Totcycle | Family Biking

Tots on bikes, kids as cargo, family cycling, and other high-occupancy velo goodness.

Not caring how much our bikes weigh since 2008.

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Wednesday
Nov272013

Kidical Mass in December ...

Multiple options!

Madi is leading the Second Annual Thanksgiving Family Group Ride tomorrow.

And the Seattle Family Biking crew has got an Olympic Manor Holiday Lights ride on Dec 8th.

Huzzah, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday
Nov112013

Bionx Bullitt Cargo Bike Review

The odometer on my Larry vs Harry Bullitt with Bionx electric assist just rolled over 1,000 1,500 2,000 miles this week.

This review has had a long gestation period.

The TL;DR version is that this is the finest automobile replacement bike setup in the whole wide world (for families and cities like mine), and a joy to ride for all involved. 

The Bullitt is something I've had lust in my heart for since 2010, when I borrowed one for the weekend from Splendid Cycles, in Portland. Joel and Barb have been fine-tuning their spec and accessories for this bike since that time, and truly have it down. 

My life and family configuration changed last year, when my wife and I separated, amicably. Bike-car interfaith marriage issues were not responsible, if you're wondering. I now live blocks away, and as you may recall, we were already down to one car (and a surfeit of bikes). As the bike guy, I relinquished the family car, but held considerable anxiety about actually being carfree, and having the kids three days a week in hilly, rainy Seattle. Kids who have classes at Seattle Center, and birthday parties, and such. A dad with friends who live across town that he likes to carouse with at post-bedtime hours. While cargo bikes we had aplenty, none had rain-cover for the kids PLUS sleepability PLUS reliable, effective e-assist. 

Zipcar doesn't do one-way, car2go doesn't have room for 2 kids. It was looking like I might be looking for a cheap backup car. After all, I ride bikes because it makes me happy, not because I'm anti-automobile. It then dawned upon me that I could buy/insure/maintain a craptacular automobile or a spectacular cargo bike for the same amount of money (you can just hear the self-justification, can't you?). 

Enter the Bullitt. I contacted Joel and Barb about the shop bike that they were selling (which, for various reasons, didn't end up working for us). They offered me a bit of discount and financing, which I am mentioning for disclosure, in exchange for having a visible and demo-able Bullitt-with-all-the-trimmings in Seattle. But yes, it still cost a lot of money. And no, they can't offer similar terms to other families, I am afraid.

I covered initial impressions and spec in my original first impressions post, and won't duplicate it all here.

The LvH box, kid seat, and Blaq/Joe/Splendid Raincover

Expensive to add, but so worth it. I had originally intended to build my own box, and hoped that their raincover could be kludged onto it. There has been much creativity in the custom box category:

But. The raincover was what makes this bike a car-replacement, in my climate. And it was unlikely to fit a wider cargo box, which was what I wanted, thinking that my kids wouldn't fit side-by-side in the narrowed Larry vs Harry solution [they do have a canopy that fits their wider wooden box now, however].

And guess what, they do fit! Drew is standard-sized 6yo, Luc is a wee 4yo, and it's a tight fit. They squabble about shoulder overlap at times, but blasting tunes in the box or handing out books takes care of that. When things get fierce, or for naps, I can put one kid in front facing backwards, or have one stand behind the handlebars. I thought that spot was going to be "the penalty box," but Luc actually prefers it there if the weather is nice. Crotchal clearance behind the bars works out for ~4yo and up.

The seat is comfortable, light, and folds up neatly. The deck and sidepanels are stylish, light, honeycomb aluminum. The design, build quality, and design of Larry vs Harry stuff is impressive. And the raincover is a GODSEND.

Truly, people. My kids have never fussed about school dropoff in the cold and wet the way they did on the uncovered MADSEN or xtracycle. We keep a cuddly blanket under the cover, but there's enough wind-protection and greenhouse effect that it's mainly used for coziness. Luc can nap, and his head lolls just right against the vinyl of the window. Or he can lie down, if it's just him. I can ride without gloves, and it keeps my body warmer and a bit drier.

It comes off and on easily, but isn't something you'd be rolling up during the course of an outing. I just left it on all winter, unless it was a blustery day without kids. Because yes, like any big-surface-area item, it does get exciting in windy conditions. That said, I got surprised by blustery weather plenty this winter, and other than some white-knuckling in high gusts, I didn't get knocked over or sent significantly off course. Weight in the box helps. I'd be very nervous riding in a downtown wind-canyon scenario thusly, but it wasn't as bad as I feared for my commute.

