Shopping at Aldi

I’ve been meaning to write this post since the mid-January thaw, when I ventured to my local Aldi grocery store for the first time ever.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to Aldi.  Growing up, my family did a decent bit of our grocery shopping there, and, as a college student and a grad student, I appreciated the affordable prices.

I probably shopped Aldi most frequently my first year out of grad school, when I lived within half a mile of a store.  When I was in grad school, I lived closer to Soulard Farmers’ Market, so that was my go-to source for produce (though often not locally grown).  When you’re going by bike or on foot, it’s all about proximity!

Anyhow, my biggest issue with Aldi was and is the packaging on the produce, which this site mentions as one of their cost saving strategies.  In addition to saving cashiers’ time weighing bulk produce, I imagine prepackaging produce also cuts down on product loss — instead of being able to pick through for the best pepper, or the best apples, you take what you get, the good with the not-so-good.  But it’s a lot of packaging, especially the items (like peppers) that are placed on polystyrene trays and then wrapped in plastic.  Ugh!

On the other hand, Aldi was one of the first stores to encourage bringing your own bags (again, as a cost-saving measure), long before it was en vogue or “green,” and some of their other cost-saving measures are also good for the planet, so it’s a bit of a conundrum.

Anyway, my January trip was spurred by citrus season, and my memory of Aldi carrying fairly nice oranges and grapefruit for a very good price.  Also, we have not bothered to unsubscribe from the weekly mailer that includes the Aldi flyer, and I had seen that they were starting to carry some organic items, including apples and bananas, and I wanted to check it out.

They did indeed have good prices on citrus, particularly the three for a dollar grapefruit.  On that trip, I came home with three grapefruit (not prepackaged!), a bag of oranges, a bottle of wine, two 1/2 pound blocks of cheese, and a bag of walnuts (a pound for less than $8, vs. the $10+/lb I usually pay at the bulk bins).

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My haul did not include any of their “new” organic offerings, though I did scope them out, along with a few other items:

  • Organic soymilk — good price, but sweetened, which is unnecessary sugar, in my book
  • Almond milk (non-organic) also sweetened
  • Organic bananas 59 cents/lb, but were all green, so I skipped them
  • Organic toasted O’s, but only a 9oz. box
  • Walnuts — a good price, as I mentioned above; not organic, but, for better or worse, I don’t usually buy organic walnuts anyway

Finally, the cheese.  I prefer to keep dairy consumption pretty minimal, and, as much as possible, organic [practices].  Avoiding dairy completing is tricky (and for us, unnecessary) and it does taste good.  But organic and/or small-farm dairy, and especially cheese, is pretty pricey.  Enter the “frugal foodie” debate.  On this trip, I went ahead and bought a half-pound each of two cheeses (less than $2 each), knowing they were not up to my preferred standards for dairy.

I find it ironic that many of the Aldi dairy (and perhaps meat?) products are packaged in their “Happy Farms” label, since I imagine the animals have far less than happy living conditions.  But, to be fair, the dairy and meat products at Aldi are, in general, no worse ethically/environmentally/health-wise than similar, name-brand products at other stores.

Enough on the food, though.  What finally spurred me to write this post was the current week’s flyer, which features none-other than BIKE accessories in the “Special Buys” section.

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While many of these items are not likely high-quality, if you’re trying to get set up for biking, and you’re on a tight budget, it would be better to have these lights, than, say no lights (but please don’t skimp on a good quality bicycle!).

I’m particularly interested in the helmets, as my current noggin-protector celebrated it’s 5th birthday a couple of months ago (general recommendations are to replace helmets every five years (or after an impact)).  With bicycle helmets, more money does not equal more protection.  As long as a helmet has the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) stamp of approval and fits correctly, it is good to go!

I do have a few other features I want in a helmet, so I’ll head over tomorrow (Special Buys don’t start until Wednesday) to see if my store actually stocks something that will fit the bill.

Do you shop at Aldi?  Why or why not?

