Monday, August 5, 2019
Some months ago, it was decided the annual family reunion would take place in a town called Lakeside - where my aunt and uncle have a vacation house.
This meant Family Weekend would not be in my hometown-with-an-asterisk Mystic, Connecticut. I liked the idea of trying the Ohio town and I liked the idea of the whole family getting together even more.
Since I was (and still am) busy through the year, I didn't have the time I wanted to have to research the town. In rumor I had heard it was like the camp in Dirty Dancing - only with more shuffleboard and fewer illegal abortions. My mother - who would occasionally ask my opinion of family meal plans months in advance even though I usually don't know what I'm having for the meal ahead of me and have difficulty recalling the meal behind - kept me apprised of the goings on and what I needed to know about Lakeside - one of which was a "visitors pass" that I'd need to enter and leave the area.
Unsure if I was visiting a quarantine zone like in 'Outbreak' or the Acadia planned community from the X-Files episode of the same name, we set down at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio to begin our journey by rental car to Lakeside. I unfortunately didn't have a chance to ride a bike in the Alfa Romeo of cycling cities* but I did get have just enough time to stop by the new location of Joy Machines - a shop I visited several times. Now I have so many cycling T-shirts I long ago put a moratorium on getting new ones...until I visited Joy Machines in Cleveland the day before Independence Day.
With a new T-shirt in my vacation wear clothing rotation, we made it to Lakeside, and we showed our passes at the gate. On narrow streets we drove to the rental home my parents were staying at. When we parked the car in a designated spot, we didn't move it again until we drove back to the airport three days later. We then watched the Fourth of July Parade - I was most impressed with the bike part - and if I had gotten there a little sooner I would have unpacked my bike Friday and joined them.
When the parade was over I began to notice the traffic in Lakeside: it was mostly golf carts.
There were also plenty of bicycles to be found - and I didn't see a single lock among them. The morning of July 5, I walked past bikes that were parked, on kickstands, overnight and nobody stole them.
A couple of blocks from this location I found a three bedroom house for sale for $191,000. In the Bay Area it would easily be five to fifteen times that amount.
There was also a coffee shop that opened early - like, almost-when-I-get-up early. I wasn't sure if I had found utopia or was living the first fifteen minutes of the movie "Get Out."
The most uncomfortable I ever felt was when I'd have to enter or leave the premises. I did it twice on the Bike Friday - they scanned my pass on the way out and scanned it again in on the way back in.
Outside of the gate, I could open the throttle and take quick rides before breakfast - and before it got too hot. I had derisively referred to Lake Erie as "Hasbro Water" since it just wasn't the East Coast, but it still had its moments where it looked like a real body of water and everything - look at the lighthouse:
When you bike or walk around Lakeside you'll see a lot of gray haired men and women driving around their grandkids in golf carts. That was when I realized I was in Boomertopia. A generation who worshipped cars actually built a place they would have hated to have lived in if they had jobs to commute to ever day.
The golf cart thing is the nicotine gum equivalent of cars: yeah, I'm trying to wean off the hard stuff - I just need a little hint of speed.
And I do mean little. I Stravaed** the golf cart I drove my family with - all six of us - and kept the phone attached to the center of the steering wheel with the little clippy-thing used to hold golf scores. It topped out at 15 miles an hour. What's more, since these are slow, quiet and open - If you see your Phoenix cousin and your Los Angeles cousin as they approach and accompany them on a trip to get some ice.
There are other Lakeside quirks that aren't travel related - for instance several homes have an assortment of tiny miniature fairy lands set up somewhere on their property.
That is just incredibly weird - but I suppose my sister and I taking Yoda action figures and adding them to the scene at the AirBnB may fall into the same category.
But to get back to the design lessons of Lakeside: It is accepted that a motorized vehicle should be governed to 15 miles an hour. Since the golf carts are small and not Hummer H2 sized, the streets are safer for walking and biking. Since they have tiny motors they are quiet, and that makes it easy to carry on a conversation with your dad on the front porch of an AirBnB during rush hour. Since it is widely known bikes and slow carts are on the streets at all times, the few cars that are in town drive slower.
