Meet Lightning

A month ago, I shared a picture of G [finally] riding his new bike, with a promise of a full story later.  Bike month seems an appropriate time to make good on that promise.

Our first outing on the new bike went fairly well, but after that we reached a stalemate.  It was all we could do to convince G to even get on the bike.  I turned to the interwebs for some advice, and ended up at a Sheldon Brown page, which had this advice on running with a child:

The parent should hold the child by the shoulders and run along behind. It is important that the parent not hold the handlebars-the child cannot learn the feel of balancing if the parent is taking control of the bike. If the parent holds onto the saddle or any other part of the bike, the child will not necessarily realize if they are leaning a bit to one side or the other, because the parent will be correcting for them.

Instead, hold the child by the shoulders, so that as they lean to the side, they will feel the side pressure, and can learn to reduce it by turning into the lean. This should be done in a wide flat space, such as an empty parking lot. The parent should not make any attempt to steer the child, just let the bike go where it will.

I thought I’d been doing good by holding on to the back of his seat rather than the handlebars, but the above advice made a lot of sense, and I was itching to try it, so after nap time that day, I told Gabriel that I had a new idea for helping him ride his bike.  Unfortunately, I had a less-than-willing subject.

Once outside, G was more interested in his sandbox than the bike.  When I finally coaxed him onto the bike, he lasted all of 1/4 of a block before declaring that he was finished.  Sigh!

Our next attempt ended in us conceding to training wheels (which I’d REALLY hoped to avoid).  I  followed the Sheldon Brown advice for proper training wheel use, and adjusted the training wheels to leave some wobble.  At first, we left too much wobble [for G’s comfort].  We adjusted the training wheels closer to the ground, leaving just a tiny bit of wobble, but by that point he was pretty much done for the day.

The Saturday of Easter weekend, we towed G’s bike to the local school playground, which features a big open paved space.  After some time playing on the equipment, we proposed the idea of a bike ride.  No joy.

Then Matthew suggested that G’s new bike was feeling lonely because he wasn’t riding it.  One of us (don’t remember who) had the idea to ask Gabriel if he wanted to name the bike.  He settled on “Lightning” (an imminently practical name, as it has lightning bolts on it), and we started talking about how Lightning wanted to go for a ride.  We finally succeeded in engaging Gabriel (and Lightning) in a game of follow-the-leader.

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For now, [empty] parking lots, or other big, flat, empty paved spaces, are going to be our best riding locations.  Sidewalks just have too many distractions, and present too many obstacles — bumps, frequent intersections and alleys, etc.  It does mean we’ll have to continue towing G’s bike to said locations — not hard, per se, but we do need to protect Big Blue.  I’m pretty sure the towing was what caused this damage to Big Blue’s frame.

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Xtracycle is selling touch-up paint, but we were planning to pair the order with the Hooptie to save on shipping, and the Hooptie is now out of stock until July.  Anyway, eventually we’ll get this fixed, and then we plan to use some kind of padding to protect it.  (A bikey friend suggested part of an old rubber bead bicycle tire wrapped around this part of the frame.)

Between life, allergies, and illness, we haven’t actually gotten Lightning out again (so it’s been over a month — boo!).  I did replace the worn-out handlebar grips with a new, bright red pair (G’s color request).  I was still debating other “decorating” options — decals, stencils and paint, etc. — and now G is saying he’ll wait to ride in until said decorations are in place.  Argh!

I’m trying to remind myself that this is a learning process, just like anything else.  When in the throws of it, potty learning felt similarly frustrating and never-ending, but it was just a stage that’s now past and that I don’t even think about any more.  Eventually, G will be able to ride a bicycle without training wheels — pushing too much now is only frustrating all of us (and perhaps making G more resistant).

We’re also in the process of getting a tag-a-long bike (a Burley Piccolo), and I’m hoping riding that will make him more comfortable on his own bike (that is, if he deigns to even get on the Piccolo — at least it’s already a nice color . . . ).

 

Cold weather biking with kids

Baby, it’s cold out there!  Matthew and Gabriel biked to school/work the first two days of the week (coldest on-bike temps for G thus far), but we switched to the car when the bottom really dropped out on Wednesday and Thursday.  The bike ride to school takes between twenty and thirty minutes, and, even well-bundled, that’s a long time to sit still in the bitter cold.

