Test driving a Bullitt cargo bike

When we visited Portland two years ago, I had good intentions of visiting bike shops and test driving some cargo bikes, as I was already dreaming about adding something with serious kid- and cargo-carrying capacity to our fleet.  Alas, somewhere in the mix of vacation with a 14-month-old, this just didn’t happen.

Sadly, there are zero bike shops in St. Louis that carry cargo bikes (if I won the lottery, I’d open a bike shop specializing in family, cargo, and commuting bikes — anyone want to fund this???).*

Anyhow, when we were planning our return trip to Portland, just a few months after purchasing our own cargo bike, I prioritized trying something new-to-me.  A bit of research revealed that for $25 we could rent a Bullitt bicycle (a bakfiets or Dutch long-john cargo bike that I’ve read about over at Tiny Helmets Big Bikes) for a day from Splendid Cycles.  I emailed the shop owners, settled on a date, and that was that.

On Thursday morning, we blew right past Splendid Cycles and were partway down the Springwater Trail (along the Willamette River) before we realized we must have somehow missed the shop.  We backtracked and found the shop right at the trail head.

They put a lime green Bullitt up on the repair stand to look things over, while we browsed their other offerings and chatted with one of the owners.

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Can I sit in here?  Gabriel’s a fan of this model with the sweet rain cover.  Also love the detail work on the box!

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Gabriel checking out Big Blue’s (AKA Roadrunner) long-lost twin, with the Hooptie accessory (the wrap-around bar he’s holding onto).  I’m totally wishing we included one of these when we ordered Big Blue.  I imagine we’ll end up getting one, we’ll just have to eat the shipping cost.  With the Hooptie, we could carry Gabriel and one or two of his friends, which could come in handy.

Before we knew it, our rental Bullitt was ready to roll.  The guys at the shop assured us that we’d adjust quickly to the steering and general handling.  Specific tips were to not look at the front wheel, and that it would be trickiest at low speeds.  We’d decided Matthew would be driving it first, so he set out for a little trial run before hitting the streets.  (To Gabriel’s delight, Splendid Cycles is located right across from a concrete manufacturing plant with lots of big machinery — his idea of a “scenic” bike ride.)

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I waited with our borrowed bike and trailer . . . .

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Several minutes later, they returned, and Matthew announced he was good to go.

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With lunch and nap-time looming, we set out on our three-mile trip home, which was significantly uphill.  I could tell the hills required a good bit of effort (more effort than I exerted pulling the trailer), but all-in-all, Matthew made it look easy.

After lunch, we were all tired, so I didn’t get my shot at the Bullitt until after nap time (can’t believe I waited that long, after all the excitement).

After naps all around, we loaded the bikes and set off for a short jaunt to a neighborhood farmer’s market.  I hopped on the Bullitt, tried to turn the bike in the direction I wanted to ride, panicked, and dumped it in the middle of the [low-traffic, residential] street.

By “dumped,” I just mean that the bottom edge of the box met the asphalt (at very low speeds).  Gabriel was just fine, strapped into the padded seat in the box.  I imagine this is not an uncommon first experience riding this style of bike, but it was an inauspicious start, and did not exactly make me confident about handling the bike in traffic.

I picked it up, Matthew gave me a couple more tips and a pep talk, and we headed out.  Once I got the bike up to speed, all was well — the stops and starts were the tricky part.  Unfortunately, stops and starts are part and parcel of operating a vehicle in an urban environment.

I quickly realized that my beloved “balance stop” was not an option [for me] on the Bullitt.  I needed to plan on each and every stop sign being a “foot down” stop, or there was a good chance of tipping.  Fortunately, many of the bike boulevards in Portland minimize stop signs, so the stopping situation was less annoying than it would have been in St. Louis.

I made it the half mile to the farmers’ market, where we bought some fruit and tomatoes.  As we were reloading the bikes to continue to our next destination, Gabriel asked, “Daddy drive bike now?”

Matthew was astonished, because Gabriel is usually all-mommy, all-the-time.  The next words out of Gabriel’s mouth were, “Mommy makes it tippy.  Daddy drive.”  Thanks for the confidence boost, bud.

We explained that I really wanted to try riding the new bike some more, and we offered to let him ride in the trailer instead of the Bullitt’s box.  Even after our tip, he was a huge fan of his spot up front in the box (he’d been complaining that the trailer was bumpy, which it is), and he opted to stick with mommy.

