26 February 2009

Dude, where's your car?

You may have noticed in the numerous bike photos taken in my garage that there is never a car in there. Don't let me mislead you, Reader, into thinking that I don't own and use a car regularly.

My wife and I each had a vehicle. They fit nicely in our two-car garage. Then I started bussing and carpooling the 14 miles to work in 2003. By late 2004, we had sold the pick-up and kept the hatchback as our shared vehicle. It was great. We saved tons of money on insurance and car payments, and surprisingly put less miles on the hatchback every month than we were before.

However, with our first child on the way in 2005, we decided that we needed to add a vehicle to our fleet with more modern safety features. And, to be honest, we weren't sure how we would juggle commutes and daycare dropoffs with just one car. It didn't seem possible, and, without changing where we lived or worked, it really wasn't possible.

After only 9 months running car-lite, we were back where we started. Two cars. It was easy. We drove more.

But, where are those cars now, you might ask? Well, in the late summer of 2007, after nearly two years of shuttling our daughter to daycare and with a second child on the way, my wife decided to reduce her hours at work and stay home more. After a few months of consistent bike commutes and carpools by me, we proved that the little hatchback was now excessive and sold it to a family friend. When child number two arrived we traded to a minivan so we could haul more people/kids/dogs/things at once and combine more trips. It works for us.

We have been a car-lite, family-of-four for just over a year now, and I can't think of a single time where we were put in a bind because we didn't have a second vehicle. Like many folks, we borrow someone's truck now and then for big hauls, but that's about it.

A few more personal opinions on automobiles and their energy consumption:
1. Not everyone needs to drive an automobile for every trip, even if they own one. We take the bus downtown with the kids on weekdays to the Children's Museum to avoid parking hassles and to teach our children about public transportation. It takes a few extra minutes, but we notice more about our city from our chauffeured seats on the bus.
2. I don't bash on folks that drive inefficient vehicles. Not everyone can afford a new, gas-sipping car. And let's try to look at the big picture here (or at least one interpretation of it) and agree that all cars pollute, even the ones with batteries. Driving a used car into the ground may be a better solution in some cases.
3. Ethanol is wasteful to produce and consume. If you think that running out of crude oil sounds bad, let's imagine running out of food because we eventually become so dependent on burning it to get to the grocery store.
4. I'm not worried about global warming in the short-term. I'm worried about the immediate impact of your tailpipe emissions on the health of my family.
5. The City of Tacoma should charge every resident a fee for on-street parking in the city. It could be collected when you renew your vehicle registration.
6. I worked for an oil company in a group of seven employees. On any given day, four of us vanpooled, carpooled, biked, bused, or telecommuted to work. When friends and relatives would inevitably ask me, "So, why are gas prices so high?" I would have to ask them, "Well, did you drive somewhere today?"
7. Not driving a car from A to B is very patriotic.

24 February 2009

Hauling Stuff on Bikes

This weekend I made some changes to my Cross Check and Sarah's Cannondale to address the fact that she is the sole bike commuter in this household now that I work from home. The front basket just wasn't cutting it for her, so I swapped my rear rack to her bike (with much filing of struts and adjustment of fenders to make it fit.) She also agreed to try my Brooks B68 after our Valentine's Day outing.

From Sarah's Bike

She said it handled better with the load in the back and that the new saddle was a huge improvement. Mission accomplished.

I finally installed a kickstand on the Cross Check, which required a special mounting plate. The main purpose of this is so that I can prop the bike while I'm trailering, which has been an issue. The Wald basket holder rests nicely on the Nashbar Front Rack, so I secured it with zipties and plan to use it for quick errands. The basket removes quickly and without hassle from the holder, unlike on Sarah's bike where all of the housing from the brifters made it cumbersome to take the basket off. Note that If I didn't have the rack, the basket holder would have rubbed on the headtube, which was causing paint abrasion on the Cannondale despite my best preventative efforts.

From Cross Check

After a few hours riding their trikes in the garage today, the big kids asked to go for a ride in the trailer. It was misting heavily and a bit chilly, but I just took them out for a few miles around the neighborhood. Despite the damp cold, I still had to stop and take off my coat (thank you, Kickstand). We went just far enough for the gentle bounce of the Burley on our pitted Tacoma side streets to lull them into a brief slumber.

From Cross Check

I think this new setup is going to work great. My only beef is that the weight of the basket pulls the steering hard left when parked on the kickstand, but I can eleviate most of this problem by simply taking off the basket. I'm very interested to find out if I can install a steering return spring on this rig a la Dutch city bikes. I also think the basket needs a custom paint job...perhaps something a little obnoxious to stand out whilst I'm wandering the isles of the grocery store? Lime green maybe?