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Layers, from head to toe: Helmet (not pictured), thin-ish fleece hat, balaclava, sunglasses, scarf (also not pictured), long underwear (i.e., cotton pajama) base layer, sweatshirt, pants, coat, insulated mittens, insulated snow bibs, rain boots.

I took this picture a few weeks ago.  We since discovered that his snow boots from last year still fit, so we pulled those out for the really cold days.  And this week we finally talked him into swapping the sunglasses for ski goggles.

If you’re thinking, “It must take forever to get out the door in the morning,” you are completely right.

There are certainly mornings where I’m tempted to say “Screw it,” and take the car instead, but so far, we’re making this work (on the non-icy road days).

Happy cold weather biker

I’m feeling a lot more optimistic after getting out on the bike two days in a row.  Gabriel came along for the ride both times.  Despite the title of the post, yesterday morning’s trip was actually made in balmy, 42°F temps, but today really was cold.

I had originally planned to use the bike for our afternoon outing yesterday, and the car for our morning outing (which included returning some large-ish items to the store), but when I stepped outside in the morning and realized how warm it was, combined with the fact that temperatures were supposed to drop during the day, I flip-flopped those plans: bike in the morning, car in the afternoon.

Someone had to deal with some disappointment at the change in plans: “But I want to go in the caaaarrrrr!”

Tough luck, kid!  He perked up when he realized that the bike was taking us to the same destination as the car would have (Rise Coffeehouse).  G loves this space for the second floor play area.  On the third Wednesday of the month, there is also music time with Celia.  We arrived early and had the play area to ourselves for a bit, but come music hour (10-11am), the place was PACKED!  Celia won my heart with a song about bicycles, written by a young friend of hers ❤

Today’s outing definitely counted as cold-weather biking (~20°F, with a slightly cooler wind chill).  We bundled into our layers.

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I’ll have to update with a photo of G later.  For now, you’ll just have to look at my [frosty] face.*

Gabriel’s Cold Weather Bike Layers:

  • socks
  • long underwear (just fitted cotton pajama pants and top)
  • leg warmers (to make sure there’s no gap b/w socks and pants)
  • regular pants
  • sweat shirt or sweater
  • down jacket (warm, but not super puffy)
  • balaclava
  • hat
  • insulated mittens
  • rain boots
  • scarf (covering most of his face)
  • sunglasses

We might upgrade to snow boots (his pair from last year are too small), but I also think we could stick with the rain boots, especially if we add a pair of thick, wool socks.

We use the sunglasses to keep the cold wind out of his eyes, and protect that part of his face a bit.  My MIL bought him a pair of ski goggles, which he likes to wear . . . around his neck.  He refused to have them anywhere near his eyes this morning, so we stuck with the sunglasses (choose your battles, right?).

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I’m still just wearing a light jacket (over layers), instead of my winter coat, but I did pull out the snow boots today.  They come up high enough on my legs that I can just tuck my pants into them instead of worrying about wearing leg bands to keep my pants away from the bike.  The combination of the boots and a double layer on the bottom made me feel rather slow and clunky when riding, but when it’s cold, staying warm is what matters.

Finally, I noticed over the last few days that the few remaining patches of ice on the streets are located . . . can anyone guess?

If you guessed, “near the edge of the road,” you’re spot on!  While black ice can happen anywhere, this observation is yet another reason (on a looooonnnggg list) to NOT ride far to the right!

*That’s my new helmet-mounted mirror, which I’m not really crazy about.  We’ll see if I warm up to it . . . .

 

Biking with kids: Trailer bike vs. tandem

I started this post just two weeks after we got Big Blue.  Don’t get me wrong, we plan to get many more years of use carrying Gabriel on the longtail, but things change fast with kids, and finding a quality, used product takes time.

We still have awhile before G is ready to ride independently on the streets with us, so for now I’m considering options that would allow him to pedal with us.  Gabriel is now tall enough to fit many trailer bike set-ups, though I’m not quite sure that he’s developmentally ready for this step, but perhaps by next spring or summer.

The two main options for your child pedaling with you are some type of trailer bike or a tandem that has a rear (stoker) position that fits a small rider.

