Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Cyclist's Thanksgiving Message

I’m thankful I can ride a bike and that I can #choosethebike where I live and work.

I’m thankful that when confronted with the other 10%, I know someone who does.

I’m thankful that if my bike is stolen, I have friends who will help me look.

I’m thankful I’ve never had to write a ‘Homeless-Please-Help’ sign on the side of a bridge abutment and pounded my fists in frustration when I forgot how.

I’m thankful for the drivers who wait for a chance to pass me and give me plenty of room when they do.

I’m thankful for cycling activists who fought for years to make bike lanes, slow speed limits, available bike parking and countless other things usually taken for granted. 

I’m thankful for a comfortable saddle, handgrips that don’t feel like rocks and bike gloves that don’t seem to magically shrink mid-ride.

I’m thankful for Good Karma Bikes in San Jose, Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op in Cleveland, BikePort Co-Op in Bridgeport and other bicycle based nonprofits that improve lives.

I’m thankful REI followed my lead and made a stand on Black Friday.

I’m thankful that no matter where I go in the world the bicycle knocks down language barriers.

I’m thankful I can ride after Thanksgiving dinner and feel less guilty about the second slice of pie. 

I’m thankful for the plastic Yoda action figure that sits on my desk after traveling 3,000 miles on the dashboard of my Honda Element when my wife and I drove safely from Connecticut to California (I got my sister, who lives in New York, an identical figure for her birthday and she put it on her dashboard for her Thanksgiving travel. Today I’m doing the same thing. Yoda solidarity or #Yodadarity as we can’t be together this Thanksgiving.)

I’m thankful for all who are mindful of their neighbors on and off the road.

I'm thankful. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Three Nice Things You Can Do With A Bay Area Bike Share Bike

Today you can use a Bay Area Bike Share bicycle for free. Really. It’s a cool promotional event, and as someone who has used bike share extensively in London I can attest to the value and fun-factor of bike share. 

On a normal week I’d suggest one take a bike share bike on say, I don’t know, mountain biking at Santa Teresa County Park, a ride through the drive-in at a grotesquely overrated burger chain, and so on, but this has been a mean week.

Actually, I take that back: A small number of mean people have gotten a hold of megaphones and, in loudly turning their backs to Syrian refugees, are literally going out of their way to make the U.S. seem a lot less compassionate than it really is. Me, I want to give all Syrian refugees bicycles as welcome gifts and I’d guess most of my readers would want to do that too. 

There are several ways to go about showing compassion today with a bike no matter where you are and no matter how you feel about what transpired this week. This first one is not unique to the Bay Area: 

We think different. Dress different. Vote different. Pray different and move different. But we all have to eat and no matter where we live there are people out there who are hungry. 

Food Bank Biking is when you ride a bike, laden with as much food as you can carry safely, to a local food bank. It’s something anyone can do, and it's something we did in Stamford twice just before Thanksgiving (though I couldn’t do it with my friends the first time but instead did a food bank run in Cleveland). Look up your local food bank and, hopefully, organize friends to get together sometime and bring food to help the hungry. In San Jose, The Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties has two locations in San Jose: one on 750 Curtner Avenue and another at 4001 North 1st Street. If you choose to use a Bay Area Bike Share bike, you should be able to at least make it to the latter and back to the docking station before your 30 minute free ride is up. 

1) A Trip to Rosie’s & Posies

When I borrowed the Box Bike Collective cargo bike I brought it to Rosies & Posies to meet the founder of Cowgirl Bike Courier, who was borrowing the Box Bike since his own cargo bike was stolen (this was a story I followed closely and I am pleased to report it had a happy outcome). 

What I never mentioned is after I gave him the bike and took my Dahon Matrix down the street to get a cup of coffee at Philz, I noticed a lot of people walking by holding flowers. A lot of people. I found out later someone had bought flowers and was handing them out to strangers. Seems like a nice idea. If you like flowers you can bike there and give it a try. 

3) A Visit to Good Karma Bikes 

While I know none of you are surprised Good Karma Bikes is on this list, I must remind you once again they are in their new location at 460 Lincoln Avenue.