Since parking lots aren't needed the buildings can be closer together - which makes things more walkable/bikeable. It also means more buildings - which means less land wasted on temporary motor vehicle storage.
It isn't lost on me the retirees who inhabit Lakeside now probably would hated to have lived there when they were younger and had to drive everyday to get to work. It wouldn't fit in with the narrative of automotive contradictions we all hear (or make) every day. Wanting a house you can drive to quickly...but on a quiet and safe street. Wanting your grandkids to have a safe place to bike...but you show up at town hall meetings railing against adding bike lanes. Wanting less traffic...but you don't support affordable housing built near train stations and getting people ways other than a car to get around.
The point is, when we talk about how we want cities to look, let's remind the naysayers again and again that some places have already gone or our going that route - and those places are safer for their kids and grandkids to play in. Sure, you get around slower but there are more important things than speed - like trying to try every ice cream place before your vacation ends.
Let's not stop advocating, working, and making arguments for the kind of world we want. If we do that, we'll eventually, given enough time, be in charge. The history of the automobile may have mostly been written by our elders, but the future of our towns and cities will be written by cyclists. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.
*This turn-of-phrase is mine, but it was inspired by Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear who complained about different aspects of Alfa Romeo's but said they still had an 'Alfa magic' that made the cars like no other. I'm always going to have a strange, can't-put-my-finger-on-why affection for Cleveland even though other cities have better bike infrastructure, better bike acceptance, better weather...but it still has an indescribable something that makes it better. Visit Cleveland.
** Strava is an app for jock people to help themselves reach new peaks of excellence and then brag to their friends about it. I just used it as a verb - past-tense. I need a shower.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Note: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes - the YWCA event to raise money to fight domestic violence - is next week and I could use your help. Please make a donation to my Walk in Mile page - thank you!
I didn't start Sunday, April 7, in the happiest of moods.
I had woken up before dawn so I could drive my wife to the airport. I drove back on 87 South annoyed at her early flight and tired from the lack of sleep and coffee. I didn't have a plan for what to do during the day - I only knew I wanted to take a longer-than-usual Sunday ride.
As the sun came up, I glanced east and saw Lick Observatory all the way at the top of Mt. Hamilton, on the horizon.
I had wanted to try that ride for a while, but originally thought it would be a good one for the road bike I wanted to build after I had finished The Alameda Bike Trailer. I also considered my Bike Friday but I worried the 53/34 chainring wouldn't give me enough range for that level of climbing (In fact, the day before, I tried to put a triple crankset on that bike but was thwarted when I realized too late it wouldn't fit on the bottom bracket).
I glanced back and forth from Mt. Hamilton to the highway as I drove. I had an entire day to myself and aside from the lack of a tiny chainring, my 21 year old Bike Friday New World Tourist is a good bike for a long ride. I decided to give it a shot.
Hungry when I got home, I ate leftover chicken tacos for breakfast - my eating habits tend to take a turn when my spouse is out of town - and looked at a map. If I left from my house and took the most direct (read: steepest) route, it would be about a thirty mile ride with a level of climbing that would be described as...I believe the technical term is 'insane'.
Familiar with long rides with the Bike Friday, I filled my Camelbak all the way to the top with water and packed my usual travel/repair kit. The nut molecules at the bottom of a nearly-empty Kirkland Unsalted Mixed Nuts tub went into a baggie, and four expired Kirkland protein bars went into my pack. I figured I'd run into different food options along the way and discard the expired bars properly. I also decided that this would be a 'dry run' and I'd turn back if I felt myself getting too tired or the 53/34 wouldn't be enough to bring me to the summit.
I set off.
A good chunk of the trip involved taking the Coyote Creek Trail toward downtown San Jose. It seemed like a decent place to warm up since it follows the creek downstream - and is thus a downhill. For some reason the song 'Eastbound and Down' from the Smokey & The Bandit movie began going through my head and I began singing passages of it aloud. Thank goodness there was no one around to hear.