Trailer bikes
These are pretty common and easy to find.  You can get a new trailer bike for between $200 and $400, depending on brand and features.  A general pro is that we could purchase an extra hitch and/or rack (the Roland and Burley each attach to a custom rear rack), so that Gabriel could easily ride with either Matthew or me.  The trailer bike could be easily detached and left at school if one of us was doing drop-off and the other pick-up (or it could hitch a ride home in Baba’s car).

What’s in the running for us:

  • Roland add+bike: Very highly recommended by the folks over at Hum of the City — see their review here.  Of course, my number one trailer bike choice would have to be made in Germany and not widely available in the U.S.  Rumor has is that we could order one through J.C. Lind Bike Co. in Chicago, though this would easily be the most expensive option (with import shipping, probably around $500), and the one we are least likely to find used.
  • Something by Burley, either the Piccolo (pricier, but has gears and the option of converting to a stand-alone kid’s bike) or the more basic Kazoo.
  • The Weehoo iGo PRO: this seems like a cool concept, and the product gets great reviews.  If I found a great price on a used Weehoo, I might go for it.  In general, the Weehoo would be particularly good if you were concerned about your kid falling asleep or otherwise not staying on the bike.  Otherwise, I think I’d opt for one that gives more of a true riding a bike experience.

Given that this is something we’ll probably only use for few years, I doubt we’ll spring for the Roland, which means we’ll likely end up with one of the Burley options.  For a comparison of even more trailer bike options, see this guide over at Two Wheeling Tots.

Tandems
As far as I know, there are exactly two bikes that would fit the bill here.  I first became aware of the tandem option when I read about the Circe Helios on the Less Car More Go Facebook group.  The appeal is that either Matthew or I could ride as captain with Gabriel as stoker, OR Matthew and I could ride this bike together (if I can get over my control issues and deal with being stoker 😉 ).

Circe Cycles is based in the U.K., and they have exactly one U.S. dealer, located on the East coast.  On the low side, once we paid for shipping and such, I think we’d spend at least $2000 on this bike.  Given that we just recently made a big ol’ bike purchase (Big Blue), I’m not really sure this is in the cards.

Recently, a friend pointed out his Bike Friday tandem, which he’s been riding with his preschool-age grandson.  Bike Friday offers three models of their tandem (including a folding option).  The Family Tandem is the most basic, and it starts at $1300.  Quite a bargain for a tandem, but still an investment.

Both the Circe and the Bike Friday tandem use 20″ wheels, which makes for low step-over height, and they both claim to fit a relatively wide range of rider heights.  The suggested rider heights for the Circe Helios are 4′ 10″ to 6′ 5″ for the captain, and 3′ 6″ to 6′ 2″ for the stoker (though elsewhere on the website they mention 6′ as the max ideal stoker height).  I don’t have the exact numbers for the Bike Friday, but they are similar.

I’m not sure how a tandem would work for our everyday riding.  If we used a tandem to take Gabriel to school, then after Matthew or I dropped him off, we’d be riding around with an empty stoker seat.  I’m not sure how the bike would handle in this set-up.

At this point, it’s unlikely that we’d be able to ride either of the tandems before purchasing, which is a big downside (though it worked out okay with Big Blue).  I question whether Matthew and I, both on the tall side, would truly be comfortable on either of these bikes together, so being able to test drive would be really nice.

Next steps for us
I like the idea of the tandem, but I’m not sure I can justify the purchase.  Given both the versatility, lower cost, and greater availability of the trailer bikes, I imagine we’ll go that route.  I plan to keep an eye on Craigslist in the coming months (wish there were a way to set up an auto-alert!).

 

 

 

DIY midtail cargo bike

UPDATE (9/10/14): Matthew rode this fully loaded (i.e., Gabriel in the seat, plus loaded panniers on the rear rack) yesterday, which turned out to be too much weight in the back. He was fighting to keep the front wheel on the ground. So, this set-up works with either a child OR loaded rear panniers, but not both at the same time.  Matthew is looking into adding a front rack to the bike (for the panniers) to even out the weight distribution.  Until then, he’ll avoid riding with Gabriel and cargo, which means he can’t use this bike to drop G off at school on the way to work.

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As I mentioned yesterday, Sir started preschool this week.  He’s been waiting to go to “Baba’s school” (my MIL, Sir’s “Baba,” is his teacher) all summer, and thanks to our trial run in the spring, we were pretty confident it would be an easy transition for him.

