Friday, 27 February 2015

Winter Bike to Work Day

Somewhere in North America it is the dead of winter, the ground is covered in feet of snow, roads are filled with dirty slush splashing around. There's probably a blizzard preventing an airplane from taking off on time. Parents are encouraging their kids to pee one last time before bundling their precious cargo up for the trek to school. Some people have the luxury of pressing a button to preheat their car and defrost their windows. I know that I don't control the weather, and it seems silly to brag about it. But that doesn't stop me! Friday's forecast in Victoria calls for a high of 12 degrees Celcius with a high probability of rain. I trust the sun will peek out and ensure that my ride to work is dry. I'll be sure to wear my contact lenses and a brimmed helmet to prevent a second face shower. Really, though, I'll take a bit of wet over what my Mainland counterparts are weathering.

Friday February 13 was my first Winter Bike to Work Day and I'm thrilled that it looked a lot like many other Bike to Work Days! Since I don't work the 9 to 5 daily grind, I didn't get to enjoy the coffee and treats offered by the Bike to Work Week Society. I'll be sure to stop by a Celebration Station in the spring, though, since I like getting credit for daily bike rides, and a chance to win prizes.

What I thought was snow was soap bubbles. I guess a neighbour was washing her car.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Demonstration Family Ride - We Are Safe

Most of the time, I get smiles and jovial conversations when strangers see me and my kids on our bike. Riding with them has become so normal to me, that I don't even think twice about strapping their helmets on and unlocking my bike for a quick ride around the block or a for a school pick-up.

Unfortunately, some people don't know it's safe. Yesterday, while biking her kids across town to karate class, my friend, Amanda, had an encounter with such a person. Mrs. Wrong* thought that Amanda was putting her three kids in danger by having them on her Edgerunner, a bicycle built for carrying kids and other cargo. She even called the police to let them know. I'm not sure what the cops told her, nor do I know what actions they will take to follow up. What I do know is that Amanda is a researched parent who has looked into cycling for transportation and recreation extensively. She has weighed her options and has chosen to bicycle whenever she wants to with her kids.

In support of this choice, I would like to invite you to come ride with us. It is clear to me that there aren't enough parents riding with children in Victoria for it to be considered normal. We need to show our neighbours and strangers that this is safe, normal and usually a lot of fun. On Thursday, February 5, 2015 we will ride with Amanda's kids to karate class. We will meet at Sir James Douglas Elementary School at 4:00 and leave at 4:15 to  head over to James Bay Community School.

Here are some quick stats regarding road safety from the Insurance Corporation of BC:
  • On what's involved in a crash
  • Road safety report for Vancouver Island. I like the blurb on the side of the page "... safer drivers and roads makes for fewer crashes, injuries and deaths." So let's contact our regional road safety coordinator to get safer roads for all users!
P.S.: Are any of you magicians with digital pictures? I need a license plate picture decoded. Cheers!

*Her name has been changed to protect her identity. But now we all know what car she drives...

Friday, 5 December 2014

How my Bike has Changed

I've been using my bicycle for about a year and a half, so I thought I should brag about just how great it is. There have been a few permutations of our set up, since the kids' and my needs have changed.

At first, Nae-J (2 years old, 20 pounds) was seated in a front seat. Since I suspected she wouldn't be in the Yepp Mini very long, I was able to borrow the seat from a friend, keeping my costs down. Borrow till you outgrow, right!? The seat was comfortable, easy to clean, and could be removed in about 30 seconds when she wasn't riding with me. She brought her teddy along as a pillow and never complained about a sore neck, despite the awkward positions she'd end up sleeping in.

Photo by Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist
I had to pedal with my knees bent slightly outward, or else they would hit her seat on every stroke. I got used to this quickly and it wasn't too difficult to pedal up hills. I geared down as much as possible and pedaled furiously. If that wasn't enough, I got off the bike and walked. I've been told that handlebars that are swept back are easier to use in combination with the Yepp Mini, but cannot confirm this theory first-hand. Another feature of the seat that we didn't use was the ability to use it on many bikes. An adapter is needed for the other stem which you want the seat to go on and the child can be set up on a different bike in about two minutes.

I found the straps of the three-point harness to be less secure as I would have liked. Though there was no chance she would unbuckle herself, the straps wouldn't tighten enough, allowing them to slip off her shoulders sometimes. This problem was even worse on the Yepp Maxi. I've seen friends cope with this by turning it into a five-point harness. They've used a chip bag clip, or old helmet straps to do this.

JahJ (4 years old, 33 pounds) was in a Yepp Maxi on the back of the FreeRadical deck when we started riding together. He only spent a week in his seat before he preferred the stoker bars that were mounted on my seat post. I wasn't 100% comfortable trusting him to hold on as a distracted child, but he never fell off. He wasn't napping daily, and on the few days that he did nap on the bike, he managed to do it close to our destination. He could hold on while sleeping and I would place my hand on him to know which direction he was leaning.

About six months later, Nae-J graduated to the Yepp Maxi. She loved her orange seat and would have stayed there until 33 pounds - the seat's maximum weight capacity - but my friend needed her seat back. There was some commotion about who would sit in the blue chair, as a 4.5 year old is not the best at sharing what he thinks is his. The recommendation with longtail bikes is to have the heavier weight closest to you. I think Nae-J and seat were heavier than JahJ, but I preferred having him in front of her.

A note about tipping the bike. Yes, the bike did fall when loaded with passengers. Sometimes it was my fault for not finding a good place to park, or not packing the saddle bags evenly (weight-wise); other times it was the kids' fault for leaning to one side or trying to get off without warning me. The first time it happened I felt horrible. The kids were startled and hurt, but they got back on the bike. The Yepp Maxi offered some protection against the body hitting the pavement directly. And JahJ's ninja skills improved as he would abandon ship while it was sinking. Yes, the bike did (does) fall when loaded with passengers - but the more it happens, the better everyone becomes at preventing it!

