Friday, July 3, 2009

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)

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