Archive | January 2013

This Sunday: S.U.P.E.R. B.O.W.L. kiddie bike event

So there’s, like, a football game Sunday afternoon? If you’re looking to clear out of your house, too, join us at Green Lake (meet at the shade plaza next to the Community Center–7201 E Green Lake Dr N, Seattle, WA, 98115) at 1pm for a

Small
Urban
Parade
of Energetic
Riders:

Bikes
Ornithology
Woods
Library

My five-year-old will lead a kiddie and adult bike parade. The route is a secret (I think this means he’ll decide where to go when the time comes), but it will probably meander around the shade garden and playground. Possibly a little SLOW action on the bike path. Then we’ll pan for gold at East Beach like 49ERS and scan the trees for RAVENS. [Get it? I just Googled to see which teams were playing in the other Super Bowl.]

Kidical Mass massing up

If it’s cold or wet–or cold and wet–we can head across the street and take advantage of the new Sunday hours at the Green Lake library–it’s open 1-5.

Other nice and nearby kid-friendly indoor places are Cafe Bonjour (open 9-4), Mockingbird Books (open 12-5), and possibly Gregg’s Cycles (open 10-6).

Join the Seattle Family Biking Facebook group and RSVP so I know how much gold to bury at the beach.

S.U.P.E.R. B.O.W.L.
Green Lake Shade Plaza
Sunday, February 3, 2013
1:00 p.m.

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A one-day multimodal family bike tour

There are some terrifically inspiring recent writings about family bike touring out there. This is not one of them. Check out Lies we Tell our Children (or how to get kids to go bike touring) on Car Free Days and Elle of Tiny Helmets Big Bikes‘s amazing four-day bike tour with her son. And in the kid-free arena, The Path Less Pedaled is currently touring around Southern and Central California, making me homesick and sunsick. This little trip isn’t in their league, but I was duly inspired, and consequently our trek to a birthday party on Vashon Island (about 20 miles away) Saturday felt quite bike tour-ish.

When we first got the invite I toyed with idea of using Mr. Family Ride coming along as an excuse to use the car. There are plenty of truly car-free people out there with car-owning spouses. Davey Oil is in a Transportation Interfaith marriage. As is my friend, Merlin, the Transporation Nag. I don’t count myself in that awesome crowd, but I’m getting there. Then I had an even better idea of Mr. Family Ride driving the kids while I took my road bike separately. Maybe I could even check out the Vashon Island Bike Tree this way! And we’d bring the bike rack in the trunk in case it seemed a better idea for me to arrive home with the family rather than an hour and a half later (really, this was what I thought–no concern of being too tired or lazy to ride both ways).

In the end, Mr. Family Ride had to work all day so I opted for a multi-modal adventure. I can envision taking the cargo bike and riding 18 miles to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal in the summer, but it’s just too cold to expect the kids to sit happily for over two hours, even with stops along the way. So we took the old mamabike and let the bus do much of the work: bike-bus-bike-ferry-bike. It was just a six-hour adventure, but I felt like we hit on a lot of the aspects of bike touring.

Riding with Victor

First up was the “meeting interesting people on tour” portion of the trip in which we ran into Victor on his new Yuba Mundo on the Fremont Bridge. We usually see him on Cargo Bike Rides, but our ride together felt like more of a Critical Mass as we took a lane on 5th through downtown. I usually stay on Westlake and ride between the streetcar rails, but Victor led us on a much nicer route:

Our educational pit stop was the Seattle Central Library. Book return with conveyor belt, escalator, potties, train and puppy books to check out, oh my!

As we headed two blocks to the bus stop, I saw a red RapidRide bus go by. I pointed it out to the boys and said the previous bus must have been very late. Upon arriving at the stop and checking the OneBusAway app, I discovered that our bus had been five minutes early. Doh! This is part of the reason I like simply biking everywhere: no timetable to abide by. The following bus was late, but it didn’t really matter since we’d already missed the ferry as I hadn’t thought to pad our time. When the next bus finally arrived, two of the three bike rack slots were already filled. I’ve never had to squeeze into the spot closest to the bus. It’s not easy! I guess I could have waited for the following bus given our new-found extra time, but it seemed wise to make some forward progress.

