Thursday, December 31, 2009

What We Did on our Winter Break

Tuesday marked a particularly cold day with roaring, bitter winds. So what to do? Why, decide to ride with two of my sons to our local bike shop to get my boys' bikes fixed...

Yes, it may have made more sense to just throw the two bikes in the back of the car and drive the two miles to the bike shop. However, I find it just too strange not to cycle there so we bundled up. C was home waiting for a friend to arrive, but S decided to ride himself over, and F got drafted to come along so C could play with his friend one-on-one, something that never happens in this home.

The older guys have gotten really proficient on their bikes but the sad truth is that in order for them to cycle around the city safely, they need to ride on the sidewalks. We've been taking trips downtown where P and I will cycle on the streets (with F riding on the Radish Xtra or Bakfiets), parallel to C and S on the sidewalks. We have to be in constant communication, especially when it comes to crossing streets, and I am always a bit on edge on some of the busier streets where folks could easily take a right turn without seeing the boys. Usually P and I sort of stop right in the middle of the street crossing and just block the path of cars until the boys ride right up on the sidewalk on the other side.

I mapped out a route to the bike shop that I thought might work for S's sidewalk riding. We were all extraordinarily thankful for our Bern helmets with fuzzy ear coverings. It helped that the wind was at our backs for most of the ride there so we enjoyed zipping down a couple of slight hills without the need to pedal. S had an extra challenge since his hand-brake was busted (one of the reasons we needed to visit the bike shop) and he is unaccustomed to using his pedal brake. He was such a champ though, pedaling furiously, listening well, and never complaining about the cold. F, too, earned some gold stars, wrapped in a fleece blanket, sharing the cargo box with C's bike and some ice skating gear, and cheering on his brother's riding. S felt such a sense of accomplishment when we reached the Devil's Gear.
There, we dropped off C's and S's bikes to get fixed and cleaned up. We also had to visit the new Madsens, of course, and F and S took a few spins around the downstairs on some kids' bikes for sale. One thing I love about bike shops is that the folks that work there never get uptight about kids mucking around a bit.

I spotted a particularly cool-looking commuter bike, a Civia, with gorgeous, simply gorgeous bamboo fenders.

From the bike shop, both boys climbed in the Bakfiets and snuggled in close together. We decided to flip up the seat and have them sit lower, right on the bottom of the box, to hide against the wind, practically fully covered by the fleece blanket. It would have been helpful to have our rain cover, but we would not have been able to load the other bike in the cargo box on the way there. It was a bit tough pedaling into the frosty wind, but we made it to our city's public skating rink without frostbite. There, we enjoyed skating (F and S leaving the milk crates behind and skating on their own) and a snack break near the indoor fire. After more skating, we pedaled off and ate lunch at our local pizzeria (F with his helmet on), before heading home only to collapse and enjoy the feeling of all that we accomplished by our own pedal power.
Meanwhile, look what C was working on at home while we were out....a Zoobasaurus!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I am Sara & I am a Cargo Bike Pusher

I can't help myself. Once I learned about cargo bikes, I became obsessed-- coveting one for months, searching owners down through the web, visiting every site I could find that mentioned cargo bikes and family cycling. Once we got our first one, the Bakfiets, my obsession took on a whole new level, constantly pushing limits to where we could ride and just what we could carry on our bikes. I realize that I may bore some with my talk about our bikes and cycling adventures, but ultimately, I admit-- I don't really care. We own one car so I am not a total car hater and never admonish others for driving. I just love our bikes and love that we can get around quite well through pedal-power.

And now, I love that others around me are interested in cargo bikes, as well. First off, I want friends to share in our fun. Secondly, I know that the more cargo bikes that are out on the road, the safer it is for all of us cyclists. So I was thrilled when, out on our bikes yesterday for the first time in over a week (thanks to a big snowstorm), we ran into Matt, the owner of our favorite local bike shop, The Devil's Gear. Matt decided to ride home with us so the six of us chatted as we pedaled along and he shared the news that The Devil's Gear is now a Madsen dealer. Rock on! I am so pumped that a local shop is now stocking cargo bikes. The shop currently has five and plans to use one as a renter. I really believe the time is right in New Haven and there are folks locally who will definitely be interested. I immediately came home and called my friend C, who has been cheering on my cargo bike obsession. She, in turn, has already contacted Matt about taking a Madsen out for a test ride. And now Emily at Wheelsonthebus, has caught the bug. Cargo bikes all around!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fictional Role Model, Part II

I found another fictional bike hero (like Anna) recently while reading with my boys. We've become big fans of the artist/illustrator, David Roberts. Last year Iggy Peck, Architect was perhaps our favorite picture book, and this year we've thoroughly enjoyed The Dunderheads. I was relieved that one of my son's commented that "teachers in books are not like teachers in real life. In books, they are mean, but that's not true in real life." Wouldn't that be wonderful if he could maintain that perspective in his many years of schooling to come?

