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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Thursday
Dec182008

Cool Bike! Calling Card

My partner in biking obsession is our 2 year-old, Drew. For months now she'll point out bikes she sees with a "Hey! Cool bike!". Or for any multiple of bikes, "Two bikes!". She's an enthusiast. And so good with the math. 

So, to celebrate the local family biking scene, and to hopefully bring some other voices onto the site, we've whipped up a cool bike! calling card, to be left on any local bike we can find that's got some kid cargo action going on.

So far, we've tagged one sexy Big Dummy build outside our local pho joint, with DLG, an xtracycle snapdeck cushion, and cute stoker bars. But I think this will be a more fruitful scavenger hunt come spring. If you are the recipient of one of these cards, please do contact us about your setup and experiences biking with kids! If I didn't already grab a photo, we'd love some photos of you, your family, and your bike. Hopefully, all together on a bike.

In the meantime, I'd like to leave some virtual cool bike! cards on some inspirational family bikes and blogs I've come across in the past months, as we sorted out how to do this family biking thing.

Xtracycles with Cool Custom Kid Seats

This is a growing collection of most excellent family vehicles. The xtracycle folks are coming out with their own version of a rear kid seat, and you can add a Peapod/Bobike Maxi on many xtracycles for one smaller child. But these intrepid moms and dads have built their own double kid seats. My favorite is "the llama", from the Stouts and A Long Walk to Green, which I believe will soon be available in kit form. Gorgeous, and they even built a custom rain cover.

The llama in its native habitat, uploaded by stoutag

Some other online faves include "Sylvie", from the It's Just a Ride Crew (love their Nigel as well, all green and cream). Bonus points for inflight reading material:

Capt. Momma And The Bike Cadets, uploaded by chigginsiii

And just in case you're don't already want to ditch your car and xtracycle your bike, here's a quick video from CleverCycles of a mom and her kids on the way home from the store:

Before the comments start, it's worth saying that for older kids, it seems customary on an xtracycle to provide something to hold onto, but not necessarily strap them on, which is mainly useful for younger, more narcoleptic children. From a safety perspective, being strapped to a heavy piece of metal and moving parts may not be the safest thing in a crash, if the motorcycle data applies to older kids on big long bikes.

Tasty Cream & Orange Bakfietsicle

Cream and orange bakfietsicleLeave it to Henry of Workcycles, the international godfather of bakfietsen (Maartin van Andel gets the inventor credit, but Henry is why you've heard of them), to whip up the most gorgeous box bike I've yet seen, for his wife and newborn, of course (congrats!). Go look at his post, but grab some wipes to clean the drool off your keyboard. I have lust in my heart for orange bikes.

Todd's Brompton with ITchair

The Brompton folding bike has been called "a personal jet pack", for it's delightfully compact size, ingenious fold, and versatility on a mixed-mode transport day (subway/bus/plane/train, zip around town, fold it halfway and use as a shopping cart, and do it all in reverse). This ITchair makes it a jetpack for two. Todd went the extra gearhead mile and made it a true tandem, with pedals for his son, but admits that the erratic pedaling style makes it a wiggly ride. I'd probably leave out the tandem bit, and wait until Drew were a bit older. No naps on this setup. This would be dreamy for an urban mom or dad in a city with good public transport.

Aaron's Souped Up, Juiced Up, Hooked Up Bakfiets

Leave it to Aaron at ABR (the bikier-than-most utility bike crew in West Seattle) to be one of two people in the world to have a Stokemonkey on his bakfiets (it's a burly electric pedal assist that works through your entire gear range, usually for xtracycles). Not content with bionic abilities, he's got a two-speed Schlumpf to extend the gear range, a foot-stomp activated air horn for cars, some Down Low Glow, a yellow rain cover, and a honkin' Haulin' Colin trailer. You know, in case the long box and Dutch-style panniers aren't enough. 