Posted in Biking, Food, Green Ideas, Not Green | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Cuivre River camping trip

After our “adults only” camping trip last fall, we decided to venture into “camping with a toddler” this spring.  The idea of joining the Missouri Mycological Society’s (MOMs) “Morel Madness” weekend spurred the trip, but their gathering was closer to Kansas City than to St. Louis this year, and I wanted something a bit closer to home, as well as something we could do on our own schedule.

Enter Cuivre River State Park, the site of last year’s “Morel Madness,” conveniently located about ninety minutes from home.  (For those not from the StL area, the common/local pronunciation of this state park name is “Quiver” River, no doubt a horrible bastardization of the French word for copper, for which the park/river is named.)  The park was lovely — nice campground, well-maintained hiking trails (well, the little we saw of them), and many areas nicely cleared from recent-ish controlled burns.

When we camped last fall, I remarked on the lack of space in the car for Gabriel.  It wasn’t any different this time, especially with the addition of a third sleeping bag — we just smushed everything in more.

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I’m afraid in the not-too-distant future, we’ll need to borrow or rent a larger vehicle for camping trips.

After getting stuck in Friday afternoon traffic on the way out of St. Louis, we were extra glad we’d reserved a campsite ahead of time (there were actually plenty of vacant sites when we arrived, but it was one less worry), and we arrived in time to pitch a tent, start a fire, eat dinner, and roast marshmallows for s’mores.

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The afternoons and evenings were warm, but the mornings start out a bit chilly, and, after enjoying Friday night, Sir spent a good deal of Saturday morning requesting Baba’s (grandma’s) house.  He started Saturday with a 2+ hour sleep debt, having both taken over an hour to fall asleep (due to light and noise at the campground) and woken early.  Le sigh.

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We explained that we’d be staying at the campground another day, and made plans to take a hike.  You know, just a couple of miles.  With a toddler.

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We chose a 4.75-mile loop trail, planning to alternate between Gabriel walking and riding in the backpack child carrier.  Hiking was not particularly to Sir’s liking.  Over the course of two hours, we heard, “Why going on hike?  Me not want hike,” on almost constant repeat.

He didn’t really want to walk, but carrying 36+ pounds of squirmy toddler in the back pack was no picnic.

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Especially when he realized he could stand on the frame.  This made it more comfortable for Sir, but far less comfortable for the bearer.  (This hiking pack is one of those items that seemed like a good idea, but that, in retrospect, we’ve rarely used.  It takes up a lot of space, and, except for the sweaty factor, a basic baby carrier, like the Ergo, works just as well, and is much more comfortable.)

Fortunately, the loop we chose had a cut-off option, making it about half the total distance (a bit over two miles).  If we had had to cover the entire 4.75 miles, we’d probably still be out on that trail!

It was a near thing, but all three of us made it back to the car, and, subsequently, to the campsite, for some much-needed lunch and rest time.

After our morning hiking experience, we kept the afternoon low-key, honoring Sir’s request to visit the play ground.  That evening, we built a nice fire and enjoyed grilled bread and cheese sandwiches, plus more s’mores.

Saturday night’s bedtime was much like Friday’s.  It took a long time and required one of us staying in the tent with Sir until he fell asleep.

Our overall campsite conditions were made a bit better by the departure of our Friday night “neighbors,” who were exceeding their campsite occupancy limit and showed little concern for campground quiet hours.  We also scoped out some campsites that might be better situated for quiet (the site I picked, which looked good online, actually had quite a bit of passing foot and vehicle traffic).

Noise level aside, two months away from the lightest day of the year, it’s pretty darn bright at 7:30pm in a tent.  For future kid-camping, we decided late September would be ideal — similar temps to late April camping, but earlier nightfall.

Matthew couldn’t resist building one more fire on Sunday morning, and after breakfast, we had an Easter egg hunt.

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We decamped rather efficiently, and, after one last playground visit, returned home to recover.  All-in-all, it was a successful first camping venture, but I’m glad to be [almost] unpacked, cleaned up, and back to normal sleep conditions.

