Friday, March 12, 2010

When the Bike Makes it Harder

One of my academic conferences, the American Society for Environmental History, has been in town this week. As it's just across the river, I'm attending with Jasper in tow, stepping out of talks when he fusses and otherwise just standing in the back, bouncing the baby and enjoying the feeling of being an academic, rather than just a mommy, for a little while. And learning some cool stuff, too.

Yesterday, we rode the Yuba over. We left about Jasper's naptime and he was asleep after just a few minutes of fuss. There was no good place to park, so I left the bike on the sidewalk locked to a parking meter. It poured all day, and the rain cover on the kid seat was wholly unworthy of the task. Although I had pulled out the snuzzler insert to make sure Jaz had something dry to sit on for the way home, the cold seat, soaked harness straps, and drippy roof really set him off. To make it worse, my friend and colleague Daegan and I tried to join some folks at a bar at the end of the day, rather than going home. Jasper cried the whole mile to the bar, and when we got there, didn't settle. It was getting dark. My light had shorted out, and the bike we had loaned Daegan had had its lights 'borrowed' for a different bike the week before and not returned. We had to suck it up and go home.

The trip to the bar had been in the opposite direction from home, so we now had nearly three miles to go. It was rush hour. It was pouring. Jasper cried his most miserable, shrieking cry the whole way home, but there was nothing to do but go, as it was only getting darker.

We arrived home soaked to the skin. Frightened. Cold. And most of all, emotionally battered by Jasper's unadulterated misery.

After a change of clothes and a few minutes of nursing, Jasper was grinning at me again. But I'm still not recovered from the experience. And today, we took the bus.

It's supposed to stop raining Sunday. I think we'll take a nice long ride (it will be nearly 60F!) to remind ourselves why this is fun. Because yesterday, in the cold, wet, dark, lungs searing as I climbed the hills as fast as I could, eyes searching into the darkness for unseen hazards, imagination creating doom around each bend, I found myself wanting to never, ever do that again.

Sometimes, getting around by bike makes life harder.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Napping Trouble

So, I've been on the bike less lately, and napping is the reason. Apparently, around three months is when babies start sorting out their sleep rhythms, and it became obvious fairly quickly that protecting Jasper's nap times was a crucial part of having easy bed times and a generally un-cranky child.

Two weeks ago, I strapped Jasper into the bike and took off for yoga like I do every week. He was just off a nap and so cheerful and chatty on the ride. He was pretty happy through yoga, but ready for his next nap by the time we were done. No problem, I thought. I need to get home, and he always sleeps on the bike. So I took off for home, but when I got to my neighborhood he was still awake, and still cranky. I did a few extra laps of the rose garden. No dice. Still cranky. I turned up a big hill and climbed it, just to go somewhere. A stranger pulled in behind me and I asked him if the kiddo was sleeping yet.

Kindly stranger: Nope. Eyes wide open.

Me: Damn. I'm trying to get him a nap.

Kindly stranger: Oh. What's his name?

Me: Jasper.

Kindly stranger: What's your favorite band, Jasper?

Me: He's a big Pink Martini fan.

Kindly stranger: Hm. [long pause] [singing] When I was just a little girl/ I asked my mother/ what will I be?/ Will I be pretty/ Will I be rich/ Here's what she said to me...

[I laugh]

Kindly stranger: A yawn! Eyes closing... nope, open again... [singing] Que sera, sera/ Whatever will be, will be/ The future's not ours to see/ Que sera, sera. [spoken] It's not working.

Me: Thanks for trying!

Kindly stranger: Any time! And I wanted to tell you, nice ride!

We were at the top of the hill. I was a bit winded, and beginning to feel the lunch I hadn't eaten. I wooshed down the hill. Baby still awake. We went to a park. I nursed. We played. I rocked him. He fussed. I put him back on the bike and rode home. I put on the baby wrap and put him in it. He immediately fell asleep without a peep. Oh.

So, for the rest of that week, and most of the next, we stayed off the bike and returned to walking everywhere. He naps well while I walk, and the naps are too crucial to his general mood to risk skipping.

But on Friday he needed to go to the doctor for a vaccination, and I needed to mail a package. So we hopped on the bike. I gave the trip an hour for five miles, because shit happens and I didn't want to be late for our 15-minute "vaccination only" slot. I hopped on the Springwater trail and apparently flew southward, because by the time I locked up and checked the time, only 20 minutes had passed. As I turned off the trail, a passing roadie had slowed to tell me that my passenger was wide awake. But by the time I pulled up to the doctor's, he was fast asleep. And it was nap time, so that was good. But I had 40 minutes to kill before the appointment, and man, did I not want to wake this baby by moving him.

My next decision? Not my greatest parenting moment so far. Let's blame the cloudy judgment on sleep deprivation. But I decided that I should fill the time by mailing my package at the UPS store that was (I thought) right across the street. And I decided that I was going to leave the bike locked, and the baby in it, while I did so.

But I couldn't just leave him on the curb. That would be pretty clearly negligent. Instead, I moved the bike (carefully, slowly) half a block to the staple in front of Bike Commuter. Then, I stuck my head in and asked Eric, the shop owner and mechanic, if he could keep an eye on my kiddo while I walked across the street to mail a package.

Eric: Do you want a loaner bike to get there?

Me: Isn't it just across the street?

Eric: Nope. It's on Tacoma, two blocks up and a block east.

Me: Oh. Then yes, a loaner would be great.

He brought me a bike. I kissed the kiddo and hopped on, enjoying the zippiness of a bike that didn't weigh one hundred pounds. It was a minute, maybe, to get to the store. Where I got the trainee. Who took five minutes to process the mailing of an already-addressed priority mail shipment.

As the minutes crept by, images of fear, panic, and doom crept into my head. What if the baby started crying and Eric had stepped away? My poor miserable baby! Alone and abandoned! And what if someone called the cops? Hell, what if Eric decided that near-stranger cyclists shouldn't be trusting him with their babies and he called the cops? To be honest, I couldn't conjure an image of anything harmful happening to Jasper: worst case, he wakes up, inconveniences Eric by making him pick him up, refuses to be soothed, and I come back to a pissed-off mechanic and a hysterical baby. But Eric's a dad, has little kids, and knows how to take care of babies. So even that scenario only ended in tears, not pain and suffering. Nonetheless, the five minutes in the UPS store made me utterly nuts, and my heart was racing when I got back to the bike shop.

Where Jasper was still napping.

And Eric was standing nearby.

And everything was fine.

And I was very grateful, and Eric went back to his wrenching, and the sun shone, and the birds sang. But I probably won't do that again.

I slipped Jaz out of the bike and into his wrap, where he woke up with tears and general baby despair. I got him settled down, went to the doctor, got the shot, nursed our way through more baby despair, said goodbye and more thanks to Eric, and zipped off for home.

And Jasper slept most of the way.

So we seem to have gotten over whatever caused the bike nap strike, and I look forward to going back to riding from here to there. But I'm still not sure what to do when he falls asleep on a 20-minute ride, and what he needs is a 60-minute nap. Wake him? Leave him? Keep riding? Sit on the sidewalk until he wakes? Slip him into the wrap and hope he falls back asleep? Practically, I'm sure we'll mostly do that last one, because days must be gotten on with. But I wish there were better options.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New new centerstand!

A centerstand is a must for any serious cargo bike, otherwise loading and unloading becomes almost prohibitively difficult. A box bike has a couple advantages over a longtail in this respect: there is a great place ready-made to put a big honkin' center stand (under the box) and you have the option of loading the bike on the centerline, avoiding the tipping issue entirely. With a longtail you need to fit a center stand somewhere amongst the drivetrain and rear wheel and it needs to be wide enough to let you load one side of the bike at a time without tipping. This is one place where Madsen hit the nail on the head with their bucket bike: it has a centerstand as wide as the bucket. The design for that bike is a little less constrained than on a Yuba or Xtracycle because the rear wheel is so much smaller.

Yuba recommended the Hebie BiPod centerstand when I purchased the frame. It's a $70 piece of kit and operates just fine but is far from cargo-worthy. It would only hold the Yuba upright unloaded and on perfectly level pavement. It also flexed wildly under the weight of an unladen Mundo. I did some searching at that point and came across the Rolling Jackass centerstand but didn't seriously consider buying one because of the $350 price tag. I considered long and hard the problem of building a wide centerstand with an eye towards it carrying a child, and ultimately decided to buy a Rolling Jackass. The amount of time it takes to design and fabricate something like this was worth more to me than the price. the equation might have come out differently if A) I still had access to a machine shop, B) I knew how to weld, or C) had an abundance of free time. Val Kleitz, a fixture of the Seattle cycling scene, is Rolling Jackass.

The thing that really sold me on the Rolling Jackass was remote deployment. The centerstand is actuated by a mini BMX brake lever so you can put the bike on the stand before getting off it. On a good day with a reasonable load keeping the bike steady while dismounting isn't a problem, but on a bad day, in the rain, with a completely unreasonable load (who would buy a Mundo without plans to carry loads that would make an Xtracycle unridable?), remote deployment brings surety to a literally shaky situation. It's a feature that I really wanted and didn't want to take the time to design and test.

So the Rolling Jackass has been on the Yuba since the boxes went on and the Hebie will go on Katie's Volpe. The stand action is great, but mounting it was a bit on an adventure. Val designed the stand around Xtracycles, and he makes a version that fits the V1 Mundo just fine. The V2 required slightly narrower mounting holes and the unceremonious removal of the kickstand mount by hacksaw and file. I won't miss it. Any stand that can mount to a traditional kickstand mounting plate will not stand up to cargo use. So, if anyone with a Mundo reads this and decides to get a stand from Val, tell him what version you have. Also, if anyone fits one on a V3, please post pics!

The stock stand isn't quite wide enough for the boxes on our bike (especially when one has a 15 lb baby and the other has two bags of groceries and a case of beer), which led to me receiving an e-mail from Val a couple weeks ago with an offer to test out a prototype stand intended for heavy use that was wider and longer than the normal one. The only condition was that I push it to its limits and document the process. Well, I finally got around to installing it today, along with permanently mounting the top deck, and upgrading the mounting of the chainguard.

Here's the business ends of the two stands, stock in on bottom, prototype on top:


The new stand puts the feet almost as wide as the Yuba's H-racks and can hold the bike up with only one box mounted:


Look forward to more "I carried this on my bike" pics.

Friday, March 5, 2010

More rear hub information

I know, I'm getting redundant. One of the things that's bugged me about my delightful rear hub (with 14mm adapters from the manufacturer!) is the hollow rear axle. During the light rail portion of my morning commute I decided to take the issue to the source and e-mailed Halo about it directly.

My query:
I have one of your Spin Doctor Pro DH hubs, and I was wondering why the axle is hollow. Is part HUHAPRA1 actually a solid axle? I was under the impression that the DH model was a MTB with a HUHAPRA1 already installed, but was surprised to find a hollow axle.

Also, just an FYI, as far as I know the SD Pro DH with the 14mm axe men is the only hub that can fit a 135mm x 14mm frame without modifications, and I'm grateful you make it. I use it in my Yuba Mundo cargo bike. Thanks for making a hub that fits this monster of a frame and lets me run a normal drivetrain.

-Dave Proctor, Portland, Oregon, USA

Their response:
Hi David,
Thanks for the e-mail and props for our hubs.
You are correct the axles that come in the DH hubs are hollow and the after-market axles are solid.
This is a peculiar situation that we are still trying to get to the bottom of with our manufacturers!
Matt Andrews
Sales & Marketing Manager

So the aftermarket axle is solid! Not that I've had a problem with the hollow one, but the load capacity has got to be higher for the solid axle. It's not too expensive either, too bad it's out of stock at BTI.

Also, Halo appears to make some generic 14mm axle adapters that might work better than the ones Yuba sells:

The outer flange would act as a nice big washer, too bad it's not serrated. I bet a few minutes with a sharp file would fix that.