Biking During Pregnancy

As I’ve mentioned once or twice in passing on this site, but never formally announced, I’m currently pregnant with kid #3. In fact, at this point I’m feeling really pregnant with kid #3 — my due date is a month from tomorrow. I’m starting to get the pitying looks that come with questions of whether I’m “due tomorrow,” letting me know that I look as big and awkward as I feel.

I’m also starting to get questions about whether I’m “still” riding my bike. Which I am. Kind of a lot (for me). Why? Because I’m lazy. Truly:

  • Most of our daily commute trips (to school, work, camp, etc.) are short. I can bike to campus in about the same amount of time it would take me to walk up the hill to the closest bus stop.
  • I can sit down the whole time I’m on my way places.
  • I can park right next to the door everywhere I go.

When it comes down to it, biking is still the easiest, simplest way for me to get through all of the running around that comes with being a full-time student with two kids at two different schools. All of the benefits of riding — enjoying the fresh air (we have awesome summers in Seattle!), having fun, staying in shape — are still true, even if they’re more bonuses than primary motivators at this point! And yes, it helps that I’ve got a step-through frame, upright riding position, and an electric assist for the days that I end up lugging multiple kids up hills these days.

When I step back to think about it, I’m probably riding more this pregnancy than at any other point in my life. Earlier this summer, our family took a 36 mile round-trip trek out to an outlet mall for kid pajamas. It was an exciting, record-setting ride for our 6 year old, but I’m pretty sure it was also the longest ride I’ve ever done. Last week, I racked up 100 miles in a week — again, more than I’m pretty sure I’ve ever done before. Between non-profit board meetings, a visit to our friends’ new bike, “big brother” class for the 3 year old, a midwife appointment, and all of our normal running around (camp! school! aikido!) the miles just sort of piled up. I finished the week with my first Critical Lass group ride, where Madi of Familyride got an action shot for me:

Riding by the train depot at 34 weeks pregnant.

Riding by the train depot at 34 weeks pregnant.

And then this weekend, we joined a bunch of other families on an epic camping trip out to Fay Bainbridge Park; more on that soon!

New Record!

We lucked out a few weeks ago on the kid bike front. A friend of a friend was looking to sell the geared version of our 6 year old’s bike, and we were looking to give him the help he needed to make it up some of the Seattle hills we ride regularly.

We had no idea how great the bike would be. As it turns out, we scored a 2001 Specialized Hotrock that looks like it’s never been ridden. After a quick once-over from Christiaan at Ride Bicycles, we bought the bike and passed our gear-less bike on to another friend. Unlike the newer Hotrocks, this one doesn’t have a crazy shock/suspension system, which means it is light compared to his old bike.

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The lighter bike with gears has opened a new world of possibilities. Suddenly, he can make the (uphill) ride to school and the (uphill) ride to soccer games. And on a rainy Memorial Day, he decided to see how far he could go. We headed out on the trail, and all three of us went for our longest ride ever: 36 miles round-trip, in the rain. Go M, go!

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Garden by Bike

What do you do when you want to build a raised bed for the starters that are growing out of control on your counter, but you don’t have a car? Load up the cargo bike!

The raised bed itself was transported by bike a couple of weeks ago, but it still needed to be filled. Seattle Public Schools gave us a 4 day weekend for Memorial Day, and the weather was finally cooperating here, so we decided it was time to dig in and get our plants in the ground. The hardware store half a mile from our house had bags of topsoil, and we figured out that we could carry 4 cubic-foot bags at a time in the Madsen.

Three loads later, our peas, tomatoes, eggplant and lettuce have lots of room to grow!

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But What if You Have to Go to the Hospital?

This weekend we tackled another of the “what if’s” of living without a car: What do you do if you need to take your kid to the hospital?

Obviously, the answer depends on why you need to go to the hospital and how quickly you need to get there. In a true life-or-death emergency, we’d call an ambulance — just like we would if we had a car! In other scenarios, we might call a cab to drive us over. This time around, we were already out at the park on our bikes, and there was a fairly direct bike path route to the hospital, so we decided to make our first trip to the ER by cargo bike.

Sunday afternoon our three year-old got a little too ambitious trying to keep up with the big kids on the BMX dirt jumps next to his big brother’s soccer game. He ended up taking a nose dive off of his balance bike and into a pile of dirt and rock, digging his sunglasses into his forehead and causing a dramatic, bloody scene.

We looked at each other for a couple of minutes in panic, trying to figure out what Responsible Parents were supposed to do. Take him home and clean the wound? Call the doctor in the morning? Would rushing to the ER be an over-reaction, or would biding our time be minor-league neglect?

We decided it was worth making our way toward the children’s hospital just in case. Shawn loaded up the kids’ bikes and headed home to find an insurance card, while I loaded both kids into the back of the Madsen, dialed up the BionX, and pedaled as fast as my (tired, wimpy, third trimester) legs could go. Big brother held little brother’s head, keeping my ratty old sweatshirt over the cut to help stop the bleeding.

Six miles later, we were at the door of the ER. The bleeding had stopped, and I questioned whether it was even worth going in. We decided we might as well check with someone there after coming so far, and the check-in nurse confirmed that we were best off with some gluing/stitching, so we checked our little patient in.

I have only good things to say about Seattle Children’s Hospital, their staff, and their fancy new ER. We were there for 5.5 hours, but they made the whole thing as painless as possible with on-demand movies (no, the irony of him picking Cars was not lost on us!), friendly staff, water & juice for the non-patient members of our family, and a popsicle at the end for the patient himself.

Three stitches later, we had to figure out the other half of our unplanned adventure: getting home. We weren’t in a big rush anymore, but our little patient had been partially sedated to help him through the procedure. The doctor said the medication would leave him “loopy” until the next morning. Big brother to the rescue again! Little brother sat down in the Madsen, lied down on his brother’s lap, and went straight to sleep. We took an easy route home, avoiding big bumps (and big hills — I was tired by then!) and got everyone home safe and sound.

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The injured one says he’s eager to get back onto his bike, and to wear his sunglasses again — just maybe not at the same time, at least for a while. And he figures he will wait to try those hills again until his feet reach the ground on his bike a little better.

A Very Bikey December

Things have been a bit quite here at Wheelha.us. I assure you, we’ve got lots going on on our end — we’re just trying to catch up with it all long enough to share! We will have lots of good, bikey fun to share with you in the months to come. In the mean time, here’s a round-up of some of the bike fun we’ve had recently that’s been patiently waiting for its turn to be shared:

Our youngest discovered that the Big Dummy + Hooptie gives him the perfect perch to be able to mail a letter all by himself. Hooray for independence!

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Later that night, our kids found that our covered Madsen was the perfect place to watch the Argosy Christmas ships while hiding from the cold, wet December weather.

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In preparation for Christmas, we encouraged the kids to clear out some of the toys they weren’t playing with anymore. And I got to pull up to the Goodwill donation truck on my bike!

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Shawn was named the Ride in the Rain-coming King, and got a fancy tiara at the reception lunch. Huge thanks to the folks at Hub and Bespoke for the prize pack!

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After months of trying, we finally made it down to Columbia City for a South Seattle Kidical Mass ride. Our youngest got a friend for the first leg of the ride down to Seward Park, where they had warm beverages and crafty fun waiting for us.

kmSouthRide kmSouthCrafts

The next day was my birthday. I guess the gifts my awesome family got me hint at how important our bikes have been to our lives lately: a bike necklace, a new coffee mug holder for the Madsen front rack (mine was destroyed in an unfortunate car-in-crosswalk incident a while back), a waterproof, bluetooth speaker that lets me blast tunes as loud as Shawn, and the complete in-print works of Elly Blue at Taking the Lane! I admit that I jumped straight to reading all of my awesome family biking friends in Childhood, but I’m enjoying immersing myself in the bike-tastic backlog as well.Bikey Birthday

We finished the month in Florida, where we were visiting family. We missed our cargo bikes desperately, but were able to get in at least a short ride with a Piccolo + iBert setup.

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Installing an Xtracycle Hooptie on a 2012 Surly Big Dummy

I pre-ordered a 1st generation Xtracycle Hooptie months ago that I found happily waiting for me when I arrived at home last week. I installed it that night so it would be ready to go in the morning — the kids have been waiting for the Hooptie for a long time.

Installation of the Hooptie on the Big Dummy was generally straightforward but I thought I’d walk through the process and point out a few things. I’ll point out where getting the Hooptie from the “wide” to the “narrow” setting was a complete pain in the ass. (My sample size of two suggests that this may not be a unique experience.)

Most importantly let’s hold up a second before digging into the nuts & bolts — the Hooptie is super cool and my kids love it. We’ve outgrown our iBert and while my cheaply rigged stoker bar setup on the Big Dummy worked for one five-to-six-year old kid without having additional support it is hard to offer to help other less-cargo-friendly kids (school, playdates, etc.) The Hooptie allows me to carry up to three kids on my Xtracycle Flight Deck, provides some nice visibility around the kids, and should give most parents some peace of mind about their safety.

What comes in the box

Just like it says: 2 steel brackets, 2 U-Tubes, Screws, Nuts. You’ll need a 4mm hex wrench and, as you’ll see later, something to use on the nuts for tighten them down to the FlightDeck. I used an adjustable wrench; I’m sure someone who uses tools more regularly than me would have a better idea.

Xtracycle doesn’t ship any paper instructions but they do provide a Hooptie Installation video on YouTube that seems sufficient for most purposes.

Installation

Install the two steel brackets. There’s no suggested order in the instructions. I started with the one closest to the saddle. At least on the Big Dummy this ended up being a decent approach as it was easy to tighten down the screws & nuts and there’s plenty of clearance underneath the FlightDeck in this area.

When I started on the bracket for the rear of the deck I realized I wouldn’t be able to tighten the screws & nuts the same way as I had for the front bracket. I needed to unmount the FlightDeck from the Xtracycle frame. It is quite possible I should’ve unmounted the FlightDeck entirely and installed the Hooptie to it and then remounted the FlightDeck. The instructions don’t suggest doing this but it probably makes it easier to work on. Either way, you now have two brackets installed and ready for the U-Tubes.

Now install the U-Tubes. This requires a lot of patience as the fittings are extremely tight. I scratched up the U-Tubes installing them into the brackets. I had another bike shop tell me the Hooptie’s U-Tubes were difficult to adjust as well. I assume this is just a production issue.

Generally getting the U-Tubes to the “Wide” setting was more or less straight-forward so long as you installed them into the front and rear brackets equally — That is, don’t shove the U-Tube into the rear bracket all the way and then the front. No, instead you want to insert them into the brackets equally, sliding them in a bit at a time on each side.

Getting the U-Tubes from the “Wide” setting to the “Narrow” setting required applying insane amounts of force, flipping the U-Tubes around, switching which side they were on and a magic Xtracycle dance in-order to get them into the “Narrow” holes. Julie and I both dug in our heals and managed to force the U-Tubes into the brackets’ narrow setting. I’m really not sure they’ll ever come out to the “Wide” setting again.

Now what?

Well, as the box says, it is a party on wheels once you add kids:

Julie was a bit more cautious than I was with our littlest kid and suggested we add a seatbelt to prevent him from sliding underneath the Hooptie’s U-Tubes and on to the street. This seemed reasonable. For the moment we’ve borrowed a seatbelt from our Madsen but just about any buckle would do:

I also added some reflective tape around the rear of Hooptie mostly because I could and I thought it might prevent some folks from banging into it (though all-in-all the tubes seem very sturdy):

Picture courtesy of @familyride.

And that’s how I installed a Hooptie on my Big Dummy. My youngest kid has let me know that the Hooptie is “his best” and there’s a huge smile all over his face when riding in it. I don’t think much has changed for my older kid but I do look forward to carting some of his friends around now. It is a bit weird to be riding a bike around without a front-mounted kids seat after 5 years of an iBert being a permanent fixture in our daily commute. I’ll miss talking to the kid in the front but I know my boys will enjoy hanging out with each other on the back.

Christmas Tree by Madsen

We usually travel for the holidays; it’s hard to pass up two weeks out of school as a chance to make the cross-country trek to visit family. Most years, that’s been reason enough not to get a Christmas tree of our own. But this year, Thanksgiving was really early. And, well, I really wanted to try hauling a tree in my Madsen!

We were lucky enough to get to ride along with the third of three family bike group rides on Saturday morning, this one going from Gasworks Park to South Lake Union Park and hosted by Madi of . Julian of Totcycle was there, too, which meant I got to take his fancy new BionX BULLIT for a spin. It was fun, even though there was an adjustment factor to the linkage steering. I’ve grown partial to my upright position on the Madsen, though, so the racier BULLIT felt weird. And I can’t imagine my kids sitting that close together for any length of time. I’ll definitely have to find time to give one a longer ride, though.

After a brief stop to sail boats from the Center for Wooden Boats, we were off to the SASG (Formerly Dunshee House) Christmas Tree lot on Capital Hill. We loaded up our 6-foot tree in the Madsen bucket and secured it with a cargo net and a couple of bungee cords. I actually felt sorry for the poor souls trying to lift their tree up on top of a car!

Then we made our way back downhill and toward home, and experienced one of the most pleasant, fun rides I can remember. Cars slowed down and gave us thumbs up (well, their drivers did…), people cheered, and we bopped along to Shawn’s speaker blasting Christmas music. I don’t think we’ve ever had so much fun picking up a Christmas tree before!

Xtracycle’s Edgerunner: Initial Thoughts

On Saturday Julie and I visited what I believe to be the best commuter & cargo focused bike shop on the west coast: Portland’s Clever Cycles. The in-store inventory of Clever Cycles is impressive as they have plenty of components1 and bikes for you to ogle at.

Besides soaking in cargo-biking Mecca, we were mostly there to check out the Edgerunner (well and I desperately wanted to see the Xtravois 2 in person):

What follows is my assessment of the EdgeRunner. Julie also gave it a spin, as did Davey Oil, and I’m interested in reading their own thoughts. The model I tried was the unassisted variant and a pre-production model. I rode the bike for about 6 blocks on a flat, urban stretch near the Clever Cycles shop. This at least gave me a chance to test out the disc-brakes and a few stop-starts with my chosen cargo: our six and two-year olds. The bike had the new Hooptie mounted on it and what I believe was a Yepp Maxi seat. My oldest kid, who now hangs on to my Big Dummy’s Xtracycle board, absolutely loved the Hooptie. Lifting kids in and out of the Hooptie is a breeze because of the lower geometry (20″ rear wheel) on the Edgerunner.

I have high expectations for the Edgerunner and while my opinion of the bike after riding it is largely positive my high hopes were not fully met. The steel frame feels a lot lighter than the Big Dummy or any other long-tail frame I’ve ridden. This is great for a lot of reasons but during my test-ride the bike exhibited a lot of wobble, vibration, and shimmy that I never feel on the Big Dummy. The bike does have a better turning radius than the Big Dummy. The disc-brakes are high quality Avid BB7s and the braking performs as one would expect which such great equipment. The shifting wasn’t to my liking mostly because of the Microshift index shifters. For index shifters they felt more like friction shifters as switching between gears was not as instantaneous as I’m used to with my Shimano Deore shifters. The saddle and handlebars were comfortable & ideal for commuting with cargo.

Given the brief ride it is hard to comment too much on any of these details in a serious way. I’d prefer to ride the bike for a month with the typical grind of our daily commute and then reflect back on the bike’s performance.

There’s a lot to like about the Edgerunner though (including the option to buy an electric assist model) and I suspect it’ll perform well. If nothing else, Xtracycle’s commitment to family biking will give Surly’s Big Dummy a run for their money. Surly has made it pretty clear that Family Biking is an after-thought for them and not their target market. (I’m ignoring the other popular long-tails here because they don’t ship with disc brakes as a standard option. That’s my barrier to entry but it doesn’t have to be yours.)

Update

If you’d like some more fully-formed thoughts on the Edgerunner you can checkout the following two reviews:

I still contend the Edgerunner frame has some flex/wobble in the ride but Todd @ Clever Cycles tells me that Xtracycle put a design premium on ensuring the Edgerunner rode just like a regular bike. Fair enough. It is a great bike, you won’t go wrong.


  1. I wish Clever Cycles stocked more components than bikes. The bike selection borders on way too many choices while the component selection feels a bit like Apple’s exactly one option at your desired price point. That said, I don’t run a bike store and given their successful business I’m sure there’s quite a bit of reasoning behind these choices. 

Join Us for Ride in the Rain!

November is Ride in the Rain month at the University of Washington, and this year Wheelha.us is organizing a team for all the UW pedal parents out there. Students (like me!), staff (like Shawn!) and faculty are all welcome to join us; all you need is a UW email address.

UW will only let you join our team if we send you an invitation directly, so let us know in the comments or on twitter (@wheelha_us) if you want to join the fun! We’ve got a page set up for the event. Over the course of November, we’re hoping to profile our various team members, share pictures of our commute loads, and show everyone else on campus that there are a lot of us who are both parents and peddlers!

How Do You Keep Your Kids Dry?

Over on Facebook’s “I love my Surly Big Dummy” group yesterday a gentleman said “Now that the winter rains are beginning in earnest here in the Pacific Northwest, I want to know how to keep my cargo dry.” (Facebook login required to view the group and discussion.)

As Seattleites having just incurred the sheer torture of weeks and weeks without rain it is possible we’ve forgotten how to properly keep our precious cargo dry. There are all sorts of rain accessories and clothing for you, your bike and many are highly dependent on which bike, which seat, what type of kids, etc.

A young girl strands outside wearing yellow rain-proof overalls.

Credit: Tuffo.com

For our kids we’ve (and they!) have been very happy with the Tuffo Muddy Buddy. It starts in sizes as small as 12 months and goes all the way up to 5T. We purchased a 3T and 5T version for our kids and they’ve gotten more than a year of use of them. They are pretty baggy and you can fit as a little or as much clothing underneath as you like. We’ve made good use of them through the fall and winter as both rain and snow gear. There’s elastic around the arms and legs making it easy to stretch them over shoes, rain boats, jackets and sweaters. They zip up and down easily and the kids don’t fuss about having to put them on, in fact they get really excited when it rains because they get to wear them.

Two smiling kids sit at a table eating donuts.

After getting caught in a snow-storm, I took our Muddy Buddied kids to our local donut shop for some hot cocoa and treats.

For the Madsen there’s always the mythical Rain Cover from Madsen itself. It has been in development for a long time but when it comes it’ll fit all the Madsen Cycle buckets produced to date. Madsen’s own website shows an availability date of “early 2011″ that has come and gone but they did post some shots of a prototype rain cover to their Twitter account back in February of 2012. Needless to say, the long delay in an official rain cover has led to many building their own custom solutions. Local favorite Matt of Tacoma Bike Ranch has a great post on their custom Madsen orange rain cover which also happens to add a nice bit of visibility to your Madsen if the conditions aren’t that great. (Be sure to check out their awesome recent post on kid bike fenders). Julie is currently talking to Matt about having him make a frame for our Madsen and we’ll supply the fabric ourselves. We’ll keep you updated.

Final Product Big Dummy owners tend to be a highly DIY minded group. It seems doubtful Surly will ever release a rain cover for the Big Dummy’s passengers: it isn’t their market nor would it work with their brand image. Personally I haven’t tried any covers on my Dummy as the kids have been very happy in their Muddy Buddies and Seattle’s record drought hasn’t given me much of a chance. Still there’s some amazing stuff out there:

Given our biking setup, with a Madsen and a Big Dummy, I’ve chosen to focus on the bits relevant to our family but how do you keep your kids dry in the rainy season?

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