The Dunderheads tells the story of a motley crew of students, with varied and unique talents, who come together against a particularly nasty teacher. We are big fans of these kids: Hollywood, Nails, Junkyard, Spider, Clips etc. but of course, my favorite is Wheels. Here's his introduction:

And later in the story, Wheels moves his classmates' revenge plot forward... literally.

From: The Dunderheads, by Paul Fleishman, illustrated by David Roberts

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Turn-- Christmas Tree Hauling by Cargo Bike

When I first began investigating cargo bikes on the web, I was really jazzed by photos of folks hauling Christmas trees by bike, like this one and this one. Since we became cargo bike riders, I now obsessively read other family bike blogs and this year, I was excited by all the posts duplicating the feat of carrying one's tree home by bike, like here, here, and here. I immediately began to fantasize about taking on the carfree adventure of getting our tree.

One issue, however, was that ever since we moved out of NYC, we made it an annual tradition to cut down our own tree. In Maine, we actually lived right down the road from a Christmas tree farm so that was an uncomplicated venture and here in Connecticut, there are loads of places in the surrounding area to cut down a live tree. However, there are really no Christmas tree farms close enough to which we could cycle. So we were left with the dilemma: drive and cut down our our tree or cycle and pick out a pre-cut tree. I just couldn't get the image of the tree on a bike out of my head though so I pushed for the latter.

So today, we climbed in/on the Xtra Radish and Bakfiets and set off for a local park. I felt pretty good about buying from the folks here because they run a program for adults with developmental disabilities and the proceeds of the Christmas tree sales were going there. We had quite a family discussion about which tree would come home with us. Everyone got a vote and not everyone was particularly pleased with the results. However, a choice was made and the tree was bought. Now the question-- how to load it on a bike.

Before we left the house, we had thought we would lash it to the side of the Xtra. However, at the park we realized that they didn't have a tree 'wrap' thing, which, of course, is better environmentally not to have that extra plastic holding our tree bound, but somewhat of a conundrum when trying to figure out how to lash a particularly fat and tall tree (little boys votes, remember, I would be pretty happy with a Charlie Brown tree myself) on a bike. The guy running the tree sales offered to deliver the tree to our home, but I felt that would defeat the whole point of the mission. I wanted to get this tree home by bike.

In the end, we simply loaded the tree on top of the Bakfiets. P, who is particularly good at knots, lashed the tree to the cargo box. The box now was well filled and we needed to get everyone home. Two of the boys could climb on the snapdeck of the Radish, but we still needed a spot for one more passenger. S volunteered ride on the back rack of the Bakfiets and it worked out quite well. We, of course, got lots of attention cycling to our apartment. All hurt feelings about wanting a different tree were forgotten as we rode along and sang carols at the top of our lungs. Even though rain started to fall, our jolly moods were not dampened as we made our way home.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cargo Bike Story on NPR

Walking up the steps to my office in school today, a parent stopped me to tell me that "they were talking about your bike on NPR this morning." I immediately booted up my computer to check it out. Love NPR and it was exciting to have this love collide with our bikey love.  Ironically, I must admit that since my family began bike commuting, we listen to far less NPR. It used to be the go-to radio station when driving and we tend to listen only to music CDs when we are home.  I was really happy to find the story here and see that the wonderful Portland-based bike shop where we bought our Bakfiets was mentioned. Cool!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


One of my seven-year-olds brought home this journal entry:

I am new at this scanner thing so I will copy the text exactly here just in case it is hard to read:

"I am thankful my books because without them I woud not be abel to read. I am thankful for my bike because without it I woud not be abel to ride a bike. I am thankful for hollidays because we get toger. I am thankful for Earth because we live here."

I am most thankful for a son who considers books, bikes, getting together at holidays, and the Earth all things for which to be thankful.