This weekend I was riding along the sound in 20 knot gusts, and the cover was skewing to the side (annoying Drew), but the bike was ridable. With a side-wind, you do have to hold your hands outboard on the grips to prevent the brake lever from catching vertical tent pole of the cover, however. Joel mentioned that he has a way to improve this issue when I got the bike, but I haven't bothered, as it only is a concern on windy days.

Bionx Electric Assist

Electrical engineering magic. This assist gives you superpowers. The name is spot on, as you truly feel bionic when you're riding a Bionx bike. It senses your effort and assists to match, which just makes you want to pedal harder and faster. So you still get exercise, just going further and faster than you might otherwise. It makes a loaded cargo bike feel like a nimble road bike.

I've tried other e-assists - Clean Republic, eZee, StokeMonkey, and various mid-drive assists. They all have their pros and cons, but Bionx is my current favorite (although what Grin Tech is doing with Stokemonkey looks enticing). To use an overworked analogy, it's the Apple of e-assists. It just works (unless it doesn't), it's well-designed, doesn't look like a science fair project, it's a joy to hop on and ride, but no, you can't use a 3rd party battery or tweak the controller, and battery replacements will cost you. 

I opted for the PL350 version, which is the "mature" 36V Bionx, with high-torque motor. Bionx has a newer motor, but Brad and others have had reliability issues with it. There is a newer 48V battery as well, which Dorie/HumoftheCity opted for, and that makes sense given San Francisco hills. But I've found this setup to be just fine for our needs. I've only once overheated, and that was biking straight up one of Queen Anne's steepest hills with 2 kids on board. It failed gracefully, I grunted up the last few blocks, and it was good to go when we left. When this battery fails I would consider upgrading the battery to get more distance out of a full charge. With cargo and hills and heavy usage the 36V battery sometimes gets low after about 15 miles of level 3 assist (yes I'm that lazy sometimes). I haven't run out yet, but for an all-day all-over-the-city urban flaneur adventure I'd want more range.

I tend to use level 2 or 3 assist, which keeps me in the big chainring unless going up moderate-steep hills, and lets me get some exercise while maintaining a speed of 15-19 MPH. It cuts my 30 minute commute to 20 minutes, with less schweatiness at the destination. Yes, you will pass many Cat 6 commuters, which can be fun, especially with cargo. 

I have no regret about having gone electric. Electric assist on cargo bikes replaces car trips, not bike trips. I still get a nice amount of exercise, and I've dramatically expanded my route and distance with cargo options. Could I get there without assist? Probably, but more slowly, with more effort, and more grumbling. I ride for joy, convenience, and enhanced interactions with my kids and the world, not to win purity points. 

As for roofrack-rider comments about electric assist being "cheating," or bike-curious "how-much-does-it-cost-wow-I'd-never-spend-that-much-on-a-bike," not having a car helps. It's the smugness trump card. Can't afford a Bullitt? Sell a car. Of course there are many many families who can't afford and don't want or need a bike like this. But for those that really would like to replace a car in their lives, this is one fine setup.

The Handling

The first few minutes on this bike are an almost universal disaster for people trying it out. Chances are you will tip/drop the bike on your first wobbly ride. I don't know why that is. Other front-loader "Long John" bikes are not like this. 

And yet, after a day or two on the bike, it handles so nicely - responsive, sporty, swoopy. The adjustable stem height feature is brilliant - lift the stem for tall kid helmet clearance or sit-up-and-ride position, or lower it for messenger competitions.

Perhaps the bike geometry gurus out there can explain why this bike's initial and subsequent handling are so different. I still don't know if this is a design flaw or feature. Is the horrid initial feel necessary to allow later handling bliss? I don't know. But trust the Bullitt owners, or borrow one for a long ride or weekend, before you give up on this bike over the initial handling. 

As an aside, going back and forth from Bullitt to Brompton is hilarious, as they are so opposed in their handling that I feel briefly newby all over again when I switch.

Handling with load? The very low cargo platform, and super-solid design (the overbuilt aluminum frame is the platform) make this my favorite heavy load bike. I've had 3 kids in the box and one behind the bars with confidence.

The Spec

My bike came with Splendid's SLX 3x9 spec. Hydraulic disc brakes are incredible. I can stop this bike with 2 fingers. Great modulation, low post-setup maintenance (so far, but I haven't had to work on them). 