I admit the outside, as of this writing, looks more like the place Robert DeNiro tried to send Lorraine Bracco to pick up dresses in the final act of Goodfellas. But please don’t let the incomplete signage throw you; the inside retail area just looks spectacular and the people behind the counter are as awesome as ever. 

A 30 minute trip with a Bay Area Bike Share Bike isn’t enough time to volunteer at Good Karma Bikes, but it is enough time to ride there to buy a needed bike part, an accessory or even clothing for your own cycling needs (The retail shop is open today from 2:00pm to 6:00pm). And it goes without saying that the proceeds go to keeping Good Karma’s community efforts going. 

I’m planning to do a Food Bank Biking run this coming Sunday at 9:00am as my cycling brothers and sisters in Stamford are doing the same thing Saturday, November 21 at noon EST - but also because I just want do something to help drown out the anger, paranoia and cruelty that was on the lead story on the nightly news all week. Hope to see you on the road with a food donation. Thanks for reading and thanks for being compassionate.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Box Bike Collective Review - Part II: Reassuring California Motorists

Note: a special shout-out to all who volunteer, and to Garvin Thomas of NBC Bay Area who came out this past Saturday to cover the Great Bike Migration of 2015/Good Karma Bikes moving to 460 Lincoln Avenue. You can watch his Bay Area Proud story here and follow Garvin on Twitter. Thanks again for coming, Garvin!

So as I mentioned earlier this week I borrowed the signature cargo bike from Box Bike Collective (and wondered: how do we want our children to see the world?). It’s the first time I’ve ever ridden a long cargo bike with the linkage steering so I was excited to try it. 

I’ve long ago been sold on the concept of using a bike instead of a second car (or even a first).  Honestly, car traffic in Silicon Valley is so bad I don’t understand why I don’t run into dozens of Box Bikes on the 11-mile ride to Good Karma Bikes at 460 Lincoln Avenue. 

But a review coming through the lens of someone who already loves to bike isn't going to carry a lot of weight with the intended target of this product: motorists. To that end, I’m going to write this review based on questions I think California drivers might have since I'm sure they want to know if they can do all the things they are used to doing in a car with a Box Bike.

Here are the questions:

Can I go to a home improvement stores and buy what I want?

I’ve already explained with the Bikeducken that yes, a cargo bike can carry lumber. I didn’t need to buy an entire sheet of plywood to build a workbench, but I did need molding for an interior door in my garage. So I went to Lowe's, locked the bike up, and bought four seven-foot pieces of wood. 

And I deployed a genius feature of the Box Bike:

The removable aluminum racks - known to carry large stepladders and surfboards - fit and lock in spaces on either side of the bike, and I pedaled home with confidence. As you’d expect, a bike this long doesn’t turn on a dime but the steering is surprisingly sensitive: After the first few miles of riding the Box Bike I found the handlebars would cooperate perfectly well with a gentle nudge. Lumber will get home with ease - and no straining to tie it to the roof of your car.

Can I go to the grocery store to buy bottled water? 

The short answer is, of course, yes. But having a cargo bike does change your shopping habits. At Nob Hill Foods, while paying for my groceries, I had an unexpected impulse to rent the Rug Doctor. My living room carpet hasn’t been cleaned since I moved here from Connecticut and I knew I had the cargo space. Spontaneously renting a carpet cleaning device just isn’t an urge I have when I go buy eggs on the fixie

Can I still race up to a red light even though I have to slam on my brakes and wait for it to change when I get there?

A bit of background here: I’ve found California drivers are mostly much more polite than drivers in Connecticut or New York. The biggest downside is there are a lot of them and many - more than any other drivers I’ve encountered in my life - tend to race up to a traffic light as though the cars are children and the red light is the teacher about to tell a story. 

This is where the electric assist of the Box Bike comes in. It has three modes (low, medium and high) and you can reach the control without taking your hands off the handlebar. This means if you’re approaching a red light, you can hit the control button with you thumb, put the electric assist on high, and zip up to a traffic control technology over 100 years old.

