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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Family Cycling Outlaws

So from a clueless lawman's mouth, the outlaw family cyclists were born.

An Oregon State representative has proposed amending current statute as follows (part b is new):

SECTION 1. ORS 814.460 is amended to read:
  814.460. (1) A person commits the offense of unlawful
passengers on a bicycle if the person operates a bicycle and
carries { + :
  (a) + } More persons on the bicycle than the number for which
it is designed or safely equipped { + ; or
  (b) A child under six years of age on the bicycle or in a
bicycle trailer + }.
  (2) The offense described in this section, unlawful passengers
on a bicycle, is a Class D traffic violation.

Catch that? Illegal to carry a child under 6 years old (not months), on a bicycle or bike trailer. $90 infraction.

Yes, this entire website would be illegal in the state of Oregon. 

You would be forgiven for assuming this was the work of a bike-baiting, rural, truck-and-gun-rack conservative. 

But you would be wrong. This is the work in progress of one Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland. D as is democratic, Portland as in Bikeytown USA. Oregon as in where Burley trailers were invented. 

His rationale, if you can call it such, is that a recent OHSU study of adult bicycle commuters found that in 1 year, 20% sustained a minor injury (including bruises or scrapes), and 5% had an injury requiring medical attention ... so ... THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

In his words (this and other quotes from BikePortland):

When that's going on out there, what happens when you have a four year old on the back of a bike? From a precautionary principle, I felt it was important to discuss the issue and start a debate.

Um, there were no children in this study. Let alone passengers on adult bicycle. My solo commute route and riding style is very different from how I ride with children on board. Perhaps he is aware of more pertinent public health research on riding with children on board?


But he's looking for some. Hasn't found it yet. Hasn't stopped him from proposing legislation to make it illegal.

But hey, "Everybody should just stay calm, this is part of a deliberative process." I may not be a state representative, but it would seem that the review of the evidence might want to come before the proposing to make it illegal part. Or even proposing to have a discussion about it. 

In fact, he won't find solid evidence to support such legislation. What's available is hardly the sort of data to base legislation upon - almost entirely without "denominator" information (it's not enough to know how many injuries - you need to know over how many trips). Much of it from ERs: descriptions of "what came through the door," looking at patterns of injuries in child seats, trailers, etc. Not sturdy stuff, as far as public health research goes. 

But go ahead, have a look. Better yet, conduct better research. A prospective study of cycling families, for starters? No shortage of those in Portlandia.

But based on his comments, I have genuine concern for his ability to interpret the research, and his judgment in deciding whether to inform parents or legislate their choices for them. Quoth Greenlick:

"If it's true that it's unsafe, we have an obligation to protect people. If I thought a law would save one child's life, I would step in and do it. Wouldn't you?"

NO! And I'm a freaking pediatrician. It's my job to care about such things.

From a public health perspective, an intervention that attempts to make one aspect of life safer, if it even works, may just shift risk elsewhere, either in the near or long-term. As in, fewer young families biking -> more families driving -> more dangerous streets for the over 6yo's still walking and biking to school. 

Assuming that's still legal in Greenlick's nannytopia

Or fewer young children weaned on the bike + more fearful parents -> less interest in active transportation -> obesity epidemic unchecked -> the first generation to have shorter lifespans than their parents. 

And yes, of course, the number one cause of death from age 1 to 34? Motor vehicle crashes. But to be rigorous about it, that statistic doesn't take in account how often we drive (exposure to said risk). It may well be that driving is safer than riding a bike, on a per mile or per trip basis. In the short-term. There is a valid argument for a long-term overall health benefit.

Even if we had convincing data that kids under 6 were at some higher risk on or behind a bike, at what point does it stop being our decision? After all, taking a car is 10 times more hazardous than taking the bus, for adults at least. But I don't see driving being made illegal anytime soon.

Life is dangerous. Life has risk. "Injury-free childhood" does not exist. I wouldn't want one for my kids if it did. Most things worth doing have some risk of injury. Not doing such things has risk too. 

Which isn't to say that investigating the safety of transporting kids by bike isn't very worthwhile. It would inform parents' choices, and lead to guidance on ways to lower risk. Here is my attempt to do so.

You'd think a professor emeritus and past chair of the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in the Medical School of OHSU would understand this stuff. But he doesn't seem to, based on his absurd "if it could save one child's life" standard. And even if he's ducking behind a "this is how the process works" disclaimer, it's outrageous to introduce a bill with only a barely relevant commuter study and a hunch to back it up. 

But if it's a debate he wants, a debate he has started. Too bad he seems to be ending his public health and political careers on such a false note. If he truly cared about the safety of kids on bikes, he could have proposed lowering speed limits, stiffer penalties for distracted driving, or even funded a study to explore the question he's so clumsily, offensively asking.

And in the meantime, I'm taking the kids to Portland tomorrow, on bikes and Amtrak. While it's still legal.


Family Cycling on 3 Wheels

Christiania Trike, Clown Car Style

Who doesn't have a fond memory of some long-lost tricycle? Me, it was laying down monster skidz on my Big Wheel and Green Machine. But most of us haven't rocked 3 wheels since we were wee.