I passed feral cats and homeless encampments the closer I got to downtown before turning off onto Tully Road. Wary of motorists on the ghost-bike-waiting-to-happen 101 interchange, I headed toward Eastridge Center and took a right on Quimby Road.
Quimby road is a straight, level stretch of road until it isn't. Then it goes straight up into the foothills with frequent switchbacks. This is where the little chainring was pressed into painful service.
With speed in the single digits, I pressed on and began having a taste of the view.
I also recognized the general area as the spot where my car overheated a couple of years ago when my wife and I attempted the trip in a motor vehicle. But thanks to the water my Bike Friday and I creaked past the spot.
At this point I was trying to decide how much further I should go but then something unexpected happened. I began going downhill.
What's deceptive about looking up at the foothills is that there are little hills in between the big hills that can't be seen from sea level. What I was suddenly descending wasn't a 'rolling' hill but scored rather high on the 'nosedive' scale.
It was also a Decision Hill - one where you had to make up your mind if you wanted to commit to it since, after all, you'd have to ride all the way back up later. Without thinking about it I let go of the brakes.
"Eastbound and downnnnnnn, loaded up and truckin' we're gonna do what they say can't be done."
The moment of levity - and the full-on commitment to this ride - was brief as I soon came upon a ghost bike. It then dawned on me that Quimby Road, with its blind corners, narrow passages and, most significant, careless motorists, is not a low fatality road.
The descent continued and opened up into a valley. I turned right on 130 - Mt. Hamilton Road - and realized I had about another ten miles to go. I stopped, gnawed on an expired protein bar, and continued on.
Even though I didn't have sweeping views of Silicon Valley on this stretch I was presented enough visual evidence this ride was worthwhile. Because of the elevation gain the trees were becoming more interesting and the pine cones were becoming more hazardous.
As the road got narrower I began using hand signals for the cars ambling their way up the road behind me. I'd spot them in my helmet mounted rear view mirror and hold my left palm out at a 45 degree down angle to let them know it wasn't safe to pass due to oncoming traffic. When it was clear I'd change the universal-symbol-for-stop to a thumbs up, and the car would pass safely - often with an appreciative hand gesture as they passed by. Not sure if this was normal behavior - mine or the drivers.
I didn't go very fast - even on the places where the road would level out - and I was occasionally passed by other cyclists. I was fine with that because it often made my photos more interesting.
And so it went: pedal, stop, take a picture, eat a few bites of expired Kirkland Soylent or whatever, and press on. Once, when I checked my phone, I noticed the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition had tagged me in thanks for building the Alameda Bike Trailers they were teaching volunteers to use at the same time as my ride.
Construction laborers in the 1880s may have had cyclists in mind when they designed the road, because every time you would pass the STEEP part of a switchback, your brain would automatically say "oh that was ridiculous I can't do another climb like that oh well look at that view!"
And when even that gets old...you start to look up and think: "That's Lick Observatory! I'm almost there!"
It was immediately after that photo I hammered the pedals. I could barely get enough oxygen into my lungs to manage the climb, but I somehow made it up there - though I didn't care for the Saab that zipped by me far too closely with only a hundred feet left on the trip.
I rounded the bend and entered the parking lot. There were a few cars up there - some of which I recognized from passing me earlier that morning. My legs just about gave out at that point.
After contemplating my footwear fashion choices for a little while, I took a walk around Lick Observatory, which was named after James Lick, a multimillionaire who made a decision - before he died in 1876 - that he wanted a huge monument to science and discovery to be part of his legacy. I was wowed. It is definitely a better place to put millions of dollars than Bitcoin.
I have to once again give kudos to Bike Friday - who made my New World Tourist 21 years ago that has been on a lot of journeys with me.
As good a citizen as James Lick was, he didn't think to include a donut shop or a taco stand in his vision of the observatory, so instead of anything that could be remotely described as lunch I finished off the expired Kirkland bars and bought a couple of Clif bars at the vending machine at the post office. Also...
A way better value than Skittles.
With the postcard sticking out of the front pocket of my bag, I took one long, last look over the horizon. I was pretty sure I could see both my office and what I think was my neighborhood. I also contemplated the road and realized I had a long way back. It was a thirty-mile thigh crusher to get to where I was standing and even though I was exhausted I had to cover just as many to get home.