The gearing works well for Seattle hills. I certainly don't need all those gears with Bionx working, but will be very happy to have them if the battery runs out. Alfine 11 would have been nice, but the Bionx is rear-hub only. I don't love trigger shifters (prefer grip-shift), but that's me, and generally NBD.

The wheelsets are bomber, with burly rims and spokes. I have broken 2 spokes, but that was user error both times, with me (and then a friend) rocking the bike off the stand with the Abus spoke lock engaged. Whoops. Easy enough to fix without needing to remove the rear wheel, by the way. 

The Larry vs Harry stand is GREAT. Very stable, no futzy latch as on bakfietsen, doesn't twist like my Madsen's, I let my kids climb in at out at will, but it could potentially rock forward if parked facing downhill.

Cargo Capacity

Not as much as an xtracycle, MADSEN, or bakfiets, in this configuration. Of course, Splendid can turn this into a cargo monster for businesses, with huge alu boxes and trailers. But this box is narrower and shorter than a bakfiets long, has less volume than a MADSEN bucket, and doesn't swallow grocery bags while leaving room for kids on top the way a longtail does. 

And yet, I haven't needed more room all winter. I was sure I'd have to add big panniers to the rear rack, and may yet for summer bike camping, but for daily transportation and shopping, this setup does just fine. With the cover on, I can put kids in first and then fill the front of the box (and yes, their laps) with groceries. If I need more room I pull a kid out of the box and put him behind the handlebars, or on our trail-a-bike behind. 

The times I miss my xtracycle are when I want to bring multiple kid bikes along. It is so handy to tow their bikes with a longtail. I can fit 2 bikes under the raincover, or resting sideways on the sidepanels, but that leaves no usable room in the box. Now that both of my guys are 2-wheelers, it is likely that I'll replace the Piccolo trail-a-bike with a Followme Tandem this year, so that we easily can bring one of their bikes along on urban journeys.

Love and Quibbles

First, some quibbles, none problematic:

  • Bionx assist kicks in at 2mph, to prevent accidental use. Good concept, but 1mph would save my knees on hill starts. Firmware update on the way?
  • Can't yet wire lights or charge my phone from the battery harness, but that is also forthcoming, I hear.
  • I will confess to some ongoing anxiety about Bionx reliability and battery replacement costs. So far, so good.
  • The aluminum blocks that hold the tent poles are a bit sharp, and I wouldn't want a kid to land on the headset. I could file down those corners and cover the headset with foam. But I haven't bothered. 
  • No built-in rear rack braze-ons. Joel and Barb are able to install some though.
  • Mine has one over-the-shoulder harness, 2 lap belts. 2 5-point harnesses would be nice, but with the tight fit for 2 side-by-side, and the rain cover, things feel pretty secure.

Stuff I love about this bike:

  • Schwalbe tires with slime, so reliable, hold air well, no flats all year.
  • Hydraulic brakes - best brakes I've ever tried on a cargo bike.
  • Luscious paint, graphics, design, and finish. Bike are appliances? Pshaw. People love their bikes in ways they don't love their vacuum cleaner. This bike is gorgeous and lustworthy and I would park it in my bedroom if I could.  
  • Adjustable stem height, comfortable bars and grips (I put Ergons on mine).
  • Setup and support from Spendid Cycles. No one in North America knows these bikes like Joel and Barb. They are continually refining how they set these up, and have developed their own cargo platforms, covers, and boxes. 

Conclusion

I love this bike. You will not regret purchasing one. It can replace a car, and pay for itself. It should also have excellent resale value, like other imported rarified cargo bikes. 

Other bikes in its league would be the Xtracycle Edgerunner with electric assist, or the barely available Urban Arrow (pictured above). If you can save the cash, get bike financing, or sell a car, and are considering these bikes, do yourself a favor and test-ride if at all possible. In Seattle you can find Edgerunners and Bullitts at G&O Family Cyclery (WOOOOT!), and in Portland at Splendid Cycles (you won't want to miss Clever Cycles, of course). If a bike-vacation isn't possible, ask Joel and Barb if they know any owners closer to you.

I would choose the Bullitt over the other two again (haven't test-ridden the Urban Arrow however), as kids-in-front-fun and raincover trump the cargo versatility of the Edgerunner for me, and hydraulic discs and sportier riding position options tip the scales over Urban Arrow (new versions will have disc, though). 

