Archive | July 2011

New Seattle Center route

It’s been almost three months since I declared my hatred for using the Broad Street tunnel to cross under Aurora en route to the Seattle Center from South Lake Union. Today was a try-out-a-new-route day. I had a route in mind and waiting at the stop light at the tip of South Lake Union Park, Brian of Cascade Bicycle Club pulled up next to me. We first met at the Sustainable Ballard Festival and I’ve run into him several times downtown. He was on his way to man a Cascade booth at a hospital event, but he was already wearing his official Cascade shirt so I figured I was allowed to pause his commute and ask his advice on routes. I couldn’t get him to agree with me that “Broad Street totally sucks” (very civil guy), but he and I both thought Denny was probably the way to go. I was mostly happy that he, too, was riding a couple blocks down Westlake on the sidewalk. Of course he was probably doing so on account of the construction on Dexter and I am always down there because I doubt I can make it up the Dexter hill.

Our route needs a little fine tuning, but this is basically what we did (with sucky old route in red):

I don’t like the northwest corner of Westlake and Broad because the curb ramp is a bit up Broad rather than right at the corner (my heavy rig doesn’t go down curbs). Once the construction one block over on 9th is finished up, I could get to 9th sooner, but I really like riding along the entire length of the park so next time I might experiment with crossing on the other side of the street. Then we headed a couple blocks down the sidewalk of Westlake and turned right at the pig. It’s always nice to have a landmark and not just a street name, and the Serious Pie chalkboard pig is one of my favorites. Also, I turned right on John rather than cutting through Denny Park, but it looks like a nice wide path so we’ll try that next trip. We chose 5th Avenue as our means to cut back north because it follows the monorail track (trains!).

The Children’s Museum was great today–the new Lego exhibit isn’t much to look at, but the kids and their friends stayed in there for hours. Afterwards we swung by the International Fountain, which we’ve had to avoid for almost a year (“Too loud, too fountainy!”) and it was nice to see it’s no longer too loud and fountainy, but I was stuck with two wet kids. However, it’s nicer to put wet kids on a bike than in a car so we happily rode home–down Denny, along the trainyard, and through the locks. We stopped in at Me ‘N Moms, the kiddie consignment store by the locks so the second half of our ride home could be dry. I wanted to stop in at Dutch Bike Co after reading this Seattle Weekly article about the cafe and I didn’t want to drip all over the floor.

Burley naps

I don’t think any bike setup is nap-friendlier than a trailer. Our oldie-but-goodie Burley doesn’t have a helmet reservoir so both kids ended up slumped over with their helmets askew. I’ll admit that their Little Nutties were a bit too big a couple weeks ago, but Jon of J.C. Lind Bike Co. generously gave me the extra paddding they should have come with (REI clearance helmets for ya) and they fit well now. I’ll have to experiment with side cushions next time we take a tired kid on a Burley ride…perhaps with full grocery bags to kill two birds with one stone ;)

Just what was so tiring, you ask? Day Out with Thomas the Train in the morning did in the little one and the Ballard SeafoodFest in the afternoon knocked out the big one. This picture in front of the huge salmon was the only time I carried both kids all day. I’m come to realize that riding with only the front kid feels fine, but with just the back kid feels a bit wobbly. But then, riding without either kid feels a bit wobbly so it’s probably just that I’m not used to a normally-weighted bike. Either way, much respect for parents with kids only on the back.

Tom Bihn messenger bags

I’ve been riding around for months with a jacked up messenger bag (torn inner lining, busted main zipper), but couldn’t bring myself to rush out and replace it with just any old bag. I’d made several trips to REI and tried on countless bags, finding nothing that worked. I’m not picky. I just want a comfortable bag that’s not enormous. Lots of compartments is a bonus. In my poking around, I discovered Seattle-based TOM BIHN. More than just Seattle-based, the bags are actually made here in Seattle. The factory showroom/retail store recently moved buildings and didn’t have regular hours when my love affair with the company first started, but now you can visit every Wednesday 11am-2pm, certain Saturdays, or by appointment at 4750A Ohio Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98134.

There are several messenger bags choices, but perfect for me is the $90 Imago. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. I’ve been in five times now and ask every time and simply can’t remember. It’s nice and little and prevents me from carrying too heavy a load. If fits perfectly in my bike basket, but is also comfortable to wear while riding. TOM BIHN says: “The main compartment can carry a spiral-bound notebook, a medium-sized book, a light wind/rain shell, and your lunch.” In my world it holds: four cloth diapers, a wet bag, four Calico Critters, two wooden train toys, two aircraft toys (seaplane and helicopter), two bananas, an avocado, two cereal bars, and a package of honey grahams. And a to-go coffee mug or water bottle in a pinch, but then it’s not as comfortable to wear.

TOM BIHN Imago and Super Ego, shown next to bike-friendly Biologic Vacuum Flask coffee to-go'ser for scale

I had to wait six weeks for the cocoa/cocoa/wasabi Imago (so cute!) to be ready so I got the much bigger $170 Super Ego for my recent trip to Chicago. Here’s a proper review of the bag that just came out on Gear Patrol. I got it to use as my underseat airplane carryon in place of the wheelie bag I never bother to access from the overhead compartment. It worked great and was even fine as my every day bag while I waited for my Imago to arrive. But the thing really should have a warning label. Something to the effect of: Even though you can fit a week’s supply of cloth diapers, snacks, toys, two changes of kid outfits, a book, and a laptop computer in this bag, you don’t need to do so!” It barely fit under the seat in front of me stuffed to the brim, but the real problem was in the lav. It’s already a tight squeeze for me with a four-year old and almost-two-year old, but the Super Ego literally filled the room. I hung it from the hook on the door and had to duck down under it. Next time I stow a small bag in my big bag.

I love the water bottle holders on the sides and the size of the two main compartments. I haven’t figured out the perfect use for the small non-zippered compartments on the front, but it will probably involve small rocks or trains. When I bought the Super Ego, I also got an extra strip. $5 for regular or $10 for the seat belt and you have to get the seat belt. I’m not sure if I’ll ever take the seat belt off and use the shiny yellow one. For my laptop, I got a $30 Cache laptop sleeve. It’s very trim and the fit guide on the website led me easily to the right size (actually, Tom himself ran the fit guide for me because I forgot to make note of my size at home).

For both bags I invested in the Absolute Shoulder Strap for $20 extra (or $30 if you order it not as part of a bag order). It’s really nice. It has a little bit of stretch that really lightens the load. It makes my shoulder a little sweaty, but here in Seattle that’s only an issue a few weeks of the year (har, har).

The forums provide a lot of great information from the company’s loyal fans. A lot of the posters own multiple bags–and the pricier ones, too!–so I don’t feel excessive with my two messengers. Plus I’m convinced my husband will commandeer the Super Ego at some point. Oh, and check out the treason tag they used to have!

It’s a long ride to get down to the SODO showroom so hopefully I won’t feel the need to buy another bag too soon. I haven’t yet figured out the easy route to Magnolia so we started our morning with a bike-on-bus ride to swim class and then biked south along the waterfront and 1st Avenue South (Google Map). I had trouble finding a nice quiet spot along the way to stop for lunch, but we did OK pulling over at Safeco Field for a quick, if loud, bite.

The best part about coming down here is the 1st Avenue South bridge over the train tracks. We also ran into Seattle’s scariest pedicab on the way home. The baby loves owls and was drawn to the owl on the back of the rig. The driver said it was from the Owl N’ Thistle (stolen? borrowed? retired?). Fortunately, the baby thinks skulls and crossbones are also owls.

After our run-in with the gothmobile, we cleansed our palates with more trains by visiting the King Street Station. It was also nice to cheat away one hill by catching the elevator up to look at the train tracks from the walkway.

And since the day had turned really nice, our last stop was South Lake Union Park for our first frolic in the new spray park. Good thing we started out our day at the pool so I had swim suits with me. I don’t normally tote swim wear around, but a TOM BIHN packing cube sure would come in handy to hold two kid swim suits and a towel and fit perfectly at the bottom of my bike basket…

Wading pool with all the trimmings

We skipped morning swim class to help with the Starbucks 5th of July Lake Union Cleanup. I told myself it was because we were up too late last night to make it to the pool by 9am, but it was really because I’d rather ride my bike to a place and get free stuff than drive the car and not get free stuff. Just like last year, the gung ho early birds got all the good trash, but we found a couple hidden glass bottles and cans to add to our measly collection of bottle caps, cigarette butts, and firework remains. The blue bags are recyclables and the black trash. And that’s not including the Gas Works Park trash, which the city took responsibility for. Note: I didn’t move my bike next to the trash heap for this picture; I parked on an empty tree and the heap formed next to me. Does make for a nice shot, though.