Lucky for me, my brakes don't hurt my hands too much when I have to apply pressure for 70,000 years - or however long it took for me to get to the first valley. I did break 30 miles an hour in a couple of places but, knowing that some drivers could drive into my lane when making a dangerous pass of another cyclist going up, I kept it slow around the blind corners.
So intent on moving I somehow missed the turn to Quimby road - by over a mile - so I had to make up that mile turning back to head up the hilly section of the road. Once I got past that horrendousness, I eventually made it home - wrapping up a truly memorable ride. According to Strava I had traveled 62.43 miles, with a moving time of nearly six hours and 39 minutes. My elevation gain was 6,529 feet, and my max elevation was 4,217. Average speed was 9.4 miles an hour and my max speed was 31.3.
None of that is a brag - it's a beg. To motorists like the Saab that buzzed by me at the last mile: Cyclists who ride up Lick Observatory are not to be trifled with. We could have experienced Mt. Hamilton road in carbon-spewing comfort on a plushy seat just like you but we didn't. We choose slowness. We chose to smell the pine trees and feel the temperature changes on our skin. We chose the power of our own muscles to bring us to the top. Mess with us not and pass us safely you must because I never, ever want anyone to feel like they can't climb Mt. Hamilton because they thought it would be unsafe. Set the standard for sharing the road and good things will come your way - I promise.
Two months would pass before I returned to Lick Observatory for a photography night - one that we had to buy tickets for. My wife and I drove our car. There were two cyclists going up at that hour and I passed them with the utmost care and respect.
It's a different place when the sun is going down - and the haze from thousands of Bay Area motorists clouded the horizon. But it was hard to think too hard of it that night, because we actually got to go inside and see the big telescope (there are actually eleven telescopes on the site).
It was especially fun to see everyone's faces: it was the same look I had seen on other kid's faces as a kid going into the Boston Museum of Science.
I also discovered - to my sheer amazement - that there is a gift shop on the premises that was open after 9pm. I bought a pair of socks that have the solar system on it and saw no need to buy what appears to be their signature item - even though it looks nice.
So that was the Lick Observatory adventure - I must tell you, Bay Area, that there is a certain level of comfort and happiness to be found at all times because you can see the Lick Observatory from quite a few places in the South Bay. If I look over my left shoulder at my workbench, I can see it. If I look out the window of my office where I work, I can see it from there too. No matter how bad my day is, on the ride home I can look over to the left and think: I rode my bike to that.
Reach for rides you don't think you can do and support efforts kids make to learn and discover - like Zhea, my yoga teacher's stepdaughter, who wants to go to Space Academy.
And while it's got nothing to do with space: please donate to my Walk a Mile in Her Shoes page - like I did last year I am helping YWCA raise money to fight domestic violence and I'll be walking in high heels at Santana Row next week. But if you can only donate to one cause, send Zhea to Space Academy. If you can donate to three, send Zhea to Space Academy, help me with Walk A Mile, and donate to my Tour de Cure page - that ride to fight diabetes is Sunday. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
I am pleased to report I have successfully hacked Carmel-By-The-Sea - the Greenwich, Connecticut of California towns. By that I mean there are a lot of BMWs and salmon-colored pants to be found - and little in the way of either bike infrastructure or bike acceptance.
Seriously: I have been here since Friday and haven't seen a single, solitary bike rack - even a sharrow would be welcome at this point. Streets are wide and made for cars.
I walked around this morning in completely empty streets, noticing how much more peaceful the town is without motor vehicles.
I also went to the beach to hurl my umbrella at the coming rain clouds in anger.
For those of you who don't know, the very word 'Carmel' is derived from the English word 'Car' which is defined as 'Thing that pollutes and destroys all it touches' and 'Mel' which is derived from the Gaelic Maol, used to refer to the word 'servant.'*
When a town goes out of its way to make everything about cars and nothing about any other mode of transport, it ends up with an environment that welcomes, helps and serves no one but the motor vehicle.