I've geeked out over this bike in front of his shop many a time, but was lucky enough to ride it on the last Cargo Bike Ride, when our daughter Drew decided it was time for a two-hour nap. He was gracious enough to offer a bike trade, and I had a lovely ride (once I figured out the Schlumpf heel tap thing, and that his SRAM internal gear hub is not as tolerant of shifting under pressure as my Nexus). If you squint at this photo from Val, you can see Drew reclining upon multiple cushions, snug under a rain canopy, and fast asleep for the whole ride and most of the picnic. It's amazing what you can haul comfortably with a bit of bionic help. Thanks to Bike Hugger for the video from earlier that day. And isn't that a tasty orange Batavus delivery bike in the foreground? A cool bike! to you sir, as well!

DIY City Bike for Kids

Our local carfreedays.com compatriots have a way with shellac, and are known to be pushing the boundaries of kid riding positions on their xtracycles (the reading shot would have been me, back when). But their latest series of posts covers how to convert an impractical, disposable excuse for a kid's bike into a properly practical Euro-bike. Cool bikes!

Lowriders

So many other cool bikes out there, but I thought I'd leave you with some lowridin' shenanigans (courtesy of Tim & Stephan). Takes me back to my recumbent days. Yep, you might not know it from current photos (my Grizzly Adams beard and paunch are long gone), but I was rockin' a Rans Rocket for many years before this upright bike obsession took hold. Kind of like the ecovelo chap, whose site is too full of cool bikes to do justice to in this post. You can do this on an xtracycle too, if you weary of all this "practical" biking ...

Thursday
Dec182008

Oh What Fun It Is To Ride ...


Oh What Fun It Is To Ride ..., originally uploaded by totcycle.

Snowy commute! Big flakes of snow floating down, near-deserted streets,  ... Seattle is a wussy snow town - we canceled schools yesterday based on the mere threat of 1-2 inches that never came.

Resistance trainingRiding through a snowy dawn was magical. I was taking it to the streets since the bike trail has several inches of fluffy snow in spots, which was causing bigtime snow buildup under my rear fenders. My traction with the Fat Franks was probably better than with the bald tires on my '89 Civic - no big skids or wipeouts, just a clumsy prostate exam by my saddle when I hot-dogged a bit and bunny-hopped a curb onto a slippery patch.

Yay snow!

Stephan at Dutch Bike Chicago just took his shop bakfiets beyond thunderdome with some new Mad Max studded Marathon tires. We don't get enough snow to justify such an upgrade, but I hear he's terrorizing the snowy streets of Chicago on his newly studly bike.

Wednesday
Dec102008

Totcycle's New Logo

Oh happy day. You may be noticing the gorgeous new header. That would be the artwork of Deanna Ebner, and her company Tall Cow, which prints lovely hand-printed greeting cards. My wife surprised me for my birthday this year with a framed version of this "A la familia" card, as I was already around the bend for biking with her & Drew. In fact, we'd already pulled off the wife on the back rack stunt on the Dutch city bike (it's called the "girlfriend rack" over there, apparently).

Anyway, Deanna and her colleague Allison have been gracious enough to let us use their image for this site, to promote more cycling "a la familia". So go get yourself some cards from their retailers, or ask them about larger prints of this image.

And no "where are the helmets" and "top tube riding with 2 small children isn't safe" and "rear racks aren't built for your wife" comments, if you will. We know. It's ART, people. And my wife might take issue with your last implication.

Wednesday
Dec102008

Bye Bye Bugaboo, Hello Taga

Not that we have a Bugaboo, mind you. Why blow that much on a stroller when you could spend it on bikes? But folks, the world of high-zoot strollers is about to have its tuchus handed to it by this new Dutch-Israeli stroller-bike transformer:

Oh - your Bugaboo seat can flip around? That's just super. This Taga stroller? It turns into a freaking kid cargo trike! Shazam!

The quick conversion looks particularly nifty - kind of like a backwards Brompton fold. Internal 3-speed hub, full chaincase, tasty planned double-seat options (I like the wooden covered wagon one below), fully nappable, nice-looking safety considerations, and just plain fine-looking design. Poke around their gallery for the options.

Of course, it all comes down to the ride, and I haven't been a big trike fan, and wonder about tipping in corners and when older kids are trying to climb in and out. So does Henry, who noted this company in his Eurobike writeup. But still, I've never had stroller lust ... but I do now.