At this point, he decided that if he was stuck with me as the driver, he may as well think good thoughts, because he said, “You can do it, Mommy,”  and then proceeded to chant, “Go, Mommy, go,” for ten blocks of uphill riding.

We made it with no more than a few wobbles, but by the time we reached our second stop, I was ready to be done with the Bullitt.  I could ride it, but it wasn’t particularly fun, so Matthew and I swapped back.

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Of course, we neglected to get any photos of me actually riding the dang thing, so we had to stage this the next morning.  Note that the kickstand (you can see one of the legs bottom center) is down.  Also, I’m sitting crazy high because it wasn’t worth adjusting the seat height for a photo op.

I’m glad we tried the Bullitt, but after twenty-four hours, I was happy to return it.  Neither Matthew nor I ever really got comfortable to the point that we could use arm signals, which is an important part of riding in traffic.  We agreed that both the trailer and the longtail are much more nimble and easier when climbing.

The Bullitt (or similar bakfiets-type bikes) seems like a great option for really flat places.  Anywhere with hills, I would only want it with an electric-assist (which we didn’t try).

On the other hand, if you live somewhere flat or want to go for the e-assist, I can see the appeal.  I think with more practice, I would have adjusted to the steering.  Gabriel really liked being up front, and the cargo capacity is impressive (you could carry even more by adding a rear rack).  Compared with wrangling things into the longtail’s bags (or onto its rack), the ease of just tossing things into the box is quite attractive.

When we returned the Bullitt, Joel at Splendid Cycles said they had sold FOUR Bullitts the previous day (all with e-assist), one locally and three shipping to all parts of the country (Colorado, North Carolina, and, not too far from home, Springfield, MO).

All in all, I’m glad we had a chance to try the Bullitt, but I’m looking forward to returning home to our longtail.  There’s no place like home, and there’s no bike like your own!

*Big Shark very briefly had a Kona Ute and MinUte, and I did just see a cycle truck at The Hub a couple of weeks ago, but options are VERY limited.

Super bikey weekend (the best kind)

I kicked the weekend off with a bike shop date on Friday night, followed by a full day of CyclingSavvy on Saturday.  We wrapped things up with a Mother’s Day picnic by bike.

Bike shop date night
Matthew experienced significant knee pain during and after his first real ride on the Roadrunner.  Turns out, we hadn’t really taken time to get fit when we picked her up from the bike shop, and the maximum height on the seat post we started with was a good two inches lower than Matthew needed it.

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So on Friday night, we loaded Roadrunner on our trunk rack (drove it there rather than biking, for various logistical reasons).  Getting it on there was definitely a two-person job, but it wasn’t too bad.  As you can see, the bike is quite a bit longer than our car is wide, which made for some nervous driving, but we made it to The Hub and back with no problems.  We spent quite awhile there, but it was a good use of time and a decent way to spend our weekly date night.

There was that awkward moment during the fitting when I realized that I was surrounded by men (the bike shop mechanics, who, I guess, are all road riders) with hairless legs.  If nothing else, my decisions about body hair removal clearly mark me a non-roadie!

Anyhow, we now have an extra long seat post, with each of our positions etched into it, for easy swapping back and forth.  We are probably going to do something different with the handlebars, probably more of a flat bar, perhaps with an adjustable stem so we can quickly and easily customize that aspect for either of us as well.

CyclingSavvy
Saturday morning I was up and on my bike by twenty after seven, headed for a full day of teaching CyclingSavvy.  We had a small class (below our usual minimum of four students required to go ahead with the class), but it was completely worth it!

Photo credit: Karen Karabell
Photo credit: Karen Karabell

Two past CS grads joined us for the Road Tour portion as we trekked through U City, Clayton, and Brentwood.  You can read Rebecca’s wonderful recap of the experience on her blog, Fiets of STyLe, and there are more photos here.  This course is SO rewarding to teach!

By the time I reached home, I’d been out and about on the bike, in the sun and the heat for nine hours.  Not long after G’s bedtime, I was on the couch and it was pass-out-o’clock.

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I wanted something simple and low-key for Mother’s Day, and a picnic lunch at a local park fit that bill perfectly.  We loaded up the Roadrunner and headed over early, to take advantage of cooler morning temps on what would be an almost 90-degree day.