Flying around town solo without the cover, or hauling kids and gear on camping trips, the Bullitt has been a sexy beast of a bike. Are there cheaper ways to haul family cargo with electric help? Yes, you can add less expensive e-assist options to Xtracycles and Yubas and MADSENs, or even use an upcoming electric bike trailer option. For me, the raincover, reliability, ride quality, and bomber components made the Bullitt a better choice, but the past 3 years has seen the Seattle family biking scene explode with many different options working well for so many families. It's a nice time to be a family cyclist, with options all along the price spectrum, from Craigslist trailers, to a wider variety of child seats, to midtails and lower-cost longtails, to the new breed of high-end, refined assisted bikes.

Sunday
Jul212013

Bike from Ballard to Bainbridge and Back

Kidical Mass Seattle's 2013 family camping trip is upon us!

We depart Sat July 27th, from Ballard Commons Park at 10am (meet at 9:45am). We'll take the Locks to Elliott Bay Trail route (no Hempfest this year!), so mind your width. Bike onto the Ferry, lunch at Pegasus Coffee House, and then a hilly ride to Fay Bainbridge Park for a fun overnight, returning the next day.

This is a great way to dip your toes into touring/brief overnights on a bike with your kids. Because of the hills and distances involved, we recommend you bring younger kids as passengers on your bike.

Lessons learned from last year:

  • Bainbridge is HILLY, with long rollers. But doable, albeit slowly, and with occasional walking of bike.
  • Cargo bikers overpack. Because we can. 
  • Dinner and breakfast (plus snacks) will be the only meals you need to pack, unless you plan to stay longer at Fay Bainbridge.

Any questions, or need help with logistics? Post a comment, or join the conversation on the Seattle Family Biking group.

Friday
Dec282012

New Year's 2013, MOHAI-style

It's about time for another Kidical Mass Seattle ride, and what better time than EARLY on New Year's Day 2013? Those ankle-biters don't give a flying champagne flute how late you were up, they're gonna wake when they wake.

So put some caffeination on your inebriation & sleep deprivation, and come join us for a ride to the newly opened Museum of History & Industry's Family Day event at South Lake Union Park. We've been stoked for MOHAI to open all summer - it was a hidden gem in its old location, and now it's the centerpiece of the new SLU scene.

Meet at the Ballard Library at 9:30am, roll out at 9:45. Join the ride at the Waiting for the Interurban statue in Fremont if you prefer, 10:15ish. Or meet us there! It's an easy ride, flat, lots of trail and Westlake parking lot. Speaking of which, the city is planning to put a proper separated cycle track in said parking lot, which will be de-lovely and long overdue.

And speaking of bike improvements, don't miss the chance to double your donation to Seattle Neighborhood Greenways before year's end, and support a coalition of neighborhood groups that have dramatically shifted our city's emphasis from scary bike lanes for the "fast and furious" towards family-friendly, low-stress routes. 

Monday
Dec102012

Totsicles and Tree

Hohoho, it's that Tree on Bike time of the year. Our bikey BFFs CarFreeDays have been tree-hauling by xtracycle since back in the day. Here's a tree on a front-loader, our new Bionx Bullitt from Splendid Cycles. Which is of course getting its own post because it is the most awesomest car-replacement vehicle I have yet experienced.

Of course, there is a backstory to this photo. Not sure it was my proudest parenting moment. The children have gotten a bit delusional about the need for coats, hats, and gloves in the past month of riding around under a cozy rain canopy with a sleigh blanket. Scratch that. They have always been delusional about the need for winter-wear. 

At departure, warm coats, less fashionable/more waterproof gloves, and hats were offered. And offered again. Hypothermia discussed. Saids items brought with us. Errands were run, with the boy in a cotton long-sleeve shirt, coat sitting next to him on the box seat. By the time we reached the tree lot in a cold Seattle drizzle, both kids were shivering and crying to go home. Coats and gloves were belatedly donned. Hands didn't work. 

So we rode home, both kids wailing, collecting stares and glares, with me going on quite a bit more than I needed to about "And this, kids, is why you always wear a coat and gloves ..." If I had a one-armed man around I would have used him. Here was the result: 

Totsicles and Tree 2012

Merry freaking christmas, thanks for the Jack Frost-bite, dad. 

Nothing a bath and hot chocolate couldn't cure. As for the whole natural consequences lessons learned thing? Not so much. Luc elected shorts and T-shirt for his next outing. Does this let-em-learn approach work for you guys, or have you made appropriate garb just as non-negotiable as a helmet? I'm thinking that for local errands they can learn their lessons, but if hypothermia or misery would blow up an actual plan that involves getting there by bike then parental mandates may need to be enforced. 