Update:

Henry and Dr. Mekon have both had quick test rides, and report that while it is well-built, it seems more comfortable for short rides, and should be thought of as a really big stoller that you can pedal rather than a bike that you'd comfortably ride for more than a mile. I agree with both of them that a bakfiets with a baby and umbrella stroller (or sling, etc) would be preferable, but hey, all three of us are bike nuts. I'll be curious to see how the Taga does in the market. I'm afraid it'll be quite expensive ...

Sunday
Dec072008

Veltop Bike Canopy Review

You may be wondering what sort of bike geekery is going on with the rain cover and windshield in some of our photos. Canopy? Fallout shelter? Surrey with the fringe on top? I'm so glad you asked. C'est le Veltop, mon ami. It's French, of course. Full disclosure: I am half French. 

And yes, I am aware that we're tripping the bike dorktastic with this thing. Some of you out there immediately see its genius, and are wondering where you and yours can acquire one to keep you warm and dry (www.veltop.eu, $240ish, and they ship for free, arriving here in 2-3 weeks). Some of you may wonder why you would replace your highly technical rain attire for a bike umbrella. You are both correct - le Veltop is not for everyone, mon frère. Allow me to tell you more. But first, let's get in the proper mood ... 

In addition to coming with a built-in "Foux Da Fa Fa" chorus as you ride, le Veltop makes riding the bike more comfortable and practical in many cold & wet situations, especially with a toddler. The top cover deploys and stows tent-pole style in 2-3 minutes, leaving the windshield, which can be lowered if you wish. We don't, because we like the wind chill protection in the winter months. A front fairing like this really makes a ride warmer (especially for a child sitting up front and not doing much work), and may help a bit with wind resistance with windshield only, if you care about such things (not that this is in any way a performance item - it's certainly got some windage with the canopy up).

When it pours, you can zip down the clear vinyl side panels, which is a neat warm & cozy feeling for two, kind of like being in a tent in a rainstorm. Your hands, forearms, and lower legs will get moist to wet in any serious rain, and you're still a target for cars driving through puddles next to you, but your core will stay nice and dry. 

If it was just me without passenger, and I weren't such a cold/rain wuss, I'd probably just invest in some rain gear and a hairshirt like the rest of my more puritanical Seattle winter bike commuting brethren. But with le Veltop, I can ride in more normal clothes, knowing that I can deploy the top canopy if it starts raining while I'm out. It lowers the threshold to get on the bike, and that's the secret to having a car-less life, if not car-free. I can live with wet pantlegs and shoes on errands, and I do keep dry extras at work, just in case. I'm tempted to fashion some rain spats, but such foppery might even be too much for me.

We've had it for a month now, and will definitely be keeping it on the bike this winter. Any approach to biking in the rain involves some sort of comfort/performance/fashion compromise, and this one works for us. It's expensive, but so is driving and parking. The build quality is less prototypical than I worried it might be, and it installed easily on my big Dutch bike. They even make an attachment for rear child seats as well, if that's how you roll. 

Some disadvantages: in blustery weather, you'll want both hands on the handlebars, and you may need to zip up the side panels with strong sidewinds. At night, in certain light conditions (light from the front/side) with small droplets on the windshield, visibility is somewhat diminished, but in a manageable way (I've got glasses, so appreciate not having the water on my specs). You lose a bit of that fresh air feeling being behind a windshield. There has been a bit of wear/fraying on the top cover, easily fixed. 

And finally, when the rain top is up, you'll need to limber up (especially with a front kid seat), since you can't swing your leg over the back. So mounts and dismounts are a bit dorky, but again, if you've got this far, you're probably not too worried about that, eh? As you can see from this so-French-it-hurts video (via BSNYC), the French have more than one way to mount a bike:

Saturday
Dec062008

"Car Free" Weeks

Thinking about trading the car for a bike? Or selling the second car? Not ready to commit? Well, I've been inadvertently car-free for 10 days and counting ... 

