Winter biking and new pannier backpack

I started writing this post on a Monday (my first commute of the spring semester), when the temps started out in the teens, with single digit wind chills.  Four days later, it’s sunny and 60°F in St. Louis — ah, fickle January weather!

On the Monday in question, I helped get Gabriel well-bundled, and then waved goodbye to my biker boys.


Gabriel reported that everything was still nice and warm when they arrived at his school, which I rather expected, given how many layers he had on.  His mittens were perhaps the weakest link, but Matthew said his fingers were nice and toasty when they un-bundled (G has much better circulation than I do, apparently!).

Later in the day, I put together my cold-weather gear, along with my new pannier-backpack.



For whatever reason, I don’t have great circulation in my hands and feet when it is cold (or even moderately chilly).  Boots and mittens are a bit clunky on the bike, but if I’m going to ride in cold temps, they’re a must! Shifting with the mittens is a bit awkward, but doable.  I was glad it had warmed up a bit by the time I departed, or I’m not sure my fingers would have made it 8 miles, even with good mittens!

I replaced the balaclava I lost at the end of last semester (I’m still planning to check the campus lost and found, but I didn’t want to be without one; on the off chance I find the original, having a back-up won’t hurt).  I was happy that REI still carried the exact same product I bought however-many years ago — if something works, no need to change it.

After cramming our laptop backpack (with no laptop in it) into my grocery-bag panniers all last semester, I started investigating a better solution.  The idea of something that functioned as both a pannier and a backpack was appealing.  I read some old reviews that praised a product made by Timbuktu . . . that is no longer being produced.  I knew I wanted the rack attachment points to be on the OPPOSITE side of the backpack shoulder straps, since the side facing the bike inevitably gets cruddy.  With the Timbuktu pack not an option, Matthew found this pannier/backpack by Banjo Brothers (my Christmas gift from my parents).

It’s a backpack . . .
. . . and a pannier!









While it doesn’t have as many organization options as many backpacks, it does have a few pockets, and it’s plenty workable.  I’ll have to report back on its comfort as a backpack after more testing.

At this point, the only thing I would change is the length of the straps that fasten the top flap over the opening.  With the current design, I can’t fasten the buckles on the flap when the pannier is fully open, instead I have to roll down the top first.  I’m going to look into getting some kind of strap extender to remedy this.

On school days, I’m using this on one side and one of the old grocery-bag panniers on the other side.  The backpack carries my school stuff plus bike lights and tool kit.  The open pannier carries my purse, insulated lunch bag, U-lock, and cable.

Despite not having ridden my commute route (or all that much otherwise) for a few weeks, Monday’s commute went well.  These next couple of months have the potential to bring some of the trickiest weather for biking, but I’m hoping my biking:motoring ratio for this semester will be as good as it was last semester!


Bicycle babble: Updates on our newest additions

We’ve added two (or one-and-half?) new bikes to our fleet since May, but I haven’t talked about them much here.  Time to change that!

Meet Midnight

The Kona Dew Deluxe that I purchased in early May is my primary bike these days.  While I was excited to have finally made a decision, I was concerned about ride comfort with the aluminum frame on bumpy city roads.  I also experienced some knee pain after my first few rides (despite having the bike fitted) that brought a few twinges of buyer’s regret.

I’m happy to report that the ride quality is just fine, and my knee pain seems to have resolved (maybe I just needed to get used to the position?).  The nine gears (only a single ring in front) work well for most of the riding I’m doing, though I’m not sure I could get it up a steep hill pulling a loaded trailer without a lower gear.

While it seems like a nice addition to a commuter bike, I don’t use the front basket all that much.  Putting any kind of weight up there changes the bike’s handling significantly (trickier than riding with G in front of me in the IBert), so I usually leave it empty, or reserve it for bulky but light items, like our picnic quilt.


I wasn’t really set on naming this bike, but “Midnight” popped into my head a few weeks ago, and it stuck.  I’ve been spending a lot of time on Midnight lately (#30daysofbiking post coming up next week), and I’m very glad that I’m not riding BUB for my 15-mile RT school commutes.

Meet Apple Jack

We’ve been enjoying our Burley Piccolo [trail-a-bike], recently christened “Apple Jack” by Gabriel, since mid-May.  We started out with short jaunts, but by the end of May, Matthew and Gabriel completed the 4-mile ride to G’s preschool.


It is now our child bicycle conveyance of choice for shorter trips.  On longer trips where we really want to move and plan on spending significant time on larger roads, we still turn to Big Blue, though we’ll eventually use Apple Jack for these trips too.

Matthew and I each have a bike with the Burley Moose rack (propriety rear rack to which the Piccolo attaches) mounted.  I use Midnight and Matthew uses his road bike.  Installing the racks was no easy task; it left us wishing we’d left it to the bike shop, where the installation probably would have been included with our purchase.  Live and learn, I guess!

I’ll admit to being a little bit wobbly when riding with G on Apple Jack.  I’m fine at normal cruising speeds with both hands on the handlebars, but slower speeds and signaling turns is a little shaky.  The stable handling is where Big Blue really shines.  (A tandem with a kid-sized stoker set-up would also work well.)