Enter the cargo trike. Due to some historical quirks of bike evolution, the use of trikes for cargo has been more limited to the Danes and some other Northern European cities for some time now, with cargo bikes being preferred by the Dutch, and more recently, the US. Indeed, until recently, shops weren't able to import Danish trikes for sale, due to concerns about US liability lawyers run amok.

Skates by Mikael Colville-Andersen, on FlickrFellow sufferers of Obsessive Cyclist Disorder may be familiar with "Copenhagen Supermums" and the other 3-wheeling Godivas on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, or perhaps have acquired a bit of snootiness about nouveau cargeau trikes from the Bakfiets en Meer blog. But that's not the same as trying one. And if you have access to the Clever Cycles, you can try 2 fabled Danish cargo trikes: the Christiania and Nihola.

How we driveSo when Drew announced that her wish for her 4-year-old birthday was to "go to Portland with my cousins and stay in a hotel and ride bikes and swim in the pool," who was I to say no? This proud biking papa hooked up a hotwire deal on the Crowne Plaza, loaded up the cousins' minivan (remember "why we drive"?), and off we went. Of course, the drive down involved Biblical rains, fisticuffs atop the McD's Playland structure, a detour for dagnasty sheet cake at the Kelso WinCo, a total trip time of 6 hours ... and a bit of nostalgic for Amtrak.

We'd planned to borrow a Christiania trike overnight from Clever Cycles, but got in too late to pick it up. The hotel was everything the girls hoped it would be, and My Little Nomads joined us for party and pool. It was only later in our PDX adventure, when Drew kept asking "when are we going back to Portland?", that I realized that Portland = Hotel to our 4 year old. Which could have saved us the 6 hour van ride.

On Sunday, we woke to a dry day, but by the time Clever opened and we were set up on trikes, rain was upon us again. As were sleep-deprived parents, 5 sets of small bladders and cranky hungry bellies. Thus was our "epic" Portland bike day cut short. Unless "detour to the nearest restaurant and back again" counts as epic.

So take this totcycle family demo report for what it is: a brief, tantalizing trike trial, under duress. For more thorough & knowledgable reports, I recommend this family's committed relationship with a Christiania trike, One Year of Sorte Jernhest, or Life With a Trike.


Nihola Trike

The Nihola is undoubtedly the sexier, more immediately appealing of the two. It's ... designier. And the handling is preferable at first blush, as the wheels turn independently of the box, and the center-of-gravity is very low, which makes the trike less tippy in corners. The cargo area is certainly smaller than the Christiania's, but is well-appointed with padded seat and seatbelts, and a chic/practical see-through nose cone. With some doing, it fits through a doorway, which other trikes won't.

As Henry takes some delight in pointing out, they can tip forward when loading, and require a hand on the saddle when loaded up, which can be tricky when squirrelly rascals are involved. The trike fit both Kim (5'1") and I (5'9") well. And we loved the rain cover, which has side zips and generous windows.


Christiania Trike

The Christiania trike has a storied history, developed in a car-free arty-alternative-squatter community in Copenhagen in the 70s. It has since been refined (internal gear hubs, aluminum frame, etc), popularized, exported, and awarded the Danish Design Prize. They're finally available in the US through Boxcycles and their dealer network. As this photo shows, this trike was intended for family use from its inception.

The "shopping cart" handle turns the entire front of the bike, which takes some getting used to. With a lighter load or higher speeds, this trike can go "Dukes of Hazzard" up on two wheels (or over) quite easily if you're not careful. Like this taxi-trike driver (Todd is well on his way to pulling this off, I reckon).

But the box itself is spacious, with a locking storage space under the bench seat, which is easily removable. Clown trike spacious. If you need more capacity, daycare sized trikes exist. And I was envious again of its well-thought out raincover (must build one for MADSEN soon).

It would take some creativity to get the seat post low enough for my wife, so if you're 5'1" or below, make sure you demo. The front disc brakes have been an area of complaint, but upgrades seem to work well. You can even weld on more traditionally swept back handlebars if you are so inclined. For the brief casual ride we did, brakes and bars worked well enough. The overall look and feel is more utilitarian than the Nihola, but in a pleasingly sturdy workmans-chic way.

Christiania trike, clown car style, Pt 1IMG_0568


My wife loved the trikes. At the risk of sounding sexist, I suspect there will be a moms over dads bias towards the trike. My wife, at least, has been at a height and upper-body strength disadvantage when it comes to muscling a loaded 2-wheeler around the sidewalk. And from a less-confident-cyclist perspective, the low-speed stability of the loaded trike is a real advantage (she's also less likely to go bombing around corners, but would still be at risk for tipping a trike).

Not that dads don't love some trikes too. Patrick Barber loves his, and Dr. Mekon seems to have traded in a 2-wheel for a 3-wheeled version. If I lived in a flatter city, I'd be tempted as well, for these reasons:

  • Kim loved it. Seriously. That's the only way I can justify new bikes anymore.
  • Trikes can handle heavier loads than a 2-wheeler.
  • I loved the jaunty, casual feel of stops and low-speed riding with no need to put a foot down or dismount.
  • Spacious cargo boxes with well-designed raincovers, and the usual Euro-practical trimmings (internal gearhubs, chaincovers, fenders, quite upright seating).