The secret to being press-ganged into the ranks of the hardcore carfree few, other than collecting yourself a few too many DUIs? Leave your car parked somewhere totally inconvenient, but unlikely to get ticketed. I haven't seen my car since Thanksgiving, and arranging the logistics to get it back has seemed like more of a hassle than just riding the bike to work and on errands with our toddler. Now, I already ride a bike to work, but not having the car parked out front does eliminate those last-minute "I'm so freaking late I'll just take the car" lameouts.

What with the cold temperatures, and my man cold, the lack of easy access to car has kept us on the bike more than we would have otherwise chosen. Most of the time, it's been a good thing. Being late and in the car seems to involve a lot more agita than being late on the bike, especially a nice upright heavy beast of a bike, which invites a certain "it's gonna be what it's gonna be, baby" attitude. 

But sometimes, it's just cold. This photo sums up Drew's thoughts on it pretty well: 

As for convincing our toddler to ride the bike when she doesn't want to, that luckily isn't often a problem yet ("Bike! Daddy!"), but one draw for her on bike errands is having access to the groceries. Whether she's in back of the Madsen, or up front on the Dutch bike within arms reach of the front basket, I try to leave something tasty within reach. Our standing deal is that she gets to hold any tasty loaves of bread, as well. 

Tuesday
Dec022008

Prototype Madsen Rain Cover


Madsen preview party at Bike Gallery-6, originally uploaded by BikePortland.org.

Looks just right. Add some lights and cozy blankets inside and it'll be magical.

I'll be sorely tempted to add le Veltop for the ultimate Seattle winter ride, but I suspect that would place our Madsen on a slippery slope towards electric assist and other places I'm just not comfortable with. Yet.

Tuesday
Dec022008

Madsen Cycles kg271 Bike Review

I've been drooling over this Madsen Cycles "urban utility bike" since photos emerged at Interbike. As the economic meltdown reduced my chances of driving a $3,000 bakfiets with my toddler and baby-boy-to-be (due in Feb!) to less than zero, this emerged as a family biking contender. The other tempting option was an xtracycle with custom kid seats, but I like the facing-each-other and side-by-side social aspects of the Madsen bench seats, even as I missed the kids-in-front aspect of a bakfiets. Ah, tradeoffs. Party in the front? Or party in the back? We went with the mullet option.

The clincher was my wife. Never a huge fan of pedaling a bakfiets herself, being uncomfortable with the weight and having kids in front of her, she fell in love with the Madsen mom video, the fabu colors, and the fact that it looked as if it would ride more like a typical bike. In a moment of fiscal insanity, we ordered one from their website, since there is as yet only one dealer, in Portland.

What follows is our first week impressions, in what I believe may be the first in-depth online review. Scooped, Mr BikePortland.org! But seriously, Jonathan, we can't wait for your review, as your photos and preview put us over the edge.

