Tag-a-long on the cargo bike

May 22, 2017 at 14:07 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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As you may remember, over the New Year period we went to the UK, and had a very successful experience with a Burley tagalong trailer. The kids loved it, and it was very easy to ride with it on the bike.

I’ve been thinking about getting one for use at home ever since, especially as the children are really now too big for the ‘two passenger‘ solution I had – their increased weight coupled with the high centre of gravity was making putting them both into the kiddie seats a tiring proposition. If I could put the tagalong on the back of the rack, and leave enough space for another child to sit straddling the rack at the front, I’d have a more manageable solution.

The issue was how to attach it to the bike. I pondered this for a while, whilst doing some internet investigations. And I found a few people who had successfully fashioned a bracket to attached a Burley trailer to an Xtracycle. I reached out to those people, but the information I found was rather old and I couldn’t track them down. But, after some consideration, I figured that I could probably work something out locally. And if not, I’d just have to buy a new bike suitable to fit the Burley to. So I bought a Burley Piccolo trailer, which duly arrived.

The next step was to find someone who could convert the Burley rack into something I could attach to the Radish. The Burley rack as it comes is a well-built steel rack, which fits in the conventional way over the back wheel of a bike. I needed someone who could take the top part of the rack, and fabricate some kind of bracket so I could bolt it down to the rear deck of the Radish. Luckily I had the adapter brackets for the kids seats as a kind of template.

After a bit of ringing around, I found the inestimable Matt Hopkins, of Hopkins Welding. He gamely agreed to have a go at the job, and duly set to with this metalworking tools and welding gear.

I can share a short lesson here if you are every thinking of doing something similar. Don’t simply take the part you need modified to your chosen artisan, along with a rather vague description of what you need. Yes, that’s right; version 1.0 was not quite right. I hadn’t taken the whole hitch mechanism along, so Matt couldn’t see that he needed to avoid some parts of the frame when fabricating brackets, where the hitch slots over them. However, when I subsequently took along the whole thing, he was quickly able to modify it to version 1.1, which worked perfectly. I have to say Matt was very patient with me over what was undoubtedly a much more fiddly job that he at first had imagined, and is a thoroughly nice bloke.

The other requirement was for something for the child sitting on the rack to hold on to. A bit more internet investigation revealed solutions for this too; with an extra long stem, some small handlebars and the correct shim I was easily able to fit some stoker bars behind my saddle, making for a secure ride for the child sitting on the back.

So, with everything fitted it was time for our first ride. We scooted around the block a few times, with the kids swapping places on the tag-a-long and the rack. And it was a great success. The kids love it, and it’s much easier for me to ride; the lower centre of gravity and less weight on the rack makes the bike much more stable. I can also finally do away with the faff of straps and kids seats.

I’m on the lookout for a cushion and some Edgerunners for the Radish, to finish off the job, but for now it works fine as it is. The dual-kid transport solution is back in action!

How does my bike work? – Jan McPherson

May 6, 2017 at 17:06 | Posted in bicycles, books | Leave a comment
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With the junior Chillikebab’s now at school, we have the joy of school readers. Books they bring home to read to us – full of the joy of them learning to read, and the crushing monotony of the repetitive sentences.

The other day, one of the juniors brought home this one – ‘How does my bike work?’. This book I of course approved of. Nothing like some good early education about bike maintenance. Junior read it with aplomb, and I ticked it off on her reading list.

However, it’s not a book I would necessarily recommend as a bike maintenance primer. Take this, for example:

Brake pads press against the tyres? I hope not; that’s a recipe for tyre blow-outs. I resisted the urge to cross this out and change it to ‘rims’ – which in any case I would say is phonically much easier to read…

Still, it’s always exciting to write a post that I can categorise in both Books and Bicycles!

I can ride!

May 1, 2017 at 13:33 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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My youngest daughter has, for many years, been an absolute natural on a balance bike. Since she was two years old she’s been scooting along, balancing with ease and maneuvering like a pro.

However, the transition to a bike with pedals has taken longer than expected. Despite the fact that she can scoot along on a tiny balance bike (long outgrown), lift up her feet and pretend to pedal, for some reason the idea of actually riding a pedal bike just sent her into meltdown. She’s had a ‘real bike’ for nearly a year, but for the most part it’s stayed in the shed, with the ever-more-unsuitably-small balance bike being chosen instead.

Anyway, we finally had a breakthrough. I took her, and her bike, to the park for the umpteeth time, and we tried again. And it clicked. And, of course, she could just ride it – it was purely a confidence thing. She also easily got the hang of braking, able to gently stop when required and put her feet down. She’s been riding it ever since, and hasn’t yet fallen off.

So now she is off. A bike rider. I’m planning to go out for a ride with her soon. Maybe we’ll go and buy ice cream.

Tagalongs, kids and cold weather

January 25, 2017 at 13:04 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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tagalongThe Chillikebab family recently went on holiday to the UK, which was nice. And also very cold. I didn’t get to do much riding at all, but there was one small highlight when we stayed at CenterParcs for a few days (as a kind of respite from relentless family reunions…!).

Whilst we were there, I hired a bike and tagalong, to carry the kids along. Leaving aside the fact we could ride legally in our warm hats (the CenterParcs guide recommended wearing helmets, but thankfully I saw almost no-one with one on the whole time we were there), it was a lot of fun. The kids absolutely loved it, and it was much easier than carrying them in a kiddie seat. The bike was much easier to control without the weight on the back, and it was also quicker just to get them on and off it – no straps etc to worry about, they could just jump on and off we went.

hireCenterParcs is really set up for bike hire. Once everyone is checked in, cars are not allowed on site, which makes it very nice for cycling. Lots of people hire bikes, even in winter – and the size of the bike hire facility indicates that it’s even more bicycle intense in the summer.

The taalong fitted to the bike was a Burley Kazoo. This is rather unusual, in that it couples to a special rack, rather than the seatpost. Apparently this makes it more stable, but I’ve not tried the other kind to compare. That said, from my subsequent reading around it seems that the Burley is the kind of Rolls Royce option of these types of things – with a price tag to match.

I did wonder how much I would notice the effort put in by the little Chillikebabs turning the pedals. The answer is that actually you do notice it – it’s definitely easier when they are pedalling. Up the hills I exhorted them to pedal harder. Little Chillikebab Jr took this to heart, standing up on the pedals and going for broke. She also delighted in me stopping pedalling on very slight downhills, leaving her pedalling both of us as we gradually gathered pace.

The upshot of all this is that I now intend to buy a tagalong for use at home. I now have to work out if I can mount one on the Radish somehow, or if I’m going to need to buy another bike specifically for the purpose…

Kids, helmets and changing play

August 8, 2016 at 12:07 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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kids on bike helmetsHere’s the Chillikebab kids, ready for an outing to the park for a picnic. See the excited faces! And check out how different they look form a few years ago

There’s also another difference you may have spotted, too. Yes, they are wearing bike helmets. Not because I made them or even asked them to, of course. But because they wanted to. And whilst I’m no fan of helmets, I am all for personal choice – and if they want to wear them, and feel more comfortable with them on, then that’s what we will do.

However, it does bear some examination. I stopped wearing a helmet before they were born, and up until now they have never had one. So what changed?

Well, going to school. Their teachers promote helmet wearing as part of ‘safety awareness’. They have had in-school visits from Kidsafe (an organisation I have very little time for, btw). And there is peer pressure from their friends.

I have gently asked them about all of this, and told them it’s up to them if they want to wear one or not – that some people do, and some people don’t. But they now prefer to have them on.

This makes me somewhat sad. Not because they are wearing helmets per se, but because of what it is doing to the way they play. They often have their bikes and scooters out in the garden, and used to charge around on them from time to time, in the middle of whatever game. Now they have to come and find one of us to put their helmets on. And then take them off again. Which kind of kills the spontaneity – which means they ride their bikes and scooters less.

It’s quite noticeable. The negative pressure on bicycle usage from helmet compulsion is something I am very familiar with from the academic literature, of course. But it’s very sad to see it first hand, with your own kids. To see that they are discouraged from doing something safe, fun and healthy because of the insidious pressure from the plastic hat brigade.

 

Arnott’s Letter Jumbles

August 9, 2015 at 18:53 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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letter jumbles packWell, that was a surprise. I opened the kitchen cupboard to find something for the kids to eat, and discovered a new and hitherto unknown Arnott’s biscuit.

Like that other scholarly biscuit in the Arnott’s range, these are evidently designed to assuage parental guilt about sugary kids snacks. Hey, they’re educational!

They are also exclusive to Woolworths, I note. It seems this is a growing trend. I hope Arnott’s also make some biscuits ‘exclusive to small corner shops‘ and the like, rather than just our grocery behemoths. I think that would be nice.

So what are Letter Jumbles? Well, they are small biscuits with letters on. They are actually tiny Milk Arrowroot, and seem to be exactly the same recipe as their larger brethren. As well as being smaller, though, they are also a little bit thinner, which yields a slightly crunchier texture.

letter jumbles biscuitsI opened just one small packet for the junior Chillikebab’s to share, and it contained eight biscuits. Thankfully, it contained an ‘E’ and an “B’, so both the little darlings were both able to have the first letter from their name. I assume all the letters are equally represented, although this would take some significant research to verify.

All in all not bad, but all that packaging for so few biscuits seems a bit over the top. Why can’t parents just buy a regular pack of Milk Arrowroots, and put one or two of them into a kids lunchbox, perhaps wrapped in a little twist of  greaseproof paper? And for that matter, why don’t we still wear flat caps, and why do school children have to wear shoes, and why aren’t kids allowed to clean chimneys any more, at least on the weekends?

I’m going to give these four out of ten. Bah Humbug.

 

Double radish!

April 22, 2015 at 12:36 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Well, my youngest finally outgrew the little BoBike seat. Her knees were practically jammed up against the handlebars, so it was time for an upgrade to a ‘big girl seat’.

doubleradishI showed her the colours available, and (somewhat unexpectedly) she chose black. So I ordered one from the internets, and a week or so later it arrived and we were ready to roll.

Fitting it to the bike was very easy; just move the other one back and put it in front. Because this entails bolting two adapter thingys to the rear rack, the bonus upside is that I now have a long flat surface back again, which will negate the need for extra bits when transporting my trombone.

Tthe rear seat is definitely rather ‘economy’, with the seat in front quite close. Perhaps I could fit a tray table..! I might move the front one forward another notch (the holes are spaced about 5cm apart) – we’ll have to see how close to my backside the youngest daughter ends up when we’re riding. In the meantime, it was all good, although the extra weight on the rear made it much more unstable when loading, even with the double stand. It also exacerbated the flex in the frame that Xtracycles tend to have, given it’s not a one-piece frame but a bolted-on extender.

Strangely, however, my youngest seems to have developed some sort of phobia about going on the bike. She’s fine when we get going, and loves going fast down the hills,  but every time we stop she starts crying and gets all panicky because ‘it’s wobbling’. Not quite sure what that’s all about – hopefully it will wear off soon, as it’s quite hard to find routes where I don’t have to stop..!

Convenience and inconvenience

December 4, 2013 at 18:03 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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shoppingA big part of why I ride my bike is because it’s so convenient. It’s often the quickest way to get around, it’s easier than driving or catching a bus, and I can pretty much guarantee parking right outside my destination.

I’ve written several times about my cargo bike, and how it opens up a range of new possibilities for bicycle usage. It was brought home to me again the other day, when I needed to do the weekly shop, visit the library – oh, and I was also in sole charge of two toddlers. I guess to many people the car would be the only option, but we all jumped on the bike, and pedalled away. It was quicker setting up than getting them strapped into the car, an I could chat to them better as we went along. The actual journey (about 2-3 km) was certainly no slower then driving, and when I got to the shops I could lock up the bike right outside, rather than having to drive around and around a subterranean car-park, and then shepherd two small children to a lift. (That whole ‘parking the car’ thing just takes ages, although strangely it’s time that people rarely seem to factor into their journey when estimating travel times. I guess if you’ve never experienced an alternative you just accept it as part of life). We popped to the library, and then the supermarket for a full week’s shop, including six litres of milk, veges, groceries and cleaning things. Then it was back on the bike home again. For sure, the bike was quite loaded up, but it all fitted on fine.

cabbyOf course, there are options if you need to haul even more than that. Mrs Chillikebab spotted this bike at a park recently and took a picture – it’s a Gazelle Cabby, and yes, I do want one!

Some people, however, seem unprepared to accept the inherent inconvenience that driving entails, and so selfishly impose additional inconvenience on others as the price of their transport choice. People like the driver of this Audi, carbikelaneCJV01T. Clearly driving along the bike lane in order to park in front of the kebab shop is perfectly acceptable, despite the problems it causes for passing cyclists. I might suggest to the driver that in future he rides a bike – this way he can experience all of the convenience of door-to-door transportation, but without having to negatively impact others.

(And yes, I was tempted to pour a small amount of water onto the drivers seat – not enough to do any damage, but enough to give the owner a rather inconvenient wet bottom. I did, of course, resist the temptation. On this occasion…)

The trombone conundrum

March 18, 2013 at 11:14 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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trombone on bikeAs I detailed in another post, I recently fitted out the Radish with another child seat, to facilitate the carriage of both my kids. Whilst I’m very happy with the outcome from a kiddie transport perspective, it did raise another issue. The Yepp Maxi seat does not fit directly to the deck on the back of the bike, but to an adapter which it in turn bolted to the deck. This adapter (in essence it’s the top bit of a regular bike carrier that accepts the Yepp seat) then sits proud of the deck by about three centimetres, but only extends a short way along it.

yepp_adapter_on_deckThis means the long expanse of deck I strap my trombone to is no longer available. The problem was a pressing one, as I needed to be able to get to rehearsal with the thing as Mrs Chillikebab needed the car. I had previously considered making some sort of box or short platform to bolt behind the adapter, to raise up the rest of the deck to the same level. However, as I thought about it more I happened to glance at the old wooden deck I had removed from the bike (in order to install the seat I had to switch it for a different design which has mounting holes and is a bit narrower). Suddenly the solution presented itself – simply bolt the old deck over the top of the adapter with some long bolts and wingnuts.

A quicknew_deck trip to Bunnings and I had the requisite parts. I drilled the holes into the wooden deck in the right places, and it was all very easy; secure the bolt to the deck at the bottom with a nut, and then simply drop it into place, securing underneath with the wing nuts. This took me all of ten minutes to do, but looking at it I was concerned that any lateral pressure on the rack would transfer to the point where the bolt was secured to the plywood deck, possibly cracking it. So I added a couple of wooden blocks underneath, glued to the underside of the deck, to give a longer ‘sleeve’ for the bolt to sit in.

And that was it. Mrs Chillikebab was impressed; it was probably the first time I’d ever said a job would take ‘an hour or so’, and I’d actually finished it in under an hour. Usually ‘an hour or so’ means ‘all day’ (with ‘a couple of minutes’ meaning ‘a good hour’, and ‘it will take a whole day’ meaning ‘at least two weekends’).

There’s a few little refinements I need to make; I need a few more washers to get the level exactly right, and I’ve had to improvise some spacers underneath at the back as the wingnuts don’t fit right under the deck as they catch on the tubes at the side. I need to find a more elegant solution to this, as it’s a bit of a fiddle getting the wingnuts on and off. Still, it works, and I was able to strap my trombone to it and get safely to rehearsal. I can also put it on and take it off the bike in a matter of seconds, which is important – when little children want to be taken to the park, they don’t want to wait whilst I track down the right sized spanned to unbolt some bike accessory in order to fit their bike seat.

I guess the only downside of this is that the trombone is both higher and further back than previously, and this does detrimentally affect the bike handling. Its a particular problem at low speeds – you have to work quite hard to balance the bike, which actually creates some strain on my back. In any proper city with decent cycling infrastructure it wouldn’t be a problem, but to get to rehearsal I have to navigate the joy that is Gladesville Bridge  – navigating around all the obstacles and ramps was a little tricky. Still, it’s manageable, and I’m quite happy that I solved the trombone conundrum so quickly and elegantly.

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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