On the other hand ...

  • While it's nice not to worry about tipping going uphill, the trikes do feel somewhat heavier/sloggier/slower.
  • Handling is different (in a good/bad way), with a learning curve, and some risk of tipping at speed in turns (versus 2-wheel cargo bikes, where you tend to dump the bike during low-speed manoevers).
  • Lights. None spec'd, and dynohub would be hard, but battery lights would be an add-on.
  • Bulk. These are wider than most bikes. Storage could be an issue. Then again, these are designed to be outdoor bikes, with stainless steel hardware, marine plywood, etc.
  • Cost. The Christiania is $2,690, and the Nihola is $3,399. Of course, that's what imported euro-utility rides tend to cost, and as a car replacement they're still a good value.

If I had to choose ... well, I wouldn't, on such a short trial. Anyone in the market for a family cargo ride at this price range would ideally get an extended demo ride on these and on a bakfiets, MADSEN, xtracycle, and Bullitt. Take a trip to Portlandia!

Other Family Trikes (updated)

Other trikes I've noticed include:

  • Winther Kangaroo - $4000. See Joel's comments below about tilting badonkadonk and hydraulic brakes. Dottie loved it on her test ride. I haven't ridden one yet but was impressed by the kid cargo features, like reclinable and reversable seats. 
  • Zigo Leader - $1599. Designed in the USofA, this is the threeway lovechild of a bike trailer, tadpole trike, and a Transformer. Converts from trike to bike to stroller, which is a clever solution to problems that might not afflict that many of you, adding versatility at the expense of cargo room and simplicity. I briefly tried one at the Bike Expo, would try again.
  • Onya Cycles - $3000+. Currently in beta, this "Front-End Loader" trike adds lust-worthy tilting front wheels, with optional electric assist. Hot dang. The cargo area looks smaller than others here, however, and not yet as refined as European family bikes.
  • Sorte Jernherst - $4299. Hard to find this rear-wheel-steering cargo trike in the US, but MamaVee has one. Like many of us, she notes that 80lbs of trike plus 80lbs of kids is a lot to push up hills unassisted.
  • Trike - €1919. Maybe importable through a Workcycles dealer? Stay tuned to the Mekons for more on this trike.

But what do I know? I'm a bike guy. All you trike aficionados out there, please post or link to your three-wheelin' experiences below.


Helmet Design Gone Wrong

Have you heard about the Nutcase Helmet Design Contest, presented by Clever Cycles? There are "prizes." But why win when you can FAIL? Download the template and get cracking! 

And that's all the wrong we've got so far. Might do a "Pity the Fool" mohawk or "Chia Helmet" next. Quoth the bard: "If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think, we come not to offend, but with good will. To show our simple skill, that is the true beginning of our end."

And as the last one shows, the cute designs are fun too. Put yer kids to work! Or post your ideas below ...




Rideabye Baby ...

sleep dog on duty: Farlow Road

Naps. They are a blessing and a curse. If you ride with kids under age 5 on bikes, you know this. Two-wheeled kid transport is soporific, better than a benadryl blowdart, so biking parents need to be able to make naps happen while out and about. 

Some family bike setups excel at unexpected naps, some do not. Having done toddler-on-a-bike twice now, on a variety of kid conveyances, here is what we have found.

We've included images and inspirado from others in "our tribe." Hover for links and credits, big thanks to Mark, Sarah, Henry, Paul, Allan, Katie, and other bikey family flickr friends (BFFFs).


Infant seat in trailer worked every time for my reluctant baby napper. Who needs the Baby Whisperer? I'll show you the Happiest Baby on the BlockTM 

Shhh ...

But for older kids in the unhacked trailer seat, the weight of the helmet and the lack of adequate clearance for the back of the helmet leads to head nodding, bobble-head, and other uncomfortable, painful-looking nap scenarios. Unless you've got company:after the parade, everett and truman fell asleep in the trailer

Front Seats

I love front-monted seats for the littles, but they're not great for napping. The WeeRide has a big napping pad, which is nice, but the straps were a joke, and you still end up needing to use an arm to support the head to some degree. Dutch front seats like the Bobike Mini and Yepp Mini have "sleeproll" accessories, but they're narrow enough that you'll still need to dedicate an arm to maintain the nap, which makes steering awkward, leads to cramps, and makes stop and go riding more frustrating. Doable, but not exactly comfortable.

Some biking mamas have learned to just slow down or stop when that nap happens.

Heading home by light railOn our last outing, I hacked a wacky noodle to be my substitute arm. It worked OK.

Napping at the end of the rideI like this solution, from mamafiets, where you stuff your extra kid clothes into a sling or bag.


Rear Seats

Dutch-style rear seats don't have much head support, and even the US "drastic plastic" wraparound jobbies don't keep a child's big 'ol head from nodding forward, lolling from side to side. Doesn't look comfortable to me, and rear seats are right over the axle, so it's a bumpier ride. This situation tends to limit the length, route, or speed of travel, and doesn't feel as restful as some of the other options. But maybe I'm picky.

