In with the new

Prior to his unexpected health scare, Matthew was in the midst of dealing with bicycle trouble.

His Craigslist-ed Surly Pacer quickly became his primary bike, with his hybrid Giant relegated to the back-up bike role.  Not long after finally taking it in to a LBS for a minor shifting tune-up (after attempted tries to tweak it himself didn’t quite do the trick), he faced a much bigger problem.

On his way into work a few weeks ago, the shifting lever for the rear gears broke off in his hand.  He called to tell me that it was going to be a very slow ride home from work.  I suggested the bus.

Now, some people are in to fixed-gear bicycles, but we are not those people.  Anyone who’s bothered to get out of his car and onto a bike in the St. Louis area can tell you that, contrary to some perceptions, St. Louis is not, in fact, flat.  Nope, from minor inclines to some pretty major hills (including The Hill, which is often part of our bike route), having gears (and knowing how to use them well) is an essential part of a good biking experience around here.

After much research, Matthew had a few options, ranging from expensive to more expensive:

  1. Buy the part and pay for labor to replace the broken shifter — $200
  2. Upgrade to a new shifting system (he wasn’t crazy about the existing set-up) — $450+
  3. Cut his losses, ditch the Pacer, and buy a new bike

Option #1 was by far the cheapest, especially after he managed to get the maker of the shifter to cover the cost of the part (his research revealed that there was a known defect/weakness that led to the break), leaving us to cover just the thirty dollars of labor.  Done.

We could have stopped there.  But in the course of his research, he had already gone back and ridden the [new] Salsa Casserole that he was considering back in March when he bought the Pacer.

The lure of a new bike, which came standard with the upgraded shifting system he was considering for the Pacer, plus the benefit of free tune-ups for life, was hard to resist.  That, combined with the discovery that his Craigslist bike was not the standard Pacer that you would buy from a bike shop, but something that had been built up (with perhaps cheaper components) by the seller, weighed heavily in favor of the new bike.

Until his hospitalization, I had been mostly a neutral party, acting as a sounding board for the options, but mostly encouraging him to decide.  Seeing him in the hospital prompted some kind of “life is short” mentality for me, and I started advocating for the new bike (a decision toward which he’d been leaning anyway).

He picked up the [repaired] Pacer and the new Salsa Casserole on the same day, and then perhaps set a record for length of time elapsed from purchasing to riding a new bicycle (19 days!) due to recovery/fatigue and the timing of our trip.

Sunday morning, we finally all headed out for a family bike ride — the Casserole’s (he going to name it soon) maiden voyage.

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The bike wasn’t the only new thing:  Sir sported his new helmet.

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I’m pretty sure that thing would almost fit me.  Not to name names, but someone has a big head.

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The Casserole is really a beautiful bike (another factor in its favor) — a light silvery blue color.  It came with the small front rack (I guess we need some kind of a basket for that), and the bike shop staff transferred the fenders and rear rack that Matthew had put on the Pacer.  (While they weren’t willing to negotiate on the price of the bike, which was already discounted due to it being a 2012 model, Matthew did negotiate for the labor of moving the accessories, which, at over an hour of time, was well worth requesting.)

While there’s some temptation to keep all of the bikes (two back-ups is better than one, right?), we’re planning to sell the repaired Pacer, hopefully for close to what we paid for it.  While it could have been worse, this was not the best introduction we could have had to buying a bicycle on Craigslist.  If the seller cannot produce specifics on where he/she purchased the bike — buyer beware!

What a big head you have

The better to wear a bicycle helmet, my dear 🙂

We visited the pediatrician for Gabriel’s 2-month check-up last week, and the doctor diagnosed our little guy with macrocephaly.  Which literally just means that he has a big head (15 inches at birth, 17 inches last week).  When the doctor first said he was recording it in the chart, we thought he was joking, but apparently it is a real diagnosis and something that they will monitor.

Since large heads run in the family on the paternal side, we are not at all worried, and I quickly realized a potential benefit of a baby with a large head.  I came home and looked up infant helmets, and found one that starts at 18 inches — only one more inch to go!  I imagine that last inch will come on more slowly than the first two, and there is the whole needing to be able hold up that giant head of his, but still, methinks this whole macrocephaly thing could be good (for now, at least — Matthew has trouble finding a helmet that is large enough to provide good coverage).

That said, we are still on the fence as far as accommodations for biking with the little guy.  I had this naive idea that I would have plenty of time to troll Craigslist and investigate options AFTER the baby was born.  Yeah, not so much.  First, time?  Ha!  Second, I’m not the most decisive person in the best circumstances, and sleep deprivation and baby-fogged brain . . . .   Well, you get the picture.

Whenever we decide and finally make a purchase, I know we’ll enjoy including Gabriel in our preferred form of transportation, it just may be a bit later than I anticipated.

Biking with Baby — Part II

I’ve been mulling this over for a few months now, and you can read my first post on the subject here.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard and fast plans — more reading and research = more confusion!

Bicycle as Transportation
In reading comments on some other “biking with babies” type posts, it’s obvious that many people assume that biking is solely for recreation and not transportation.  Comments such as, “If you and your husband want to go for a bike ride, leave your baby with a sitter,”  reveal general ignorance about using a bicycle for transportation.

What if we want to go to an event in the park WITH the baby?  What if I need to pick something up at the grocery store?  Am I confined to only using my car for these short, easily bikeable trips for the first 12 months unless I leave baby behind?  Despite all the naysayers, I’m not giving up yet.

Safety
First, discard the false (yet commonly held) belief that cycling itself is inherently dangerous.  In fact, it’s no more dangerous than driving or riding in a car, yet most people hop in a car every day with little thought to the risk, and no one bats an eye at a pregnant woman driving a car or parents transporting their infant in a motor vehicle.

That leaves us with a couple of possible legitimate risks to consider when biking with babies: 1) balance and 2) road vibrations.

Balance
A child seat attached to the bicycle could destabilize the bike, especially if they raise the center of gravity.  However, most accidents here occur not while the bike in motion, but rather while it is stopped.  Solution: use care when loading/unloading and get a kickstand that provides more stability, either a double (i.e., pyramid) style or one that mounts closer to the rear of the bicycle.  You could also invest in one of the specialty cargo bikes that I mentioned in my last post, or use a trailer.

Road Vibrations
Although there are no studies on the subject, some people claim that riding in a bicycle trailer exposes young babies to levels of road vibration that can cause brain damage similar to shaken baby syndrome.  While I certainly don’t want to discount this risk, there is NO EVIDENCE that bicycling with babies in trailers causes brain damage.  Solution: Invest in a trailer with a suspension system, keep the trailer tires inflated at a lower pressure to absorb more impact, and secure infant in a car seat so that his/her head is fully supported.

Making it Happen
Since last writing on the subject, I have talked to two parents who love their Xtracycles for biking with slightly older children, but I am leaning toward a trailer + car seat as the best (and most economical) solution for biking with a young infant.

Unfortunately, the nice trailers that have suspension systems (examples here and here) cost significantly more than the run-of-the-mill bike trailer, and, because they’re less common, I imagine finding a used one will be next to impossible.

Realistically, I think the earliest we would try this would be around 3 months of age, meaning we have a bit more time to ponder.  Ideally, there would be a way that we could try various cargo bikes and bike plus trailer combinations before committing to one, but at some point, we’ll just have to make a decision.