First post-broken leg ride
While he’s still pretty hesitant about riding independently, Gabriel loves pedaling along on Apple Jack and being part of the “bike team.”  I’m looking at this picture and realizing that we still need to get a fender for Apple Jack!

Big Blue’s new role

Between me finally getting a new bike (I had been using Big Blue for many solo trips, just because it’s a much nicer bike than BUB) and the addition of the trail-a-bike, Big Blue didn’t see much action for a couple of months.

We took her into the shop for a tune-up at the end of May, and then didn’t use her until July 4th.  A week or two after that, while installing our new Hooptie, I noticed an oily puddle under the rear tire that lined up with the internal hub.

Hooptie installed, but going nowhere due to the hub issue
Instead of hauling the entire bike into the shop, I decided to remove the rear wheel, which turned out to be no simple feat with the internal hub, but with the help of YouTube videos, Matthew prevailed.  The diagnosis was a missing o-ring (that was not replaced when the hub was serviced in May).

With some new transmission oil and the o-ring back in place, we were in business, just in time for my family’s visit, when I was planning for all of us (5 adults and 2 kids — we had just enough bikes for everyone) to ride together.  Alas, that ride would have taken place the morning after G broke his leg, so it never happened.

It was nice that the longtail was fully functional, because Gabriel was in no condition to be riding a bike for a few weeks there, so we reverted to Big Blue while Apple Jack collected dust.  Getting him onto the bike was easier than getting him into the car.


I removed half of the Hooptie and put his Yepp seat back on for the time being (the Yepp seat fits works with the full Hooptie, but this made it easier for me to lift him into place when his leg was still hurting a lot.

I think G is now at a point where we could ditch the Yepp seat and just let him ride on the rear deck with the full Hooptie in place.  I still need to make some seat pads (planning to use garden kneeling pads and heavy duty velcro to secure them to the deck.  We’re still waiting on the back-ordered U-tube footrests from Xtracycle, but for now he can stick his legs into the bags.

Future bike purchase

I know, I know, I just bought a bike, but then Surly went and released the 2016 Disc [brake] Trucker in a really lovely blue (where was this a year ago when I needed it, Surly???).  Despite the color, I’m still not set on the Disc Trucker over the Salsa Vaya (that sloped topped tube and already having integrated shifters are key points for me).  Given my new, longer commute, Matthew is really encouraging me to get one or the other.  I’m not in a huge hurry to take this step, but it will likely happen — maybe in the spring?  When it does, it will be time to find a new home for BUB,

On the bike: Driver behavior — start ’em young!

Cute little bikey story from a couple of weeks ago . . .

Gabriel and I were headed home on Big Blue.  We were on a one-way neighborhood street with parked cars on both sides, leaving a rather narrow effective travel lane.  I was headed uphill and moving none too fast.  There was a car behind us, and after crossing an intersection, I moved over to facilitate a pass (they ended up turning on the cross street — isn’t that always the way?).

I noticed quite a bit of broken glass in our path (as is common toward the edge of the road), and I commented on it to Gabriel as we re-established our position in the debris-free portion of the street.

I couldn’t help but use it as a teaching opportunity to talk about why we don’t drive our bike on the edge of the roadway: more debris = more flats (not to mention other dangers).  It wasn’t the first time we’d talked about lane position on the bike, and he picked up right away, remembering a time we’d been in the car and seen some other bicyclists.

Gabriel: “Yeah, remember that time we were going to Baba’s and we saw those bicyclists riding on the very edge of the road?  That was NOT good!”

I agreed.  He went on, “It made me so angry my brown eyes turned black!”  Wowza, that’s angry!

We talked a little bit more, about how we didn’t want to be angry with them, we were just concerned for their safety.  I recounted the story to Matthew when we got home, and he said this had come up in a conversation he’d had with Gabriel a week earlier.  It’s rewarding to see him picking up on these things, and it helped reinforce my decision to go by bike, even on a really hot day!

Wet weather biking with kids (and preschool peer pressure)

When we first got Big Blue, my plan was to make G a rain cover, a la Lindsay’s instructions.  I already had the clip-off umbrella stroller sunshade and a big rain cover from our jogging stroller.  I purchased the PVC, zip ties, and heavy duty Velcro, thinking it would be an easy project (I also liked that fact that it would double as a sun shade).  I played around with it a bit, but I didn’t find it quite as easy to set up on the Yepp child seat as it seemed to be on Lindsay’s Peanut Shell child seat, plus, it was summer and there just wasn’t all that much rain (though the sun shade would have been nice).

Since then, it seems like most of the days when it’s raining and we need to transport Gabriel, it’s really raining (with heavy winds and/or lightning and thunder in the mix), and we’ve opted to take the car.

One drizzly day in March, I realized that the adult-sized poncho we bought at Crater Lake (when someone neglected to bring her raincoat on the hike (also, the hike where we almost got struck by lightning)) would make an ideal rain cover for G and his seat.