Two buses, neither of them ours

Extra time at the ferry terminal turned out to be a good thing–it wasn’t as straightforward for bicycles as at the main terminal, which we’ve used twice to go to Bainbridge Island. Cars filled the outbound lanes and we were directed to the pedestrian walkway to purchase tickets inside the waiting room. (When I say “directed to,” I mean I asked where I was supposed to ride and the car ticket issuer shrugged so I asked if I could ride on the walkway and she shrugged again.)

Never mind the grumpy kids--we made it to the ferry!

I ignored the BICYCLE STAGING AREA IS ACROSS THE DOCK sign and tucked my bike under the overhang because it was raining and there wasn’t a lot of pedestrian traffic.

Bicycle signage

The bicycle staging area was quite big (two car parking spots) and is probably bustling with activity during commute hours. Naturally, the rain picked up while we were waiting there, so we huddled next to the van while our ferry unloaded. Sometimes wind is good–the rain fell at an angle so we were somewhat shielded.

Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal bicycle staging area

We were the only bike on board. Apparently the yellow string is for securing one’s bike to the railing. I thought my lock would do a better job. A crew member was impressed by my centerstand, though I doubt it would keep the bike upright for the ferry ride sans bike lock support.

Aboard the ferry, note yellow tiedown rope

By the way, three sets of car-bound friends had also missed the previous ferry so we had some company on board :)

No bike cleats on the ferry

I know Vashon is hilly, but I didn’t know what to expect when I got off the ferry. Here’s what we got: a four-lane highway with tons of cars speeding up a hill with a tiny shoulder.

Scary street!

I almost called it a day and adjourned to the Mexican restaurant next to the ferry terminal entrance. It just didn’t strike me as a slow-bike-friendly road.

View of the Vashon Ferry Terminal from above

But the kids would have been very dismayed so we waited for all the cars to leave the ferry and then started up the hill. I stopped to rest part way up, but crossed over to the other side of the street to find a safe haven in a driveway.

Once up the hill, we got off the highway and were back in bike touring mode. We saw a cool train gate post, scary NO HUNTING signs, and an amazing variety of flora.

Train!

Most of us left the party at the same time, to catch the 3:50 ferry home. The first car backing down the driveway got stuck on a rock. I had plenty of room to get by, so go bikes! And with just a bit of pushing, the car came unstuck. Seems worth a mention.

Stuck car

Despite my not wanting to ride a family bike on Vashon again, the ferry terminal suggests there is a lot of biking here. There’s a rail covered in bike locks–I guess these are commuters who live on the island, ride to the ferry, leave their bikes behind, and then bus to the office on the other side?

So many bike locks. I'm not sure why.

I didn’t investigate the size of the backup rack, but there were two bikes at the front rack and apparently room for many more.

Bike signage on Vashon

The ped and bicycle staging area was exposed to the elements again. This one a small triangle between the two directions of traffic.

I liked the RapidRide stop we used once we got back to Fauntleroy–note the “3 min” indicating when the next bus would arrive. That jumped to “5 min” right after I took the picture, but it came soon enough.

RapidRide stop leaving Fauntleroy

During the five-mile bike ride home from downtown, my three-year old front passenger realized his legs were too squished. I realized this earlier, but didn’t want to point it out to him. I was worried his rain boot wouldn’t stay on unsecured so I had him drape a sock-clad foot over the handlebar and I rotated his seat a bit to give his other knee more room. That worked OK for a few blocks until his foot got too cold. So we put the boot back on and hoped it would stay put. (It did.)

It was a hard and tiring day, but very fun at the same time. Hey, just like a real bike tour! I’ve felt like we’re on the verge of outgrowing the old mamabike for a while, but given how today’s fun overrode the rough bits, I think I’ll look into getting a longer stem and make it work a bit longer.