Gabriel and I are clearly ready for careers as professional bike models, no?

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We wrapped things up by heading to Ted Drewes for some frozen custard, where the longtail got lots of attention.  Gabriel wanted to eat his mini cone in his bike seat.  After our frozen custard, we headed home to rest.

All-in-all, it was a very lovely weekend by bike!

 

She’s heeeeeeeere!

After over a year of planning and research (I clearly need to go back and add the Edgerunner to that comparison chart!), and many months of waiting, we have our new bike!

We picked her up from the bike shop last night (shout out to the guys and gals at The Hub, especially Greg, who helped us price, order, and build our bike — there are a number of local bike shop (LBS) options in St. Louis, but we’re partial to these guys, for their knowledgeable staff and great customer service!).

My first thought upon seeing the bike was that none of the online images accurately captured the frame color.  Based on what I’d seen, I expected a bright light blue.  My best description of the real-life color?  Aquamarine.*

My second thought was, “Those are some big-a** tires (and fenders)!”

We’d driven our car, complete with trunk bike rack, to The Hub, and we briefly considered trying to wrangle the thing onto the rack.  I decided that we’d waste so much time in the [perhaps impossible] attempt, that it’d be better to cut our losses and ride it home.

But first, food!  After Matthew and I each took the bike for a quick spin, sans passenger, to make sure there weren’t any glaring issues for the bicycle mechanics to address, we loaded Sir in his new ride for the three block trip to Dewey’s Pizza.

Post pizza, I geared up for the four mile ride home, while Matthew helped Gabriel into the car.  We already had Matthew’s bike on the rack, since I had picked him up from work to go to the bike shop, and he commented, “If not for this darn car, we could all bike home together.”  Indeed!

I was quite happy with how the bike handled on the way home.  The 11-gear internal hub seemed to have plenty of range, and for a big bike, she’s pretty zippy.  Matthew only beat me home by seven minutes!

While I was the first one to get to ride the bike any distance, Matthew had the honor of the first “real” trip with Sir on board.

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This is Sir’s second week at preschool, and he went in style this morning!  He’s very excited about our “new blue bike.”  There was a slight delay in departure, as we fussed with the seat and bag combination (more on that in a later post, but using the Yepp seat with full-sized longtail cargo bags is a bit tricky), but soon enough they were ready to roll!

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We still need to add light mounts, and we’re planning to swap the old-school pedals with clips for SPD pedals that have a regular platform on one side.  I’ll write another post with full specs/build details for any of you gear-heads (specs/build post here).

All-in-all, I think we made a good purchase and are going to be very happy with this bike (and wishing we had one for each of us!).  While I’ll miss having Sir in front of me, I know we’ll have a lot of great adventures on our new ride (name still TBD).

*Neither of these pictures accurately captures the color of the bike, either, at least not the way the photos display on my computer.

Spring cleaning for cash

As of Saturday afternoon, we have a bicycle trailer-size space in our garage.  After about six weeks on Craigslist (felt like longer!), with me questioning all along rather I really wanted to sell it, Sir’s Chariot found a new home.

Given that we’ve probably used the trailer to transport Gabriel all of ten times in the two-and-a-half years we’ve owned it, letting it go was certainly the logical thing to do.  But of course there was that little voice saying, “What if you need it?”  Once you have something, it’s much easier to default to keeping it, just in case.

That, and the fact that the trailer was a really exciting purchase — a great product for a great price (we got a very good condition, high end trailer for about 1/3 retail value) — and the culmination of months of searching CL, for the item that would allow me to use my preferred form of transportation, with an infant (at the time, I did not know about the wonder of front-mount infant seats).

Ironically, as hard as it was to find a used Chariot (now Thule Chariot) trailer in the fall of 2011, by the time I decided to put the trailer on CL this spring, they were everywhere.  It both made me despair of ever selling ours, and feel a bit better about the decision to sell, knowing that if, for some reason, we decided we really wanted a child trailer again, we might have an easier time finding one.

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The sale/cleaning also included the Yepp Maxi standard rear seat that I bought in error (we needed the Yepp Maxi Easyfit for the Edgerunner).  We debated keeping the standard seat as well, as a back-up child transport option, but instead we have a plan in the works to retrofit one of our existing bikes to work with the Easyfit seat (more on that later).