Posted in Green Ideas, My Life | Tagged | 3 Comments

On the bike: Over the weekend

I started my Saturday with a short trip to a meeting about school options in St. Louis City.  It’s a pretty hot topic if you have kids and want to stay in the city, and I appreciated our neighborhood group going to the effort of getting representatives from a number of school options (public, charter, and parochial) all in one place.

A local Catholic high school hosted the event.  I was disappointed when this sign greeted me upon arrival.

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Ugh!  So much for my hopes of finding a nice bike rack at the main entrance to the building.  While I know this is not an uncommon occurrence, I feel like the tide against this type of signage (and the policies they represent, which discourage active transportation) is turning.  This school needs to get with the program!

[A physical activity related side-note: One of the school reps at the event was excited because her school had PE and yoga once a week (as well as 50 minutes/day of recess).  Perhaps I remember wrong, but I feel like I had PE every day in elementary school.  I know this is one of the first things many schools cut, which is sad, for both the physical and school performance/behavior ramifications.]

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I resisted locking Baby Jake to the column with the sign on it only because this column actually had a narrower metal pole behind it (hidden in the photo), which worked better with my U-lock.  Fortunately, despite the sign, Baby Jake was still there, unmolested, when I returned.

Hot bike hair
Saturday’s biking in mid-80-degree temperatures was also my first experience of warm (hot, really, in my book) weather biking with shorter hair.  As I suspected, this in-between length (long enough to be on my neck, but too short to pull back completely) is not going to fly during hot weather.

If I let it keep growing, I could probably pull it back by June, but I think I may take the plunge and really truly chop it for the summer, then, unless I want to keep it very short, I’d hope it would grow enough over the winter that I can pull it back this time next year.

Sunday, rain day, bike day
Since Matthew spends most Saturdays at the garden, Sunday is the only day all three of us have together, and we like to make the most of the time.  We decided to laugh at the rain and bike to the Botanical Garden for a morning outing.  We departed under looming rain clouds, and it was starting to spit just a bit when we made a doughnut detour a few blocks from the garden.

After locking our bikes up, we had time for a little outside stroll in light drizzle, before ducking into the Climatron.  While we were in the Climatron, the skies opened up, and there was a decent little shower, but we were nice and dry inside.

I was wishing we had smartphones so we could check the radar and look for a break for biking home, but a quick peek outside showed clearing skies to the west.  Not sure how long it would last, we headed back outside for a bit more walking before rendezvousing with our soggy bikes (well, mostly the helmets were soggy).

We also had to dump the water out of the IBert (it pooled in both the back of the seat and in the foot rests — guess they need drainage holes!), but it wasn’t a big deal.  We had great weather for the ride home, and I was glad we didn’t let the clouds scare us into the car.

Where did you ride over the weekend?

 

Posted in Biking, Health | Tagged | 2 Comments

On the bike: Entrenched edge rider

When I started this blog (almost 6 years ago!), I thought I would be recounting a lot more tales like the one I’m about to share, stories in the “brave cyclist vs. rude, ignorant motorist” genre .  Fortunately, that has not been the case, but every now and then . . . .

Saturday morning found me riding in two central St. Louis neighborhoods, Southwest Gardens and The Hill.  After a quick stop at the library, I headed to The Hill to pick up a couple of items at DiGregorio’s Market (really hope I can get them to add some bike parking!).

The scene: The Hill is a dense, urban neighborhood, mostly single family residential along one-way east-west streets, and small businesses along Marconi Ave.  When traveling north on Marconi, as I was on my way to the store, there is a significant downhill for the first few blocks.

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Marconi is narrow two-way traffic (i.e., barely enough room for two small cars to pass one another when cars are parked on both sides), with street parking on both sides of the street, no center stripe, 25 (or 20?) MPH speed limit, short blocks, and all-way stops at every. single. intersection.  So, despite the downhill, this is not exactly the type of street you zoom down, whether in a car or on a bike.

A couple of blocks after turning onto Marconi (and only a few more short blocks to my destination), I picked up on a motorist behind me, giving off an impatient vibe.  With the parking lane pretty solidly full, there was no place for an obvious release, not to mention that, with the downhill, I was already traveling pretty close to the speed of traffic.