And I’ll allow for early buses next time.

Towing two bikes

I managed my first two-bike tow with the Big Dummy!

Towing two bikes

I set out with [most of] just one bike–I had borrowed the squishy seat from Mr. Family Ride’s beach cruiser in June when I was between Brooks saddles and apparently lost part of it. It seemed like a good day to have it repaired. I got a lot of great comments on my Gimme your ice advice post, including Matt of Tacoma Bike Ranch’s account of riding his beach cruiser on ice. My beach cruiser is much too pretty to subject to dirty ice, but if I can sneak out without the kids to experiment, I’ll try this bike.

Beach cruiser sans seat

It was also fairly exciting because I missed my first opportunity to tow a bike a year ago when retrieving this same beach cruiser from a friend’s house.

Recycled Cycles quickly put the beach cruiser back together, but we weren’t in and out quickly enough for me to resist browsing the used bikes and spotting an 18″ BMX bike. I think a BMX bike is not exactly the same as a regular kid bike so maybe it wasn’t the smartest impulse buy, but it has a hand brake (just rear) and is a bit bigger than my five-year old’s 16″ bike. It’d be nice to get him used to a hand brake before putting him on a 20″ bike with gears (gears!) with which he can hopefully do some major riding around town. They had to change out the seat post for a shorter one (first clue that it’s not sized for tiny guys), but it seems to fit him well enough.

I also have Tacoma Bike Ranch to thank for the tip to get some ratcheting packing straps for loads that are too big for bungee cords (this, after the box spring fiasco). But they were at home in the garage so I made do with a bungee holding the beach cruiser in place.

Bungee cord holding the tire in place

The bikes traveled well. I had to stop after one tight right turn to separate the wheels, but that was it. Had I traveled on the road and path only, I would have been fine, but there’s a great shortcut to the Burke-Gilman Trail if one crosses Pacific Street and travels 100 feet on the sidewalk, but the sharp right turn onto the narrow sidewalk was a lot to expect of my hastily crammed in load.

Towing two bikes

Gimme your ice advice!

I slipped on the ice yesterday. I’m leery of ice, but I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about real winter cycling. Please comment below with any tips!

I knew it would be icy out so I opted to have the five-year old ride his bike to school while I dragged the three-year old in our single trailer behind my cyclocross bike (Raleigh RX Womens–so pretty!). It came with knobby tires, which are apparently not knobby enough for Pacific Northwest cyclocross mud, but I thought their knobbiness might be nice for patches of ice. Don’t worry, Mr. Family Ride has already rolled his eyes and informed me that no regular tires are good on ice. He grew up with seasons, I didn’t. And apparently four years in Seattle haven’t yet changed me.

Our ice bikes

The four blocks to school were fine and the two miles to meet a friend in Green Lake were fine, but 100 feet from home I met with disaster. Here’s the intersection at 4:30 today:

The icy intersection today

But yesterday at 2pm it was blanketed by a solid sheet of ice. Someone uphill to the right:

Up here is the source of the ice

had hosed down their car to melt the ice and their runoff didn’t see sun all day (and I’m not sure it got warm enough that sun would have made a difference).

I’ve ascertained two things in retrospect:
One) I think I may have fared OK if I wasn’t pulling a trailer. I saw the ice and slowed down (one-point-five: maybe I would have fared better going faster, too) before gliding onto it in a nice straight line. When the trailer wheels met the lip of ice, the bike jerked back and I tipped over.
Two) I should have turned around to go around the block and reach home from the other direction. That’s essentially six extra blocks, including extra hills (groan), but next time I’ll do just that.

I should point out that I was clipped in. Pretty new shoes:

New shoes with Time cleats

but even putting a foot down would have resulted in me flat on my back with my toddler’s grinning face looming over me.

Cascade Bicycle Club’s last News Roundup included this BikeRadar article on Cycling in icy conditions and bad weather, which I admit I didn’t read until just now. I found the comments more entertaining than the actual article, though.