First bikeride

Bakfietsen and Other Long-John Cargo-Forward Bikes

These are so versatile when it comes to naps. Infant seat strapped rear-facing, child seated on Sleep Dog, kid laid out in the box with cushions and blankies, cozy under a rain canopy ... naptastic. Plus you can keep an eye on them, in case you get a bad case of the "ohmigod are they still breathing" parent jitters. Easy, secure parking too. 

snug as bug in rugs cargobike canopy

Sleep dog gets rejected for a backpack

Luc does Portland

Merry Christmas

MADSEN "Bucket Bike"

The MADSEN cargo bike also makes it to the napping podium, as it's so versatile in terms of napping positions, and accomodating 2 kids at different napping ages & stages, with some separation from the central divider.

Nap configurationFor kids on the bench seats, variations on "Sleep Dog" work well.

Driveway slumbersAs does leaning forward on the groceries.

MADSEN infant seat with sunshadeOur infant seat was nap Xanadu ...

AsleepFor older kids it's so easy to pull up a bench seat, put down a cushion or some jackets, use the belts if you wish (they're bolted below the benches), and cover with cozy blankets. Protection from the elements is key. That's an Uppababy shade, but a waterproof canopy for the MADSEN is in the works.

MADSEN Nap ModeOr you can put the two benches together for an actual elevated bed solution.

Hemingway Tea and Sleeping KidsIn the year where our older one refused to nap at home, I had many a craftily-timed "Mystery Ride" where I'd arrive at our destination with both kids asleep, leaving 45 minutes of me-time, followed by excited wakeups at the beach or Aquarium or wherever my Urban Family Flâneur fancy took us.

Xtracycles and Other Longtails

You can fit front or rear seats to xtracycles, but a longtail does open up some additional, er, creative solutions.

On our first long ride, as we rode home on the Elliott Bay Trail, I felt our  almost 4yo's nodding head bonk my behind a few times as Drew started to fall asleep, holding onto the stoker bars. What to do? My wife suggested we play "Marco Polo" which worked well for awhile. Car Free Days keeps some candy handy, and I indeed had a lollipop hit to offer Drew. 

wake up Joji - we're home!Other parents swear that their napping stokers don't fall off, and in fact need to be pried from the handlebars when they get home.

I'm told that a parent's backside makes a lovely forward-leaning cushion. But I'm still nervous; ours is a kid that falls out of bed every other night. Maybe on a bike trail, but not in traffic. So we've moved some Bobike Maxi mounts over to the xtracycle, for all-day action.

And if you thought that was iffy ...

In my defense ...And on our first xtracycle ride, too! In my defense, Luc fell asleep in the front seat just before we got to the cyclocross race at the zoo, and I'd been longtail-obsessed long enough to have seen the Adkins clan pull this off. So I walked the bike around the race for a bit, and then rode a few blocks on sidewalk to a cafe. Where I parked it outside (in view, natch) until he woke up. Great setup if you like double-takes and don't mind CPS involvement. Wideloader extensions would make a tipover slightly less sketchy, but overall I don't think I'll be doing this on any regular basis.

The safest napping options seem to involve an enclosure of some sort, in case of a crash. We've only ever had flukey low-speed slo-motion harmless tipovers in our family, but I don't think we're giving into our "culture of fear" to plan for the possibility of going down on the bike.

Tweed Ride Portland 2010-61Here's how Katie and Dave tricked out their Yuba Mundo as a baby-napping Green Machine. Solid. Baby on Board indeed.

Asleep on the Wheel

What works for your younguns? How do they loll while you roll?

We want to know how you've pulled this off. Please add your images and comments below ... to include an image, put the image url surrounded by exclamation points, as in !imageurl!

Bakfiets For the Win Addendum

Todd Fahrner nominates this video in the comments, in which a Dutch dad pedals 3 sleeping kids down a cyclepath while shooting a one-handed "Panda" video. No helmets, 'cause they're Dutch, and protected by the magical powers of separate bicycle infrastructure, decades of motorist-taming, and riding bikes since the womb (not to mention elves in blackface). Top this, people:


2011 MADSEN Cargo Bike Review

The Bucket Bike BrigadeMADSEN and our family go way back. This blog got started with a review of the then brand-spanking new MADSEN "precious cargo bike" back in 2008. Since then, we met the MADSEN guys, built it into a baby-hauling bike, brought home a Christmas tree on the Madsenbaum, took 4 kids on wild rides through Ballard, filled it with ice and frosty beverages for sunsets at the beach, transformed it into a Gelato Bike for our friends' wedding, and spent many a day just out on the bike exploring the city

We ♥ our bucket bike. 

We've been bugging Jared Madsen from time to time about the promised kid canopy/raincover (ETA now early 2011), and with ideas for improvements, and were delighted to hear this summer that the new model was almost ready for release. Jared offered to send us a review bicycle (we paid full price for our original), and we happily accepted. We were going to send the original back, but they liked the Gelato hack and told us to keep it around for events. Any Seattle folks that would like to borrow it are most welcome.