I’m also planning on making a rain/weather cover for the Yepp seat (having something to keep Sir dry was one of the main arguments in favor of keeping the trailer).

On a side note, the CL sale was cash (the only thing I’ll accept as a CL seller).  After selling Matthew’s bike in July, I commented that I wanted one of those counterfeit-bill detector markers for future big-ticket sales.  I didn’t get around to getting one, of course, and then the trailer buyer prefaces handing me five hundred-dollar bills by asking, “Have you seen the ones that look like this before?”

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All about the Benjamins

Of course, since I don’t walk around carrying c-notes, I had, in fact, not seen the “new” hundreds (actually dated 2009), and I was more than a bit wary.  I’m pretty sure they’re legit, but I wrote down the guy’s license plate number, just in case (he seemed like a nice guy, but you never know).

In the end, the hardest part was negotiating a price with the buyer (done by email and text before we ever met), when all along I had the little voice questioning the decision to sell in the first place.  Twenty-four hours post-sale, I’m feeling rather good about the decision, which is a good sign.  No seller’s remorse, so far.

Given the recent [temporary] addition of the refrigerator, garage space is still going to be tight when we bring the Edgerunner home this week (!), but having the trailer gone will certainly help!

 

Sir goes to school

Sir’s normal caregiver is on vacation for two weeks, so he is a guest student at “Baba’s school,” i.e., the Montessori preschool where my MIL teaches, this week and next.  He will be an official student there starting this fall, so this serves as a trial run for all of us.

I, of course, had a basketful of worries heading into these two not-our-usual-routine weeks: would he nap at school; should I pack his lunch or let him eat the school lunch; would getting him to/from school impact my work time; et cetera; et cetera.

As of Day 1, my worries were mostly unfounded.  I decided it would be easier to pack his lunch the first day, and make a different decision about later days, if desired, than letting him eat the school lunch and then expecting him to go back to eating what I packed.  He ate fairly well (for whatever reason, lunch is often his lightest meal of the day).

Sir is used to napping on a cot, and having nap time with other kids, but not as many kids as are at the preschool.  Despite my worries, this part of the day went fine, too.

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As for transportation, we’re trying a variety of modes and transporters this week.

  • Monday: Baba picks up in the morning on her way to school.
  • Tuesday: Matthew takes Sir to school by bike, using the trailer.
  • Wednesday: I take Sir to school on “our” bike (i.e., BUB + IBert).

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On all days, at least this first week, my MIL is hanging out with Sir for a couple of hours after nap time, outside of school (her workday usually ends around 1pm, when the kids go down for their naps), and dropping him off at home in time for dinner.

The Tuesday morning trailer trip was a bit interesting, due to a known problem with the rear drop-out on Matthew’s newer bike, where it just doesn’t hold the axle well.  The result is that sometimes, especially under load, the rear wheel shifts out of place.  If not immediately caught and corrected, this is a very dangerous situation (i.e., his rear wheel could come off, causing a crash).

[Bike tech note: The bike has semi-horizontal dropouts, which are useful for fixed gear conversions and allowing adjustable wheel bases, but don’t work well with the newer external cam quick releases.  The older standard internal cam quick releases work better, particularly ones that are either steel, or have steel “teeth”. ]

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The issue was made better by swapping to a different axle a couple of months ago, but he’d never ridden this bike with the trailer-specific axle before, and pulling trailer plus Sir definitely equals a heavy load.  It did not go well — over the course of the 4-mile trip, he had to stop five times to adjust the rear axle/wheel.  But they made it there safely.

Sir enjoyed pointing out construction equipment and trucks along the way, and Matthew enjoyed dropping The Dude off at Baba’s school.  The other kids definitely seemed to think Sir arrived in style (he was in a Chariot, after all).

We’ve planned these two weeks for over a month now, and I was really hoping that we would get to trial our new bike for the school run.  We don’t have it yet, but there’s a chance that we WILL have it for next Tuesday or Wednesday!  (The frame and parts shipped late last week, and our LBS told us 4/28 or 4/29 as an estimated completion date.)  I don’t know how the Edgerunner will compare to riding with the IBert, but it should be much easier than pulling a trailer!  We are ready!