15 February 2009

Bike Dates...

After dropping the kids with the in-laws, we planned to start the evening at the Tacoma Art Museum. It was on the way home so, rather than backtrack with bikes, we parked at the Tacoma Dome P&R and took the Link Light Rail downtown. They were closing in five minutes, so we decided on cocktails and dinner at Indochine instead. We hadn't been there before; it's far more hip and swanky than the one in Federal Way that I was raised on. After dinner, we walked along the Thea Foss Waterway and then back to the P&R over the new D Street overpass, which neither of us had ever used. It's a very pedestrian-friendly area with some nice views of the marina and the 21st Street Bridge. Sarah wished she'd brought her camera.

After running the dogs and catching up on some chores, we were ready to head out for Part II of the evening by bicycle. The 6th Avenue District is full of restaurants and bars, so we have plenty of options for nightlife. Sarah picked E-9 as our first stop, since they were still serving food from the kitchen at that hour.

From bike date 1

We spent a considerable amount of time trying to lock our bikes to the gate around their courtyard. Once inside, the bouncer immediately asked for ID.

Bouncer: Did you know that your license is expired?
Sarah: WHAT?! Oh no, I can't beleive I missed that!
Bouncer: I'm sorry, but [I'm a jerk and] I can't let you in.
Sarah: Are you kidding? I'm almost 30!
Bouncer: I'm sorry [but I'm a jerk.]

So, we left E-9, unlocked the bikes, and rolled across 6th Ave to The Red Hot (which is really where I wanted to go anyway.) The owner asked me about my Xtracycle on one of my first visits and I've been hooked ever since. Tap selection is second to The Parkway, but still top notch. Plus, the bike rack is right outside the front door!

From bike date 1

Sarah is not a huge fan of their food menu, but I think it rules. It's all hot dogs and nachos served up steam tray style from behind the bar. No pretty kitchen and no fancy tableware. Some nice patron has even donated a hot dog mosaic stepping stone and a paper-mache effigy hotdog from the dia los muertos celebration on the Ave. I asked my server if he though a Rainier beer can hat would be worth anything and he recommended that I come back and talk with the owner next Saturday. How I would love to have my wares on display at such a fine, upstanding establishment.

From bike date 1

Hales Kolsch and Elysian IPA washed down the Nacho Cheese nachos and a vanilla Moon Pie. We also entered to win a bike in the "Recycle a Bike" raffle that is now being held monthly. This one is a hand-me-down from the owner's brother.

From bike date 1

I decided that it was too warm (32°F) and I was too full of bar food to call it a night, so I took Sarah on a tour of my frequent night-ride loops. Once around the UPS campus...

From bike date 1

Then down to my favorite lookout point. It was so much fun to ride around cracking jokes and ringing our bells at the cars and pedestrians. A great night to be a Tacoman.

From bike date 1

12 February 2009

How's it lookin' back there?

I usually do my big grocery shopping trips at night after the kids are in bed. There's less traffic, both on the road and in the isles, so I can usually get more done in less time.

From Xtracycle

After returning home from a recent trip, I began to wonder about my night-time visibility to cars approaching from the rear, since I can at least see what's coming at me from up ahead. I always wear a reflective vest at night as well as a blinkie on my Bell Metro helmet. The Xtracycle also has a bottle-dynamo driven light set, but it's the many added reflectors that seem to be doing the most good.

Day...(notice LED standlight)

From Xtracycle


From Xtracycle

I think adding some reflective tape to the corners of the H-racks would seal the deal...

08 February 2009

Yeah, she bikes, too...

First off, I'd like to ring my bell at my wife for biking to work in February, four consecutive nights in a row so far. And she likes it. Yesterday she emphatically quipped, "I love how exhilarated I feel after that little bit of exercise before work." Exactly.

Back story:
Last summer, I was talking to my wife about parting with a few of my less-ridden but more sentimentally kept bicycles, in order to raise cash to buy her a new rig. She said to hold off, that her New Belgium Cruiser was getting her to work just fine. (So humble...) Days later, I won the grand prize at a Courage Classic fund-raiser raffle, held by the Harmon Bike Club: a credit toward a new Cannondale from Old Town Bicycle, my local-est bike shop. I'm lucky like that.

I went ahead and picked out the bike for her and towed it home with the Xtracycle. A Road Warrior Feminine 4, which I have since equipped with a white Wald front basket, Pletscher two-leg kickstand, and aluminum Velo Orange fenders. It's a fast, comfortable and practical bike that looks sweet, too. I borrow it often to tow the bike trailer.

We're planning to ride the Courage Classic together this year. Cheers to those braving the chill and keeping the pedals moving in the winter...spring is just around the corner...