What We Love

  • The RIDE - They nailed the handling here. Easier to hop on and ride than a bakfiets, which has a bit of a learning curve, and similar in feel to a longtail, but with the advantage of a 20-inch rear wheel for lower load and more sturdy wheel. Unloaded and heavily loaded, it's got a nice, stable, swoopy ride. Standing in the saddle up a hill with a big load does feel squirrelly - not sure if this is operator error or frame flex yet. My wife felt immediately comfortable on it (and in it, which our daughter thought was a hoot). It feels lighter and a bit more responsive than a bakfiets, and more stable in turns at lower speeds. And their design decision to put the load in the back does indeed make it more nimble over curbs and rougher road. Plus it's surprisingly fast - clocking in at about 70-75 lbs with our setup (measured by the oh-so-accurate stand on bathroom scale lifting bike method), it still got to work faster than me on my big black Dutch city bike. Maybe it's the slightly more sporty riding position.
  • The LOOKS - I do like a handsome bike, and the Madsen is a looker. The bin looks even better in person, mildly translucent, and the blue with orange fender detail is lovely, as are the curved tubes. I got pulled over twice today on my way to work by random folks wanting photos of me and Drew, and Seattle has seen more than a few bakfietsen and xtracycles. Then again, some think that we're riding a big blue trash can ...
  • The BIN - This bike is indeed a party in the back. When alone, Drew is the queen of Ballard, waving to passersby and spotting things of interest (cats, the moon, holiday lights). But with other kids, this thing comes into its element. Too much fun for all involved. Although I do pine for the bakfiets kids-in-front dynamic, as it's not as easy to keep an eye on things or hold a conversation in traffic. The bin loads cargo effortlessly, no strapping & bungeeing required. And the kayak-grade polyethylene material is bomber and weather-proof.
  • The STAND - Not as burly as a bakfiets stand, and currently ours is twisting a bit side to side (may need less grease). But it is a nice centerstand, and so nice to see one standard on a US utility bike. I'd supervise kids climbing in and out more than with a bakfiets stand, but it's doable for bigger kids.
  • The FENDERS - Finally - a "practical" bike that actually comes standard with decent, color-matched, wide fenders. Hopefully the other non-Euro bike companies will clue in. 
  • FRONT DISC BRAKES - Thank you. I'm still not sure why the Radish comes with a rear disc brake ... you want them in the front [update - see comments for more educated take on this]. Not much chance of endoing this bike.
  • The PRICE - See below for some 1st-gen complaints, and below-par spec, but $1299 is much more accessible than $3000. Then again, the bakfiets is of much higher build quality, is a more evolved design, already has a great rain cover, and comes standard with many things you'll upgrade to sooner or later. 
  • DELIVERY TIME - If you lack a local dealer, they can get it to your LBS in days for $100 (which you'd likely spend on sales tax), and will pay your shop for assembly and tuning. It took only 2 days for ours to arrive!

Upgrades

  • EXTRA BENCH SEAT - It's not clear from many online photos, but the standard bike with bucket only comes with one bench seat and 2 seatbelts. Ask them to include another seat and belts (add'l $30-40).
  • TIRES - You don't want a flat on a cargo bike, and fatter tires are better. Get yerself the fattest kevlar-belted Schwalbes that will fit. We've got Big Apples in the front and back, with slimed tubes.
  • SADDLE - The disposable saddle it comes with just won't do. He and she agree - we love our black Brooks B-67s. Double-sprung and comfy with a more upright riding position.
  • PEDALS - Get some big platforms. Grip King and MKS sneaker pedals are great.
  • DOWN LOW GLOW - Coolest upgrade ever. Blue ground effects on the long bottom tube look so fine, and lights up the bin from within. Magical.

What We Don't Love

  • BUILD QUALITY - Unfortunately, the bike we received displays some significant early model production issues. The installed fork had goofy brake mounts (hence the mysterious extra fork in the box). The disc brake rotor bolts were sketchy and needed to be replaced. The chainguard had to be bent up to clear the chain, and its rear attachment is a flimsy weld. There was a shifter housing on the rear brake cable. And so on ... I'm well aware of early adopter tradeoffs, and didn't expect this China-made bike to have the polish of a US or European bike, but this first production run bike feels more like a prototype to me. 
  • WELDS - Our hi-tensile steel frame has some pretty unsightly welds. I've seen nicer welds on Walmart bikes, I'm sad to say. I think they can do considerably better, even at this price point. The Radish, at $100 less, has cromoly steel and is made in Taiwan, with decent welds. 
  • PARTS - Since I like to choose my own tires, saddle, and pedals, I'm fine with the cheap spec there. But the spokes aren't great (thicker stainless spokes would be better on a cargo bike), the rims could be double-walled, and the accessory bolts are inexplicably cheesy (phillips head? why not allen?). And the seatbelt buckles are low quality - one of ours jammed on the first day, and I'm still cussing over it.
  • DRIVETRAIN - The chain management needs work. They currently have a plastic chain rest at the back end of the chainguard. We're having some mild chain rub on the plastic in most gears, and clonky-sounding chainslap against the guard in lowest gear. Some bending of the guard, filing of the plastic, or shortening the chain might help. Kudos on including a chain guard, though. What I'd prefer is a better chain idler, or an internally geared hub in the back. It's really nice to be able to shift when stopped on a cargo bike. As for the gearing, it's currently nice for lighter loads on moderate hills. Bigger loads on steep hills will need lower gearing, but unfortunately, the front chainring is part of the crank, so it'll be more complicated and expensive to downgear this bike. 
  • NO INSTRUCTIONS - My bike shop was disgruntled that this fairly unique bike arrived without instructions, diagrams, or photos of how things should go together. Big thanks to the gang at Aaron's Bike Repair for building it up so well anyway. I bet Madsen will remedy this soon, since they're footing the assembly bill.