So far, so good.

In some ways, it’s probably a bigger transition for Matthew and me, and I’m not talking the emotional, “my baby’s going to school” thing, but rather the very practical “getting Gabriel to and from school” issue.

G’s preschool is about four miles from where we live, and I’m already mourning the loss of the super easy half-block walk to childcare that we enjoyed for the past 14 months.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Fortunately, G’s preschool is more or less on Matthew’s way to work, so the general plan is that Matthew will take use the longtail and handle both drop-off and pick-up on most days.  But there will invariably be days (including this past Monday), where there’s a scheduling conflict, and Matthew either has to be at work early or stay late, and the timing for child shuttling will not work for him.

We realized almost as soon as we got the longtail that, in an ideal world, we would have not one, but two Big Blues for such times.  (Since we sold the trailer, the longtail was our only way to transport G by bike.)

But alas Big Blue cannot clone herself, and we really can’t justify purchasing another bike right now (though that doesn’t stop me from looking and dreaming — n+1, right?).

However, when we were going through the whole Yepp child seat debacle (in which I bought a “standard” model on EBay, when we needed the Easyfit for the Edgerunner), we noticed a particular accessory, the Easyfit Carrier XL, which claimed to extend a regular rear bike rack so one could fit both a Yepp child seat and panniers.

With this accessory, we could use the single Yepp Easyfit child seat on multiple bikes.  After a bit of discussion, we decided to adapt Matthew’s back-up bike (a Giant hybrid) for this purpose.*

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What you need

  • A good bike — you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but visit a bike store instead of a discount store.  You’re going to be transporting your child, so you want something that is safe and reliable.  Matthew took his bike in for a tune-up to make sure all was in working order before adapting the bike.
  • A heavy-duty rear rack.  Most rear cargo racks are meant for loads under 50 pounds, and some are only rated for 25-30 pounds.  If you’re carrying a preschooler plus other cargo, you need something that can handle more than 30 pounds.  Matthew found this Axiom Journey rack — reasonably priced, with a capacity of 110 pounds.
  • The Yepp Easyfit Carrier XL, along with the Yepp Easyfit Seat.
  • Panniers that work with the rack (more on this below).

Optional

  • When Matthew took his bike in for a tune-up, the mechanics mentioned that he was probably due for new wheels.  Given the heavy (and important) load he’s planning to carry, he opted for a more expensive, heavier-duty wheel.
  • Matthew also added a center [two-legged] kickstand.  This is not nearly as stable as the center stand that is on Big Blue (where I can leave G unattended if necessary), at least for short periods.  It will help make the bike a sit more stable when loading and unloading, but Matthew will still have to be there, helping support the bike, anytime that G is in the seat.

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The Easyfit Carrier (silver) bolts onto the rear rack (black), and the seat quickly and easily snaps into the port on the carrier (similar to the built-in port on Big Blue’s rear deck).

After getting everything set up, we discovered that Matthew’s basic grocery bag style panniers did not work when the child seat was attached.  The built-in hooks that attach the pannier to the top bar of the rack were too widely spaced (to work with the child seat in place), and not adjustable.

While new panniers were not part of the original plan, Matthew has been wanting something different (waterproof, with a built-in rain cover) for awhile now, and Ortlieb’s roller-bag panniers fit the bill (their clips for attaching to the top bar of the rack are adjustable).

This is not a free, or even a super-cheap, way to transport a child, especially if you don’t already have the Yepp seat, but for us, it made a lot of sense.  If you already have a decent bike, it’s a lot more affordable than going out and buying a midtail or longtail.

Now I can, say, use Big Blue to drop G off at school in the morning, leaving both the seat and his bike helmet at school, and Matthew can use his pseudo-midtail to pick G up in the afternoon.  This does, of course, involve some planning ahead: Matthew remembering to ride the correct bike and me remembering to leave the seat and helmet.

We still don’t really have a plan for dealing with weather (i.e., pouring rain, thunder and lightning, or icy/snowy roads) other than using the car.  Matthew can easily take the bus to/from work in these conditions, but, sadly, the bus route is not convenient to G’s school, so we may still find ourselves car-bound a bit more than we prefer.

*This set-up is still, technically, in testing mode.  Matthew’s used it for a few short rides around our neighborhood with G, but it has not been proven over time and distance.