After tweeting about the incident yesterday:

Elle of Tiny Helmets Big Bikes turned me on to Bike Spikes (and video of their installation). Very cool! But of course overkill for my one patch of ice every ten miles.

Today I rode 30 miles alone on my road bike–much slower than necessary, but I didn’t fall! This is just downhill from my house and was solid ice at 9am, but had melted by this 4:30 picture:

Today's ice (but after it thawed)

Needless to say, I took to the sidewalk to bypass it. I only saw one icy patch where someone had watered their car on the west side of the Lake Washington Loop. Perhaps it’s primarily a Wallingford phenomenon? [Stop it! Get an ice scraper!]

So please share any pointers you may have. I think if we have any serious snow, I’ll resort to the mountain bike plus double trailer, as I did last year, but ice has me stymied.

For the record, I’m also bewildered that one can scrape an elbow through two layers of clothing while said layers of clothing stay perfectly intact.

Rain gear: Rainlegs!

I’m an expert on rain. All Seattleites are. I kid! I kind of suck when it comes to preparing for inclement weather: it was dry when I walked out the door at 12:30 and even though I knew it was raining two miles away and my trusty Dark Sky app promised light sleet, I wore jeans and my snowboard jacket. The jacket is fine in rain, but my legs got wet. Despite the photobombing toddler, I think you can see what happened:

Wet pants

But let’s back up three days for a better rainy day story: I met up with Ann DeOtte Kaufman of Iva Jean on Tuesday for coffee and a bike ride. In the most recent issue of the Cascade Courier she refers to herself as a fair-weather biker (Bikenomics, page 5), but I don’t buy it. Tuesday were wetwetwet, but Ann was happy to do some wet weather testing of a next-generation Iva Jean Rain Cape.

Ann in an Iva Jean rain cape

I was just happy to be led around Capitol Hill, an area I haven’t explored much (along with any other neighborhood with “Hill” or “Heights” in the name). Here we are, stopped at one of Capitol Hill’s multiple bike corrals (forgot this little bike fits in the right way…oops), right outside Cafe Presse (ooh, where the fixies hang out). New territory!

Capitol Hill bike corral

I think it may not have rained enough for a final verdict on the new rain cape, but Ann stayed nice and dry. Me: not so much. My upper half is still inadequately protected with Mr. Family Ride’s rain jacket, but I recently got some Rainlegs rain chaps at Hub and Bespoke (where one can also get an Iva Jean Rain Cape) and my legs are staying dry for a change!

The Rainlegs are great for a number of reasons. As you can see from the first picture, the only part of my legs that gets wet is the tops of my thighs. I used to occasionally wear a supercheap non-cycling-specific rain pants, but I really dislike them. For one thing, they’ve gotten a little too small (they didn’t shrink–I grew). Rainlegs are forgiving to weight fluctuations.

My cheapie rain pants were a pain to pull on–not to mention that I had to remove shoes before putting them on or taking them off. Rainlegs are just three buckles and two velcros.

Rainlegs

I keep the under-the-butt buckets fastened at all times because it’s a bit awkward to reach behind oneself to fasten them. And the buckled strap makes for an easy loop to drape over a door knob.

Hanging Rainlegs

The main problem for someone coming from rain pants is to remember that it’s not OK to sit on a wet saddle. Yeah, I’ve made this mistake a few times, but I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it.

Tuesday was the first time I wore the Rainlegs with my road bike (my posture on the Big Dummy is fairly upright) and I wasn’t sure they’d do the trick, but they performed just fine. As a matter of fact, my pants stayed completely dry for the first time. I’ve previously only worn them with jeans and while they would have done great if I’d hopped on the bike, ridden any number of miles to my destination, and then removed them to hang up, all would have been fine. But riding a few miles to preschool and then puttering around, dripping for ten minutes before getting back on the bike to ride a few miles to elementary school resulted in some wicking. But now I realize that was just a quirk of stretch denim. The slacks I wore on Tuesday, while they didn’t look so bikerish with the chaps, fared beautifully during the two-school dropoff.

