Sunday, July 26, 2009

Farmers's Market Ride

Two weeks ago I was doing our weekly shopping at our neighborhood farmers' market when I overheard someone say "Oh, have you signed up for the ride we're organizing?" This over course really piqued my curiousity and it turned out that someone was organizing a ride a few weeks later. Well, that ride was early this morning. At 7am, we met where the farmers' market would be a few hours later. Only 5 of us showed up, including my friend Tyler. Joe, Megan and Bill (another Bill, not me) rounded out our numbers. Joe and Bill led us on a route out to the beach where we stopped for coffee and food and then down to the southern border of the city, past the cow palace and then back up the bay side, through downtown. The planned route included continuing on through the Presidio but Tyler and I were feeling ready to head back home so we split off. Today was the SF Marathon so lots of streets were closed down for that and we enjoyed riding on several stretches of the Embarcadero that would normally be clogged with cars. Tyler and I ended our ride with a great breakfast at the Green Chili Cafe, near the end of the Panhandle before parting ways. All told, Tyler and I clocked a solid 25 mile ride and it was a blast. I hope that there are some subsequent rides organized, it was great to meet some other cyclists from our neighborhood and to see many other parts of the city I'd never seen. After the ride I made it back to our neighborhood just in time to meet up with Nicole and the kids and pack all of the vegetables they'd bought at the farmers' market into the xtracycle and walk home with them. A great ride and a great morning, hooray!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Craigslist Staff Ride

About 10 of my craigslist coworkers and I went out for an after-work ride. Our original goal was to go from the office, up through the SF Presidio and back after getting to the Presidio so quickly we extended our ride out and over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was quite a foggy and windy day which made the ride somewhat thrilling. Some of the group continued on to Sausalito for dinner but I headed back with those of us that had other commitments and families to get back to. Next time I really want to make it further out, the ride was quite a lot of fun. Hopefully this was only the first of many other after-work rides!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Found wood!

Jula and I found this nice piece of plywood on the way to the grocery store and strapped it right on to the xtracycle with no problems. We got lots of funny looks from folks in the parking lot. I rather enjoy those funny looks I must say :) Hopefully in the next few weeks we're going to make some bird houses out of it to attract some birds to our fledgling backyard garden.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday morning ride

For a few months now my coworker and friend Tyler and I have been heading out into Golden Gate Park for a nice little ride out to the ocean and back, usually followed by coffee and then on to work. Usually we try to stay off the main roads and explore all the little singletrack and wider dirt trails that are all over the park. It can be quite thrilling some days, especially the park slopes downward towards the ocean so the first half of our ride can be quite fast. Today we were both a little under the weather, me due to this cold I've been fighting off and him due to backpacking-induced sunburn and leg-soreness. We took it a bit easier today and stopped at the ocean for a nice chat, only getting back on the bikes when our sweat started to get a little too cold to bear.

Our bikes are kind of funny side by side. His is a really nice Rivendell Bleriot that he resucued and rehabilitated off of craigslist. It's really set up more as a commuter bike but does quite fine on our semi-offroad adventures. The blackblackblack bike is my non-cargo bike, a Cannondale Bad Boy with much fatter tires than were ever meant to go on the skinny rims it came with. Runs good!

We both had a great time riding today. Hopefully we'll both make it out for the ride before next Sunday's Inner Sunset Farmers' Market. More on that later.

More than I could chew

So I finally bit off more than I could chew with the xtracycle. At least I didn't choke.

Yesterday I had grand plans to go buy a pair of half wine barrels to use for flowers and herbs in the front and back yard. I found someone selling some on craigslist who was only 25 blocks or so away from us and figured I could just strap one to each side of the xtracycle. My plans got a little more complicated when Jula literally begged me to let her go with me. She was so excited about going and I figured that her 30 extra pounds wouldn't matter that much.

I when I finally made it out to the sellers house and picked up one of the barrels I quickly realized that I was in for more than I bargained for. Not only were the barrels a bit heavier than I had anticipated but they were much larger than I had imagined. The FreeLoader bags wouldnt actually wrap around them at all and I only had one compression strap with me to compliment my pile of bungee cords. My first thought was that I was worried that it would be a bit dangerous to have Jula on the back, especially if one of them fell off or something dramatic. To complicate things further I only have one WideLoader for the xtracycle so only one of the barrels would actually be well supported. If I had two WideLoaders and Jula wasn't with me I probably would have been more adventurous and given it a go.

In the end it was really meant to be. These barrels were going to be $30 each and my mother told me later that she can get them for $10 each so it all worked out well. Additionally the route that I took across the Sunset district was quite hilly and I got a pretty good workout and enjoyed a few pretty nice downhill runs so the trip wasn't a total failure. :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Plants!

Today was the semi-monthly plant sale at the nursery run by the Golden Gate Park staff. The nursery is inside the boundry of the park itself and serves as an area for the staff to grow plants that are used in the park. As a fundraising measure they hold a plant sale twice a month and have some really great deals on a nice assortment of plants. Jula and I went with the intention of getting some more plants for our lightwell between our kitchen and office. It's nearly a useless space in that it's not very large and you have to climb through a window to get out to it but it's grat for plants that do well in partial sun. The lightwell is 2 stories deep so anything that needs full sun just won't fare well. The folks at the nursery were really helpful in suggesting plants that would work well in this space. We also bought a few plants to go in the small backyard that we share with the other 2 apartment units in our building.

Of course we took the xtracycle to pick up all these plants! Jula had fun helping me decide what to get and the nursery staff were tickled to talk to her about what they had to offer.

When I started looking at some of the larger plants that they had, one of the staff members started giving me a funny look and asked "Do you have a car?" I replied, "No, I'll just pack them all on to my bike." He just shook his head in disbelief. After I easily managed to strap all 5 plants, including the 2 largest ones on to the xtracycle they all started marveling at such a set up. One of the staff reminisced that our bike reminded her of large cargo bikes she had seen when she lived in China. Nice! During the loading process we got quite a lot of attention from nearly everyone else that showed up to the plant sale. Most people just marveled that so much could be loaded on to a bike and some actually inquired about what my mutant looking bike was all about. I'd say it was a great day for cargo-bike-advocacy :)

I was a bit worried that I'd get out on the road and one of the plants would go flying or rip itself out of it's pot but nothing at all negative happened. The load was easy to carry and the plants did fine. We managed to get home just in time for lunch (Thanks Honey!)

After lunch Jula and I moved some of our new plants out into the lightwell. The lightwell is now well on it's way to being the small jungle that I've been envisioning. Thanks Park Nursery!

Grocery Shopping Epiphany

Last night we were expecting a guest over for dinner and at the last minute decided that we'd make some pizza. Last minute decisions like that mean that we're not going to be making our own dough of course so I headed out for a solo trip to the grocery store. When you have two little kids sometimes a solo errand trip is a well-appreciated break. Even better when that errand involves a short ride and hauling some cargo home! I hopped on the xtracycle and headed over to Safeway, mostly because none of our small local markets carry pre-made pizza crust. I managed to make the whole run even more worthwhile by picking up a bunch of other necessities.

While shopping and carefully examining product ingredient lists I had a small epiphany. Here I am being hyper-picky about the quality and origin of the ingredients and produce that I'm shopping for but we don't have any qualms about eating out when we're feeling too lazy to cook at home. The epiphany was that with very few exceptions, none of the places we tend to eat out are making their food with organic or locally grown ingredients. Yet another motivation for cooking at home! File this under the "Duh!" catagory.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back to classes, finally

This week marked Jula's return to her weekly classes, namely Gymnastics at Acrosports on Wednesday and Music Together class in the Haight on Thursday. With The birth of our new son and the following weeks of emergency and cold-plague we've been out of our regular routines for a few weeks.

Both classes are close to home but not too close to bike to. I'm not sure who enjoys the ride more, Jula or I but we both have a grand time getting there and back. This morning's trip to music class was followed by a trip to one of our local coffee shops for coffee for me and milk/cookie for her. Coincidentally some street construction work allowed us to hang out and watch a backhoe move some equipment around and then watch a cement mixer fill in a huge hole in the street that they'd dug earlier in the week. Jula has been in love with construction equipment, especially backhoes, ever since the our nearest intersection was under construction for a month last year, so this was a real treat for her.

Just before heading home I got a call from our local herbal/vitamin store that the sprouting seed mix that we've been waiting for them to restock was finally in. So we zipped over there to pick that and a few other things up before headed home for lunch. I'm so thankful that the xtracycle has worked out so well as our daily-use bike. It's nice to have cargo space for those times that you don't know you're going to need it :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

This week's farmers market haul

I made the trip to the farmers market solo for the first time today. Since the whole family is in various states of sickness right now we decided that Nicole would stay home with the babes while I took care of our weekly produce shopping. Of course this meant that I was going to take the xtracycle! (even if it's all of 4 blocks away)

Today's farmers market haul included:
  • Organic Celery
  • Organic heirloom tomatoes
  • Organic purple basil (OMG smells so good!)
  • Organic butter, romaine and Lola Roza (sp?) lettuces
  • Organic white nectarines and yellow peaches
  • 5 ears of sweet white corn in the husk
  • 2 heads of broccoli
  • 2 heads of organic garlic
  • 5 medium "lipstick" bell peppers
  • 11 oz each of tamari almonds and chili con limon almonds
  • a large bunch of flowers
This farmers market is amazing and I can't think of any other single thing that has improved our quality of living in this neighborhood. We're so thankful.

On the way home I picked up a double mocha for Nicole which she was quite exctied about!

First steps to two-wheeled-freedom

Jula and I went out for a cookie date last night and she requested that she ride "her very own bike all by herself". She's not quite 2.5 years old yet so her "very own bike" is a wooden Skuut bike which until now she has not expressed a lot of interest in. Naturally I was stoked that she wanted to go ride it! After donning her helmet and getting out on to the sidewalk she confidently and mounted her bike and we made our way to the bakery around the corner. This involved crossing the street 3 times on our way there. At first she wanted to cross with "no holding hands" to which I suggested we should get off the bike altogether to cross. We compromised her staying on the bike and holding one of my hands which I also used to hold on to one of her handgrips. It was a little awkward but worked out just fine.

She basically sits on the Skuut and walks since she hasn't really realized that she can pick up her legs and coast. This makes for a really slow walk but we were both stoked about it just the same. We eventually arrived at Tart-to-Tart
where Jula requested a "cookie with nuts and some milk" which I happily obliged. She loves her helmet so much that she never really wants to take it off. :-)

The way home has a tiny downhill so she was able to go a little faster and had fun doing so. All in all, it was a fine fine first voyage out on the Skuut. This father is quite excited to see his little girl take her first steps toward two-wheeled-freedom!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Outdoor Living Room

Tonight Jula and I rode the Xtracycle about 6 blocks away (2 over and 4 up) to meet with other members of the Inner Sunset Neighborhood Group to hang out at an ad-hoc outdoor living room space! A few people brought chairs and a table and just hung out on the corner of 9th ave and Lawton to meet some new folks and mostly talk about our neighborhood. It's exciting that people are actually interested in coming together to participate in our local community. It was great to see Ellen there too, I'm excited about the Inner Sunset Clean-up day that she's organizing on August 8th. Not only is it functionally a great idea but I think it will be a great community-building event too. She said she signed up more than 60 people at the farmers market last weekend! Many conversations were had in the living room pertaining to community, livable neighborhoods and general discussions about what we like about our neighborhood and what can be improved. Particularly I'm interested in the idea of creating a civic gathering space, most likely out of space reclaimed from cars. It's a tough sell for such a busy neighborhood but I think it's essential. Perhaps a block of street that's not all that useful for cars that can be turned into chairs/tables space with plants and a fountain or something. The new civic space at Castro and 17th St is a great example of what can be done with reclaimed street space.

My personal highlight of the outdoor living room was watching Jula ride her little Skuut bike around on the sidewalk with glee while all the adults hung out. Nice!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Inner Sunset Farmers Market

Today was the 5th Sunday of our new neighborhood farmers market. It's grand to see so many people outside shopping and mingling with each other. The selection of fruits, veggies and other goodies is really quite good. Now that I've been able to go to this market a few times now I've developed a few criteria to help decide which vendors to buy from. Primarily I choose vendors that are selling organic produce. Not only is this for our health, avoiding food with pesticides or chemical fertilizers but also as a vote for the kinds of food I think we should all be eating. Secondarily, I try to choose vendors that are traveling the shortest distance. Clearly nearly none of what's sold at the farmers market is actually produced in San Francisco (with the exception of the City Bees honey!) so it all has to be transported here. The shorter the distance the produce travels, the lower it's carbon footprint. Again, my purchase choice is a personal vote for how I think things should be.

This has always been a great neighborhood but over the past few months it's really started to feel more like a community. The farmers market has made a big difference. People really had to pull together to make it happen in the first place but now it's become a great place for community building too. The Inner Sunset Park Neighbors group that spearheaded the farmers market is actively recruiting people for all sorts of other concerns. Today I talked to Patrick and Ellen about Ellen's beautification committee. Ellen is organizing an Inner Sunset cleanup day on August 8th. I had already signed up via the Facebook event that she put together but I spent some time talking to her about the kinds of things that would help clean up our neighborhood. Graffiti is a big concern but it's mostly a problem on the large blank walls in certain locations. The side of the empty brewery that borders the parking lot where the farmers market is held is a great example. One entire side of the building is a drab red color that is a huge target for graffiti taggers. In many other places in SF and abroad the most effective way to deal with this is to have a mural painted. Taggers seem averse to tagging things that are already decorated. Ellen thought this was a great idea, hopefully we'll be able to made some headway in this area. Another idea we discussed is adding more planter boxes to the sidewalks in the area. There are a few planned along Irving St between 7th ave/8th ave that have been marked on the ground with tape. We're lucky that the sidewalks are wide enough in our area to facilitate this kind of thing. I think that Nicole and I might put up a planter box of some sort in front of our house, especially considering we were turned down for a FUF tree due to our power pole location.

The music at the farmers market has been great so far. So good in fact that my daughter Jula has been inspired to dance for a bit while I shop. Today Nicole hung out with Jula and the band while I shopped with Tenzin strapped to my chest. The market is 2 blocks up and 2 blocks over from our house and is quickly becoming a weekly family ritual. Hooray for farmers markets!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ride's end

Today's ride ended at the Fireside bar on 7th ave/Irving where I was
greeted by this lovely glass of Chimay. I'm almost done reading
"Pedalling Revolution", when I finish it I'll post a review. It's
really a great book!

Colorful seawall

Today I took a solo non-errand ride out to the ocean and back. The
seawall at Ocean Beach is quite colorful thanks to the numerous San
Francisco graffiti artists. I haven't been out on a "fun" ride for
several weeks, since before Tenzin was born. My legs really let me
know that it had been awhile!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pet store run

Jula and I made our monthly run to the pet store about a mile away
from the house. 45lbs of dog food, 30lbs of cat food, 30lbs of cat
litter and 30lbs of Jula. It was a heavy load, probably the mist cargo
I've hauled on the xtracycle so far. It still handled well despite a
bit of backend sway from the weight.


My intention with this blog is to share what we learn about trying to live car-free with kids. Depending on your location it can be quite easy to live your life without a car but when you introduce kids into the scenario things become somewhat more complicated. Instead of driving everywhere we walk a lot, bike a lot and take the bus or train when it makes sense. In the process of using these other forms of transportation we've realized that not only do we get some exercise but we also get to know our neighbors, our neighborhood and our city in a much more personal way. It's also an investment in our kids future both in terms of our decreased carbon footprint but also in forming a healthy lifestyle for them from the start.

We've been immensely inspired by several other car-free-with-kids blogs out there and want to let the world know that not only is it possible but can be a really amazing way to live. Hopefully what we share on this blog will inspire other people to ditch their cars and lead a happier, healthier lifestyle, whether you have kids or not!

How we ended up being car-free. A bit of history.

For the past 3 years my wife Nicole and I have lived in San Francisco without a car. When we first moved here we owned a beat up little Honda Civic. In many ways it was a great city car, decent gas mileage, easy to park but it had one really huge problem, we didnt use it. About 6 months after we moved to SF we had managed to rack up 6 parking tickets at $75 each and had used the car maybe 3 times. Around the same time Nicole's sister wrecked her car so we gladly gave the Civic to her, reveling in our new lack of car insurance payments and parking hassles. The one catch was that we had a 3 month old daughter. We knew that not owning a car would make some things more difficult but we felt like it would be worth it. We signed up for citycarshare(.org) and rented cars from the citycarshare pod that was 2 blocks from out house anytime we needed to actually leave the city. I had already been biking the ~1 mile to work and back or taking public transit everywhere we needed to go. Grocery shopping was the one thing that was really taxing without a car. We went thru several modes before buying a kid trailer with the specific purpose of hauling groceries and other things that we needed to buy but didnt want to carry by hand. Car-free life was starting to really feel good.

Then our daughter Jula turned 1 year old. Old enough for a helmet and bike seat of her own. We bought a Co-Pilot Taxi seat and racks for both my bike and Nicole's bike. Jula took to the bike right away. She loved it so much that it was easily the only activity that she enjoyed quietly for long periods of time. Such a nice way to spend time with your offspring. Now she's almost 2.5 years old and we've been all over the city on the bike. Most of our trips are purposeful, groceries, hardware store, taking Jula to gymnastics or music class. We tend to get out on pure-pleasure rides a few times a month. Golden Gate Park is literally across the street from our house so we like to take long meandering rides through it, to Stow Lake, the Bison Paddock or even the full 4 miles out to Ocean Beach.

The cargo trailer started to become a bit of a pain. We'd be out riding and realize that we needed to pick up something from the store and have to go home to pick up the trailer. Also, it was not much fun to have all that weight following behind us, dragging it in city traffic or trying to navigate small spaces. Let's not even talk about trying to navigate in reverse with the trailer attached. We needed something more. Enter The Mutant: I had been drolling over the Xtracycle cargo bike attachment for sometime and scouring Craigslist for a used one for many months. Finally I found a complete setup that was the right price ($500 for a full xtracycle which is the same price as the xtracycle attachement new by itself) and rushed to buy it. The bike itself is a little bizzarre (it has a top-tube sticker "MUTANT") but carries cargo like a champ. All that remained was to mount Jula's bike seat to it to really make it our family SUB (sport utility bike). A little bit of custom hackery on my part and the seat was bolted to the Snapdeck on the back of the bike. Jula loves it and goes nearly everywhere with me! In fact, on the rare occasion that I take the Mutant out without her it feels really strange. I've become used to her extra weight over the back wheel giving me better traction and keeping the back end from bouncing over the terrain. After hauling stuff around for a few months with The Mutant it was clear that the xtracycle was making car-free life in the city much easier and fun. We found a good deal on another xtracycle frame on craigslist and converted my city-commuter bike into an xtracycle and sold off the old xtracycle frame to a friend. (This left a very strange bike that's still called The Mutant)

Enter Tenzin. Tenzin was born in the summer of 2009 and we slowed down for a bit. We were eager to get him on the bike with us but waited until he was strong enough to hold his head up for extended periods, around 7 months old. We started by strapping his infant car seat into a typical 2-wheel kids trailer. He followed us around in that trailer for quite a few months, chirping away and enjoying the tented shelter of the trailer in all kinds of weather conditions. We aren't big fans of pulling at least the particular no-name brand of trailer that we have but were very glad to be able to go out riding as a family.

When Tenzin was finally old enough to ride in an upright seat we ditched the trailer and bought an Xtracycle Radish for Nicole. It's quite a classy bike and was exactly what she needed. Jula loves to be on Mom's bike, she'll happily sit right behind her chatting everyone's ears off. The Radish has a great kid's seat paired with it that our little one can be strapped into while Jula sits slightly in front of him, hanging on to a set of stoker handlebars behind Mom's saddle. The whole arrangement is quite pleasant. If we're out for a family ride we'll move the PeaPodLT seat over to my xtracycle so kid-hauling duties can be shared :)

We bike *EVERYWHERE*. We're lucky to live in the geographic center of San Francisco and have amazing bike access to so many parts of the city. We've been out over golden gate bridge and around to Tiburon and back again. We bike to Ocean Beach and Baker Beach with ease. We regularly bike all over the Mission for various reasons. When the weather is nice we'll bike down and around Lake Merced and back again for a nice ~15 mile loop after work. We bike the kids all over the city for doctors appointments, acrosports, pre-school, and just for fun! We all bike out to the east bay with some frequency as well as we have family in Concord. We ride the kids downtown, hop on BART and get off in Concord where we bike around town to see family and old friends. We've biked the kids from Pittsburg to Brentwood and back again to see great-grandparents (note: mostly bike-hostile territory).

Last summer we fell in love with bike camping! Our first trip was a test so we left the kids at home with grandma and braved it alone. Our destination was China Camp State Park. The route was somewhat complicated as we were navigating little more than the urban jungle but was turned out to be a fairly bike-friendly 70 mile round-trip. We are formulating plans for several bike camping trips for spring/summer 2011, possibly even an amtrak+bikes trip up to Portland.

(updated 11 Jan 2011)

First Post!

To celebrate the 30 minutes of free time that allowed me to actually start this blog I'm posting this photo of our xtracycle loaded up with groceries that my daughter Jula and I picked up from Safeway earlier today.

Normally we don't shop at Safeway because there are other decent markets in walking distance but we usually make a run to Safeway once a month or so for more bulk-like items. This run was $145 worth of groceries including 2 gallons of milk and lots of canned goods and other heavy stuff. The ride to safeway is incredibly short in comparison to some of the other places we ride to in San Francisco. From our house it's a short jaunt across Golden Gate Park and right between the Academy of Science and the de Young Art Museum. A nice little ride.