Photo op while waiting for a looooooong train

The poncho solution is as simple as securing the kid in the seat, then placing the poncho (with the child’s arms INSIDE, not sticking out), and topping with the helmet.  To keep it from blowing around, I rolled the edges and secured them with a couple of clothes pins (you can see one near the bottom of the photo, behind G’s foot).

We weren’t using the poncho’s hood on this day, because it was just a little drizzly, and cool enough that he was wearing other head covering anyway, but in heavier rain, the hood could be worn underneath his helmet, for head to almost-toe coverage (again, if it has really been coming down, he would have had his rain boots on here.  We’ve used this successfully on a couple of wet days now.

Yesterday morning was just such a day.  It was sprinkling a bit as we all prepared to leave (me to a dentist appointment; M and G to school/work).  As I was leaving for my early appointment, Gabriel was angling for taking the car, and starting to work into a bit of a lather (apparently he was sad that they weren’t leaving at the exact same time as me).

When I asked Matthew about it last night, part of the story was that G didn’t want to wear the poncho on the bike because he “didn’t want kids at school to laugh at him.”

I was floored.  Really?!?  My 3-year-old has to worry that other freaking 3-year-olds will MAKE FUN OF HIM???  At preschool???

My heart hurt for my sweet, sensitive little guy, and my mama bear instincts definitely kicked in — WHO, exactly, was going to laugh at him, because so help me, I was going to find that little punk . . . .

The truth is, this stuff will happen.  Not to condone it, but short of home-schooling my kid and never leaving the house, we’ll have to deal with this.  Preschool seems a little early, but I guess it’s time to start practicing how we deal with these things.

Weekend rides and rains

The intermittent rain and thunderstorms made things tricky both in the garden and on the bike over the weekend.

Poor Matthew took Friday off work, hoping for two full back-to-back garden days to get caught up.  Instead, he got a few hours on Friday morning and a few hours on Saturday morning.  On his way home from the garden on Friday, he swung by The Hub to pick up our Burley Piccolo!

The Piccolo mounts onto Burley’s proprietary rear rack.  I was anxious to get the rack on my new bike so it would be ready for Saturday’s CyclingSavvy class.  Of course, I made the mistake of assuming that the rack would be “easy” to install.  It ended up taking at least an hour and required using our small, manual metal saw to cut the rack stays to the appropriate length.  We had to wait on installing the second rack on Matthew’s bike — it will need some kind of extender to reach the bottom mounting point on his hybrid.

Saturday morning dawned overcast, but my bike was ready, and it looked like we might be able to squeeze in “Train Your Bike” (the parking lot, bike handling skills session of CyclingSavvy) before the next wave of rain hit.

Photo courtesy of Karen Karabell

The first rain drops began to fall as we started the second-to-last drill.  We wrapped things up, mindful of the slippery pavement.  We stashed all of the bikes under an awning or in Karen’s van and dashed into Kaldi’s just before it started pouring.  After lunch, I accepted Karen’s gracious offer to give me a lift, though I felt like a bit of a wimp for not just biking in the rain.  (My decision was fueled by the fact that, for whatever reason due to sleep debt and an unexpectedly challenging yoga class on Friday afternoon, my energy level was pretty low — I had felt every bit of the 6.5 miles on the way to the class location.  That, and wanting to baby my new bike — yes, it will get wet (and scratched) eventually, but it’s nice to enjoy it shiny and new for just a bit longer.)

Instead of just stabling my bike and heading inside for a nap after returning home, I embarked on a garage-cleaning project, which expanded to include some basement cleaning.  Both spaces look much better now!

We kicked off Mother’s Day with the Piccolo’s maiden voyage.  G was excited upon seeing the new bike, and then, once sitting on it, immediately uncertain (called that one #mamaknows).  He spent the first two blocks saying he didn’t like it and thought he was going to fall off (he wasn’t).

Then it changed to “I’m doing it” . . .


And finally, “I like this new bike.”  Success!

For this first Piccolo outing, we stuck to the small streets right around our place.  Given G’s initial reaction, I thought we’d go two blocks and head right back home, but we added a few more after he got into it.

I spent the rest of the morning getting stuff done around the house while Matthew tackled bread baking — so nice to have five beautiful loaves in the freezer!

We closed the weekend with a much-anticipated date night to see the student showcase at Bumbershoot Aerial Arts.


I was hoping we could make it a date night by bike, but the weather had other plans.  The forecast was for a high chance of thunderstorms all evening, and the skies opened up just as we were ready to head to Lucky Buddha for dinner, so we took the car (of course, by the time we arrived, it had stopped raining).

We dined on noodle salad, steamed buns, and pho at Lucky Buddha, continued on to I Scream Cakes for dessert, and then hit the main event at the Bumbershoot gym.  I enjoyed watching fellow students perform and thinking about perhaps being at that level eventually.  When we left, it was dry as a bone outside, and it would have made for a lovely, if late, bike ride home.  Fickle weather!