Now on Wednesday I wore denim and ended up with a random wet spot. But certainly drier than no chaps. Don’t mind the wet socks. I haven’t tackled the problem of leaky footwear yet.

Wicking rain

If you’re ready to think ahead to July and dry-weather garb, check out the new offerings from Iva Jean. And get inspired by Ann’s recent article for the Walk Score Blog: 5 Barriers to Women Bicycling More.

Seattle: not just for rain. Especially if one has Rainlegs.

I <3 Spokespeople Rides

Kidical Mass isn’t the only family-friendly game in this town. We love Kidical Mass rides and look forward to Julian’s plans to get them rolling even more often this year, but Spokespeople Rides are terrific for families (and new riders and/or leisurely riders), too. We attend the Wallingford rides whenever we can–the first Saturday of every month at 2pm, meet at the south end of Wallingford Playfield–but there are also groups in Ballard, NE Seattle, and West Seattle.

Spokespeople Ride January 2013

One of the things I like best about Spokespeople Rides is that they start and end at the same spot. It’s a very nice feature for those who are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, need to drive to the start (we had two families of four from the Kirkland Greenways group on Saturday), and I took advantage of this by locking up the two kid bikes so I wouldn’t have to drag them around for an hour and a half during the group ride.

Each ride has a theme and we all found the January ride to Wallingford’s Little Free Libraries particularly enjoyable.

Little Free Library

We checked out (ha ha, library pun) four little free libraries, the Poem of the Week, Word of the Week (may as well be hiatus these last few months), and the Poetry Bench. It was a very localized ride, but probably the hilliest Spokespeople Ride I’ve attended. Phew!

We met the keeper of the children’s book little free library on 47th near Wallingford Avenue. We’ll be back to exchange books soon.

Keeper of the little free library amidst our bikes

All Spokespeople Rides are listed in their Google calendar along with other easy rides and related classes and events.

Family biking is safe

I don’t write about road safety while biking much (ever?) because it’s not at the forefront of my mind. Sure, I’m cautious, but that’s just a natural part of being on a bike.

I’d say it’s just like driving a car, but it’s not. I feel less safe in the car. I’m much closer to all the distracted drivers–yakking on cell phones, texting on phones pressed against steering wheels, busily looking for parking spots. Not to mention the car isn’t as fun as a family unit: I can’t hear the kids as well; the three-year old complains about the car seat straps; one’s facing forward, one’s facing rearward so we’re not seeing the same things at the same time. I also find I’m able to focus much better on the bike than in the car. Maybe the motion of pedaling opens up the mind to handle processing simultaneous train and puppy conversations while negotiating traffic.

So why write about safety now? Well, I got my first angry blog comment, including a “…get your precious babies OFF THE STREETS!” I referred to her as a troll (in the Internet sense of the word) in my reply, but that’s not accurate. She saw family bikes, freaked out, and Googled her way to an old post on my blog. Many friends suggested ignoring and deleting the comment and maybe I’ll do that in the future, but this first time I felt the need to respond. I don’t expect to change her way of thinking, but I feel better after feeling pretty crappy for a while. And the outpouring of support from both friends and strangers is buoying. Start here and scroll down to feel the love.

Swearing at Motorists--it's just the shirt I'm wearing today (it's a band, not an attitude)

Swearing at Motorists–it’s just the shirt I happen to be wearing today (and it’s a band, not an attitude)

I’m not fired up anymore (my published reply is quite toned down from the original), but I’m still feeling a bit defensive. Family biking is safe because biking is safe. There are countless articles out there. I like this recent one: Which really is more deadly: cycling or sitting down watching TV?.

