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?

 

Decisions, decisions

Before last Friday, I had gone almost four years since my last professional hair cut!  Over those four years, I saved a lot of money by trimming my own hair (with a pair of professional-grade hair shears).  But I was ready for a change, so, after getting some recommendations, I visited Erinn at Bouffant Daddy in Maplewood, with the intention of chin length or shorter.

After talking with Erinn, we decided to start with a chin-length bob.

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I like it, but I’m still tempted to go shorter.  In some ways, this is an awkward length — too short to really pull back, but long enough that it takes a decent while to air dry (I don’t get along too well with blow dryers).  Shorter might play nicer with bike helmets and sun hats, too.

It also doesn’t feel completely different, or “new,” since it’s similar to a cut I had at the end of high school / beginning of college (minus some excessive Sun-In highlights). On the one hand, I could live with this cut for awhile, and just go shorter in a few months.  On the other hand, I have seven days from the date of the initial hair cut to change my mind and get a different cut for no charge.  The clock on that is ticking.

Bike Seat
The clock is also ticking, somewhat, on a child bike seat color decision.  Unfortunately, the Yepp Maxi seat I bought on EBay is the ‘standard’ model, which doesn’t play nicely with the Edgerunner rack.  Instead, we need the ‘Easyfit’ model.  (Since I can’t return the EBay purchase, I’m hoping I’ll be able to resell that seat . . . . )

I am not finding any used Easyfit seats, so we’re planning to order directly from Xtracycle (apparently what I should have done in the first place!) . . . which means we have color options.

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We’ve narrowed it down to these four (orange, lime, blue, and silver), but it still feels like too many types of cereal to choose from at the grocery store.

Matthew’s leaning toward the lime, which would look like this with our blue bike . . .

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The ‘silver’ seat (which mostly looks gray to me) was not on our original list, but I found this photo of the silver seat with the blue bike, and I like the look.

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Lime or orange seem like they would have some visibility advantages, though.  Gah, decisions!

Ready for that longtail
At any rate, it will be nice to have the cargo capacity of the longtail.  My decision to buy not one, but two furnace filters at the store today (they were on sale!), seemed great until I reached my bike and realized the diagonal of my milk crate is the perfect size for ONE filter.

I managed to rig up something that worked well enough for the short ride home . . . 0224141450-00

. . . but it was not the most secure set-up, so I stuck to smaller streets than I might have otherwise.  I made it home with everything (two furnace filters, a fire extinguisher, and a half-gallon of milk) on board and intact, but it would have been much easier on a longtail!

Photo Credits
1. http://www.amazon.com/Yepp-GMG-Maxi-Easyfit-Blue/dp/B004PYEAZS
2. http://www.splendidcycles.com/-/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/EdgeRunner-003aw.jpg
3. http://www.motoredbikes.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=48488&d=1367821550

Waiting on our longtail bicycle

At the end of December, we started talking with a local bike shop (LBS) about options for ordering an Xtracycle Edgerunner.  The guy we worked with did a great job helping us price the different options.  Then came decision time.

To make the comparison easier, I added some details to the “pricing” page of the standard bike specs document for the Edgerunner, so we could see options with prices all on one page (details here: EdgerunnerOptions).

We were fairly sure we wanted an internal hub, and the most affordable option was to just start with the frame & fork and build it up from there (by which I mean the bike shop will be building it up from there, with some input from us as to the components).  As for accessories, we’re getting Standard Racks, the FlightDeck, the KickBack Center Stand (a super-stable, two-legged kickstand) and the X2 bags (which are waterproof).

By the time we made all of the decisions and finalized our order, Xtracycle was sold out of the frame & fork in our chosen color (Zone Blue) until mid-March.  (A note on frame color: we quickly ruled out both the white and the orange frames, leaving light blue or black. Despite blue being my favorite color, I didn’t love that shade of blue for a bicycle, and I had some temptation toward the sleek simplicity of the black — but we went with the blue.)

So now we wait.  The fact that we’ve had so much crappy weather and so much snow and ice on the roads actually makes the wait easier — even if we had the bike already, it would mostly be sitting around, lonely and gathering dust.

UPDATE: I wrote this post on Sunday.  Yesterday, our LBS guy checked in with Xtracycle, and they’re now not expecting this shipment until early- to mid-April.  Boo, hiss!!!

I decided not to order the child seat (Yepp Maxi EasyFit) directly from Xtracycle, in the hopes of finding a used one on EBay or Craigslist.  Turns out, there aren’t many out there, at least not on EBay or my local-ish CL options (StL, Kansas City, Colombia, MO), so when I saw an auction for a “new, opened-box” blue Yepp Maxi on EBay, I decided to go for it, and I won the auction.  Once you factor in the shipping, it wasn’t a great deal, but it did save some money.

The seat I bought included the adapter for attaching it to a regular bicycle, which we won’t need once we have the Edgerunner.  However, since we don’t expect the Edgerunner for at least a month, I installed the seat on Matthew’s bike.

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When I first opened the box and started looking at the seat and the mounting hardware, I had a moment of panic where I wondered if we would, in fact, actually still be able to use our rear racks and panniers with the child seat.  The assumption that we would not was largely what led us to purchase a longtail in the first place.  Had we just spent all that money for nothing?

While you can’t necessarily tell from the above picture, my fears were quickly assuaged once I actually started installing the seat — no way is the rear rack useable with the seat in place.  (We noticed that Yepp UK has a rack extender accessory that would theoretically allow you to use the seat and standard panniers on a regular (i.e., non-longtail) bicycle.)

At just over 35-pounds, Sir is still under the 38-pound weight limit for the IBert front seat (though his height means his legs are a bit cramped), and I’ll enjoy getting at least a few more rides with him up front with me.  Once we get the Edgerunner, I’ll be looking for a new [long-term loan] home for the IBert (if you’re interested, and local, let me know), hopefully someone who will use and enjoy it as much as I did!

Family bike options

After our recent longtail test rides, Matthew’s view was that we should just buy something — whatever choice we made would be good enough and we would most likely enjoy having the bike.  Worst case scenario, we could probably sell the bike for a decent price.

Longtails revisited
I agreed, to some extent, so I pulled together some prices and basic information for three longtails: Yuba Mundo (specifically, the Mundo NuVinci Lux), Surly Big Dummy, and Xtracycle Edgerunner.  I ruled out the Kona Ute, considered in my previous detailed comparison, due to the larger wheel size (bigger wheels equal higher center of gravity, meaning heavy loads are harder to balance).

I added the Big Dummy (previously ruled out due to price) back into the mix since it was one of only two longtails we were actually able to ride, and it seemed like it might have a slightly more aggressive geometry (i.e., be faster and more nimble, assets on longer rides and hills).

I’ve also read numerous good reports on Xtracycle’s new Edgerunner, which features a 20″ rear wheel, meaning the rear rack sits 6″ lower than the other longtails we’re considering.  As explained in the above-linked article, this “lowers the bike’s center of gravity and makes the loaded bike feel less unwieldy and top-heavy.”  As described, the Edgerunner seems to have many of the advantages (“a sportier, more nimble feel, which makes for a quicker-accelerating and more confidence-inspiring ride”) that made us reconsider the Big Dummy, but at a lower price point.

Photo from Splendid Cycles
Edgerunner, photo from Splendid Cycles

So once again, we crossed the Big Dummy off the list, and we were left with the Yuba Mundo NuVinci Lux and the Xtracycle Edgerunner, both of which would cost about $2500 (before tax), fully outfitted for our needs (rear child seat, longtail cargo bags, lights, center kickstand, etc.).  Gulp!

But what about midtails?
In the midst of these considerations, I read this post, singing the praises of the Kona MinUte, a midtail cargo bike.  We actually test rode, and had an opportunity to get a good deal on, a 2012 MinUte back in April, but I was pretty set on a longtail at the time.  The post on the MinUte, as well as this review of midtails in general, had me reconsidering.

While a longtail will fit on light rail cars (although getting it to/from the platform could be a challenge in some cases), it will NOT fit on bus racks, nor can it travel on Amtrak.  While I don’t often take combined bus/bike trips, having the option is appealing.  Also, a midtail really might be plenty of bike for our needs.

While the Kona MinUte may have been the one that got away, the midtail blog post had other inspiring rides, including this Workcycles Fr8.  I love that it has the option of a front seat for older kids.  I may have been sold on this bike, except that, with only eight speeds, I’m worried about how it will handle hills, of which we have our share.

Workcycles Fr8, fully decked out for passengers, photo from J.C. Lind Bike Co.
Workcycles Fr8, fully decked out for passengers, photo from J.C. Lind Bike Co.

And yet more options . . .
In addition to reading [cargo] bike blogs, I am part of a cargo bike Facebook group, Revolutions per Minute.  While it provides great inspiration, it’s really not helping me narrow my choices.

Someone recently posted information on the Circe Helios, a bike that can either be a tandem (with a rear seat that adjusts to fit riders as small a 3’6″, i.e., only four inches taller than Sir) or a longtail, depending on how you outfit it.  Brilliant!

Decisions, decisions
Our [temporary?] decision is that we will stick with what we have for now, using the IBert front seat until he outgrows it (any day now) and then switching to the trailer.  Since we haven’t used the trailer all that much, I made myself use it over the weekend, to see how I really felt about this option.

As far as general handling, speed, etc., pulling Sir in the trailer on my road bike felt pretty comparable to riding my hybrid (more upright, less-aggressive riding position) with Sir in the front seat (which is kind-of how I imagine riding one of the cargo bikes would be.

However, when it came to riding experience/fun factor, there was no comparison.  In a way, I’ve been spoiled by all of these lovely rides I’ve had with my beautiful, smiling boy in front of me, right between my arms, continuously and effortlessly interacting with one another as we travel by bike and take in the sights (hence the appeal of that Fr8 with the front seat).

While a rear-mounted child seat on either a mid- or longtail would not allow quite the same level of interaction as the front seat, it would have to be better than having my little passenger WAY the heck back there in the trailer.

The limited rider-passenger interaction, combined with the fact that, with his helmet on, Sir’s head is already brushing the screen cover on the trailer, may mean that this budget-friendly option’s days are numbered, almost before they’ve begun.

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!