24 May 2009

May is Bike to Work Month

(photo courtesy of Carla Gramlich)

Last year I pushed to get my office motivated to participate in Bike to Work Month. We formed a team for the Group Health Commute Challenge and individually tracked our bike miles with Pierce Trips. There weren't many activities going on in Tacoma that we could participate in since our office was in King County, so three of us made the trek to REI HQ in Kent on Bike to Work Day so that we could be counted and recognized with those folks.

I was excited to hear that my co-workers were keeping the tradition alive this year by forming a team. This motivated me to get out and participate in some of the cycling activities that were happening in Tacoma/Pierce County this year.

Sarah and I biked to the Hub on May 13 in a soaking rain, along with 30 or 40 other dedicated cyclists, for the Bike to a Better Tacoma event where we had free pizza and a chance to chat with the City's cycle transportation staff members. We also met many of the hard-working folks from Tacoma Wheelmen's Bicycle Club, the main advocacy voice for cyclists in Tacoma.

The following Friday was Bike to Work Day. I loaded up my kids in the Madsen Bucket Bike and headed downtown with my sister for free coffee at Black Water Cafe. I met Lauren Walker, one of my city council members, who was pouring coffee and chatting with bike commuters. We also saw Carla Gramlich, Touring Captain and ride leader for TWBC, who has done an amazing job of photographing all of the Bike to Work Month events in Tacoma. We're in there a few times - check it out!

Things seem to be shaping up for cyclists in Tacoma. Let's keep the progress moving forward - get out there and ride your bike!

17 May 2009

Mother's Day

We hosted a Mother's Day brunch for my mom's family. My mom was in town and very excited to try out the Madsen. After we ate, the whole family headed out to the garage for test-rides. I took Tula and her great-grandmother for a spin. Then mom took my cousin for a ride. Then mom and I took turns toting each other around the block.

It was my first ride in the bucket and I had a blast. The ride is very smooth and it's not unlike being in a small boat. What a hoot!

10 May 2009

TBR does SLC

I had been to Salt Lake City a few times, but was never able to take in much of the culture and nightlife on those trips. But if you have even just a half-day, you can find many ways to get around and check-out this beautiful town. The TRAX light rail, UTA busses, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure everywhere. One of our favorites were these buckets of "lollipops" that you can use to cross busy streets in marked cross-walks.

There is a bucket of flags on either side and you just grab one before you cross, so you'll be that much more visible to motorists.

One would also think that bicycles are taking over the city with as much attention and publicity they seem to get.

Bikes were to be found parked on nearly every block. This hitching post was outside the County City Building.

After visiting Madsen Cycles on Friday, our destination on Saturday was the Main Library.

The building is a beautiful structure of glass and stone that feels like a modern-day coliseum. We discovered displays of art and knowledge at every turn, from posters describing the lives of peace leaders like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the lower basement level, to a selection of Thoreau books on the 4th floor that included a children's adaptation of Walden Pond called "The Trouble With Henry".

By the time we reached the roof-top deck, we had already walked through the Live Green Expo that was going on in the courtyard below.

This was completely coincidental, as we had no idea that this event was taking place until we stumbled upon it. First we found the booth of an electric scooter and bicycle company that had an A2B that caught my eye. I liked the part spec, especially the 20"x3.0" tires and Avid mechanical disc brakes.

There was a huge solar panel array powering a Squatters Brewing beer trailer (cooling beer with the sun...awesome) next to the Stick Dog Pedicabs booth, where we ran into their fleet of Madsen bucket bikes. One was decked out with a custom vinyl cover that I admired.

After running into Jared Madsen in the crowd, we spotted members of the band Shake your Peace setting up for a bike-powered concert that we unfortunately couldn't attend later that afternoon.

The rest of the day included a stroll through Liberty Park, authentic Napoli pizza at Settebello (two thumbs up for the pizza lasagna), a ride on the TRAX, and a pint of Wasatch Evolution Amber Ale. What a great city.

In fact, I kept asking myself, "Why don't I live here?" And the answer was air quality. My sister says that the inversion haze can block the view of the Ocher Mountains from the opposite side of the valley on really bad days. At the Live Green expo I saw how many ways Utahans are trying to improve that situation, so perhaps one day SLC will make it to the top of my list. For now, it's a great place to visit and I look forward to going back.

Visiting the Home of Madsen Cycles

I went to Salt Lake City last week for my sister's graduation from the University of Utah. Fortunately, I was able to fit in a stop at Madsen Cycles HQ, where Jared Madsen was more than happy to host me and my whole family for a little shop talk.

We had spotted a few Madsen KG271 "Bucket" bikes downtown earlier that day and learned that they belonged to a local bicycle delivery service that also runs a pedicab around town. They had requested a lockable lid for their buckets and the first production run had just arrived.

I noticed a set of Big Apple tires on the shelf, my personal favorites, and asked if they fit. Jared said that they do, just barely (and I'm guessing the narrower 2.0" model), and then showed me how he modifies the fenders the get the proper clearances. He said that the Marathons were also a great tire in the back and agreed that their long tread life would be handy since the rear tire will wear out much faster do to the smaller diameter (i.e. more revs than the front tire over the same distance.)

There are some other great things coming down the pipe, including a new prototype for Madsen's Africa bike. Be sure to check their blog for more updates, including an excellent new twist in the Win a Madsen online contest.

09 May 2009

Madsen Contest

I just returned from Salt Lake City and had a chance to meet up with Jared Madsen of Madsen Cycles. I'll give a full review soon of my trip to SLC and my chat about Bucket Bikes, but first, an update for those of you that are trying to win a Madsen. The rules have changed and folks who have already purchased a bike have extra incentive to try and win another. Good luck!

02 May 2009


We've had our Madsen "bucket bike" for 10 days. We've put 20-30 miles on it, usually in less than three-mile increments and always while hauling 20-100 pounds of children. We have ridden it every day since it arrived. Here are some initial thoughts:

-The bucket works great for hauling small children - lots of them! Unlike in the trailer, they sit up a bit higher and can see everything. They want to ride in it and have a blast, even big kids.

-The kickstand works well. Apparently the height is adjustable, but I haven't needed to adjust it. The kids know that rocking or bumping the bike too hard could knock it over, but it would take quite an intentional shove to do it.

-The frame is rock solid. Even while hauling my 6'3", 185 pound buddy around the block for our first adult-in-the-bucket test ride, I didn't notice the frame wiggle at all. This is substantially different than the amount of lateral wiggle that I feel with my Xtracycle when it's laden with even 80 pounds of groceries. I feel that the 600 pound limit on the bike is realistic for the frame, but wonder how some of the other components would hold-up under such a strain.

-The welds are ugly, but the paint is sweet. And few bikes come with paint-matched fenders that look this sharp. Get the blue one, you know you want to.

-The stock saddle and handlebars work fine, but I'm replacing both with a VO Model 8 and a VO Tourist Bar. This bike is not going to be ridden fast and I like sitting upright at slower speeds. The adjustable stem is handy since the frame is one-size-fits-most.

-The tires are 1.75" wide, which seems narrow compaired to the 2.3" Schwalbe Big Apple tires on my Xtracycle. Fender clearance is the limiting factor, but I'm thinking I'll switch to Schwalbe Marathon tires front and rear, or maybe a 2.0" Big Apple in the front. I would like more air volume and do not want to change many flats with a loaded bucket.

-The Promax mechanical disk brake in the front feels much weaker than the Avid BB7 that I use on my Xtracycle, although it could be that the load on the Promax brake is generally much heavier due to the additional curb weight of the bike and passengers. I've really only tested the BB7s with speed, comfortably stopping from 60 mph, but I would not trust the Promax brake to do that same task.

-The gearing is OK for flat places, but not realistic for running loaded in Tacoma. I frequently find myself in the lowest gear when hauling even two kids, just to navigate my neighborhood. Before I venture further, I would like to swap the 48T chainring for a 36T, which also requires a new right-hand crank.

-Every bike should come with a chain guard. I like that this one is long enough to cover most of the chain.

-The bike didn't come with any sort of owners manual. It would be nice to have a few words from the manufacturer on some of the unique bits of the bike, like the bucket and the kickstand and the screws on the sides of the top and down tubes (which are apparently for some sort of front rack that is to-be developed.) Even a detailed FAQ that I could download from their website would do.

Overall: This bike can work hard, looks good, and is an excellent value.

I feel like the bike is helping to bring me and my family closer to our community by letting us experience it together in a healthy and fun way. That is worth more than a few car payments in my book. (Plus, I'll spend less on saddle, bars, and crank than I saved on shipping and the scratched-frame discount, so I'm still coming out way ahead.) Tacoma doesn't see many cargo bikes and I've already been stopped twice by folks who want to get an Xtracycle, but just don't know how well it would work here. Remember that test rides are always free down at the ranch.

I'll go in to more detail as we put in more miles. So far, Sarah has taken our youngest to the doctor and the fruit stand. I've taken toddlers to the farmer's market. We frequently ride along with Sarah on her way to work in the evening; the kids facing rearward so they can chat with mom face-to-face while she rides behind. I still haven't done a big grocery trip because a certain little boy wanted to take the Xtracycle that day instead. Go figure.