Wednesday
Aug292012

How We Ride Now

It's been a while since our omnibus posts about the ages and stages of family biking, and our stable has evolved enough to be worth describing a bit.

My personal favorite city bike, light cargo bike, and ride with 3-5yo passenger choice is ... the Brompton folding bike, with an obscure front-child-saddle attachment called the ITchair. There are enough odes to Brommies out there that I won't bother much here, but yes, it is all that. Magical folding clown-bike jet pack for 2. 

Totcycle at Fiets of parenthood PDX

This beloved bike has travelled with me to SF, Berkeley, NYC, Vancouver, and Portland. Gate-checking has worked very well for me, with the bonus of getting to roll your bike and bag through airports. Trains and buses and subways are a cinch. With the trifecta of Brompton + smartphone (routes and transit planning) + transit, almost any trip is possible, with panache and adventure. And with the ITchair, you can do that all with your kid. Add in Zipcar or other car-sharing services and you can ditch the car, or a car, at least. Wicked cool. There just is no other bike that folds as small, carries cargo as well, is as fun to ride, and can carry a passenger. 

ITchair's are really hard to come by (they seem to be coming back as "Pere" accessory, with novel Bobike Mini adapter for younger kids?), and quite expensive if you do. One option I've been thinking about would be a narrow "grip deck" that could be attached to the top of the main tube. Because as cool as the "passenger stands in front of you" trick is, it's just too slippery and narrow up there for my 3 year old. But with a slightly wider platform, with skateboard grip tape, that didn't interfere with fold or pedaling, I think we'd have a great solution for bike to bus days in the winter. Both Luc and I got a bit wimpier last winter about wet cold commutes to work/preschool, so often found ourselves taking the Brompton to the bus.

Luc with Brompton, back of the bus

Our youngest has also graduated from front seats (sniff), so we are rolling with a longtail version of our city bike conversion. Yes, we have joined the xtracycle tribe. It really is a remarkable platform. Rides not much different from previous city bike incarnation,with cargo and passenger flexibility available at all times. Luc's strapped into a Bobike Maxi, as he still tends to snooze on the the bike:

Improvisational nap station

Drew is following in CarFreeDays' footsteps with fancy sidesaddle, no hands riding positions and running starts, dismounts, and Secret Service escorts where she runs alongside the bike with a hand on the snap deck. This is my current favorite family cargo bike, and the Seattle family biking scene is all about Big Dummies these days, thanks in no small part to Madi's cheerful advocacy and Edward, the cargo mechanic at Ride Bicycles

Drew's first running remount, courtesy of Madi / FamilyRide

The MADSEN is still the kids' favorite choice, as they like the social seating configurations, roller-coaster ride feel, sturdy kickstand that allowed them to clamber in and out, and the ability to slump over, lie down, nap, dangle their feet out of the box, etc. I still think this bike is great for younger families where having comfortable nap options are important. A front-loader box bike works well for that as well. But that kid and cargo-loading flexibility does come at a hill-climbing cost. 

So, we added a CleanRepublic front electric hub assist, in the bike shop "build your own wheel" cheaper version, with lithium battery pack. It was a screaming deal, but a PITA to get the front disc brake to work (I think things are easier now). Even at a relatively-underpowered-for-cargo 250W, having this motor was fantastic. Still got plenty of workout - it just majorly expanded our choice of routes in a hilly town, distances we'd consider biking, improved our trip times, and really reduced any lazy barriers to piling into the bike instead of the car. It flattens mild to moderate hills, and otherwise makes a cargo bike feel like a normal bike to ride, in terms of effort. To crunch up steeper hills on a regular basis you would want a burlier assist.

Sunny Day Madsen

However. The dirty secret of the ebiking "revolution" is that lithium batteries remain seriously unreliable (and expensive), with longevity in the 1-3 year range. Ours died hard 14 months in - 2 months after the anemic warranty expired. To replace it will cost almost $500. This does not make me happy. Even with top-of-the-line systems like Bionx, battery failures are depressingly common. So. If you go electric, look for longer warranties on lithium batteries, consider getting a deal on last-gen NiMH, or budget high running costs from battery replacement. Dig into A to B magazine's fantastic commentary and reviews for more insight on electric assist.

