Cranking into spring

Spring weather has arrived here in Seattle, and it looks remarkably like winter.  That’s because, unlike the rest of the country, Seattle had no measurable snowfall this winter.  If you saw how pathetic the snow coverage was for the Vancouver Olympics, you’ve got a good idea how we fared 120 miles south of Vancouver.  Although I missed the snow, I must say that biking was pretty easy without having to worry about snow and ice on the road.  Although there were a few very wet days when I resorted to our mini-van, I was able to ride quite comfortably all winter long.

So now I’ve been at this for almost 6 months.  In that time, I’ve ridden about 400 miles, which is a pretty pathetic distance for nearly half a year.  But those were 400 hard miles, all up and down steep grades, hauling groceries and kids most of the time.  Most of my trips are to school and back: barely a mile round trip, but 500 feet of elevation gain and a matching descent.

I’ve had very few difficulties with the bike.  Even with the wet weather, I haven’t had to oil the chain or perform any other maintenance.  At this point, the derailleur is skipping a few gears, but I haven’t gotten motivated to adjust it, because with the electric motor, I don’t need that many gears anyway.  I really use only about 5 of the 24 gears I’ve got.  That’s pretty amazing considering these hills and these loads.

Even more amazing to me is how safe I’ve felt on the road.  Many bikers have complained about inattentive or even malicious drivers in our area.  Fortunately, this has not been an issue for me yet.  I think it’s partly because my cargo bike looks so unusual, it draws the attention of drivers who might not notice a more traditional bike.  But I think the motor helps too.  I can ride fast enough to blend with traffic better than most bicyclists can.  For example, I have to make a left-hand turn on a steep hill with a stop sign at the top.  If I did that on a normal bike, it would be torture for any cars behind me.  But with the motor assist, I can scoot over to the turn lane and keep up a pace of 10-15 miles per hour.  At that particular intersection, cars aren’t going much faster than that, so it’s not a big interruption for them.

I’ve had many discussions with people who are interested in the bike.  Most are surprised when I tell them it has a motor.  Since there is no noise, no exhaust, and the battery and motor are not visible, they just think I’m in great shape when they see me sailing by!

My next project is to make some objective measurements of the bike vs. the mini-van.  How much longer does it take to get groceries, to pick up the kids at school, and to go to the health club?  I’m getting a lot of other benefits from riding — how much time is that costing?  I have some rough guesses, but now I need to get scientific about this.  Stay tuned!