We've had a few months now with the MADSEN 2.0, and we LOVE it. It's got all the improvements we hoped for and more, with only a few downsides or quibbles. And we've spent the past two years collecting, demoing, and otherwise obsessing about family bicycles, so I can say that we've pretty much tried them all. For young families on a budget, with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, especially more than one, a MADSEN is the bike.

Yes, we love a bakfiets and have lust in our hearts for a Bullitt. They both have the very real advantage of kids/cargo in front, which makes riding a more social experience, and allows for easy supervision of kid cargo. But a bakfiets is honestly better suited to flatter towns than ours, and the lighter/sportier Bullitt does hills well but lacks in kid + cargo capacity, and costs well over $3,000 when you factor in kid-carrying accessories. Don't get me wrong - you really should demo a bakfiets-style bike if you can, and if you are not regularly climbing steeper hills or going long distances, and can front the cost, it might be your perfect family ride.

And the sharp-eyed reader may have noticed that we also have a new xtracycle in the stable. I'm gaga over our new longtail, and a review will follow. But the MADSEN comes ready to roll with seats and belts for 4 kids, whereas it can be expensive to add young-child carrying options to an xtracycle. And the MADSEN does naps well, which is crucial with the littles. On the xtracycle, I've resorted to sticking Luc in the freeloader bag hammock-style (don't tell my wife), adding a wacky noodle to the front seat for head support, and other hacks, but on the MADSEN it's trivial to convert to "nap mode" and ride. Trust me, they will fall asleep when you ride, at the most inopportune times.

Luc in the MADSEN sleeper configuration

So what's new with the 2011 MADSEN? Pretty much everything. Here's the rundown: 

  • Frame is now made in Taiwan rather than China. The welds are much improved. No "boogers."
  • Notice anything new?Bucket now from Idaho, and seems lighter. It also rides lower, as they revised the rear-end frame to be sturdier and allow the bucket to attach more securely. Lower center-of-gravity is a good thing. And we still love how easy it is to just throw kids & stuff in the bucket and go. The bucket is still easy to "hack," once you come to terms with drilling it. Viz our new rear light.
  • Front end geometry much revised, with help from Aaron of Aaron's Bike Repair. HUGE improvement. I didn't mind the "flop" (floppy handling) of the previous MADSEN so much, but many did, as it made handling at slower speeds dicey. In fact, we did have 2 slow-motion tipovers on the original MADSEN. No one was hurt (the bucket is good that way), but it got a bit embarrassing when Drew started coaching us from the backseat and requesting that we not tip the bike. The 2011 bike handles like a dream at low speeds now, very stable, even more like "a normal bike." And I haven't ridden hands-free yet, but apparently it tracks well enough for that now.
  • Dutch-style front wheel lock. Yes!!! You will use this all the time for running into stores. So convenient.
  • New custom color-matched stem that bolts on tight. This is both better-looking and reduces flexiness in the handling. Between the new geometry, lower/sturdier rear end, and this stem, the bike is noticably less flexy with a big load. Stand and deliver.
  • Spiffy handlebar, and brake levers that incorporate a simple button lock. This lets you lock the brakes to prevent the bike from rolling off the stand. Great idea, one that other bikes with centerstands would benefit from. 
  • Speaking of the stand, there are now two bolts that solve the loosening/twisting issues from our last bike. Solid. My favorite centerstand (the bakfiets' is rock-steady but futsy to stow, the xtracycle kickback flips up when moving the end of the bike around, etc ...).
  • The chainguard is beefed-up (the old one tended to bend/break if kids climbed on it), and the chain management is improved with rolling idlers mid-chain. Ours is still a bit noisy, but I haven't bothered to tweak the rollers yet.
  • The 38t front chainring is now easily user-swappable, and an extra 44t chainring is supplied, so you can choose lower gearing for hills and big cargo, or higher for speed. It is now easier to add a front derailleur for extra gearing, if you don't mind losing the chainguard. These options really expand the versatility of this bike, as the stock gearing on the previous model didn't meet everyone's needs, and upgrading was hard & expensive.
  • The bucket now comes stock with 2 benches and 4 seatbelts. 4 kids, people! My car can't do that.
  • You little hipster, youThe long-awaited front rack is now available, as well. This bolts securely to the frame (via braze-on's with classier hex bolts), which lets you carry a lot up front without affecting the handling. Believe it or not, families that use the MADSEN for transportation, kids, and groceries will want this rack. Multiple kids plus groceries fills up that bucket pretty quick. The rack has mounts for lights, and a coffee-cup holder! We recommend an OXO travel mug.
  • Crane-style brass bell up front - loud, and with an impressive sustain.
  • Cushy double-sprung seat has a lot of demo appeal, and will remain popular with more casual riders. The previous saddle was a disposable hiney-hater.
  • New tires and goo-filled tubes. So far I haven't bothered to move our Schwalbe Big Apples over, which is saying something. But I will eventually for Kevlar-belted flat protection, extra cush, and reflection strips.
  • Nicer stock pedals. The previous ones were junk. These are keepers - good-looking, with rubber for grip.
  • Overall, MADSEN have gone from generic and cheap spec on most parts (to keep prices down, but with durability concerns), to still genericky but improved in function and/or quality, with some custom-designed for the MADSEN. The moves in manufacturing and the improved spec have resulted in an entirely justified price increase, to $1485. 