For another perspective on family cargo options from a Hill People perspective, don't miss Hum of the City's saga on finding the perfect cargo bike to replace their car. Stay tuned for the thrilling finale ... eMundo? Bionx Big Dummy? Or a dark horse like an electric Bullitt or Metrofiets?

As for us, we also also shed a car this year. We still have our Subaru, but my first car, an '89 Honda Civic with custom paint from my friends at Maria's Children, went off to the junkyard this year after conclusively giving up the ghost. Sad to see it go, but nice to realize that we didn't really need 2 cars. I have a Zipcar backup option, but haven't needed it yet. If I can get a new battery and MADSEN raincover going for this winter I think we'll be in great shape.

Decommissioning my car

I couldn't bear to part with the hood. So I kept it. It now adorns our garden.

Tuesday
Aug212012

"Midtails" - The New Family Ride?

There's an emerging new category of cargo bikes out there, informally called the "midtail," as they feature an extended badonkadonk, but not as long as bikes in the "longtail" category like xtracycles, mundo's, and madsen's.

I've noticed 3 versions of this new style pop up in the past year, and we spent a bit of time discussing them on this weekend's Kidical Mass Seattle camping trip (details to follow when I get some photos - let's just say that Bainbridge Island was hilly but not chilly, we got a great waterfront spot at the campground for only $5/adult, and the pie was plentiful).

These bikes appeal to families with one child, or those looking for a bike to complement other pedal parent options they may have. There's room on the back for one kid comfortably, two in a pinch, plus there's potential for more cargo in panniers. One of the main motivators for families to get one of these is the potential to have a reasonably "normal" bike that is easier to carry, park, and store with always-there option to pick up or drop off kids or cargo. One of the best features of the midtails is the potential to fit a "cargo bike" onto public transportation - the front of a bus, or a hanging Amtrak rack. 

But I've got some issues with the versions that are out there. Call them a very promising start, but here's some unsolicited feedback from somebody that hasn't ridden your bikes yet. You're welcome! 

Here are the midtails of 2012:

Kona MinUte

Photo by Mitch Mandel

The $999 Kone MinUte is a smaller version of their Ute. Families report that by spinning the front wheel 180 degrees, it just fits on their local buses. It reportedly rides like a typical bike, is relatively light, and comes with waterproof panniers. 

And yet ... the disc brakes it comes with are reportedly subpar ("junky" according to this SF family, and they would know about braking needs). Also, Kona chose larger 700c wheels, and the rack with groceries and kids thus ride higher than they need to, which affects handling, and makes the bike tippier than it needs to be. I also wonder why the panniers couldn't be a bit longer. The kickstand is also too narrow for reliable kid-loading.

Yuba Boda Boda

Also clocking in at $999 is the Boda Boda Cargo Cruiser, the younger sibling to the Yuba Mundo, which comes in two sizes with slightly different frame configurations:

Photo from Yuba Cycles

Stylish, no? And reportedly hauls a lot for a lowish weight of 35lbs. And comes on smaller 26" wheels.

BUT. Because this frame is shared with an upcoming electric version, the rear rack is way above the wheel to leave space for a battery pack. Which again puts the heavy "live weight" higher than it needs to be. Plus they come with V-brakes instead of disc, and up here in the drizzly NW we are done with V-brakes. I'll need a test ride to see how the "cruiser" styling does up hills.

[Update] Yuba clarified in comments that the wheels and frame are disc-ready, so you can add the disc brakes of your dreams, and also confirmed that the Boda Boda is bus-friendly, with the front wheel flip.

Kinn Bikes

These brand new Kinn bikes are actually designed and BUILT in Portland! They cost twice a much ($2000ish depending on configuration), but with handbuilt quality wheels, locally built cromoly frame, racks, etc that's not a bad deal. Nice article about the genesis of this new company here on BikePortland, with an excellent comment section.

Photo from Kinn Cycles

Besides winning the looks prize (for me, at least), there are many clever features on this one. The front wheel flips 180 and latches there for bus racks. The rear rack has a small lockbox for tools and valuables, spins out to support wide loads (like a pizza box or crate), and even has a hidden mount for a Yepp Maxi seat! Adjustable footpegs are built in, and internal gear hub is an available option. 

Some quibbles. While disc brakes are welcome, I wish the Avid BB5's were BB7's. The folding double kickstand may be decent with groceries but should not be trusted with kids (I've broken a similar Pletscher double with kids on board). And I don't see panniers yet but given the nature of Portland there is no doubt that bicycle luggage artisans are hard at work. I wonder how they will fit with the footpegs.