Even with no oncoming traffic, the effective width of the street (what was left after accounting for the parked cars on both sides, plus five feet between me and the cars parked to my right), there was really not room for the motorist to pass me on my bicycle.

But pass me he did.  And then I saw this (picture taken after we had both pulled over)  . . .

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. . . not just a rude pass, a rude pass by a “fellow” cyclist.  Whomp, whomp, whomp.

As I expected, given the road and traffic conditions, I followed him more or less at his exact same speed for two-and-a-half short blocks, until he arrived at his destination.  As he put on his blinker to park, I pulled up next to his window, and po.lite.ly asked him if he was aware how close he had passed me.  (I had rather been expecting a young whippersnapper, but the face looking back at me was a man in his 60s.)

He helpfully informed me that he “didn’t pass as close as I thought he did” (I am the one who judges that, not you, sir.), and “if [I] had been riding by the side of the road, where [I] was supposed to be,” I would have had more space.

I responded that the side of the road was the [mostly-full] parking lane, not a travel lane.

He went on with his parallel parking (with a bit of performance anxiety).  I took a deep breath, pulled my bike up onto the sidewalk (my destination was just a half-block away), and reached into my purse for a CyclingSavvy card.

When he joined me on the sidewalk, I noticed his “Bike Vermont” hat, and asked if he was from this area, or just visiting.  He replied that he was from St. Louis.  I handed him the card and suggested he check out our courses.

He replied that he knows about “people like me,” and the “claim your lane” idea.  He went on to inform me that he knows better, having written “13 books on cycling,” and that it was “cyclists like me, taking up the ‘whole’ road, that make motorists upset.”

At this point, I’m not sure anything I could have said would have made a difference, but I didn’t get a chance to find out, as he rather rudely excused himself to “go get a sandwich.”  He was clearly in a rush to get that sandwich — good thing he arrived at his destination a whole ONE second ahead of me!  (See Reality of Delay.)

I walked my bike to my destination down the block, shaking my head.  I usually don’t engage motorists in situations like this, partly because I often don’t quite catch up to them, but as much because it’s often an exercise in futility and a way to cast an unpleasant shadow on a nice outing.  But sometimes doing nothing is hard, and you never know until you try, right?

This was one of those frustrating, futile encounters.  He was so sure he was right and I was wrong.  Never mind that he was THE only motorist, in over an hour on streets big and small that morning, to object to my cycling.  Never mind that he has probably never been on his bike and had a motorist go out of her way to thank him for the way he was riding.  Never mind that we arrived at his destination at the EXACT same time!

I realized later, as I was biking home, that I could hardly expect this man to respect my space on the road, when his “right way” to cycle involves not respecting his OWN space on the road.  Sad, but true.

Posted in Biking | 7 Comments

Birthday, biking bodies, and a new doc in town

Let’s start with a mystery photo, shall we?

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Make your guess now . . . and all will be revealed later.

Birthday
Early April through early May is a big birthday month in my family.  This week we celebrated Matthew’s birthday with not one, but two, homemade pizza dinners (now Sir thinks we should have pizza for dinner every night), and two rounds of birthday cake.

I made a chocolate chip banana cake with peanut butter frosting.  I used this recipe for the cake, omitting the orange zest and adding about 2/3 c. chocolate chips.  The cake was not bad, but it seemed more banana bread than banana cake.  I’m not exactly sure of the difference between the two, but it wasn’t quite what I was going for.

The frosting, however, definitely said “cake!”  If you’re into peanut butter, you should definitely make this frosting (or perhaps not, as it may be hard to avoid eating the whole batch!).   I started with this recipe, and made a couple of tweaks: 1) reduced peanut butter by 1/8 – 1/4 cup, 2) replaced the missing peanut butter with 1/8 – 1/4 cup plain, whole fat yogurt, 3) omitted the milk, 4) added 1 t. vanilla, 5) sifted the powdered sugar.  It was tasting good and starting to come together, but an extra couple of minutes with the highest speed on the mixer really elevated this frosting to the light and airy level.