Bottom Line

Despite the above issues, our family still loves the bike. And so do our friends. And random people in the street. It's nice to finally have a bike that bike-obsessed husband and bike-reluctant wife are fighting over, and that fits a 5'1" ("and 3/4") pregnant woman and a 5'10" guy. I hope they work out some of the above problems, upgrade some key components, and move production to a better facility. I'd love to see it built in the US, or Taiwan at least, but don't know how that might affect the price, and the market does need a decent-quality lower-cost family cargo bike. I do think this bike could and should thrive in the US market, as it's an out-of-the-box family biking gem, with a riding position and handling that's familiar to US riders. 

Because of the quality issues we experienced, I might ask them when you order about how they're addressing these problems, and I'd have your bike shop give it a careful check before you take it home. Or wait a few months for the next revision. I'm not good at that. And do consider some of the above upgrades, the tires at the very least.

The Future

I'll post more photos and updated ride reports as we spend more time on the bike, and do check out the photo of the rain cover prototype. WAY cool. 

My accessory idea? I want a fitted rain-proof cover that cinches around the rim with a shock cord, or better yet, a lockable cable. That'd protect the bin contents from rain, casual theft, and being mistaken for a trash can when the bike is parked. The hidden feature for our cover? Thick snuggly fleece for an inner lining, so it can be used as a cozy rain blanket for the kids when we're riding. I'll build it if they don't ...

We'll also be experimenting with alternate seating ideas. I think a foam cushion fitted into the bottom of the bin, for a lower seat without the bench would be great - we could still use the belts, at least in the front position, and keep a smaller child lower down for better protection, and for comfy napping. For longer rides, you really need to be able to let a child fall safely and cosily asleep, and the Madsen's got real napping potential. 

Update

Don't miss the Madsen Cycles Update followup to this review, as well as other posts tagged "Madsen".

Monday
Dec012008

About Totcycle

First of all, if you're wondering, it rhymes with popsicle.

Otherwise, Totcycle is a collection of posts, photos, and links about biking with your kids, especially having young children on your bike, from a pediatrician in Seattle and biking-fool-father with too many bikes. And his lovely wife and daughter.

We're starting out with info about Madsen Cycles, since it's been hard to find any hands-on impressions online. But we'll follow with information about other family biking options, city and cargo bikes, and odd but child-biking-friendly accessories, like the Bike-Tutor seat, and le Veltop. I seem to have no compunction against adding more-and-more ridiculous objects to perfectly fine bikes, and have long since stopped caring about weight. 

Eventually the photos should get better, if we ever find the charger for our camera. The iPhone does many things well, but the pictures leave a lot to be desired. 

I've been inspired by so many other biking parents out there on the web, and hope this wee corner of the internet will reach some other parents out there who're thinking about getting their kids on bikes. Enjoy!

Big 'ol Disclaimer

These posts are written as an enthused dad, not as a pediatrician, and certainly not as your pediatrician. I do think that the benefits of cycling and instilling a love thereof generally outweigh the risks, but the dangers are there, and it's up to you (and your pediatrician, if you wish) to decide what's safe for you and yours.

The Helmet Issue

As you'll probably note in the photos, my family and I wear helmets when we ride. But there will be other photos and links that show helmet-less adults and helmet-less kids. Many of those photos are from countries with an advanced bike infrastructure, high ridership numbers, and much more respectful drivers. We don't live in that country, yet.

So we wear helmets, not operating under any illusion that they make us invincible, but looking for any help in a collision or bad fall, and feeling that the available evidence for a protective benefit outweighs the arguments against. There are those riders and parents who disagree. And that's up to them and their local laws. So please let's not have any helmet wars in the comments. Having good judgement is a parenting virtue; passing judgement is not.

Saturday
Nov012008

Family Biking Links

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