(In case you’re wondering, this bike does have a ‘throttle only’ button but it only moves the bike at about walking speed so it’s meant for helping you get up to speed from a dead stop or help you move a loaded bike while walking it). 

But back to the red light: when you get there, you can hit the disc brakes by gripping the handles. The brakes on the Box Bike are great but I did wish for regenerative braking that would charge the battery while slowing down (as some electric assist systems have). 

Now if this is the first electric assist bike you’ve ever ridden you may complain about the wildly inaccurate battery gauge. This is normal. Both the complaining and the wildly inaccurate battery gauge that seems to come with every e-bike I've ever reviewed. Total range and battery consumption will vary - I got to Good Karma Bikes at 460 Lincoln Avenue in San Jose and back again (about 22 miles round trip) being sensible with the battery, so chances are it’ll handle your commute. Not only that, but on this morning’s trip w/a 38 pound load I had the electric assist system off for five miles and didn’t mind at all. 

Can I pick up a pizza?

Mountain Mike’s largest pizza is 20” in diameter and the box couldn’t fit better in the cargo hold. The pizza is protected, doesn’t move much, and will get home quickly. It’s also kinda shielded from the wind, so it’ll still be a good hot temperature. The depth of the cargo box means you can carry a lot of pizzas and even wings. It's also almost impossible to reach the food and snag a slice while you're waiting at a red light.

That's a good thing. You know, don't drive distracted

Can I carry my child in comfort?

I covered how much better it is that a child has a nice view of the world instead of a view of a tablet/backrest of your Kia combo in my first post on the Box Bike. But I've also never seen an unhappy child riding in this style of bike. 

Since I didn’t have a child available I gave the sculpture I welded from a single vintage typewriter (called ‘Making a Friend at the Rowayton Arts Center show last year) a ride to the local school and back. The helmet rattled a bit over the bumps, but the 20” Schwalbe Big Apple tires handled the uneven pavement with ease and every weld held. If my sculpture holds together, so too should your child. 

Can I take it through the drive through window at the In-N-Out Burger?

Being from New England, I only knew In-N-Out Burger existed because of the film Fletch Lives - the sequel to the major motion picture, Fletch

Then, the day after I got here, I began noticing them scattered around Silicon Valley. When biking by an In-N-Out I’d see mostly the ‘In’ part: namely, cars lined up at the drive through window. 

Wow, I thought. I guess this is a real thing. 

It made me assume that if one were riding a Box Bike and were turned away at the drive through of an In-N-Out that would be a deal breaker for a motorist reluctant to give up their car. So I decided to give it a try. 

Arriving at the closest In-N-Out around 12:20 yesterday afternoon, I was awestruck at the line of motor vehicles.

The line - at least 15 cars long -  was in the shape of the letter ‘P’: it started in the Kohl’s parking lot, turned right, led to the order window and turned sharply left to go to the exit. I positioned myself behind a white Toyota Camry and waited long enough to memorize the tag number. 

I have to tell you that you don’t really grasp how ridiculous drive through windows are until you’re waiting at one on a bike. Maybe inside a car you fiddle with your smartphone, listen to the radio, text the person in the seat next to you - and so on, but when you’re on a bike all you see is what’s going on outside the car. I caught glances of people in their cars - who of course can't speak to one another because they are in cars - oblivious to how plain bizarre it is that their strictly emissions-regulated vehicles were pushing exhaust into the air for over 20 minutes waiting for a burger

Because the line of cars stretched into the Kohl’s parking lot, I heard an occasional honk by a flustered shopper trying to get out of his or her parking space. Meanwhile the bike rack next to In-N-Out was nearly empty. 

In addition to wondering if I should have brought sunscreen, I began to wonder how special these burgers are. Were they formed by the hands of Nigella Lawson and served by Jennifer Beals? Seriously, what was the draw? I had to stay to find out. 

I wondered if I’d be turned away at the order window, but as it turned out a young man with a tablet was outside, walking to each car, taking the order. He greeted me professionally and I made my order: a cheeseburger and fries. 

After what felt like two seasons of ‘House of Cards’ later, a nice woman at the window took my money, and a few minutes after that I was served my food by yet another nice and professional In-N-Out burger employee who wasn’t a celebrity.