Our afternoon ride was to the Green Lake wading pool. We were pretty loaded up with swim suits, towels, water toys (two tug boats, two buckets, two scoops), picnic blanket, picnic food, and messenger bag. A mom at the wading pool recognized me with, “Aren’t you the one with the bike?” We talked about baby bike seats a year ago and now she’s got her fourth baby on the way. I tried to talk her into an Xtracycle in case she wants to carry more than two kids at a time. Only one of them looked big enough to bike solo.

I haven’t decided the best route home from our old ‘hood yet, but today we wanted to visit some of our favorite potholes (the boys love potholes, don’t ask me why) so we swung through Roosevelt for the big holes on NE Ravenna Blvd and the orca-shaped divot on Roosevelt Way NE. We popped into Trader Joes for a few necessities, but I didn’t have anywhere to put the grocery bag. Fortunately the baby was game and held it on his lap for the short ride home.

Fourth of July by bike

It isn’t worth doing Seattle fireworks at Gas Works Park by any means other than bike. It’s a nightmare to drive in and out of the park on the fourth and both car and foot visitors have to endure a long, slow bag-check line. Bike riders get a separate entrance with separate bag check. We scored a prime end-of-the-rack parking spot, even arriving hours after the festival started. The racks were packed by the time we left, with tons of people still arriving.

2:30

7:30

It probably wouldn’t have made a difference which route we took home. I chose to ride east on the Burke-Gilman Trail and it was slow going against the incoming tide of mostly walking people. A pedicab cleared a path for us for a few blocks at least.

The only bad part (other than the baby getting lost in the Wacky World bounce house, that is) was the fight over the bike trailer. These kids don’t like riding together in the double trailer behind my road bike, but when Papa and the single trailer are in the picture, it’s a different story. The big kid hopped in first and wouldn’t budge and the little kid cried “Me Papa bike!” the whole way home.

Car-lite with friends

A new chapter in our car-lite existence: houseguests! OK OK, I looked into renting a minivan (gulp, three times) because my friend always drives us around when we visit her, but after realizing a week of minivan is about a grand, I decided we’d try to do things car-free. They were set to fly in from Florida the same time as our flight from Chicago so I planned to take the light rail and bus home in a group. But when their flight was delayed a few hours, the minivan started sounding appealing again. I checked on a minivan at the airport, but even a few days was over $500 so we headed for the train.

The mile walk to the light rail was a pain, but I think one can take a Smarte Carte luggage cart. Hopefully I can convince myself it’s worth it to spend the $4 next time. The bus portion of the trip was awful. A Mariners baseball game let out as we were traversing SODO so the bus got packed and traffic came to a crawl. I didn’t want to put my friends through that so once we got home, I called the nearby car rental office and had them drive us over to yet again look into a minivan. It turned out to be a waste of an hour because even though they had six-seating cars on site, non-airport offices don’t carry rental car seats. This was finally enough for me to realize a minivan was not in the cards for me. My friend was a trouper and the traffic was cleared out by the time they arrived. Her six-year old was a trouper, too, and pulled an adult-size rollie bag the whole way.

The visiting kids (six- and four-years old) are used to biking around Weston, Florida with their mom and I considered borrowing bikes for them, but I thought our hills would kick their little butts. So we’ve been mostly taking public tranportation. Yesterday we bused to the Seattle Center and then hopped the monorail and street car (on which I still can’t figure out how to use my ORCA card) to South Lake Union Park. My car got a little action, though, because I sent my friend and her six-year old to Gas Works Park.

Today we bused to Pike Place Market for the morning and then spent the afternoon at Gas Works Park–the kids and me on bike and our friends in my car. This worked well for getting the balance bikes down there. I think my little one is finally getting the hang of it, even trudging up and down some small hills.