One inconvenience with using the Yepp Maxi on the FreeRadical is finding the right place to install it on the deck without getting in the way of the saddle bags' closing clips. We couldn't find a way around it, so I came to expect a struggle every time I attempted to fully load the bags. The other solution would be to bring less stuff on our excursion, but what's the point of a cargo bike if you aren't prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse every time you leave your house!?

Around her third birthday, Nae-J preferred to sit on the deck, inviting JahJ to have his blue seat back. I took this to mean that she was ready for the Hooptie. I was concerned about naps since she would still have one daily. The internet showed me some fantastic kids sleeping on the Hooptie and now I have a few picture to add to the gallery.

Since the kids can't hop on and off without help, sometimes, I take one side of the Hooptie off and put it as a foot step, like the u-tube. But the kickstand is not as readily accessible when the u-tube is on. Though it is a stepping place for the kids, the u-tubes aren't used as foot rests when the saddle bags are full. This doesn't bother either kid, so it isn't a problem that needs fixing.

I'm not convinced that the Hooptie offers added protection when in a fall. I think most of the protection is psychological peace of mind for the parent and passersby. What I find to be the most useful function of the Hooptie is the added storage space. I can tie bungee cords off of it; I can tuck things vertically; I can even make a weather protection that ties down on it. JahJ loves advertising that the Hooptie can bring three people. He may think it's his job to promote this feature to everyone he talks to.

About the flex: The first time I rode my bike loaded with groceries, I felt the flex of the FreeRadical attachment. Thirty minutes later, by the time I had reached home, I had gotten used to the flex, hardly noticing it at all. Jose doesn't ride my bicycle often, so the flex and the kid-wiggling affect him a lot more than they do me. I think that when the kids hit a certain cumulative weight it will be safer to use a longtail bike that is one piece rather than the FreeRadical attachment.

I don't have Footsies or any additional hardware for the kids to rest their feet while we ride. The kid in the front usually puts their feet up on my bike with their knees elevated close to their trunk. Lately, there has been arguing over who sits where. We generally agree that "on return", it's the other person's turn to sit in the front. When we have three passengers, negotiations take a little bit longer, but we usually reach an amicable arrangement.

I am really grateful to have found my FreeRadical when I did. Looking back, I've been able to increase my time in the saddle and have found very little to complain about. Yes, I would love to have a new shiny bike with XYZ special features on it, every year, but that's not a need. I can get to where we are going - rain or shine - and mostly with smiles on our faces. JahJ still wishes he could sleep comfortably in his car seat, and Nae-J sometimes has tantrums that I wish I could silence by rolling up the windows, but I just pedal harder to get to where we're going.

Here's to a happy new year riding - I hope you and your family ride as often as you wish and create happy bikey memories too.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Rain Gear for Biking

I'm not one to buy cycling-specific gear unless there is a need for it. I like to have appropriate clothes for the task at hand, and sometimes I am caught off-guard by unpredicted weather or an extended park play. Here's an overview of what we use for being outside in the fall and how we've made it work for our everyday biking.


 Last autumn, I biked in the rain by avoiding the rain! I had the best of luck and would often catch a break from the celestial downpours. But this autumn, things are a little different. The kids are older and more aware of the weather. They want to play in the rain so they can use their umbrellas to keep their faces dry, and they want to use their rain wear to make the biggest splashes in the deepest puddles. That means I can't avoid the rain unless I bring a massive tent with me wherever we go.

On our way home from the fire hall's open house, we stopped by a playground for some puddle jumping. There had been a monsoon-type rainfall earlier in the day, and though the sun dried up the shallowest puddles, JahJ managed to find a good one. I was very happy to find out that his OakiWear rain pants are waterproof! They are a straight leg with an elastic waistband and a button for a tighter fit. There is some velcro at the bottom to adjust the width of the leg, unlike the tight elastic of his previous MEC rain pants. I scored his rain jacket from UsedVictoria, but this size is shorter than than the size 4 jacket he's passed on to his sister.

I need to find a solution to protect my face from the torrents. Granted they don't happen frequently, it's still inconvenient to be dry and warm all over except my face. The other night we went for a ride around town to fetch wine and crackers for a quiet night in. I have learned to bring all the rain wear when we leave home, because we often experience several types of weather in a typical autumnal day. Sure enough, the skies opened and mist turned to sprinkle turned to medium-heavy rain. I wasn't wearing my Bogs boots, so I was a little chilly around my ankles. My Happy Rainy Days cape held up fantastically and my hands weren't icicles thanks to my kayak gloves. But my face! I should also wear my contact lenses more often, because by the end of the ride, my visibility was very foggy.

Jose's rain uniform is incomplete. So far he wears a Gore-Tex jacket, waterproof hiking shoes, a fancy toque and kayak gloves. He couldn't find cycling-specific gloves that were waterproof, breathable and to his liking, so he wandered over to the paddling section of Mountain Equipment Co-op. These gloves aren't waterproof, but they keep our hands warm until the temperature drops to 0 degrees Celsius. We're thinking RainLegs will get him riding through the season more or less comfortably. We both will need saddle covers to keep our seats dry when our steeds await us. A plastic bag (or a shower cap if we get fancy!) will do for now.

I still tote two fleece blankets in my saddle bags. Sometimes it's nice for the kids to warm up in them. Other times, I use them at the park to cover me up if I'm under dressed. A weatherproof friend once told me that there's no such thing as bad weather, only poor planning - I've done my part. Here's to more family bike rides in the rain this fall!