I put my food in the cargo box, pivoted the bike around to the right, and parked in an open space. In full view of the crawl of cars and trucks slouching through the line - and still hearing the occasional car horn of a Kohl’s shopper trying to leave - I ate the most overrated hamburger I have ever eaten. And the fries reminded me why I no longer eat fries regularly, so I only ate a few. I fought an urge to scatter some fries in the cargo box and leave them there to give the bike a more authentic, car-like feel. 

But the point is…I did it and so can you, California. You can use Box Bike for just about everything you use a car for. And $3,400 for a vehicle that can fit through a normal sized door, easily carried by two adults, and makes a better environmental statement than any Access OK bumper sticker, it is a fair price - I especially feel that way since I’ve spent almost one-third of that amount this year repairing my car before my Nine Morning trip from Connecticut to California, another one-third in the months since my arrival, and another third between the cost of gassing it up and the achingly expensive set of tires I bought last week. 

California drivers, if you’re still skeptical, if you still think you need to own a car, that’s fine. I own one too, but I’m sure that with a Box Bike you’ll do what this site has been calling for: using our cars less and riding our bikes more. Your car will last longer and, even more importantly, you’ll have more fun. 

This morning I strapped my Dahon Matrix in the cargo box and easily pedaled to downtown San Jose to meet the bike’s next user: Cowgirl Bike Courier. Look for it anywhere in their service area and check out Box Bike Collective so you can buy your own. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Does Your Child See? First Thoughts on a Box Bike

Note: Good Karma Bikes has now moved to its new location at 460 Lincoln Avenue. The retail space reopens today at 2:00pm and they are once again accepting bicycle donations, so if you have a gently used bike (that isn’t from Walmart, Target or some other big box store) please donate - and like Good Karma Bikes on Facebook. 

I was fortunate to meet a fellow named Alex at the recent Cargo Bike Festival in San Jose. I also met his organization, Box Bike Collective, and his signature product that he welds himself right here in California.

I’m also fortunate that I have a chance to review this handmade cargo bike in great detail: It is about eight feet long and, unlike anything I’ve ever pedaled in my life, has the cargo box in in the front. 

These bikes are not uncommon in Europe but aren’t seen too frequently in the U.S. That’s unfortunate because, right out of the gate, this is what it means to not only #choosethebike but choosing not to own a second car - or even a first car. I know I’m not alone in feeling like California (and most of the U.S. for that matter) deliberately arranges itself so that every adult must have their own car.  But most trips are less than two miles from the home and if you can carry a lot of things with a bike (I do have a long and happy history with saluting the cargo bike) it’s all the more reason to use one.

Now the Box Bike has a child’s seat that allows two kids to sit side by side. I’ve seen people - including, of course, Emily Finch - do this. Having a child or even two isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to Minivan-ville if you opt for a Box Bike. 

And as I began riding this bike (and, yes, getting used to the linkage steering) I began to ask how do we want to show our children the world? 

If a child is sitting in a Box Bike, this is what they see:

If a child is sitting in a child’s seat in a SUV, this is what they see:

And that view is rather generous when you consider the growing number of kids who are using their parent’s old iPads in the car with the vacant, 1,000 millimeter stare that is too common with today’s youth. In Box Bike, they actually see something other than a tiny screen or the back of a car seat. 

I also got to thinking that if enough people move their children around with bikes then, in the future, the kids will be less likely to see smog in the air and asthma inhalers in their hands. 

So that’s just something to think about as I put this bike through more paces, which I am doing all week. For more information about Box Bike Collective, visit their website, and remember: Good Karma Bikes is reopening today and is again accepting donations. Today, remember to #choosethebike....and, while we're at it, choose to avoid stupid red cup controversies by going to a local coffee shop - like Lorca in Stamford or Moonbeans in San Jose - instead of a national chain. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

If you live in San Jose (or Silicon Valley, for that matter) this video is for you. Take a look and send to your Bay Area Friends. Thanks for watching and thanks for volunteering to help Good Karma Bikes move. 

Follow me on Twitter: @michaelknorris