse riding lesson. (The ranch had an "indoor" arena where they were able to ride without getting soaked in the rain.) Due to the rain, there was a lot of mud that needed to be "brushed" off the horse as part of the grooming.

The Ed Levin county park near the ranch had a large number of hike/bike/horse trails. However, due to weather, many of the trails were closed to bikes and horses. This might be a good place to check out in a "not so wet" month. (Though it may be a challenge for the bakfeits to get up the hill.) There is also the issue of rattlesnakes. (They mentioned that their dogs have done a good job of keeping the immediate area clear by finding over 40 snakes.)

Saturday happened to be their holiday party, and they invited us to join them. A full Christmas feast (and plenty of desserts!) provided the energy needed to get down the hill. The girls also stopped by to say hi to the chickens (and identify all the breeds.)

If you gotta go, you gotta go...

The trip down the hill was about 10 times faster than the trip up. I realized that our 9 year old may need a better bike. She had to pedal to keep up with the trip down (as I was just braking to keep my speed slow.) It was still raining, but it was down to a light drizzle. We didn't want to take the hill too fast. (Though it does seem to be a great hill to take fast. The grade was not too steep and the turns were wide, and there was a "flat stretch" before the stop sign at the end.)

We continued on almost the same route home. However, we did decide to take a "cloverleaf" turn to go down Main Street in Milpitas. This is not your "classic" main street, but more of a modern strip mall street. The girls noticed as we passed an An-Jan pet food store. (In retrospect, we should have stopped. When we got home, we discovered we were out of chicken feed!)

As we crossed over I-880, we noticed a "so-long-line" of cars backed up trying to turn left on to the freeway. As we continued straight at the intersection, we noticed that while all other directions seemed to get green lights, the freeway left-turn never turned green. It looks like us cyclists are not the only ones who get burned by sensors that can't seem to detect us.

On the way back we had a light tail wind that made the trip easy. We passed through many small puddles on the way. Then, near the 49ers stadium, we went through what we thought was another shallow puddle. Only it turned out to be a couple inches deep. One bike didn't have fenders. She got quite the mud bath.

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we were in Sunnyvale near Las Palmas park. We saw a police car go by and turn in to the street. Then we moved a litter further forward and another police car went by and turned. As we inched toward the intersection, 5 more police cars came by and regular intervals. (They were close enough together that we couldn't quite make it across the intersection, but far enough apart that we noticed the delay.) Finally, there was a gap in the sirens and we crossed the intersection. After going for a little longer, we heard another siren and saw a fire engine turn behind us on the same street. As we continued home, we heard more sirens. It sounded like somebody had done some "major league badness." The next day, the news reported there was a police shooting involving a man attacking people with a hammer

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Across the Dumbarton Bridge

Yesterday, we took a "biking adventure" to the extreme. We've all been thinking about riding the 120 or so miles from the bay area to the Sacramento area to visit Jeremy's parents. Jeremy was hesitant that we could actually make it. So, he struck a deal with the kids: If we could make it across the Dumbarton Bridge to the start of the Alameda Creek Trail (about 25 miles from home) by noon, then he'd be game to continue onward-- riding about 50 miles a day (staying nights in hotels) and arriving at his parents' Wednesday afternoon or evening, in time for Thanksgiving.

Getting ready to head out.
All packed up and with the girls raring to go, we aimed to get out by 7 AM or so, but ended up leaving a bit after 8. We took a slight detour to the library to return some materials, then hopped onto the Stevens Creek Trail and booked it out toward the Bay Trail and then to IKEA in East Palo Alto to enjoy their Monday free breakfast. (We love free food!). After a somewhat rushed breakfast (Gabi was especially insistent that we get moving so we could make it the 25 miles by noon), we rode our bikes through East Palo Alto. We saw steers at a farm (or farm-like area?) and then got barked at by a very angry little dog (ringing my bell made it stop running at me and also brought out a kid from the home it belonged to).

Beautiful bay. (Thanks, Joey in the bakfiets, for this photo and many others.)

On the Bay Trail.
Breakfast at IKEA

Farm in East Palo Alto?

The dog that barked and ran at us. (Joey took the photo; I was ringing my bike bell.)
My favorite part of the whole trip was crossing the Dumbarton bridge. I've been over it many times in a car, but never by bike or foot. It was exhilarating. You are up high with great views of the ocean and (at least when we rode, but I imagine always) a refreshing crosswind. The cars are separated from the pedestrian/bike area by a concrete wall, so you don't have to worry about them. The approach to the bridge on both sides is long, but separated from all but a few cars going to the fishing pier (sections of the old Dumbarton bridge). It was just fun!
Western approach to Dumbarton Bridge.
On the bridge.
After we crossed the bridge, we rode into the Coyote Hills Regional Park area and it was noon... According to Daniella's bike computer (the only one who currently has a bike computer... ), we'd ridden 23.9 miles, about 1 mile short of the 25 miles we'd agreed on, but actually about 3 miles from the Alameda Creek Trail (since we'd taken a detour in the morning to the library). We rode some rather hilly, not-paved trails to a picnic/group campground area and had a lunch of cinnamon rolls (from IKEA; Jeremy bought them) and carrots and hummus (Mommy brought them). The girls (and me too, honestly) were rather bummed we hadn't made the agreed-upon spot by noon, but Jeremy stuck to his guns and after lunch we began to head home. At this point, both Joshua and I were rather tired and grumpy. (He'd pedaled the whole way on his 20" wheels and I was wiped out from all the little hills and trudging along on the bakfiets). After some exploring of the marsh areas, I demanded real food and we rode into Newark and stopped at Subway. From there we headed back across the Dumbarton Bridge, enjoying the sunset from there, rushed through East Palo Alto (weren't so sure about biking through there at night) and then stopped for a snack in Palo Alto near a bike shop I was curious about (Street Bike Named Desire) and then meandered on home along familiar routes (at least for Jeremy, who used to work in Palo Alto).
Lunch at Coyote Hills Regional Park.