Fremont Bridge

What's not to love? Well, I do have a few quibbles or things I'm not yet sure about:

  • The ride position is now more decidedly and less-adjustably upright, but in more of a US "hybrid"-style position than true Dutch/English Roadster (with their relaxed seat-tube angles; I measured 74 degrees for the new MADSEN). This may be a benefit for casual riding, but for aggressive hill-climbing or speedsters, the previous riding position and adjustable stem was better. Despite being a bit of a snob about such things, I don't mind the riding position that much yet, but those that do will need to do some stem/bar swapping. And I may eventually want to either take this bike more sporty, or with more "Dutchness" via a layback seatpost and rear-swept bars. Either of those options would yield a better torso angle and more efficient pedaling.
  • The seat is cushy indeed, and good-looking to boot. But on longer rides cushy just means that the seat pushes up into your nooks and crannies, and starts to cause heat/sweat/friction issues. A stiffer sprung seat that supports your ischial tuberosities (sit bones) but lets the rest of "your situation" breathe is better. We moved our Brooks B67 over. But this is a quibble. Many will like this seat, and it's way better than the previous stock seat.
  • The color-matched full-coverage fenders are still a big plus, but I miss the rear-fender reflector, and the rear fender extends too far in the rear, which makes it bang on curbs. 
  • Chain management is better, but still somewhat noisy. I've gotten used to it, and adjusting the idlers may help.
  • MADSEN ships the bikes fully assembled and ready to roll out of the box, by drop-freight to your house. This worked well overall, but our stand was bent in transit. They sent out a new one promptly.
  • Our front fork has a bit of an issue, which we only discovered when trying to upgrade to a front electric hub. The fork we got seems to have dropouts that are narrower than they should be, and the left dropout is a few mm behind the right. MADSEN is also replacing this under warranty. 
  • The seat belts are the same as the previously upgraded ones. They're still too "slippery." We have to loop them back through the buckle or tie them off to keep our wriggly toddler belted in. 
  • A rear disc brake would be still be nice to have. After 2 years, we did wear through our previous rear rim from braking. Granted, we do ride a lot, and could perhaps have done a better job keeping the brake pads free of grit. But it seems that 20" rims on load-carrying bikes would wear down faster in general.
  • Our black bike looks great, with lots of color-matched parts, and more stainless bits, but the paint job is not as durable as our Dutch bike's galvanized and powdercoated frame was. 
  • Madsen Cover 2.0 from Tacoma Bike RanchStill no raincover. Others have made them, but we hope to see one soon from the MADSEN gang, as it is not optional in the winter months for serious transportational riding.
  • It's still hard to find a MADSEN in bike shops, where post-sale support would be easier. This is not for lack of trying, I suspect, but more of a sad fact that most local bike shops are lacking in family and transportational bike vision.

And there you have it, folks. You'll be seeing a lot more of the black MADSEN 2.0 in future posts ... it is an incredibly capable bike for the price. Compared to your family car, it can handle almost as much (multiple kids and a week's worth of groceries), and it's so easy to just load and go, with free parking out front, every time.

Yes, this is a furnished-for-review bike, but one that I would certainly have schemed a way to buy. Especially with today's Black Friday deal! MADSEN has had some epic deals on scratch-and-dents in the past, and today does not disappoint. New 2010 MADSEN's are only $999 (plus $150 shipping), which is almost $500 off. That is one smoking deal. Put one under your Festivus pole this year.

Can your car do this?



totcycle snowman#snOMG! Snowpocalypse 2.0! 747's sliding off runways! Metro Buses stuck on hills! Aurora's closed and drivers are abandoning vehicles on I-5! Severe weather advisory: drivers advised to stay home!

And so it goes when it snows in Seattle.

In our defense, it's not so much the 2-3 inches of snow, but rather the sheets of black ice on steep hills that freaks us all out.

But me, I love my snowy bike commute. Most of it is not shared with cars, thanks be. And this years chosen ride for snow and ice is a 2-wheel-drive sport-utility-bicycle. The new xtracycle has the front electric hub until some MADSEN fork/disc brake/e-hub compatibility issues are worked out.

I'm running Fat Franks (balloon tires) at lowish pressures, which lets them float over snow and have a larger contact patch on ice. Studded tires would be nice but not really justifiable where I live. Saddle is really low for Fred Flintstone stops with both feet as outriggers on the ice.

And the front e-hub assist (from Clean Republic) is SO nice to have. Having both wheels powered, and a nice steady torque up front helps in sketchy situations, powering through crud, and lets me keep my speed up on hills and with vicious headwinds that would otherwise break my spirit. I have a balaclava but my glasses weren't enough coverage for my eyes, so borrowed some procedure glasses from the clinic for the ride home yesterday.

Wiped out once on the ride home, on icy brick taking a corner too fast on Ballard Ave. No harm to me or bike. Just a mildly hurty wrist today.

