The Next Best Thing to Bicycling Part I

No doubt you are reading this because you saw the title and you are wondering “What is the next best thing to bicycling?” No I’m not talking about sex. After bicycling, the next best form of transportation is running, pure and simple. When I’m not biking I like to run or walk briskly to my destination, and I also like to run just for fun.

Like bicycling, running has fallen out of favor as a valid means of utilitarian transportation and is nowadays considered exclusively an athletic pursuit. Runners these days also suffer from an unexpected handicap: the shoe. That’s right the shoe. And in particular the running shoe.

No doubt you are now thinking “How could the very item designed to facilitate running be bad for runners?” Don’t take my word for it. Just ask the growing number of runners who are eschewing traditional running shoes for “barefoot running shoes” or even actually running barefoot.

Continue reading The Next Best Thing to Bicycling Part I

New Year status report: Year 2

An eventful year has passed since my first New Year status report. A lot has happened in my life and the cargo biking scene that would have strained my imagination last January. And a few things didn’t happen that I confidently anticipated.  I would be thrilled to repeat last year’s progress in 2011, but I’ll try to avoid making any bold and probably inaccurate predictions and instead focus on recent events.

Manufacturer hibernation

After a flurry of announcements in early fall, there has been little news from cargo bike manufacturers during the past couple of months.  Perhaps they think that most Americans aren’t looking for new bikes when so many states are buried in snow.  While that seems like a reasonable assumption, my blog has seen no seasonal decrease in interest.  On the contrary, every month of 2010 saw significant increases in readership, with literally thousands of unique visitors in December alone.  And that was despite the fact that I posted no new articles in December and only two short articles early in November!

But perhaps those statistics deserve closer scrutiny.  For example, the top search keyword for my blog (at about 15%) was “fixie”, due to an article I wrote last September.  In that post, I predicted that non-electric bikes would someday be viewed like the fixie bikes of today: idealogically pure, but not practical for the average commuter (at least if you live anywhere with moderate hills or wind or traffic intersections).  Imagine the horror of someone looking for information on fixies and landing on a blog dedicated to electric cargo bikes – about as polar opposite as you can get in the biking world!  And I’m probably skewing future results by mentioning fixies again in this article.  Sigh…

On the bright side, 2010 saw the release of two electric cargo bikes (the Ute and elMundo) and the announcement of three more (the Transport+, several models from Onya cycles, and Urban Arrow).  Waiting for availability of these latter bikes has required considerable patience.  Despite my frequent criticism, Trek’s web site still claims the Transport+ will be available in late fall (they don’t mention which year!).  Hey, Trek, is there anyone awake over there?

Some features and prices have evolved since my earlier reviews of the Ute, elMundo, and Transport+.  All of these bikes now sell for about $2600, so they must now be evaluated on features (and availability) rather than price.  I am pleased to see continued evolution of the elMundo, both in the bike’s features (like the rear disc brake) and the increasing accuracy of the specs published on their web site.  For example, I complained in an earlier article that the power rating of their motor seemed inflated, and now it’s fixed.  Thanks, Yuba!

I don’t have any news on the Urban Arrow, but I received some interesting feedback from Todd at Clever Cycles regarding my article about it:

Our wariness about the high-speed braking characteristics of bikes in this format [front loader] is why we never pushed the assist concept with them. It’s not just the brakes per se, but the lightly loaded front wheel without a big load, and the relatively small amount of rubber on the road relative to the total kinetic energy of the vehicle. The crashes didn’t happen from not being able to stop the wheels, but when the wheels did in fact stop and the tires lost purchase. Large footprint lower-pressure Big Apple tires, modest motor power with a sensible speed limit, relatively low vehicle mass: these are more reasons to be optimistic that Urban Arrow might be “the one.”

This is a point that I hadn’t considered before.  In the past, I’ve worried about braking performance of loaded cargo bikes, and I found that increased load seems to also increase the braking performance of the tires (at least, on dry pavement).  The performance of an unloaded tire is therefore of some concern, especially for people riding on steep hills.  I’m optimistic that the Urban Arrow will be a good bike for relatively flat terrain; I will be quite interested to see how it performs in our neighborhood.

My bike

My Hammer Truck continues to work beautifully.  But ironically, it’s not getting much use right now.  I used to have a great biking circuit: I would bike with the kids to school, then bike to the Y for a workout, pick up groceries on the way home, and bike back to school to pick the kids up in the afternoon.  However, my daughter now rides the bus to her new school, and my son likes to walk with his friends to school.  My wife joined the Y, and now we drive there together at 5:00 in the morning.  My son joined a gymnastics club which is a 30-minute commute by car, so I pick up groceries on the way home from taking him.

With these changes to our family schedule, I have to invent opportunities to ride the bike, and there isn’t much incentive to do that in the wet winter weather of the Pacific Northwest.  When I do get the chance, it feels quite luxurious, and increases my nostalgia for the lifestyle we had in Copenhagen.  Some days I spend 2 or 3 hours in the car – a nightmare!  We bought a used Prius to increase our gas mileage while we await the arrival of our electric Leaf (perhaps as much as 5 months from now), but I’m discouraged that the layout of our city and the demands of our busy lives make it so difficult to pursue bike-centered transportation.

Kids on board

Christiania trike, clown car style, Pt 2
Speaking of transporting kids, I was recently introduced to a wonderful blog focused on carrying children on bikes:  The blog includes a great survey of the options, and it’s broader in scope than anything I’ve written on this subject because it includes non-electric alternatives.  If you have young ones, check it out.  The photos of kids napping on various bicycle configurations is heartwarming.  I only wish I had started biking when my kids were younger.

Looking forward

I recently read an interview with an oil industry analyst who thinks we will see $5/gallon gas in the U.S. by 2012.  He thinks this is possible not because of any near-term shortage of oil, but due to fear of shortages as the world’s economies recover.

If this turns out to be true, the timing isn’t great.  Expensive fuel will either inhibit the long-awaited economic recovery, or it will spur inflation if our economy manages to power through it.

If there’s a bright side to this prediction, the price of gas is probably the most significant factor in determining how many bicyclists there are on U.S. streets.  However, I would rather see people choose bikes for all their benefits rather than because they have a financial gun to their heads.  But no matter how it happens, bicycles will play an increasing role in our transportation options.  For solo riders with relatively short commutes, a bicycle just makes too much sense from the standpoint of energy expended per mile traveled.  And because electric assistance extends the range and lowers the effort for a broader section of our community, it really is possible to see bikes in numbers we’ve never seen in modern America.

I said I wouldn’t make predictions, but if 2011 isn’t the year of the electric bike, no one will be more surprised than I.

A few words about that oil spill

I’ve been debating for weeks whether I should include any mention of the Gulf oil spill in this blog.  On the one hand, my desire to minimize our impact on the environment is a major motivation for my cargo biking activities.  On the other hand, I’m not sure I can say anything new or relevant about the situation.  With hourly updates on the containment of the spill (or lack of any real progress), you’ve probably heard all you need on the topic.

But if you haven’t seen this site (, you should.  It moves the oil slick to your neighborhood to give you a more visceral appreciation of the scale of the calamity.  In my state, the slick covered all of the Olympic National Park, Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Puget Sound, and most of Washington’s coast line:

Imagining all that beautiful scenery fouled with mats of smelly oil is heartbreaking.  But no less than what Gulf state residents feel about the waters near their homes.

If you want to read more about a cargo biker’s take on the spill, here’s an article that says everything I wanted to say, only better:

video: 1,000 bananas on a Yuba Mundo cargo bike

Recently Dave Deming put his Yuba Mundo cargo bike to the test by attempting to haul about 1,000 bananas on it– about 400 lbs of them.

The tagline for the Yuba Mundo bike is “affordable mobility”, which translates
to a cargo bike that starts at $1100 and is built to haul 440 lbs of cargo.


Continue reading video: 1,000 bananas on a Yuba Mundo cargo bike

Taking the Back Way by Bike

One thing I love about biking is that you don’t have to go where the road goes: you can take off in directions that are closed to cars. Down the alley, through the woods, across the fields, around the back. If there is a chain across the road, no problem. If the road is washed out, no problem. You are good to go if you’re on a bike. In fact, often these back ways provide a safer way to get from one place to another than the front way.

I had to bike a couple of errands today and I discovered a couple of neat spots. One was behind a shopping plaza when I was cutting a corner to get home. I found I was able to get from one shopping plaza to another by going across a muddy wooded stretch. It was another world back there, an exquisitely depressing world full of trash and decay and cigarette butts and weird discarded machinery. And yet it was a world more real in a way than the clean commercialized world created by the stores at the front of the shopping center.

I found another cool spot in Cayuga Heights, the fancy neighborhood in Ithaca. I’ve been meeting some friends there on Saturdays to go running, and I noticed on the map that there were two streets that almost connected but did not. Almost-connected streets on a map almost always indicates a cool place accessible only to pedestrians and bicyclists. I went to investigate. I tentatively headed down a parking lot. Sure enough the pavement stopped but an alluring path continued. I started down the path and I suddenly looked up: all the trees along the path were lined up for a hundred yards! It was magical! I have come across several other tree-lined spots like this in Ithaca, relics from a time when people grew tree-lined drives to their mansions. To accommodate the age of the automobile people had to widen their driveways. They were forced to either cut down their trees or make an alternate driveway. The few driveways I’ve seen must have survived because an alternate was possible.

This little tree-lined discovery did not disappoint. I am definitely adding this place to my route when I go to meet my friends on subsequent Saturdays. This is a good example of how I gradually develop a commute over time: I try different ways, see which ones connect, see which ones are pleasant, and over time I can get to most places by bike paths, back roads, back alleys and scenic drives. So can you. Happy trails!

Bike tour from Richmond, Indiana to Clifty Falls, 2008

Kurt on Old Brownsville Road

A first bicycle tour post-child. My wife assured me that bringing a three-month old baby on a bike tour would work out fine. For me, taking the trip was important for establishing that life does go on after children arrive.

See the complete tour journal of our  bicycle tour from Richmond, Indiana to Clifty Falls State Park and back.

Recumbent bike helped with Sciatica recovery

A newer, longer version of this post has been published at Building and Maintaining a Healthy Back.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my back. This caused my sciatic nerve to be pinched, which caused great pain in my legs when I was sitting or standing. I spent a lot of the next two weeks lying flat on my back. After standing for just a few minutes, the pain would become intense again, and I’d need to lie back down.

I’m the sort of person who resists taking medicine, and I found myself taking up to eight ibuprofen a day just to cut the pain and get through it.

Yes, having Sciatica sucked.

Continue reading Recumbent bike helped with Sciatica recovery

The Story of the Golden Bicycle

Photo of a very different golden bike With the sun rising in the distance, I found myself staring at a golden bicycle, abandoned by a dumpster. I’m not talking about a standard golden paint job. This was an all-over, no holds barred spray paint job. The seat was golden. The tires were golden. The water bottle cage was golden.

I stood there contemplating it, awestruck and contemplating it’s story. Was this an Earlham “Community” bike, a re-habbed free ride, intentionally ugly to avoid theft? Perhaps it was stolen, painted gold to mask it’s true identity. Or It could have been an art project. One last golden hurrah before the junk pile.
Continue reading The Story of the Golden Bicycle