Then playing...
The last stretch from Palo Alto to home I was really wiped out. I had three (at first fighting, and then sleeping) boys in the bakfiets plus was towing Joshua's bike on the Follow Me and we were going uphill. (It looks totally flat, but trust me... it's UPHILL). I was going so slow, I ended up sending the rest of the bikers ahead so they could get home and ready for bed. They decided we needed to eat ice cream and I caught up with them after they'd made a stop at the grocery store. At home, Joshua laid in bed and immediately conked out. The girls claimed they weren't tired or sore at all. After getting every one settled into bed (easy-- since half the kids had fallen asleep on the way home). I crawled into bed and Jeremy brought me a lovely, massive bowl of cookies 'n cream ice cream. Our family rode a total of 53.988 miles (according to Daniella's bike computer) and for 6:55:45 (also according to Daniella's computer). It's by far the longest distance we've ever done as a family.
Jonah and Joey asleep in the bakfiets.
Reflecting on the experience, there were several things we learned. The foremost was that the bakfiets really doesn't work for long distances with any sort of hills (up and down the bridge, tootling around in the Coyote Hills Regional Park). I was almost always the slowest by far... except for sometimes when Joshua was slowest. The idea was that if Joshua got tired, then we would connect his bike to the Follow-Me (attached to the bakfiets), but since I was already dragging we tried to hold off on that as much as possible. Joshua was a trooper, but if we go any such distance again, we need to make sure he gets pulled more of the way. Secondly, we learned (or maybe already knew?-- since she'd done a great job a few weeks ago) that we should have Gabriella pull some of the kid-weight. She was yelling for us to go faster and was clearly not working too hard for much of the ride. If we ride such a distance again, we plan to have me on a (yet to-be-bought) touring or commuter bike just as Jeremy and the girls were riding. We'd likely attach the Follow-Me for Joshua to one of those bikes, bring the Trail-a-Bike for Joey and the trailer for the two littlest.

As for whether covering such a distance or doing multi-day touring is something we might do again... When I got home Monday night, I was rather mad at Jeremy for egging us back on home (instead of just staying in a hotel in the East Bay and making a fun night out of it; the kids think hotels are fun with TVs, little bars of soap, etc.). Jeremy thought it was a success and was excited by the idea that we might possibly be able to cover some real distance while touring. The littles were all asleep and, in talking to them this morning, seemed to be willing to just go along with whatever. Joshua liked it, except for the fact that he got really tired. So, I guess we might try some big and long ride again? Maybe? After I get around to getting a bike that weighs less than the 100-pound-bakfiets? We'll see, we'll see...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Biking to hiking...

Last Saturday, our entire family went on one of our "bike adventures"-- where we take most of a day to ride somewhere far and explore. After much debate, we headed in a general southerly direction with no real destination. We meandered through a flea market and then, after a few random detours up some side streets, we bumped into some hiking trails (not really too far from home) we never knew existed. How fun!

The trail started off flat and shady:

We found a yummy strawberry fruit tree:

 Then we found a very big hill:

There were great views at the top:

After heading back down, the kids got silly on the trail:

We then finished up the hike, stopped at two playgrounds (and two restrooms), and then ended with dinner at a new cafe near our home. They cafe had games (but the food wasn't quite enough for our big appetites):

For the ride, we changed our usual set-up a bit and had Jeremy pulling Joshua on the trail-a-bike and Gabriella pulling Jonah or Joseph (they switched places a few times) and me riding the bakfiets with Nathaniel and Jonah or Joseph (whoever wasn't in the trailer). I lagged behind in the "clean up" position, as we call it, but the trailer was a great set-up for Gabi. Usually she's yelling at us to go faster, but pulling the trailer kept her at the same pace as Jeremy. I'm so proud of how strong she is for being barely 11!

For a chunk of the ride, I let Joseph loose with the camera while he sat in the bakfiets. He had a blast and captured several pictures, some silly, some just different from what I usually take, and some nice shots. Presenting a sampling of the work of Joey the photographer...

All ready to go...

Goodbye garage...

The bakfiets lags behind.

Jeremy and Joshua.

Excellent bike lane.

Pedestrian/bicycle bridge.

Flea Market wares. Joseph loves Legos.

And police cars...

Soccer players at the local community college.

The sun!

Another group of bikers!

Old-school TV antenna.

Little brother... thinking about grabbing the camera.

We had a nice day, though next time we might do better with a little more planning. Right now, some members of the household are plotting all kinds of multi-day bike trips. We'll see. We'll see.

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.