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Then I got all fancy and melted chocolate to decorate the cake (I almost never bother with the “decoration” step, but I had fun here).  Also, there is extra peanut butter frosting, to be eaten on chocolate graham crackers.

Nothing like a birthday to make us reflect on health, right?

Matthew’s Knee
After I wrote this post, Matthew saw an orthopedic specialist who ordered an MRI.  The doctor expected to find some cartilage that needed to be removed, but the MRI came back clear, so instead of surgery, Matthew got physical therapy, aimed at correcting muscle imbalances in his leg that are making his knee cap rub when he bikes.

He has returned to biking, but the pain is not gone.  Both the physical therapy (an hour of exercises ev.er.y day) and the warmer weather seem to help, but in all honesty, surgery to remove some deteriorated cartilage would likely have been a quicker fix.

He’s also experimenting with clipless pedals again, so he can balance his muscles while biking, by getting the “pull up” motion, as well as the “push down.”  He used birthday money to purchase a pair of Keen cycling sandals, which, while not nearly as roomy as biking in Birks, have much more toe space than a standard bike shoe.

My Back
My back is my back.  After two visits to a chiropractor (the first followed by intense neck pain, that I tried to attribute mainly to sleeping wrong), I’ve decided that is not the route for me.  On the second visit, I gently mentioned the neck pain, not blaming her, but suggesting we stay away from that area.

This seemed like a perfectly reasonable request to me, given that the issue that brought me to her office was pain in the MIDDLE of my back.  I mean, I know it’s all connected, but still.   Unfortunately, this chiropractor (and I suspect most others would be similar) could NOT stay away from my neck, and my neck doesn’t seem to like chiropractic care.

I discovered that some sun salutations seem to help (if not cure) the pain, so I’m trying to do those daily, along with a few of my previous PT exercises.  That’s the current plan, given that the pain, if annoying in duration, is usually quite minimal and doesn’t really limit my activities — I can live with it.

If it gets out of hand, I can always go see our new doctor . . . .

DrGabe

. . . . Dr. Gabe!  He’s definitely into alternative healing; little pink super balls can work wonders, apparently.  Or maybe he just has a healing smile!

And now, to return to our mystery photo . . . perhaps not all that mysterious — if you guessed winter squash, you get the honor of being correct!  I love working with this variety of winter squash — a long, solid neck and very sweet flesh with a nice texture — and I loved how it looked on the tray after slicing.

Posted in Biking, Food, Health, My Life | 3 Comments

Diaper doldrums

It’s been 7 months since I wrote about Sir’s potty learning progress.  At that time, it seemed like we were very close to being completely, truly diaper-free!  In addition to a few months of daytime dryness under his belt, Sir had started staying dry at nap time and overnight, some nights.

That was in late August and early September.  After a few weeks, he reverted to wet diapers every morning and almost every nap time, and my diaper-free dreams went down the toilet.  ([Awake] daytime is still fine — he’s been daytime dry for almost a year now!)

As of a month ago, Sir is back to being dry at some nap times, i.e., the short naps (about an hour) that he takes at child care.  He is SO consistently dry at child care that Mrs. L puts him down for his nap without a diaper.  Brave lady, but zero accidents, so far.

On the other hand he almost always wakes up wet when napping at home, but he naps longer (about 90 minutes), so I don’t mind.  Nap time diapering is easy: a thick prefold and a Thirsties diaper cover.

Night time diapering is trickier.  Sometime after Sir’s first birthday, we discovered that fancy pocket diapers, with their feel-dry material, helped Sir sleep better and longer.  Good for him and good for us.  We bought four pocket diapers (3 bumGenius, 1 Fuzzy Bunz) which we use exclusively at night.

Except!  After awhile, I noticed that regular washing was not getting the stink out of those pocket diapers.  And the trick that so nicely and simply de-stinks my prefolds (a vinegar rinse) doesn’t work on the pocket diapers (vinegar would ruin their absorbancy or waterproofness or something).

Instead, you have to “strip” them.  Unfortunately, these instructions from Cotton Babies (an StL-based company and the makers of bumGenius diapers) are just a leeeeeetle bit off.