Went out for SNOW BEERS! with friends last night, were amused that we could pass cars going up 24th, en route to SNOW AQUAVIT! And made it to work with proper ski gloves and goggles today, in about the time it would have taken to drive. Did have to space heater the rear wheel, to thaw the packed snow under the fender and drivetrain. Still ended up with about half a cassette due to icing, but the e-hub made that a non-issue.

Given the choice between my '89 Honda Civic, bald tires and all, and a 2010 2WD SUB, it's going to be the xtracycle every time.

snowpocalypse 2.0!



Have you heard? This Saturday is Cranksgiving! It's a family-friendly ride/race organized by Tom of Seattle Bike Blog, which you should follow if you don't already. It's like BikePortland, with more attitude.

Details here:

There is no entry fee, but the "race" involves picking up items for the Rainier Valley Food Bank en route. I talked with Tom about modifications for families, and he'll have a shorter route, and option to hop on Link Light Rail (fun for the whole family) to get to the finish, Rosie Ruiz style. He's excited to have families come along, and will have lotso prizes, including best costume, most carried, and for family riders!

I have some other commitments that day, so may not make it, but do highly recommend it to you all. Might I suggest a Kidical Mass peloton?


Get Lit

So yeah, the clocks changed, but someone forgot to tell my kids.

In addition to waking up at 6:30 every morning to my spawn wheedling for TV and Halloween candy, I now get to ride home in the total dark each and every day.

This has led to some advances in totcycle lighting technology. To wit:

Get lit for only $8!

Guess how much this rear light cost? Come on, it's got 18 freaking LEDs! It's bigger and brighter than most truck taillights. It can be seen for 1 1/4 mile!

If you buy it here, with convenient bike mounts, it's $39.95.

But for you, and just you, this most excellent emporium of science surplus goodies will send you one for ... $8.95. Fell of the back of a truck. Tell them totcycle sent you. You could buy 25 of these for the price of one Dinotte Taillight (the blinded-by-the-light gold standard of rear lights).

But you need to hack your own mount. I used 2 4mm Hex head screws through holes drilled in the back of the light, washers, and locking nuts, with wee holes drilled through the back of our MADSEN bucket. I got the idea from this guy, who used a DIY aluminum bracket. Go to it. It's a fine light for "wide load" sorts of bikes.

We're also still LOVING our MonkeyLectric spoke-mounted LED display. Stunning side visibility. And Down Low Glow is a another great side visibility light, with bonus ground effects. Our battery pack fell out somewhere in the streets of Seattle, sadly. And the Brommies will be getting some spoke lights like these. And there's that Bike Glow rope light, but I have yet to see an elegant-looking install of that product. Says the guy with a truck light on his bucket bike.

Side visibility. Do it. Remember that an analysis from Fort Collins, CO (a nice bikey burg) found that over half of car/bike collisions and serious/fatal injuries resulted from broadsides.

As for front lights, dyno hubs or Reelights are nice always-on, never-out-of-batteries options. Planet Bike blinkies and other battery-powered LED lights work well too, but often seem to run out of ions when you really want them. Mount two, they're cheap! And the new helmet-mounted front/rear/side Vis 360 from Light and Motion looks like a serious contender for Northern latititude commuters. Go ahead. You're worth it.

We found some cute reflective stickers for our helmets in flames, hearts, and stars. And then there's the Bright Bike guys, that now sell kits of reflective tape for (quicker to install) pinstripe or caterpillar looks. You of course, can hack your own from 3M reflective tape, but their videos are fun for inspiration:

What's your plan for the long dark season?


Maritime Spooktacular Kidical Mass

Update: Ride Rained Out

What a bummer, after the Great Pumpkin brought us such nice weather yesterday …

I’ve been refreshing Hourly Weather all day, and it looks like real rain at 4 and 6, which is exactly when we’d be riding and “picnicing.”  

So with the rained out Hale’s Ale bail-out in mind, I think it is probably wise to call it now. So sad. Have eyeballs in jello ready to go. 

Happy to hear feedback below if you think this was the right or wrong call, for next time.

v5 docked bw

Mummies and daddies, it's time for Kidical Mass Halloween! On Saturday, Oct 30th 2010, let's ride down to the new South Lake Union Park for an early BYO dinner (bring some scary/gross comestibles to share), play with the model sailboats, and finish with a tour of the haunted Steamship Virginia V at 6pm!

Tickets available from 5pm on, or by phone (see below), kids 5 and under free. Let's meet up at 4pm, at Gas Works, in the haunted pipe-room play barn. Let me know if you want to ride from Ballard with us at 3:30.

Details from the Virginia V site:

Why: Benefitting Morningside Academy and The Steamship Virginia V Foundation
When: Friday, Oct. 29 and Saturday, Oct. 30 (6 p.m. – 9 p.m. both days)
Where: The Steamship Virginia V at Lake Union Park 860 Terry Ave. North
Ages: Appropriate for kids up to mid-teens and kids at heart.

Tickets: Adults $10 / Students $5 / Kids 5 and under are Free
Available at Lake Union Park up to 1 hour before event begins, or by contacting us at 206.624.9119.

Transportation: Public parking near Lake Union Park [what for we need parking?], or take the Seattle Streetcar to Lake Union Park stop.