More: as a family biker I have to say I feel even safer than the statistics. It’s not due to a sense of responsibility for my passengers, though that probably adds an innate level of cautiousness I’m unaware of. I contend it’s simply about size, speed, and posture. My bike is BIG and therefore easy to spot. But even more helpful is that I’m very slow–motorists (and pedestrians and other bicyclists) have tons of time to notice me. In fact, I’m so slow going uphill that on Dexter’s separated bike lane I’m slow enough to peer in each parked car as I approach to see if I have to worry about an inhabitant opening a car door into my path. That’s a luxury many bicyclists don’t have. While I’m not bolt upright like a Dutch bike or beach cruiser, the Big Dummy (and my Bianchi Milano city bike before it) is fairly upright so I’m tall and can look around much more easily than on a bike with drop handlebars. Granted, I can’t see behind me, but I can see everything to the front and sides. It’s remarkable how different things feel from my road bike. I’m small and superfast (well, unless I’m lugging 130 pounds of Engine Engine Engine) and feel somewhat at the mercy of my surroundings. Maybe I wouldn’t have this feeling if I only got around by unencumbered road bike, but regardless, I never have this feeling on the family bike.

Have I had any close calls? No (well, maybe one–see below). Have pedestrians or motorists perceived close calls? Yes. This usually happens when crossing an intersection. Intersections are dangerous–I’m hypervigilant in ’em. But it’s second nature so I don’t think about it. I don’t assume motorists won’t run red lights or look for me before turning on green lights. I’ll enter an intersection mindful of all surrounding cars, but if a motorist disregards the law and gets within ten feet of me it sometimes looks scary to nearby pedestrians (or the distracted motorist) evidenced by the “That guy almost hit you!” No, he didn’t–I saw him, don’t worry. But I’m sorry it scared you. Hey, maybe he’ll check for traffic next time.

I used to get angry about distracted drivers. Months after fuming about drivers on cell phones and imagining myself pantomiming “hang up the phone” to them, I did exactly that. I was riding with a family biking friend and the driver in question was talking on her phone while nosing into traffic (and into my bike lane). I skirted around her and made my gesture and immediately felt silly. Not the way to inspire friends to get out there and ride more. So that was the one and only time I did that. Shortly after that incident, I was crossing a street to get to the grocery store. It was a busy street–NE 45th St crossing the freeway and 7th Ave NE in the U-District so I was using the crosswalk. A young woman exiting the freeway barreled into the intersection with no regard for her red light, thinking only of her right turn. I was moving slowly and cautiously and she didn’t hit me, but had I been moving a bit faster–say, had I been a jogger pushing a jogging stroller–that wouldn’t have been the case. She stopped halfway through the intersection, finally heeding her red light and I went mamabear on her and angrily thumped my fist on her trunk. She wasn’t phased (perhaps this happens to her all the time?!), and while it felt right to react in this manner at the time, it didn’t leave me feeling good about things.

Family biking sets a wonderful example for my children, but attacking cars certainly doesn’t. So I’ve changed my tune completely. I used to ignore or give hard looks to inattentive drivers, but now I smile and wave. Really. Not in a sarcastic way, but in a “Hi there, I’m on the road, too, nice to see you and be seen by you” way. Not that I rode around in a perpetually bad mood before, but my rosy outlook was periodically dampened. Now it’s all whiskers on kittens.

I find it fascinating that several family bikers I know have independently arrived at this same behavior. Apparently it’s a thing. Discussing bad drivers isn’t something we family bikers normally do–we’re too busy having fun!–but it came up a while back in a discussion in the Seattle Family Biking Facebook group.

But back to this particular driver. Here’s Terry Avenue North:

I consider it a pretty quiet street. My video is from Sunday, the day after MOHAI’s grand opening and my commenter’s family biker sighting. Saturday was probably a bit busier due to the free museum admission.

It’s a shame MOHAI’s visit us page doesn’t indicate how hard it is to park at South Lake Union Park (I’ve never tried myself, but I hear it’s impossible). It takes a village to get people like my commenter to think outside the car.

Let’s end with something warm and fuzzy: Kidical Mass headed to MOHAI today: