Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Are you getting enough exercise?"

My response to that question for years has been "of course"  And riding 30 minutes to work and 30 minutes back at a "sprightly-stately" clip for years has meant that "of course" I was getting plenty of exercise.

But now, my commute to the bike shop is 11 minutes (yes, I timed it- although it took several tries-I kept forgetting to hit the stop button when I arrived).  That's 22 minutes a day, which is better than many people get, but I probably need more like 30-40 minutes.   I end up riding more on my Monday days off, but not enough to really make up for it.

So recently I've been doing something I've never done before- purposely trying to add loops to my rides out of my way to add time.   If I go to Whole foods on the way home it takes 20 minutes, which helps, but even I don't need to go to the grocery store every day.

The reason that the question is pressing is that the Scientist and I are expecting a future cyclist, due at the end of December.   This isn't news to anyone who's seen me in person lately!  , but I haven't yet mentioned it on the blog.   I'm still riding, with the support of my OBGYN,  and one of the joys of running a family friendly bike shop is that not only do I get a lot of support from customers, but I also get to meet a lot of other women who are riding well into their pregnancy.

I'm mostly riding the Bakfiets- partly because I schlepp so much stuff to and from the shop most days, partly to add a bit of "resistance training" to my ride, and partly because the upright position and large "cockpit" are so comfortable.   I think I've retired Gilbert for the duration- while he's a pretty upright bike, I find I gently graze my belly on the stem when I push forward and raise myself onto the saddle.

I'm encouraged by how many other pregnant bikers I'm encountering.  I think that for many women to whom biking is a way of life, biking is the most comfortable way to continue to get around, even when walking starts to be less comfortable.  My doctor occasionally bikes to work, so I think she understands that if you're comfortable with your balance, it's not necessarily a bigger falling hazard than walking.  A Dutch woman in the shop the other day commented that in her experience, if you keep riding as your body changes, you can adapt and compensate to those gradual changes.  Plus it's good low-impact exercise.  

 It does really make you conscious of safer biking streets, and desirous of more separated facilities.   I went to a meeting about the proposed cycle tracks around the Boston Public Garden,  and there were some young male messengers who were anti- cycle track, saying that they wanted the "freedom" to bike fast in traffic, and didn't want to feel like they had to ride on the track.  Firstly no one is required to ride on the track,  and secondly,  even the strongest riders get colds, sprain ankles, or are otherwise slowed down (say by pregnancy) on occasion.   And if we're lucky we all get older, and people rarely rider faster and more aggressively as they age!

I'm not planning anything extreme like riding in snow, or riding myself to the hospital,  but I hope to keep biking as long as it's comfortable and convenient, and we'll see if that's all the way to near the end, or if I feel like I need to stop at 8 months or so.

And the shop?  Well,  the plan is to have the shop open limited hours during January and February- 3PM to 6PM or so.   Hard to predict since it's my first year, but I suspect those months would be slow anyway.  In February I can probably come in by special appointment, and I hope to be coming in- with the Future Cyclist in tow at least part time in March.  We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Workcycles are Coming!

I was tempted to play Paul Revere on my ride in this morning, calling out the news to all as I passed!
After a long process- we probably started at the end of May, and here three months later, the final result of all that agonizing, emailing and skyping  is about to be revealed!

We're getting 12 bakfietsen.  10 long and 2 short.  We have 5 FR8's coming, and 9 GR8's  and a special order Opafiets.  It was hard for us to predict what the market is/ will be,  so we perhaps were a little cautious on the FR8's and GR8's.  Unlike the Bakfietsen, those can actually be shipped on pallets, so if all else fails, we can get more mid-year.  

People have been very excited about all these bikes, so I hope I under-ordered and will need to place another order soon.   The whole import process is a bit scary,  but so far it's gone pretty smoothly, hopefully this last stage will go smoothly as well.  I'll post photos as soon as things arrive-
check out @Bikingheels twitter for updates and instagrams of the big reveal!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Hungry Hungry Bakfiets

I was fortunate enough to be able to flag down the family riding with this bike past the shop.  I was curious what brand of bakfiets this was, since I didn't recognize it.  With good reason it turns out, because it was built by its rider after looking at lots of other bakfietsen.   At first he just had a flat platform to which he fastened a child seat, but last winter he built the fabulous box with a caterpillar theme from the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Month In

Well,  I'm a month into my new routine,  and I thought I'd give an update.  I'm settling into the rhythms of it fairly well.  The slightly later mornings, into which I always try to cram too many things- emails, cooking, cleaning, appointments.   The morning settling in, tidying up, chatting with the UPS or Fedex drivers, generally broken around noon by a couple of people coming by on their lunch hours.   The early afternoon lull in which I follow up on orders or emails and sometimes assemble a bike.  Finally the late afternoon when people start to trickle in between 3 and 6.  Followed by closing up and heading home to make dinner.

The first couple of weeks were largely marked by the incredible heat, and lack of AC.  I came home every day feeling lightly roasted,  especially on sunny days where the western windows drove the temperatures up dramatically.  After a comedy of errors involving an illegal 220v outlet masquerading as a 110 outlet, Home Depot's incredible return policy and a long hot wait for an installer to put in the new 220 unit, we have nice cold AC,  which is a huge relief.

People who come in randomly off the street not knowing anything about the shop seem fairly divided.
About half are very interested and excited that such a shop exists.  They gush about how pretty the bikes are or talk nostalgically about the bikes they used to own and the simpler life of three speeds.   Several of these people have bought bikes, and it's a real kick to see them riding by weeks later through the shop windows.

Another 25% are just window shopping,  not really interested in buying a bike, not having a bike that needs accessories, they're just checking out what's in this funny triangular space.  They like to tell me about the businesses that have failed in this spot.  Cheerful!

The final 25% are not really interested in this kind of bike and some of them are not afraid to tell me about it.  Like the woman who did a quick lap and then asked me for directions to Wheelworks because she wanted a bike with shocks (!)   Or the guy with stereotypical piercings, tats and facial hair who wanted a fixie because he had a friend with a fixie.  Or most disconcertingly the guy who told me he'd thought about buying a dutch bike, but got a mountain bike instead because dutch bikes were too heavy and impractical.  Those people are better served elsewhere, and fortunately there are a lot of other local shops which can really help them out.

Beyond the people coming in randomly, I've had a ton of bike-friends, bike acquaintances, and friends of bike friends who had heard about the shop through the blog or through others' blogs or tweets.  Many of these people already own a bike,  but it's still great to see them, and meet some in person after only knowing them through the blogosphere.

Henry the Shop Dog enjoying the AC
And finally I'm starting to get people coming in who are specifically looking for the products I sell, and have found me through the website.  They call asking if I have the Bobbin birdie in Mint (no, as far as I can tell, it's been discontinued)  or to ask about when the Edgerunners will arrive (mid September).  I am trying to figure out how to boost the signal out to those people.   I've joined up with the Boston Family Bicycling group, and a lot of people from that group have contacted me.  But I need to reach further out, to people who don't necessarily think of themselves as cyclists, but whose lives would be made easier with a comfortable, attractive city bicycle.   I'm still trying to figure out the best ways to do that.  I've gotten a lot of calls from "marketers"  who have all kinds of ways that they promise to increase my profile, for a fee.   But I still need to do some thinking about how to reach the people I'm trying to reach, and I don't think that a yelp ad that pops up when anyone searches for "Bicycle" is really the right tool.

Working 6 days a week has been an adjustment, and I pack my Mondays off with lots of errands and to-do's.   I definitely don't know everything there is to know about bikes, and I am never going to be someone who has all the details of gear ratios and frame geometry at the tip of their tongue.  But I sometimes have to stop and giggle that I get to spend my days talking to people about bikes all day!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Big Day!

So I'm live-blogging from the opening of Bicycle Belle!  There was a fair bit of scurrying around this morning- getting cash for the cash register, last minute supplies and such.
The Scientist helped hang a "Now Open" banner
Banner Hanging
And I did a few last minute test rides to check bike assemblies that I had done on rainy days and not ridden yet.
It's a soft opening- very soft, so far- as I've made only one sale, to M-  who needed a coffee cup holder for Pauline, his Gazelle, and tried out one of the Cleverhoods

Emily fromHub Bikes, our "sister store" to whom we refer repairs, came by,  Mike Flannigan from ANT came by and checked out the Kinn,  and a lot of people just walking by  stuck their heads in.
We'll still be getting bikes in over the summer as the Paper Bicycles arrive in July and the Workcycles Bakfietsen, FR8's and GR8's arrive in August (we hope).
But we have lots of Yakkay and Bern helmets in stock:
Super stylish Vespertine reflective vests-These are on the back wall, and car headlights shining through the front door light them up in the evening.
 This is what they look like
And Vespertine reflective pins:
Stealth tweed scarf looks grey in normal light, but headlights (or flash) light it up
Yepp kids' seat-s both the front mounted mini, and the rear mounted maxi, and accessories to mount them on any bike
And of course, leaning towers of baskets:
We'll be open 10-6:00 most days,  12-5 Sunday, and closed on Monday- drop by at 368 Beacon and check us out!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Step Sideways for Mass DOT

I went to a somewhat disconcerting public meeting this evening.  The project was the reconstruction of the Cambridge St (Allston) overpass over the Mass Pike between Lincoln St and Harvard Ave.  I'd link to the drawings online, but the project team didn't seems to realize that people want to see drawings online, and hadn't made any plans to put them up.

 This is a scary place to bike or walk because in the 1950's, a dense, walkable urban neighborhood was torn in half by a freeway.  Then the planners who designed the freeway "reconnected" the two halves of the neighborhood with an overbuilt 6 lane highway and a scarily isolated, dangerously steep, chainlink enclosed pedestrian bridge.  The sidewalks are crumbling and bordered with chainlink fence and highway style crash barriers.  Because there are too many, too wide lanes, drivers go way too fast, and with crosswalks spaced half a mile apart, pedestrians end up playing chicken to try to get to the bus stop.

The first shocking thing about this meeting is that while it was the first public meeting any of the advocates knew about, the proposed design was purportedly at 100%.  I guess it's a sign of how much Mass DOT has changed, that public process has gone from a vestigial "this is what we're going to do, like it or lump it" single meeting to an actual process where advocates expect meetings at 25%, and 75% and sometimes even pre-design meetings.  This is important because it becomes harder (more expensive) to make big design changes the further a project goes along, so a bike-ped unfriendly project can be rammed through because it's "too late" to make any changes to a bad initial design.  There was a watershed moment in local advocacy in 2008, when the "Old"  Mass DOT tried to ram a pedestrian and bike- unfriendly plan for the rebuilding of the Cragie Dam/ Museum of Science bridge through by presenting it as "complete"  and the public outcry made them reconsider and made the project better.  The old Mass DOT didn't understand or design for people, they just designed for cars. The new Mass DOT may still be mostly in a car minded design mindset, but they've learned that they need to listen to the people who bike and walk, and make some concessions to allow them to do so safely.

Anyway, the crew responsible for this meeting were clearly from the old school, and as was explained later in the meeting, this project was designed and contracted for by the old Mass Turnpike Authority, before it was rolled into Mass DOT.  So these engineers wouldn't know a livable street if it bit them, they were all about Level of Service and throughput and crash barrier standards.  They had grudgingly put in bike lanes and put the road on a lane diet to slightly compensate for the fact that the street was 150% overbuilt.  But they obviously hadn't given any real thought to pedestrian and bicycle motions at intersections or midblock.  They'd even made the pedestrian environment less friendly by putting a giant concrete median and chainlink fence down the middle to prevent people from crossing where the side streets connect to this big road.  There have been some tragic pedestrian deaths in this area, but putting a giant fence in the middle of the road is like forcing women to wear the hijab to prevent rape. God forbid we should require the cars to go a reasonable speed and provide safe and frequent pedestrian crossings.

The good news is that they are putting the road on a lane diet.  At only 27,000 cars per day, 6 lanes was way WAY too big (for a local point of reference, Mass Ave which is 4, and sometimes only 3 lanes carries more than 30,000 cars a day).  The lanes are being "tightened"  to a generous 11'6" and the extra space is going into wider (10') sidewalks and buffered bike lanes.  However the buffer is only a painted stripe zone, basically a glorified shoulder.

Given the speeds of the cars here (hopefully reduced by the lane diet)  it's not comfortable for bikes to ride right next to 50 mph traffic with only a few painted stripes between them.  Unlike many of the roadways around here, there's actually plenty of width to build cycletracks, and it would be a shame not to provide more protection- either flex posts or a curb to create a safer solution.

Basically it all comes down to the great saying "If you build for traffic and cars, you get traffic and cars.  If you build for people and places, you get people and places."  Right now Mass DOT is proposing to re-build a half mile long highway through a city neighborhood,  but what the neighborhood needs is a city street that's comfortable for the people who live there.

The one member of the panel who was from the "new MassDOT" seemed a bit embarrassed by this whole dinosaur of a project, although not embarrassed enough to commit to changes or more public process.  I think that the advocacy groups will attempt to have a meeting with the city of Boston, and Mass DOT  (BTD wasn't really represented, so Mass DOT kept blaming some of the worst features of the design on BTD).  I'm hopeful that some coordination and a bit of thought will mean it's not too late to make this a better project.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Can see it from here

No, the shop isn't open yet, but I feel like I can see it from here.  Inventory is arriving still, but there's enough here, that it's starting to look like a bike shop!  I made a big push and removed a bunch of bikes from their boxes, and though I haven't assembled them all yet, it made a huge difference in how the space feels- to be full of bikes instead of cardboard boxes.
With bonus shop dog checking the floor for treats
My slatwall hooks arrived finally, and I've been randomly putting things up on the walls just to get a sense of how much space everything takes up.  I'll then need to go through and arrange things into a hopefully logical system.  I'll also need to put price tags on, and set up a master "inventory" file.  At this point I'm still ordering some things as a test- because I've seen them online and thought they looked cool, but wanted to see them "in the flesh" before committing to ordering multiples.
IMG_3605I've had a fairly steady stream of visitors.  I assembled a couple of bikes for Velouria of Lovely Bicycle, and she came by to review them,  and also did a test ride and review  of my bakfiets, which you can read here.
It hasn't all been unpacking fun merchandise shipments.  I've been having to do some basic maintenance already.  The front door turned out to have an unpleasant habit of falling off its hinges if you opened it too widely- say to bring in a bakfiets,  and so I had to have it replaced.  And then the glass guy dropped the door while it was off its hinges, so then he had to replace the glass.  I also had to replace the faucet on the sink upstairs because it was leaking all over the floor.  I can also tell you a lot more about credit card processing than you probably want to know!  I was originally hoping to be open for this weekend, but that's looking like it won't happen, especially since I managed to wrench my back and am on strict orders not to lift any bikes or heavy boxes today!  But I definitely am getting close- will let everyone know as soon as I'm open!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Riding in a new direction

As the many of you who I've seen in person in the last couple of weeks already know,  I'm in the process of making a big change in my life.   After 16 years of making my living as an architect, I've quit my job, and am starting on another path, running a bicycle shop specializing in transportation cycling.

As longtime readers and locals know, Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and environs have a flourishing transportation bicycling scene.  More and more people are realizing that a bicycle is the most convenient way around a dense and parking- challenged city, as well as being healthy, green and fun! So it's almost shocking that there's no place in town to test-ride a bakfiets, and very few where you can buy a traditional step through city bike with fenders, chainguard, rack and lights built in.  There also aren't many places that focus on bicycling with kids, which I think is increasingly needed as people who bike everywhere start families and want to continue their cycling lifestyle, and pass it along to their kids.

So, I'm going to try to fill that gap with a new shop called Bicycle Belle.   I've rented space on a prime cycling route- the corner of Beacon St and Oxford St (368 Beacon) on the Somerville/ Cambridge line; hopefully soon to be the head of the new cycletrack.  It's freshly painted and I've replaced the fluorescent tubes with decorative lights.  I'm in the process of ordering bikes and accessories, installing shop fixtures and generally getting things sorted and set up.  It's been a busy couple of weeks, both before I quit my job, and this first week that I'm working full time on the shop.

The first boxes of accessories and the first set of bikes will arrive next week, and we'll be getting bikes through the summer as longer lead time european bikes (Workcycles and Paper bikes)  start to trickle in.

It's a big scary leap into the unknown, as I know absolutely nothing about retail- I never even worked in a shop in high school- I was a waitress instead!   But it's something I have a passion for, something I follow obsessively in my free time, and something I hope that the city needs and wants.  I've already had some ups and downs, and I'm sure that will continue, as I learn the ropes and figure out the industry, the retail business and the market.   I hope that I can provide a real service to people looking for these kinds of bikes, and maybe even make a living doing it.  I just have to trust that I can figure out all the details along the way!

I'm incredibly grateful to the support of my family, the Scientists' family (my family too now!) my bikey friends who have been giving support- especially Velouria from Lovely Bicycle who has been meeting with me for months helping me plot and scheme.   And more than anyone the Scientist,  who is not only taking on the responsibility of supporting us while I get this off the ground, but has enthusiastically encouraged me through all the planning and dreaming and teeth-gnashing.

I don't have a firm opening date, but I expect it will be in the month of June.  I suspect that this blog may become a diary more about opening a bike shop than riding, as I work to make it all happen.
Please let me know if you have any suggestions for inventory or other ideas, and I hope to see those of you in the Boston area at the shop once it's open for business!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Louis CK on "Different Values"

If you haven't seen this yet, you should really check it out- Louis CK talking about windshield perspective and how it completely distorts human interactions

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I've been distracted

I've been distracted recently in the nicest possible way.  First I went to Scotland.  The Scientist was giving a talk in Edinburgh, and we've always wanted to go to Scotland, so I tagged along and we made a vacation of it.  The landscape was fantastic, the weather was cold, the newborn lambs were adorable, and we did rather a lot of driving to see a lot of territory in a short time.  It's a gorgeous place, and next time I'm there I think I want to camp out in one place and just get to know a smaller area.

I was kind of surprised that there wasn't more of a biking culture in Edinburgh.  I didn't see much in the way of infrastructure, and most of the people on bikes were in hardcore commuter mode with spandex and fluorescent rainwear.   I saw an old rod- braked Pashley, and a brand new Pashley poppy parked across the street from one another.  The Scientist met someone at the university who had a bakfiets, so maybe it was just cruddy weather and the wrong part of town for it.

Then we got back and I've been working like crazy on an exciting project that's the subject of another post....

But now it's bike week, and I've been celebrating as I do most weeks, by riding my bike!
I met with Velouria from Lovely Bicycle on Monday to discuss my project, and then we ended up swapping bikes, with her trying my bakfiets and me riding her Brompton.

Today I just did a boring old ride to work, with bonus compost drop off, because the main "event" in my area, the Broadway Bicycles pancake breakfast gets going too late for me to make it and have a hope of getting to work on time.   Tomorrow (Wednesday) though is the Harvard sq bike breakfast, which always has good food and the best swag (sponsored by the university).  Thursday is the Kendall Sq area breakfast, which is right on my normal route, so I see a lot of familiar faces.   And finally Friday there's the big breakfast at Boston city hall,  which is always fun.

Hope to see more familiar faces these next couple of days.  I'll be riding the Bakfiets if anyone wants to check it out!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Purple Sneakers

So many people biking these last couple of weeks!  It's still chilly in the morning, but definitely getting warmer, and we've been lucky to have pretty dry weather (don't know what that means for the May flowers).

While stopped at a light, I chatted a bit with this gentleman about the weather and our different strategies.  I had no jacket, but gloves on, he had a heavy jacket, but no gloves.  He was riding a classic Raleigh- they just never quit!  I really liked his purple shoes- they show a lot of personality:

Two events- one tonight, one next month that I wanted to share.  Tonight is the "Spring Social"  for Livable Streets Alliance. It's a great chance to come and find out about what LSA has achieved this year (a lot of cool stuff) and our agenda for the next year. I'll be talking a bit about the Western Ave and River street bridge projects.  I always find that the people who are into livable streets are super cool people, so there's always someone interesting to talk to.  Tonight May 18th 6pm to 8pm at the Livable streets alliance offices 100 Sidney St in the Central Sq area.

May 21st is the 5th Annual Boston Bike Update, marking the return of Nicole Friedman!  It's later in the year than it usually is, which will make it even more popular if people aren't having to fight the February weather!  Since even with icky weather it's been incredibly packed the last couple of years, this year they're putting a system of pre-reserved tickets in place. So if you want to definitely get in the auditorium,  you can pre-register  here

Hope to see some of you at both events!  I'm going to try to bring the bakfiets to the social if you want to check one out in person.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Comments snafu

Hello Everyone,
If you've left a comment recently, my apologies that they weren't posted.  Gmail evidently decided that all the comments were spam, so I didn't see notifications, and forgot to check the blogger interface.

Hopefully after telling Gmail that all those comments weren't spam it will stop tagging future comments and I'll be better about posting/ answering them.

Sorry for the confusion,  and hope you're all out enjoying the midnight marathon ride.  Hopefully some day I will have a job where I don't have to work Patriot's Day and I'll be able to stay up late to do the ride myself- it looks like a lot of fun!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A couple of notes

I had to completely replace Gilbert's roller brake and the brake cable and housing after my accident.  It took longer than I hoped because I thought I just had to replace the snapped cable and frayed housing, so I started the project once I had those things.  However halfway through the project, I discovered that the reaction arm of the brake was so badly bent (and too stiff to bend back)  that I needed a whole new brake unit.  Fortunately they're only $20 or so, but they've been discontinued, so I had to find one NOS on ebay (although in retrospect I think the new ones would work fine with the old hub) I couldn't find any information either from Shimano or the interwebs about how to install a roller brake, so I was apprehensive, but it ended up being simple.  You remove the bolt on the left (non drive) side,  and the roller brake just lifts off.  You put the new one in, meshing the splines of the brake with the splines on the hub, and tighten the bolt again, voila!  Of course I managed to loosen the nut on the drive side, and ended up disassembling the cassette joint on the drive side (the part that links the shifter cable to the IGH) which gave me a chance to flush the grit out of it, and took a bit of puzzling to get back together.  I even got the dremel tool out with the thought of cutting back the chaincase a bit where it seems like it still hits the dust cover of the hub.  However I decided I had better things to do with my Sunday afternoon and left it for another day.  I did have a chance to really clean all the grit off of everything, and waxed the fenders, oiled the chain and lubed the kickstand though which is nice.  I should spend some time with some polishing compound to remove the black smudges that I tend to leave on the downtube when I hit it with my shoe rubber.  

The brakes work great now- maybe too great, as I managed to lock the rear wheel twice on my way home Monday, both times stopping for pedestrians launching themselves into crosswalks. I might dial them back a tiny bit if the cable stretch doesn't correct that in the next week.  Unfortunately the rear dynamo light isn't working now,  and the "plugging and unplugging" approach didn't fix it, so I'll have to put it back up on a rack this weekend to try to find the problem. sigh.

I went to a Longfellow Bridge meeting last night.  The good news is that there will be actual bicycle lanes during at least the first phase of construction in both directions.  They didn't have a diagram of where the lanes would be in the other phases, but they said that they would exist.  This will be an improvement on the unpleasant and dangerous "bicycle accommodations"  that were in place during the last round of work.  There will be another meeting in the next month or so to go over the "75%" plans, and work will begin in June/ July.

The bad news of course is that the bicycle lane will still be an auxiliary to the crash barrier (on the road)  on the inbound side instead of being a raised cycle track. The additional road width will also continue to encourage speeding on the bridge. I was also disappointed because the design build team doesn't have a bicycle/ pedestrian consultant, so the design for the important and complicated transitions at Charles Circle is being done by a generic traffic engineer, whose only experience may be designing freeway interchanges, not fine grained city intersections.

Tonight there's a meeting which should be more encouraging.  MassDOT is presenting the updated designs for the Environmental Assessment at  5:30 at the Honan-Allston library  300 North Harvard St, Boston.  I've heard that the plans are pretty good from someone who got a sneak peak, although there may still be a few issues.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Box in Baks

UPS has finally approved the insurance claim, so I felt comfortable disposing of the giant box and all the plastic wrapping that the Bakfiets came in.   And how better to take it all to the recycling center than in the box of the Baks!

The guys at the recycling drop off center were really interested in the bike- it had 3 or 4 admirers by the time I got back from putting everything in the appropriate bin.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

First impressions of the Bakfiets

I've ridden the new bakfiets for a couple of weeks now, and I want to start reporting on my experience riding it. I'm sure I'll have more insights as I put more miles on it but I have a few notes already on capacity, handling, security and public reaction.

The first ride I took it on, I went all out on an enormous grocery run.  Because of the snow we had in Feburary, I hadn't been riding much, and we were low on pretty much everything.   This is what my cart looked like:

35 lb bag of dogfood, giant packages of both TP and paper towels, and just a lot of other stuff.  I was a little worried, but everything fit pretty well, although I couldn't keep the cover on because of the size of the big paper goods packages.

 I then headed up over the mid- Cambridge hill to meet the Scientist at Dwell Time for coffee.  I will admit that there was a bit where I was in the lowest gear and had to stand briefly, but I made it.   A full load and a steep hill are a worst case scenario, but now I know I can do it, if only for short distances. 
The view from the cockpit
The next day I did a Home Depot/ Target run to Watertown, and comfortably fit in a 3' roll of hardware cloth, a folding stool and assorted toiletries and cleaning products.  Normally I'd then have to stop home to unload, but I rode on to trader Joe's,  where I picked up a half case of wine among other things.  No problems with the weight or the volume. It's like having an oversized bag it's easy to toss a few more things in it.

It's a big bike and it's heavy.  No surprise there! However, it's geared appropriately, and I haven't had any problems going up hills. It actually accelerates surprising well, although the top speed isn't very high. I managed to catch the rider on the Onderwater tandem I posted about last week, but I was really really pushing, and it was a near thing.

In general it's much more stable than you would expect such a long thing to be.   I can actually ride comfortably at surprisingly low speeds.  I'm not going to start trackstanding at lights, but I can definitely inch up to them when I'm waiting for a light to turn but don't want to put a foot down.   Of course, putting a foot down is easy, thanks to the super low bottom bracket.
The tracking is very straight, I rode it comfortably one handed while eating an apple, and it felt very stable and not- twitchy. Turning while riding is not an appreciable issue, although turning it when I'm pushing it on a sidewalk is a bit tricky and I haven't gotten getting it through the front gate completely down yet.  The kickstand, as advertised is easy to operate and incredibly stable.   I'm getting the hang of positioning the bike near a pole so that it's in the right spot for the chain to reach when I pull it back onto the kickstand.

I took it to an advocacy committee meeting and everyone wanted to take a turn riding it, and even riding just 50 foot loops on the sidewalk, everyone was surprised at how stable it was, and seemed to be having a lot of fun.

One question a lot of people ask is "where do you lock a bakfiets".  In many cases, the answer is "wherever you feel like it,"  as in some ways it's self anchoring. The "cafe" lock or wheel lock feels fine for a short trip, especially when the bike is fully loaded- no one is going to pick it up and walk away with it. I'm getting pretty skilled at locking to a single post rack, but a multiple unit rack is a non-starter for obvious reasons.    I have an Abus city chain which I can use to chain the frame to a stationary object if one is convenient, and I would definitely use that if I were parking for more than 15 minutes, or in a location that didn't feel secure.
Dedicated Bakfietsen parking zone
 I've been using the box cover almost constantly because while it's not technically "secure"  I feel it's less likely that anyone will mess with what I have in the box if it's covered.  Plus it's been rainy/ snowy/ melty, and the cover keeps things dry, and in at least one case kept it bird dropping free!  I wouldn't leave my phone/ wallet keys in there, but with the cover, I'm not worried anyone is going to steal my library books or milk.

Public reaction.
So far public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and I've had a lot of fun interactions.  It may be that after a year I'm tired of explaining it to everyone, but so far it's been a lot of fun.
On my maiden ride, while I sat in the cafe window drinking my coffee, I could watch a series of admirers stopping to take a long look.  Interestingly they were all 20's ish hipster guys, which I don't think of that being a primary demographic for a bike that's essentially a minivan.  That might have something to do with the Dwell Time demographic though.   At my next stop, the library a mother with two kids was very interested in the handling, having seen them in travels in Europe.  I had a guy at Porter square tell me at great length that he thought that they would be incredibly popular on the Cape and Islands where tourist traffic causes backups, and locals want a way to carry stuff without dealing with traffic jams.  Even the guys at the Cambridge Recycling Station were very interested, although they balked at the price.  The absolute best reaction though was from an adorable little girl in a bike seat, who said "Mom, it's a bakfiets!  I want a bakfiets!"  We just had a second to chat before the light changed, but not surprisingly they were Dutch.
Interestingly, I haven't noticed a big difference in driver behavior around me at all.  Perhaps because from behind, it's not that different from a regular bike.  You really do feel like you are taking up real estate on the road though.

This is just my reaction after a couple of weeks of riding.  Every Friday night I look forward to riding it all weekend, and I'm looking for excuses to ride it during the week.  If I had a better place to lock it at work I'd ride it into work just for the fun of it.  One thing I was realizing the other day is that I haven't had a brand new bike since I was in high school.  Even my "refurbished" bikes like Gilbert are  a hacked together system.   And the new bike does really work well- it's so smooth and nothing rattles or rubs or feels loose.  Even though I try to keep my old bikes maintained and tuned up, it's really nice to ride a brand new bike where everything just works without any fuss.  Here's hoping for many more miles of the same.

Monday, March 25, 2013

For Want of a Nail

Or in this case a bolt!

I had my first crash today in a good long while- years at least.  Evidently I lost the bolt fastening the brake arm to the chainstay, so the brake rotated around the axle,  wrapping  the brake cable around the hub and causing the rear wheel to stop suddenly and with extreme prejudice, depositing me on the road, sideways.

I was very lucky in that I was going slowly, in a bike lane, and I mostly just tipped over sideways.  My knee is scraped (although my tights were hardly snagged)  and I'm sure I'll have a heck of a bruise tomorrow, but otherwise I'm fine.  I disentangled the cable from the hub and rode home without a rear brake.  Will have to order another of the VO braided silver brake cables, because I don't think anyone carries them around here

Just a reminder to check all those bolts and nuts and to be a regular user of Locktite or star washers or both!

Off to soothe my knee and bruised ego with some New York Super Fudge Chunk, my cure-all of choice!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Small World

Yes, I am preparing a blog about m y first couple of rides with the bakfiets, but I have too much to say to do it quickly.  I promise I've been taking lots of pictures, and riding every weekend.  I was making my coffee on Thursday morning and thought to myself- only one more day, and then I can ride my bakfiets all weekend!

Today when I was finishing up my errands, I had a pleasantly surprising encounter.
I was riding along Memorial drive, waiting to cross Western Ave,  when suddenly, I saw a birhgt orange Workcycles Onderwater Tandem riding across my path on  Western Ave.   I rang my bell like crazy,  and the rider looked over at me, recognized that I was riding a bakfiets and smiled.
In the construction and confusion of that intersection I lost her for a moment, but when I was moving again I saw her ahead, and, pushing harder than I ever had on this bike (I may have even gotten out of the saddle) I managed to catch her just before our paths diverged.

We chatted a bit about cargo bikes, kids bikes and self-importing bikes from the Netherlands.  I started to realize that she was the wife of Aaron Naparstek,  who I'd also run into because of bakfietsen.

It was great to see an Onderwater tandem in person- having only seen them online.  She said they had gotten it as their kids (6 and 8 years old) outgrew the bakfiets, and learned to pedal on their own.  In her opinion the bike handles great- better with the two kids on board, although at the time, she just had a double pannier's worth of groceries.
Her only regret was that both kids couldn't pedal at the same time,  as they're both old enough to pedal, but not quite old enough to ride independently on the street.  In many ways this seems like a heavier duty, dutchified version of the Bike Friday tandem I posted about here.  It's nice to have the kid in front though.

It was great to meet another cargo-biker-  I suspect most of us are kindred spirits in some way, and it's nice to have an easy way to identify each other as we travel through the city.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Putting it together

After it taunted me for almost two weeks, sitting in the dining room half assembled, I finally put together the bakfiets this weekend.  There weren't any directions, but the major systems were all pre-assembled, and it was (hopefully) pretty intuitive.  If anyone sees a major mistake, please let me know in the comments.

Firstly, I got together all the tools I thought I'd need:  metric allan wrenches,  ratcheting box wrenches, screwdrivers, giant crescent wrench, utility knife, grease and locktite.

Next, I slid the fork into the headset.  The fork and light and fender were all pre-assmbled.  I'm putting it together even though it's damaged,  I think it will work OK for now, while I wait to hear what UPS will do in terms of replacing/ repainting it.
The top nut had an integrated rubber flange to keep water and dirt out of the headset bearings.  This extra-giant crescent wrench was purchased for a plumbing project, but mostly gets used on bike headsets.

The whole assembly is capped with a nicely-machined stainless steel cap, held on with a set-screw.  This isn't normally an issue with most bikes, since the fork is directly below the handlebars.

Next I attached the linkage from the handlebar assembly to the tab on the fork
This is the part I'm not 100% sure I did right.  I put one washer above and one below the plate, not sure if I should have put both below the plate.  The nut is a "Nylock" lock nut, and I'm not 100% sure I tightened it enough.  It's hard to tighten, because the threaded part can rotate in the ball joint.  I held the neck of the ball-joint with needle-nose pliers and tighened the nut "fairly tight"  but in retrospect I think I should tighten them up until the nut is more snug against the metal plates on both ends.  If anyone out there has assembled one of these,  any advice would be welcome.

At this point I hit a snag.  The bakfiets has front and rear roller brakes.  They look like disk brakes because of the big disks which are cooling fins for the brake drum.  This type of brakes are very weather-proof- unlike any sort of rim mounted brake they are unaffected by wet conditions.  This is the kind of brakes I have on Gilbert's rear wheel,  and I've disassembled and re-assembled them many times.  Generally there's a banjo bolt (bolt with a hole through it)  which is clamped down on the brake cable, and which is bolted through the action arm on the brake.  When you unbolt the cable from the arm,  it's easy "lose" the setting on the cable, and you have to fuss with it when you re-assemble it to keep the tension correct.  Shimano solved this problem by creating a "quick release" plate that you bolt the cable to, and which then fits into the action arm.  
I need item "8" on this axonometric.
And guess what-  the plate is missing!  I went through all the packaging three times,  but  there was a big hole at the back of the box, and if it came un-attached from the bolt, a small part like that could easily have fallen though the hole.  For purposes of just getting the bike on the road, I went ahead and secured the cable out of the way.
I called on Monday, and unfortunately Shimano USA says that this little piece is "obsolete." So I'll need to get one from Workcycles, or will have to improvise another solution.

At this point the "bike" part was all assembled (sans front brake)  and ready to go. The small brown dog did an inspection of my work, and then it was time to take it outside to attach the box.
The box fittings use Torx "security" screws.  Fortunately I have one of those "50 bit" sets that you get at Home Depot for $19.95, which has 3 sizes of torx bits.  I'm so excited to finally get to use one of them!

From this point the assembly was just a matter of a few minutes with a power screwdriver;

 I put the cover on,  just to make sure it all fit OK
I love the red, silver and black color scheme!
And then it was time to wheel it (carefully) out the front gate: 

and go for the inaugural ride!

I immediately took it on an enormous grocery run- but this post has already been too long, so I'll detail the first couple of rides and my observations about it for another post.  But I can summarize my initial impressions with one word-  Yowza!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thinking inside the Baks

As anyone who's read this blog much knows, I run almost all of the Cycler-Scientist household errands by bicycle.  Groceries, CSA pickups, Household tools,building materials, landscape supplies, boxes to be mailed, library books, compost, exercise equipment, toy wheelbarrows, takeout foodChristmas trees:  there isn't much I haven't at least thought about carrying by bike.  I was talking to my friend Cris, about how I draw the line at the propane tank for the grill.  The consequences of a full tank of propane falling off the rack and bouncing on the street seemed pretty terrifying.

But now, I'll be able to carry the propane tank too!  As those watching my twitter feed may have guessed, I received a two very large boxes last week containing a Workcycles Cargobike Long aka "bakfiets."
The box with the frame and wheels
WorkCycles Cargobike Long
Photo from
The bike is a present from the Scientist for a "Birthday of Significance" last fall.   He actually had a plan to buy a bike when he was in Munich right before said birthday,  but when he arrived at the dealer there, they'd sold out.  We test rode one at Adeline Adeline, but shipping it from NYC seemed almost as much trouble as shipping one from Europe.  Plus the Scientist was going to Amsterdam in January, and we thought he could just pick it up while he was there, and self-import it as "luggage."  The German and Dutch postdocs in his lab were so excited and helped him do a lot of research on the subject.

So we started talking to Henry Cutler at Workcycles, and thought we'd basically figured it out, and then sort of forgot about it until mid-December.  Then we got bogged down in the logistics of one person taking a couple of giant boxes on the plane,  and by the time we figured that all out, Henry had sold out of his stock.   Those Bakfietsen, selling like hotcakes!  Unfortunately the factory,  where the Workcycles cargo bikes are built (with slightly tweaked specifications) was going to be closed for the holidays until the day after the Scientist was coming back to the US.   After looking at the logistics, we decided to have it shipped via UPS from Amsterdam.

But why a bakfiets?   I first rode a bakfiets about 6 years ago in Portland OR, at Clever Cycles.  Maybe it's because of my crazy cargo-carrying tendencies (see first paragraph above), but I thought they were so cool, and ever since,  they turn my head like no other bike.   I know that there are a lot of arguments for long tail bikes, and now that step-through long and mid-tails are available, they might work for me.  However, I like the option of carrying really bulky stuff (like said propane tank)  or cargo that I need to keep an eye on in front in a big box.   For example, I'd like to be able to rig a harness that will let me take the small brown dog with me on nice days while I run my errands.  I probably won't ride it much to work (although I may ride on CSA pickup days),  but will probably ride it most weekend days.  My days of organizing my errands in circles to dump things and pick things up at the house may truly be over.

Also, for me, the bakfiets has a romance that I don't feel from the longtails.  I'm suppose I'm kind of drawn to the idea of being a poster-bike for car-free life when I'm riding around.  It's been hypothesized that cargo bikes are the "new indicator species"  in places like Boston where we are starting to have a serious bike culture.  A cargo bike says "I live my life with a bike, not a car, and I need a bike that will make that possible."  And I won't be the only one-I know a couple of families locally that have them, and though I wouldn't say they're common, they're increasingly visible.  For example, just after I met the UPS driver to get the box, just as I stepped out of my door to head to work, a Bakfiets went by, ridden by a young man who looked like a bike messenger,  with a box filled to the top with stuff.

There are two unfortunate things- Firstly, although Workcycles spent a lot of time wrapping each part of the frame in foam, evidently the customs inspector took a lot of those wrappings off (to check for contraband???)  and that, combined with a rather large hole in the box resulted in some gouges in the seat tube paint.

  Further unwrapping revealed that the box had been crushed badly enough to bend the 1/4" steel plate where the steering linkage attaches to the fork,  and the front fender had been badly dented and the paint cracked.  I am waiting to meet with UPS for them to "inspect the packaging" as part of a claim.  Not sure if we can get touchup paint yet, or if we need to replace the fork to properly attach the linkage.

Secondly, and even more upsettingly, I probably won't be able to test ride it for another week or so.  Partly because of the UPS damage claim, we haven't assembled it yet.  The Scientist is going to be out of town later this week,  and I can't assemble it without his help, let alone get it out the door.   Even if I could, it would be terribly rude to enjoy my first ride on his thoughtful present without him there to watch. Maybe by the time it's all together for a test ride the snow will be at least slightly melted!   I'm honestly not sure how we'd get it out the front gate right now, as there's a 4' snowbank about 3' away from the gate.
Gee- I bet you can't guess which part this is!  Sitting on the enormous snowbank.
So in the meantime it's sitting in my dining room taunting me!  The good news is that I absolutely love the color.  I was a tiny bit worried as "matte silver" could cover a lot of ground, but it's a nice dark silver- something J Crew would call "Titanium" The red fenders and black chain-case are a great contrast too.  The frame alone looks enormous sitting in our dining room, and I keep nervously looking at photos of them with people for scale, and trying to assure myself that it will be the right size.

A test ride and more photos will have to wait.  But I'm sure there will be lots and lots of photos of Portage P0rn featuring the new bike in the future- so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gilbert gets a Heron-ectomy

After a lot of deliberation over the last year or more, I decided to give Gilbert a "Heron-ectomy", and change over to a modern drive-train.  Although the distinctive "heron" pattern of the classic Raleigh chainring is very charming,  I felt that the left crank, or possibly the actual axle was somehow damaged or bent, and something was causing me to wear through pedals on the left side at an unacceptable rate.  Even though Pedalite has been amazingly generous in their replacement policy, there were other reasons to make the switch.  The cotters were a hassle any time I needed to get them off, and given that the theory was to have the chain-ring hidden in the chaincase to properly seal the chain away from the weather, I decided that it was time to upgrade to a "modern" bottom bracket and crankset.  Ultimately I have three other bicycles with exposed Raleigh heron chain-rings, and I thought that for my everyday bicycle function was more important than charm.

The weird Raleigh 26tpi  bottom bracket threading used to be the hard part in updating Raleigh drivetrains.  But now Velo Orange (among others) make replacement shells that friction fit into any threading BB shell, even the notoriously weird Raleigh 26 TPI thread ones.
The really hard part is finding a chainring without a raised "spider"  that will interfere with the chaincase, and which has enough clearance between the crank and the chainring to allow the pie plate part of the chaincase to fit.

This is a pretty complicated procedure, with a lot of twiddly bits and knowing exactly what to order, so I didn't feel comfortable doing it myself.   So I handed the bike over to Emily at Hub bicycles.  It took her a couple of tries to find the right chainring, and after ordering a couple of things, she settled on the Origin-8 Classic Sport Single
Image from the manufacturer's website
And this is how it looks in the chaincase.
The clearances are pretty tight, but adequate
She did a couple of other routine maintenance tasks, but one thing that she couldn't manage to do was to put the chaincase "pie plate" back on.   I can't find an official name for this piece, but it's nothing to do with the "pie plate" spoke shield that keeps a chain from going into the spokes of a rear wheel.  I'm talking about the plate which allows access to the chainring and BB without removing the chaincase.

Somehow the chaincase, which is made of pretty thin metal, had distorted and the plate just wouldn't stay popped in. Typically the plate,  which has a little raised rim kind of like a top hat, is held in by friction with the hole in the chaincase, which has a rolled edge to make it "thicker"  and provide more contact. I had been having problems with it before the overhaul, and had it kind of wedged in with some sticky putty-type adhesive, and knew I was going to have to really solve the problem at some point if I wanted to keep the chaincase really enclosed.

After thinking about magnets, and various semi-permanent adhesives, I finally decided to go with mechanical fasteners. What would have been the easiest thing would be to find something that's called a "bung" which is a little threaded thing with a flange on it, which is designed to bolt things onto thin sheet metal. The flange is glued or welded to the sheet metal with the threaded piece sticking through the hole.  However, I couldn't find a bung online any smaller than 1/4" diameter, which was way too big for the flange.
A bung from my random parts drawer.  Threaded inside, too big for this application.
I ended up using a 2mm bolt and nut.  The tough part was to fasten a nut inside the chain-case so that it would remain fixed and not turn so that I could turn the bolt and snug it up.  This ended up taking several very delicate attempts.   I put glue on the nut, and then eased it in place with a pair of tweezers, and then glommed hot glue on it to keep it in place while the glue dried.  With a tiny nut and an awkward angle it felt a bit like playing "Operation" without actually being able to see the tips of the tweezers, as they disappeared around the edge of the chaincase. I first used "liquid nails"  mostly because it had enough viscosity to hold the nut in place, but it didn't adhere to the painted metal very well.   I ended up using JB weld,  after cleaning the inside of the case well with xylene to degrease it, and coating the threads with grease to make sure that the JB weld didn't muck up the threads of the nut.

Once the adhesive had cured for 24 hours, I liberally coated the screw threads with Locktite,  and carefully screwed the plate in,  and counted myself lucky that the nuts held in place.
Screws through the rim of the pie-plate

So far it's worked pretty well.   I don't know if the adhesive will withstand the torque if I ever have to remove the plate and re-attach it- I felt like it was always a bit tenuous. It will be fine now that it's tightened down though.  I think that if I have to do it again, I will remove the entire chaincase (easier now with the modern set up)  and perhaps try to solder or otherwise fasten the nuts in more permanently.  Hopefully that doesn't arise for a good long time.  I also need to find the little closure plate that slides into the slots and covers the remaining slot.  I know it's around somewhere and will turn up sooner or later.