More info: Haunted ship with ghosts of steamships past, the one-eyed quarterback, ghostly clams keeping clam, killer salmon and more. Activities include kids’ pumpkin painting, trick-or-treat bags for Halloween night, warm cider and more!


Turmoil in Tyvek!

Oh, brother. Our Cascade Bicycle Club, the largest cycling club in the country, is in a bit of a tizzy this month.

The board has ousted the long-time executive director, Chuck Ayers, over apparent concerns about the advocacy tone CBC has been taking, with undisclosed "personnel issues" that very likely have to do with Chuck's unwillingness to curb or fire David Hiller, the club's brash, outspoken, often-angry-sounding but effective-with-a-zinger advocacy director.

Conspicuously unhelpful have been the board's comments on the matter, which were lacking in tact and transparency. Worse was the Board Chair's decision to disparage Hiller to the Puget Sound Business Journal, hardly a friendly media outlet in which to air our laundry.

Reading these comments on the CBC blog, it’s not hard to see the clash being acted out at an organizational level between <stereotypes>older, suburban/exurban, club ride, conservative membership and younger, urban, transportational, progressive members</stereotypes>. The former don’t seem to care for aggressive transportational cycling advocacy, and the latter (myself at least) could care less about club rides.

Serotta vs Surly, car-toppers vs car-less. But for me, it was working well enough. I joined CBC last year for the advocacy and support for educational programs and Ride to School Month. Did it feel odd that I was the only one to ride my bike to the Ride Leader Training? Yes indeedy, but I felt like there was plenty of common ground with the others there. You don’t have to come on a Kidical Mass ride, and I can skip the STP. But we all want to be safe and accepted on the roads.

What’s funny is that the non-cycling public can’t seem to tell the difference between CBC and Critical Mass, or don’t care that there’s a difference. But for younger folks who ride bikes, CBC has felt like a distinctly staid, conservative, sign-the-waiver, weekend warrior club, with the exception of more recent aggressive advocacy efforts and some of the kids/education stuff. I’d have them take a long look at the recent membership increases and ask if perhaps that new blood was attracted more by the advocacy/education and less by the recreational aspects.

If Chuck Ayers and (soon) David Hiller are gone, I don’t exactly see CBC moving in a more progressive direction, advocacy or personality-wise. Sure, Hiller has gone over-the-top, on occasion. But sometimes that’s necessary, sometimes that’s effective. Our opposition isn’t pulling any punches. We compromised with Ballard businesses with the interim route of the Missing Link, who sued to block the compromise route anyway. Pick any Seattle Times article, or the Puget Sound Business Journal. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Any backlash we're facing isn’t against Chuck or David. The backlash is against the success we’re having. Could we do a better job framing road diets as being about safety for all users and traffic speeds? Sure. So could SDOT. For members that were upset about CBC’s voice about road diets, vigorous support for the Missing Link completion, Vulnerable Users bills, etc., were they really opposed to those goals, or the voice in which they were pursued? I think there’s room for debate over tone, but I hope the car-topper crowd can see how important those advocacy efforts are to us all.

The only way to keep me happy and involved would be to bring in people like the BTA’s new Rob Sadowski (from Chicago) or other strong, effective advocacy presence. We’ll see. I was myself a bit conflicted about David Hiller's tone. The pugnacious side of me loved seeing his comments in print, and he was great with a feisty sound-bite. But in my personal life, angry doesn't seem to work out so well in terms of motivating change. I'd like to see CBC find an advocacy stance that is muscular, uncompromising when it counts, and effective at reframing so many of the tired cars vs bikes arguments.

  • Road diets aren't about taking room for cars for bikes ... they're for taming out-of-control arterials and making them safer for all.
  • We don't hate cars ... we just think they're the wrong tool for the job, for many but not all people, for many but not all trips.
  • People on bikes don't pay their share? Actually, it's the motor vehicles that are being subsidized heavily by the rest of us.
  • Bikes slow you down? Would you rather we drove? How would that help your commute?

And maybe instead of angry, we could find some room for more humor, or advocacy based on the non-smug-virtuous-green aspects of why we ride. For me, riding my bike feels like flying, like I'm playing my way to work, gives me front-row parking every time, keeps me happier during the day, and has taken 10 pounds off while letting me eat worse. Reasons like that are less threatening than "I'm saving the planet" type stuff, with the implied "why do you hate our children's future" flipside. And (heresy!) I do think we could tone down the safety safety safety sign-the-waiver-after-I-check-your-helmet stuff, with the unsubtle implications that riding a bike on the street is an extreme sport.

There have been some recent cycling advocacy campaigns that used humor and effective motivational techniques, like the "No more ridiculous car trips" campaign in Malmö, or Bellingham's simple phone calls asking folks if they wanted info about riding, and pairing them with mentors (which led to a 35% increase in bike trips!). Let's see more of that from Cascade. But I hope they do keep David Hiller on ... sometimes you need the "bad cop" as well.

Either way, here's a big thank you to Chuck and future departed company for all their years of hard work on our behalf. And here's to hoping that CBC continues to move beyond its Cascade Bicycles On Cars Club image, by continuing to attract, educate, and advocate for the next generation of cyclists.