I promised myself that I wouldn't go the entire year without a post, so here it goes.
This year the biggest transformation in how our family travels is my six-year-old now bikes himself most places. When he outgrew his single-speed Islabikes CNOC 16 this summer, we upgraded him to a 20" Islabikes Beinn with seven gears (bought second hand off Ebay). The addition of gears drastically increased his range and speed in our hilly neighborhood. He now pedals himself exactly two miles to school every morning. There have only been a handful of days that we have driven him due to inclement weather or work commitments. I'm proud of him and us. My relentless brainwashing has inculcated in him the expectation that if he wants to go somewhere to do something fun he is responsible for getting himself there. On the weekends he bikes eight miles round trip to DTLA for swim lessons and library time. Yesterday he biked eleven miles roundtrip to the Natural History Museum with a quick stop at the DTLA Chipotle (some things never change). If a six-year-old can bike that far regularly...
*Once again, I'd like to thank Deborah Murphy for writing the grant that created the protected bike lane on Figueroa that made that trip possible and Michael McDonald for helping to keep the project on track.*
The other mobility change in our household is that our Urban Arrow was adopted by a wonderful new family in the Inland Empire. With the eldest biking on sidewalks most of the time, our bucket bike took up too much room. I also have an irrational affection for my beloved Workcycles FR8. If I didn't already own a cheap, rarely used, sub-compact electric car I probably would've kept the Urban Arrow because it really can replace a car for most trips. But, carrying ~$50/month car insurance from Metromile is worth the convenience of having a vehicle on demand on sick days, rainy days, or when work requires me to be in Santa Monica wearing a suit with less than an hour notice. However, if city officials would pull the trigger on the bus-only lane network from the Mobility Plan I'd happily give up that car *hint*.
The other big biking event from this year was my Workcycles FR8 getting run over by a bus. Here's the story:
Big bro was attending Natural History Museum camp last summer (which is AMAZING BTW) with one of his best buds with whom we were "bikepooling." On the day in question, it still sticks out in my brain how much fun I was having tearing downhill on Hoover at rush hour past all of the cars stuck in traffic on my way to the museum. But, it was also a ridiculously hot day in August. I didn't feel comfortable exposing the boys to heatstroke conditions for the 40 minutes it would take me to bike them home (uphill w/ 2 kids is slower than downhill w/ none). Thus, I gave them the option of taking the bus or the Expoline train to the subway. They chose the 754 rapid bus up Vermont Avenue.
Following a shadeless, miserable wait for the bus, I needed to rush the young boys onto the bus and my HEAVY bike onto the rack in short order. As I clamped the wheel arm down on the front wheel of the bike to hold the bike onto the rack, the arm felt looser than usual. But, I was so preoccupied with getting the boys into air conditioning that I ignored the little voice in my head. We all settled into our seats as the bus took off. As I looked out the front window I could swear that the bike was bouncing in the bike rack more than usual...but, the boys needed more water and maybe I was just being paranoid?
About two miles into the trip, as I was forcing yet more liquids into the boys, the bus slammed on its brakes. I looked up and there was no bike on the front rack. I called out, "Did my bike fall off the bus?" I don't recall what the bus driver said, but he opened the bus doors. I ran out onto Vermont Ave and saw most of my beloved bike crushed under the front bumper. The bike had to be totaled.
The driver backed up the bus in the middle of rush hour; I picked up the bike, and with no other options available, placed it back on the rack. The driver very kindly drove gingerly until we got off the bus at Santa Monica Blvd to switch buses. When I placed the bike in the second bus's bike rack it was clear that the locking arm was pulling down with much greater force than the rack on the first bus...it hadn't been my imagination. After our stop, I could barely push the bike uphill to our house as its bent, broken wheels scraped the inside of the frame.
The next day I took the bike to a local bike shop where they declared it a total loss. Yet, I had this nagging feeling that The Beast could still be salvaged. I am also emotionally codependent with the bike after four years and over 10,000 miles of adventures & memories....so, I put out an SOS out on social media. The world famous Ciclavalley came back with a one word recommendation: Art.
Art is Arturo Ramirez, the founder and fabricator at Blackheart Bikes. Art creates intricate steel bicycles for a large fanbase in SoCal. How cool is this?
He was also one of the good samaritans who fabricated & donated a custom food cart to the vendor whose cart was destroyed when he was assaulted in Hollywood last year. Art kindly offered to examine my broken beast to see if any of it was salvageable. Much to my surprise, Art declared that only one wheel, brake, the shifter, cranks, & pedals needed to be replaced. The Workcycles frame was 100% fine. Art then tried to refuse any offer of payment although he had just saved me thousands of dollars by preventing me from purchasing another bike. Art is good people.
Now that Art confirmed that all I needed was a wheel and some accessories I went to the best known wheel builder in my neck of the woods: Jimmy at Relampago Wheelery. Jimmy generously stored my wounded beast at Relampago as I ordered some replacement parts from Europe. Due to some big mistakes on my part, I had to reorder the correct parts, so The Beast was laid up for a few months. In the meantime, I sure as heck wasn't going to stop biking with kids.
Pinkalicious & Little Bro checking out the SR-71-ish plane outside the CA Science Center (FYI - museum admission is FREE)
This year a secondhand Workcycles GR8 showed up on Craigslist for a ridiculously good price in Palm Springs. I tried to entice all of my bikey friends with kids to drive out there to buy it. When out of the blue my 73-year-old mom, who lives near Palm Springs and hasn't ridden a bike since the early 1980's, decided to purchase it. People should always be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true priced bikes on the interwebs: they're stolen. And you are a terrible person if you take advantage of another person's misfortune by purchasing a bike from a thief. But, Pinkalicious's owner had all of the receipts including receipts for the accessories. Hence, my mom also became a Workcycles owner.
Until the wounded FR8 was healed, I temporarily traded my mom our step-through framed Kalkhoff for Pinkalicious since I needed a bike that could carry two kids in a pinch. Then I transferred both of the kid seats to Pinkalicious. There should be a law that henceforth all bikes must be flamingo pink. It is impossible to be in a bad in mood on that bike.
As a quick aside, for those of you wondering about FR8 vs. GR8, TL;DR: Henry Cutler (the owner of Workcycles) is always accurate in my experience. His description on his website of the differences between the bikes is spot on. The GR8 felt lighter and faster in the flats because it is lighter and the tires were not as wide as the ones mounted on my FR8 (although they could be). However, the GR8 also had a slightly more upright riding position than the FR8. When climbing a big hill on the FR8, I am able to grip the center of the handlebars on my FR8 and pull to get some extra leverage that the more upright GR8 could not provide. Consequently, I found that the larger, heavier FR8 was surprisingly a better climber on steep grades. Also the FR8's longer cockpit meant that it's more comfortable to carry children on front-mounted seats. On the GR8, with Little Bro in a front-mounted Bobike seat, I had to splay my knees out a tad to pedal. It wasn't terrible and definitely worked (I road hundreds of miles with this configuration), but it was also not as luxuriously comfortable as the FR8.
I think the GR8 is a fantastic bike for someone more petite who would struggle wrestling with the extra size and weight of the FR8. It also would be a PERFECT city bike for people with less than two kids and not too many steep hills. But, with two kids, I would definitely recommend the FR8 over the GR8. In other words, my mom lucked out - it's the perfect bike for her.
Once all the parts arrived, Jimmy at Relampago Wheelery built me an awesome front wheel, salvaged and rebuilt the rear wheel, and installed the various parts to replace the broken bits. Thanks to Jimmy, after getting run over by a gigantic bus, my Workcycles FR8 runs as good as new. Also, as CiclaValley put it, "Steel is real."
Yet, the kindness of the bike community was not done. Josef Bray-Ali, whom I had not seen since he closed his shop, had seen one of my posts on Facebook and offered to install a late arriving part pro bono. I couldn't accept pro bono, but I loved having the excuse to see him...and then I got a flat tire on the way. And I had recently left my patch kit in Northern California by mistake. Whoops. I would have to cancel our meet up. Instead, Josef generously road his bakfiets from Pasadena to Atwater Village (9 miles?) to fix my flat and install the part by the LA River. Josef is good people too.
LOOKING BACK AT THE YEAR'S ADVENTURES IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER:
*The performative nature of social media makes me cringe. Yet, I will be partaking in the aforementioned cringiness after the next few sentences. I want you to see these pictures and then be motivated to climb on a bike with your family. Yet, I also would like to remind you that these pics are curated to make you want to ride a bike. I don't generally whip out the camera when I'm acting like an asshole or my kids are (of course, I won't publicly include my wife in that sentence because I'm not as dumb as I used to be). Without further adieu here's a bikey *thoroughly idealized* recap of 2018 bike adventures:
The first day of 2018 we biked to the Gold Line; got off in Sierra Madre; then pedaled to the Rose Bowl float holding area following the parade. It's an awesome way to see the floats w/out traffic or crowds (if you're on a bike that is).
Below is what it looks like when you're too cheap to buy tickets to get inside the gate to get a closer look at the floats - the bad cell phone pic doesn't really do it justice - it's still cool from the outside peering through the fence.
Around the turn of the year older bro started biking himself weekly to DTLA from Silver Lake.
Little Bro got his FIRST TRIP ON THE FR8. No more backward facing "carseat" on the Urban Arrow! He must be in the FRONT ROW! (Everyone over forty in the U.S. understood the reference)
When bike commuting to DTLA serendipity happens...A FIRE TRUCK WITH THE ENGINE BAY OPEN.
The DTLA Public library is ALL THAT. (& with a bike you don't have to pay for parking after one hour)
Little Bro loves his commute to daycare over the LA River. I love seeing the great blue herons & cormorants every morning.
In February, I picked up Big Bro after school on our Brompton w/ Pere Chair then road the trains to Santa Monica for an audition. I chronicled it on Twitter.
Winter break adventures in Monterrey (although technically this is Carmel).
In Mid-February Stephen (who was so kind, patient, and amazing) from the Bike Kitchen helped us assemble Big Bro's "new" bike off of Ebay. Stephen is a master mechanic at Bike Shop LA (8250 Santa Monica Blvd #2, Los Angeles, CA 90046) when not volunteering at the Kitchen. He is an EXCELLENT mechanic. If you are not familiar with it, the Bike Kitchen is irreplaceable. Volunteer mechanics teach newbies (like me) how to work on their own bikes for a VERY low fee (7$/hr?) including tools & stands.
Big Bro felt the new bike was too big for him at the time and stuck with his old one until September.
In March Big Bro insisted on joining me for the Crash the Marathon ride for the second straight year. He woke up at 3:30AM to ride on my bike from Los Feliz to the ocean. As an aside, Peter Flax wrote a fabulous piece about the Crash Race before it became a ride. Click on the link & read it. The photo below is from the subway ride home.
We stayed very "on brand" whilst visiting one of my big sisters in Paris for Spring Break (yes, she's cooler than me). I rented a traditional bakfiets for a day while we were there. I have to say that I loved it. Seeing a city by bike is almost always the best way. The geometry on the traditional bakfiets felt really dialed in too.
The picture below illustrates why I am a mean dad who makes a six-year-old bike himself most places. How do you keep a child grounded who gets to hunt for Easter eggs in Renoir's garden? As I've written before, much of my childhood revolved around the constant, gnawing anxiety and fear that accompanies poverty. My wife escaped a war; emigrated from a refugee camp; then was raised with six other family members in a one bedroom apartment in the type of neighborhood where someone was stabbed to death on the sidewalk outside.
How do we teach our kids to appreciate what they have? How do we instill grit and persistence and the idea that not everything in life will be handed to them, when so much IS handed to them? The only way I know how is to make my children work for the things they get. Obviously, he's six so we cheat a bit (i.e. We're super proud of you for how hard you've worked on your schoolwork - you've earned...(the things we were going to give you anyway)).
I think the blog makes me seem like some weirdo who cares about the physical aspect of my son riding most places when it's the mental aspect that drives my choices to "encourage" him to bike. Biking to his friend's house makes him earn the fun that he's going to have...just like life. And if he doesn't put in the work the fun is not going to follow. Today when he wants to go somewhere fun he (usually) just assumes he is responsible for getting himself there. Somehow, someway I will find a way to raise a child of privilege without a sense of entitlement. There is no other option...
For what it's worth, I also find ways to give him rest when he needs it, etc. There's a reason why we still have two seats on my bike. I'm trying my best to motivate him right up to the line where it crosses over to drudgery. In life we never hit the bulls-eye every time, so sometimes I over-do it and sometimes I give him to much slack. We can just try our best knowing that we won't always get it right.
Also, if anyone wants to teach me about carbon offsets I am very interested. I have family on three continents. We bike, try to minimize our meat intake, live in a teeny house, and then cancel out most of our efforts by flying. For domestic travel we almost always avoid flying, but it's not possible for me to replace flying with another method of travel when crossing continents and oceans. My resolution in 2019 will be to find reliable, proven carbon offsets. It's not ideal, but it's the best we can do short of not seeing family...
Obviously, we had a lot of grocery runs:
LIttle Bro liked watching Big Bro play tag (I just like this pic & am finding an excuse to post it).
The bikes were undefeated when it comes to napping.
More lovely commutes...man, I wish I was stuck in traffic driving right about now.
We took the Metrolink train down to San Juan Capistrano for a petting zoo adventure again. Highly recommended! Only $10 for all day rail passes on weekends!
Little Bro LOVED his first train ride at the petting zoo.
Cargo bikes are great for bringing along a friend...An under-appreciated advantage of a cargo bike is they don't require fitting three car seats in the back seat of your car.
We finally made it out to the William S Hart Museum. It's really close to a Metrolink station!
Loved the pig there:
Big Bro at the end of one of his many two mile long kindergarten commutes (shortly before moving up to the bigger bike for first grade).
A very important life milestone was crossed: Kindergarten graduation.
I LOVED the $2.50 Metrolink ride from Union Station to Glendale (right next to Atwater Village). So, did little bro...
Our favorite summer adventure was taking the Silver Line bus from DTLA to San Pedro then biking to White Point Park to explore the tide pools. We finished up at the wonderful, small Cabrillo Aquarium. AWESOME ADVENTURE. TOP TEN day trip. I chronicled the adventure on Twitter here. There was a pod of dolphins swimming 100 meters away from us the whole morning.
^This pic is from a different White Point Park excursion with mom, but it's a better photo.
^ Here was our kit for the tide pool day. I was just going to take a picture of the bike, but Big Bro wanted to be in it. I swear I'm not forcing him to be in this photo although it certainly looks that way. I prefer pics where the kids are organically having fun doing something else instead of teaching them to fake smiles for the sake of their parent's Facebook page likes...(although we've all done it for the holiday card at one point or another)
The pic below might be a personal record. The bags are full of groceries, library books, and Big Bro's bike (he'd already done five miles and a swim lesson - he'd earned a ride home on the FR8.)
^ The boys also joined a march for immigrant children (I think). There's been so many marches I can't keep them straight.
And mastered the art of reading while biking.
We learned how to walk:
and we learned how to climb where we weren't supposed to:
And fall (uh-oh):
We took bikes on trips. This is a totally underrated advantage of having bikes. There are so many trips where we drove to the location and then never had to get in our car again until we left. Seeing the sights is 1000x's better on a bike. Cars make it so hard to get to know a place...bikes immerse you there.
And I used bikes them to claim the shady tables for a Bday bash at the Grand Park Fountains:
Big Bro's bigger bike expanded his range: here he is taking a break from biking all the way to the zoo.
The boys became friends:
Just a cool shot from our school commute to first grade:
One day I asked Big Bro if he wanted to try biking to the beach. He did. It took three hours and a milkshake bribe, but he did it -- fifteen miles. The adventure was chronicled on Twitter. "I love the smell of strawberry milkshakes in the morning...smells like victory."
The Getty Villa playroom was fun.
The boys lost their grandfather this year. I wrote a longer tribute to Grandpa Jim on Facebook. He was happiest when surrounded by his grandchildren; this pic contains all of them together.
Pinkalicious took good care of us.
We escaped the terrible wildfire smoke by decamping to San Juan Capistrano & Dana Point for two days (pictured below is the Ocean Institute at Dana Point Harbor). While my child road his bike from San Juan Capistrano to Butterfly Beach and hung out in aquariums, five counties lost almost a decade's worth of housing production to fires. Dozens of people lost their lives. Thousands were left homeless. Millions of low-income kids were forced to breathe poisonous air while we took a "forced" beach vacation. I don't know how to reconcile these things.
We hiked with friends. And brought bikes on more trips:
Finally, most importantly, this guy turned two. The goal with a preemie is to have them catch up to "normal" development milestones by the age of two. Following eleven weeks in Children's Hospital and two years of appointments and therapies, we now have a healthy two-year-old boy.
The picture below is when we forced our kids to do a performative photo for Christmas "cards" (we never got around to printing them, so we just posted it on Facebook to give the impression that we sent a card). The photo required waking a cranky toddler from a nap, freezing my ass off while wrestling with a tripod that I hadn't used in three years, unleashing a stream of profanity (mostly under my breath) as I tried to remember the menu options for shooting interval timing on a Fuji digital camera, and lots of tickling of the boys to create a semi-real smile. There is also a crowd of sixty other people using selfie sticks to capture the same exact picture just out of frame. The photo also delayed lunch which created a car-full of crankiness until we found pizza.
Be kind to yourself in the New Year. May we not compare ourselves with others this year except when meditating on how incredibly fortunate we are.