And yes, the wheelsets are the larger 700c size. Even on the smaller frame size. Nooooo!

Truth is, I think Kona and Kinn are coming from a speedy commuter bike place, whence such wheelsets are enjoyed for their fast and smooth over bumps qualities. And these will be ideal for taller parents for whom the primary purpose of the bike is commuting longer distances, with more occasional heavy cargo. But for designers coming from a cargo bike direction, smaller wheels are better, as they are stronger and carry loads lower. Not to mention being more versatile bikes for families of diverse height. 

In fact, if I were designing a midtail I'd skip 26" wheels and go all the way to 20" wheels. Now, I'm not averse to a certainly clowny je-ne-sais-quoi to my bikes. In fact, my favorite small, transit-friendly cargo and kid hauling setup is a 16" wheel Brompton with front ITchair. 

Others in the family cargo world agree. The Xtravois 2.0 is probably the finest cargo bike design work I've seen in the past few years, and rolls on dual 20" wheels:

Photo from Clever Cycles

Dang I want this bike. There is some talk of a semi-production run. Make it so.

Another upcoming cargo bike with promise is the new Xtracycle design: the EdgeRunner Electric (p/review at Momentum), which is a one-piece frame (not bolt-on) with 26" front wheel and 20" rear. Plus electric assist, which is the future of cargo biking if the whole lithium-batteries-are-still-expensive-and-have-sucky-longevity issue ever gets sorted.

You like? I do. Their new Hooptie accessory will likely grace my xtracycle come fall, if we decide the handholds and side-protection are worth giving up on Drew's running mounts and dismounts.

But again, if it was me, I'd build a bike that has dual 20" wheels, fits on buses and Amtrak, has enough room on the deck for 2 kids, and to make up for rear cargo lost to legroom, a frame-mounted front rack for extra capacity up front. I was even going to sketch something out for this post, when I remembered a little sumpin that went by my twitter feed a few months ago ...

Photo by Jared MadsenWoot. There it is. A prototype MADSEN is monkeying with. With a serious centerstand to boot. Although that and the front rack would interfere with other bikes on bus rack, but hey, they're removable. Now, I don't know if that wheelbase is short enough to fit a standard bus rack, or exactly how I'd sort kids and cargo on the back, but that's the general idea. If my current MADSEN is any indication, this hi-ten steel bike would probably be heavier than the alu and cromoly midtails above, making it harder to load-unload from a bus, and less nimble up hills, so this would probably not be the ideal allrounder multimodal family whip. Tradeoffs. But a lighter cromoly version of what Jared's cooking up sure would be nice to ride. That is, after they release the MADSEN rain canopy in time for this fall, right? Ahem.

But I hope the designers above can take inspirado from the designers below, and get that cargo low, with quality disc brakes and burlier centerstands as standard features.

What say you, family bike people, and designers? The latest generation of velofamilies has been very interested in midtails, and I'd love to hear what you think. 

Thursday
Aug162012

Bike to Camp for Pie

Here are the details on this weekend's first ever Kidical Mass Seattle pedal parent bike camping adventure!

Route has changed due to the shambolic evil that is Hemp Fest. I have nothing against the herb, but do resent the annual week-long effective closure of a major N-S bike corridor due to all-hours walking-under-the-influence trustafarian chaos. As does anyone that commutes that route. Let's have next year's hemp event be on the Aurora Bridge, and ask drivers to push their cars across, mmmkay thx.

So. We meet at the Waiting for the Interurban Sculpture in Fremont at 10am on Saturday, and take Westlake to the Ferry. Somehow. Details TBD. Or meet us at the Seattle to Bainbridge ferry terminal if that works best for you.

I take this route because it sounds as if most people coming are not having little ones riding their own bikes (which is wise because there are lots of miles on this one). But if you can't have your under 10-11yo kids on your bike, let me know soon for alternate route selections, please.

Ideally, we catch the 11:25am ferry to Bainbridge, and get to Fay Bainbridge Park early enough to get spots (check-in at 2:30pm, but would rather be safe). Grab lunch on the island, check-in and make camp, then enjoy the beach and the island. I'll probably bring snacks and enough grub for my crew to cover one meal plus breakfast, and count on lunching or supping on the island, or picking up more groceries after we dump our stuff. We can work it out ...

