Double Trouble

March 6, 2013 at 20:33 | Posted in bicycles | 4 Comments
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kidsonbikeWhat with toddler Chillikebab pretty much graduating into ‘Little Girl Chillikebab’, and Baby Chillikebab II graduating into ‘Toddler Chillikebab II’, I have been in urgent need of sorting out a transport solution for both of them. The little BoBike seat on the front is getting too small for Little Girl Chillikebab, and so the obvious solution was to put a regular sized seat onto the back of the bike for her, and put Toddler Chillikebab II in the BoBike.

All very simple, you might think, and so did I. But whilst I love the Radish, things are not so straightforward when it comes to accessories. That large, wide rack on the back is too wide to fit a regular bike seat to. Indeed, the only seat that seems to fit is the ‘Yepp Maxi’ – this is the one Xtracycle sell to put on the back. There are two versions of this seat – one that clamps onto the downtube, and one that fits on the (special) carrier found on many Dutch bikes (as in real Dutch bikes Dutch people buy, rather than the general style).

So my first thought was the one that clamps on the downtube, as it was going to avoid a whole bunch of additional accessories. But then when examining the Radish, I got worried that the design of the bike, with its sloping top-tube and long seatpost, was not going to be suitable to bolt the bracket to.

And the other issue was the price. The Yepp Maxi is about $200 in Australia, and whilst it’s available in the UK for about $130, being so bulky the shipping cost was exorbitant (or else it could not be shipped).

It all got worse when I started looking at the other bits I needed to bolt it to the back of the bike. I needed a new deck for the Radish, a bunch of mounting hardware and a rack adapter. Together with the seat, the whole thing was going to come to well over $400. Given that you can buy a perfectly serviceable rear seat for about $70, and a perfectly serviceable new bike for about $350, I seriously considered simply buying a whole new bike for the purpose.

So I ummed and ahhhed for some time. Eventually, however, I just bit the bullet and got on with it; the Radish is great bike for this kind of thing, and so I decided to fork out for all the relevant bits; buying the seat locally and ordering the other bits direct from Xtracycle.

It all arrived promptly, so a week or so later I was able to get on with the task of bolting it all together. It was quite straightforward, and before long we were ready to roll.

Toddler Chillikebab II absolutely loved it. She laughed and giggled the whole time on our inaugural ride, and cried when we got home again and I took her out of the seat, pointing at it and saying ‘In! In!’. Little Girl Chillikebab also enjoyed her first ride in her ‘big girl seat’, and the fact she can climb up in and out of it by herself makes it doubly exciting (gotta love that twin-leg stand!). Since then, however, I sense that Little Girl Chillikebab is having second thoughts, having realised that being stuck on the back is less fun than up front with Daddy, where there are handlebars to grab and bells to ring.

For me, well, it’s fun fun fun. The bike handing is dandy, and I can chat to them both quite happily as we go along. The fact that the rear seat is mounted further back than on a regular bike means I can look over my shoulder and see the passenger more easily. The Yepp Maxi is no doubt a very sturdy and well-designed seat (you’d hope so for that price!), and you can easily remove it from the rack when you’re not transporting little people. The only thing about it that’s not great are the straps; the way the adjustment works means that you can’t make them especially small. Little Girl Chillikebab is quite slightly built, and even though she is three years old I can’t really get them as tight as I’d like. Given that the seat is advertised as suitable from two year old, I’m surprised – I’d be very sceptical that you could get a smaller child in there and strap them in securely.

There remains only one problem, however. Transporting the kids is now a breeze, and we go on outings to the park and the shops. And I can remove the rear seat when I’m on my own. But the adapter thingy that the seat attaches to sits proud of the deck by about three or four centimetres – which means I have lost the long, flat surface I need to strap my trombone to. And crates of beer, for that matter. However, a solution to this problem soon presented itself, which I shall detail in a future blog post!

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Precious cargo, pavements and cycling advocacy

November 13, 2011 at 14:52 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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I’ve carried a lot of things on my Radish cargo bike over the last year or so – groceries, a table, teacups and even a person. However, there is no doubt that the most precious cargo I carry is my beautiful daughter. Since buying the BoBike seat, we use the bike quite often to get around; I take her to playgroup, and we go out to the park or to the shops.

She really enjoys it, and often talks about ‘going on Daddy’s bike’. And as we go along we sing and chat, and she points out the things we see (‘Doggie!’ “Bus!’ ‘Tree!’), and rings the bell for me when I ask her to. It is lots of fun for both of us, and we laugh together as we whizz down the hill, the wind in our hair.

I’m a confident cyclist, capable of holding my own on the road, happy to ‘take the lane’ when needed, very used to traffic and I think quite good at reading road situations and staying out of trouble. Indeed, I’ve escorted novices on their first few commutes, and help them understand how to ride more assertively on the road in order to make the ride safer and more enjoyable. I am also aware that riding a bike – even on the road in Sydney – is not actually that dangerous, despite what many would have you believe, and that your chances of being involved in an accident are actually very very slim – much less, for example, then when walking back from the pub after a few beers, or when playing football.

However, from the moment I first set off with Toddler Chillikebab on board, it was clear that I was going to ride differently. A bit slower, yes, after all it’s not going to be much fun for her if she’s bouncing around in her seat. But what was very quickly apparent was that I was going to ride on the pavement for all but the quietest streets.

Take this road, for example, which runs near my house. It’s one of those slightly uncomfortable roads for cycling – dual lane, but with lots of parked cars. Riding along you either have the option to take the whole available lane, and risk annoying  car driver behind you who wants to go past, or ride next to the parked cars, putting yourself in the door zone and inviting traffic to pass quite close to you in the adjacent lane. I’ve ridden down this road lots of times; it’s not especially fast and the traffic is well behaved on the whole. I certainly don’t think twice about it when I’m on my own; I just take the lane or pull in as seems appropriate and all is well.

However, I wasn’t going to ride it with Toddler Chillikebab on board. We cruised along on the pavement instead. It just seemed the natural thing to do.

This has really got me pondering how most people think about cycling. Most people who don’t cycle would I’m sure feel the same, even if they didn’t have a toddler on board. Riding on any sort of busy road just isn’t going to happen.

It also reminded me of some comments made online by Omar Khalifa, the CEO of Bicycle NSW (the state peak body for cycling). He wrote about riding down Harris Street, and finding it very unpleasant with many aggressive drivers. (He also commented that such cycling was inherently dangerous; which I thought was a particularly unfortunate bit of Whispering, considering he is supposed to be the lead cycling advocate in the state.)

I’ve also ridden down Harris Street, and I suppose a few months ago someone had commented on it, I’d have either given them some tips on taking the lane, or perhaps suggested finding an alternative route. But now, I might offer an alternative suggestion – just ride on the pavement. There’s a big, wide pavement on Harris Street, and not many people walking along, so it would be perfect. Of course, you have to ride much more slowly, and there are cross-streets which entail stopping to cross. You also need a different bike; riding on a  bumpy pavement on a road bike is very uncomfortable; hard skinny tyres and a hunched-forward position make it very wearing on the wrists. It also feels frustratingly slow. But on an upright bike, with big tyres to soak up the bumps it’s just dandy; you can cruise along and feel quite relaxed.

I suspect that that type of cycling isn’t the sort that Omar wants to do, and unfortunately most bicycle advocates, being keen road cyclists, just seem blind to its possibilities. I know that a few years ago I certainly was; it was only when I got the Radish that I started to see another way and I’ve been slowly finding out more about it over recent months. In the Northern Territory it is legal to ride on the pavement, and the NT has the highest modal share of cyclists, despite having the most dangerous roads and the worst weather.

Allowing cyclists on the footpaths would probably be a controversial move; no doubt people’s first thoughts would be of lycra-clad hoons carving up old ladies outside the shops. However, I’m not so sure that would happen; road cyclists want to ride on the roads – it’s non-cyclists who would ride on the pavements. They’d probably cruise along slowly just like Toddler Chillikebab and me, ringing their bells and singing songs. Now that doesn’t sound so threatening, does it?

Of course, what we’d really like are proper separated bicycle lanes. Without doubt they are the most comfortable way to ride. But while we wait for them to be built (and in Australia it could be a long wait) we could consider allowing cyclists onto the pavement, at least in areas where pedestrian traffic is light. It would probably get a lot more people riding their bikes than telling them that on dangerous streets you should take the lane.

Toddler Chillikebab’s first ride!

October 8, 2011 at 20:21 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I finally got around to doing something I’d been meaning to do for months – get a child seat so I can take Toddler Chillikebab with me on the bike. What finally prompted me to get it was necessity; it seems with the various schedules for Mrs Chillikebab, Baby Chillikebab and Toddler Chillikebab I was going to need a way to get Toddler Chillikebab to her oh-so-middle-class-structured-playgroup thing without using the car.

I had been mulling whether to get the custom kiddie seat that fits on the back of the Radish, or one that goes on the front. The one on the front had more appeal, but they can get in the way of pedalling; indeed one bike shop I went in to ask about them told me they had stopped selling them as everyone was bringing them back because they couldn’t ride the bike with them.

But the Xtracycle one seemed rather expensive, and it was going to take ages to come, and then I saw a BoBike seat in the window of the bike shop around the corner, so I bought it. I fitted it to the bike, and we were ready for our first ride!

Toddler Chillikebab seemed quite content to be put in the seat, and happily fiddled with the lights and the bell as we set off. I had promised her we would be going to the park, but we made  a detour first to post some letters.

‘Are you enjoying the ride?’ I asked her once we had been going a few minutes.

She took the whole thing in her stride, didn’t mention anything about the bike but pointed forward and said ‘Park! Go to park!’. Clearly she was quite comfortable with the whole bike thing, except for the fact that it wasn’t getting to the promised destination fast enough.

And once we got home, she excitedly told Mrs Chillikebab about the slide, and the swings, and going to the park, but didn’t even mention the bike. Hey ho; I am very keen that people start seeing bikes as normal and not noteworthy, rather than exotic and strange, so I suppose I should be applauding the matter-of-fact attitude of Toddler Chillikebab. But I secretly wished she had perhaps been a little more excited about her first ride…

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