First, it does not take just two hot water rinses to get the stink out.  It takes many.  Like ten.  And all that time you’re using HOT water.  Suddenly the “environmentally friendly” cloth diapers are seeming much less so.

Second, the directions claim that, AT MOST (i.e., worst case scenario), you should have to strip your diapers “once every 3 or 4 months.”  In my experience, that is complete and utter B.S.  After following their instructions to. the. letter (plus eight more rinses), the stink went away for about two uses.  With four pocket diapers, two uses = eight nights, so barely over a week after stripping, I’m stuck with stinky covers again.

Unfortunately, whatever causes the stink also irritates Sir’s skin, and he’s had some nasty diaper rashes, despite the fact that he barely wears a diaper, except for overnight.

The diaper rashes necessitate using disposable diapers, since diaper creams and lotions are generally a no go with pocket diapers.  So we just cycle back and forth.  Disposables and cream to get the rash under control, then back to the pocket diapers until his skin gets irritated and forces us back to disposables.

On a side note, Sir almost always poops in the potty, but two weeks ago, we were a little off schedule, and he woke up in the morning with a poopy diaper.  Of course it was NOT a night when he was wearing a disposable diaper, but I swear I almost threw that $17 pocket diaper away anyway.  It was horrible, and I was literally in tears by the time I finished dealing with it.  If I never have to do that again, it will be too soon!

Anyway, I really prefer cloth diapers to disposable, in general, but not when they require this much work (and hot water) to keep decent.  I guess we could go back to the basic prefolds for nighttime, but I don’t want to sacrifice sleep.

It’s tempting to just stick with the disposables at night, and be done with the stinky pocket dipes, but for someone who’s used disposables very minimally, the idea of going through more than a handful of diapers a month is hard to swallow, both environmentally and financially.

I’m not sure where this leaves us.  There is really no end to night time diapering in sight.  It could be any day, I suppose, but it could also be a year or more from now, realistically.  I keep hoping that maybe this will be the last pack of disposable diapers I ever buy, but that dream has yet to be realized.

Posted in Not Green | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

What’s in a bicycle name?

We heard on Monday that Xtracycle will start shipping out the new batch of Edgerunners mid-month.  Since we’re just getting the frame, it will likely be at least another week beyond that before our bike is ready, but it should be road-worthy by the end of April.  I have to admit that when they pushed back the date from March to “early to mid-April,” I was hoping for more on the “early” side, but at least this is better than another delay.

My least favorite thing about the Edgerunner (and I say this having never seen one in person, much less ridden one) is the name.  It conjures up images of scooting along on the very far right side of the road, absolutely the last place you ever want to operate a bicycle.

Riding far to the right (i.e., at the edge of the road) makes you invisible and irrelevant to other road users.  It is also the place you encounter many of the dangers that cause the most common kind of bike crash (a solo fall) like debris, grates, pavement imperfections, wet leaves, sand, etc.  This is not how I ride and this is not what I teach.

So I am less than excited about the implications of the model name of this bike, but I’m also not huge on naming bikes.

I oh-so-creatively dubbed my Kona Jake, “Baby Jake.”  BUB (short for Back-Up Bike, my Schwinn Voyager) never really had a name, until I needed a way to distinguish between Baby Jake and BUB when writing here.  Before that, I may have also referred to BUB as “Baby.”

At any rate, I don’t really use the names I give my bicycles.  I don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hmm, which bike will I ride today?  I think I’ll take BUB.”

I may just end up referring to the Edgerunner as “the longtail,” which easily distinguishes it from any of our other bikes.  I could also rename it “Roadrunner,” which deals with my main objection to the name, although I’m also not sure “runner” is terribly appropriate, as cargo bikes are not really built for speed (maybe it would deserve that name if I had electric assist!).  Another option, in a continuation of my not-so-creative names, would be “Blue.”

We’ll probably wait to settle on a name, if any, until we actually have the bike, so we can get a feel for her (his?) personality, but it’s not too early to start brainstorming.

So, what do you call your bike?  And, any suggestions for a good name for a blue Xtracycle Edgerunner longtail?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Biking | Tagged , | 5 Comments