And sleep a smug scofflaw cyclist slumber, then head over to Bike for Pie, at the Marge Williams center by about 10am (leaves at 10:30am). You are hereby reminded to go to this page to prepay via Paypal, and print reg and waiver forms to bring.

Don't miss the discussion on the Seattle Family Biking group about logistics if you need help getting stuff over, and feel free to post ideas or questions below. See you Saturday!

Monday
Jul162012

Summer in Seattle Schedule

Georgia, from abigailstclair on tumblr

Our sippy cup runneth over with family cycling events this summer ... here's what's in store for the next month:

Meridian Park / Wallingford Farmer's Market Meetups

Join the Seattle Family Biking facebooking group for these and other meetups, tips, hot craigslist finds, and more!

July 21st - Kidical Mass South

The indomitable Morgan of Family Bike Expos and now BikeWorks is organizing every-third-Saturday southside Kidical Mass rides this summer, that meet at BikeWorks. Woot on wheels! See these events and more on the SeattleBikeBlog Calendar.

July 28th - Kidical Mass (North)

We will meet at 10am at the Ballard Commons (spray and skate) Park, and ride across the locks and down the waterfront, for a BYO picnic at the Olympic Sculpture Park, followed by waterfront arcade, carousel, and the new Seattle Great Wheel!

August 11th - Cargo Bike Roll Call

Save the date. Cancel your travel plans. Tell the airlines your goldfish died. Just do it. I don't know much yet about this except that it will be the most awesomest. Hosted by Madi at FamilyRide. Update: Facebook event is up.

August 19th - Family Bike Camping with Bike for Pie

Saturday August 18th we will ride to the downtown waterfront, ferry to Bainbridge, ride a few miles to Fay Bainbridge Park for a family bike camping overnight. Details to follow.

The next day, on Bainbridge, is Bike for Pie.

Bike. Pie. What else needs to be said? (Beer.) Register now for their family ride. Do preregister by August 12th to allow for adequate pie baking.

And yes, that will be a lot of riding. Ballard to ferry: 7 miles, ferry to camping: 7 miles. The next day -camping to pie start: 7 miles, family ride: 12 miles, ferry to Ballard: 7 miles. That's a family riding century. But you'll be fueled by the power of pie, and juiced up with sweet smokey sleep deprivation.

Family Bike Rumble?

Like this, but with bikes.At some point this August, North must meet South.

That's either North of the Ship Canal meets South, or SEA at PDX (August 26th SE Portland Sunday Parkway meetup anyone?).

Sharks vs Jets. MADSENs vs xtracycles. Artisanal long johns vs whatever we can get on Amtrak.

Road trip with rented uhaul trailer for our cargo bikes? No need for actual rumble, leave the switchblades at home, just would be fun for the tribes to meet. Post your ideas and events in the comments!

Thursday
Jul052012

Bicycle Boombox

'Tis the season for summer jams, and what better way to enjoy them than cruising around on your bike? We've been wanting tunes on the bike for years now, but didn't feel up to creating a block-rocking-beats trailer like those that come along on Bike Party! rides and such. 

And our 3yo Luc fancies himself quite the DJ and Justin Bieber cover artiste. Don't ask how he was exposed, just know that it was out of our control. Showing him MattyB videos on YouTube is entirely our unforced parenting error, however. Here is Luc doing his best MattyB:

Luc is living this rap game, people.

Here is an easy way to play music for you and yours on your bike: the Logitech Mini Boombox, $80. It has a wireless bluetooth connection to your phone, so you can play music, stream Spotify, whatever. What I like is that Luc and Drew can pause and skip songs in the playlist from the boombox, while I retain my phone and the ability to skip tunes and lower volume.

It gets a workout inside the house, and in the yard, to be sure, but also mounts easily on the bike! The boombox happens to fit in our bottle cage, with a little anti-slip padding and a velcro strap to encircle it and keep it from slipping out the side. For such a tiny box, it puts out enough sound to start to feel self-conscious about the neighbors, but not enough to feel bad about it.

And yes, depending on what we're listening to, it's noise pollution, but we're usually just passing by, so no one has to tolerate the Biebs for that long.

Another wireless speaker that is bigger & better but would require more of a custom mount is this Braven Speaker (charges your phone, rugged exterior).

We rode home from the July 4th Gasworks Fireworks last night, through throngs of pedestrians and traffic. Music turned out to be a less obnoxious way than dinging nonstop to warn people walking under the influence that we were coming through. The theme from Greatest American Hero was a big singalong, flyalong hit. 

How are you enjoying music on your bike?