I knew this on the drive down to meet my wife at the Carmel Art Festival. She was staying at The Pine Inn for a couple of days prior to my arrival and sent me a very long text message that told me I wouldn't find a place to temporarily store my motor vehicle. Spaces around town were two hour unless after 7:00pm, at which time you can have your motor vehicle stored without worry until 10:00 the next morning. The parking lot/car storage center belonging to the hotel would be full, and one couldn't store a motor vehicle on the residential streets without it being towed.
But on Ocean Avenue, the spaces that are perpendicular to the curb are unlimited. So if you can find a place to store your motor vehicle there, you're solid...until you have to go somewhere.
In an attempt to find out if there was anything to do in Carmel-by-the-sea other than trying to find a place to store a car safely, I stumbled across workaround to the problem: I stored the car in a perpendicular space at dawn Saturday morning. And, in the back, I had this:
This is a 10+ year old Bike Friday Family Tandem that I bought a few months ago in one of the most Epic Tag Sale Finds ever. I had to replace the entire drivetrain and upgrade the seats but it doesn't change the fact the bike takes 20" tires and has an overall length so short I can put it in the back of my car just by taking the front wheel off. The bike can also be dismantled and put into two suitcases like my New World Tourist but I haven't tried that yet.
So that's the answer: bring a bike to Carmel-By-The-Sea. And early in the morning, you should go to Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company on Ocean Avenue, which - and this should come as good news to fellow early risers - opens at 6:00am on Saturdays and Sundays. The photos on the walls there right now are by artist Robert Christopher Nichols.
After storing your motor vehicle in the perpendicular space on Ocean Avenue and walking up to get your coffee and breakfast, you walk back to your motor vehicle and retrieve your tandem.
Ocean Avenue is a little steep, so you can simply walk the bike a couple of blocks down and pedal along a road called 'Scenic Road' - which, after a short while, becomes a one-way street with a oh-god-bless-them speed limit of 15 miles per hour.
The direction of the road - which does live up to its name - puts the ocean on your right, and the pace allows one to gawk at some of the impossibly pretty gardens on your left and listen and see the waves on your right.
It's a little over a mile and a half to get to Carmel River State Beach. There's no bike rack to be found there, so bring a cable lock to lash the bike to the wooden sign. When that's done, you've got...well, you've got the beach, which I was thankful to be able to visit before the rare-for-this-time-of-year rain started.
Yesterday the beach featured a teepee made out of driftwood. I can't guarantee it'll still be there when you visit, but if it's there be sure to step inside and stay awhile.
Because this is the weekend of the Carmel Art Festival, there were some plein air painters afoot - including Gretha Lindwood, seen here painting.
We pedaled back via Carmelo Street which gave us more houses to admire. On getting back to the car, I removed the front wheel and put the tandem away - only to take it out again so we could ride ten minutes to Crossroads Shopping Center - which we also managed to do before the rain started.
Did I mention that Carmel needs bike lanes and bike parking?
My wife bought a frame for one of her works and we had lunch before heading back to Carmel-By-The-Sea in the rain. From there, we put the bike away and walked with our umbrellas to the Carmel Art Festival.
The Carmel Art Festival ends today (Sunday, May 19th) at 3:00pm. In Carmel, you can hack the rain with a umbrella and hack the parking with a tandem, so come to the Carmel Art Festival today and bring more art into your life - and you don't want to miss your chance to own a work of art by Suma CM. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.
* This is true.
Friday, May 10, 2019
I live in a single-family home in San Jose. It’s about eleven miles from my job.
My career has taken a lot of turns over the years but using a bicycle to get to and from my job has been a constant - and one that I am lucky enough to enjoy. My spouse works in another Bay Area city and for a variety of reasons - one of which is financial - we own only one car between us. Public transit and riding a bike close the gap from home to office for me and we both make compromises.
One of those compromises is speed. Even though I usually catch up to cars at red lights - especially near downtown - bikes move slower than motor vehicles. On a perspective standpoint, switching from a car to a bike is like viewing a movie formatted for television and then going to a second-run theater and seeing it on widescreen for the very first time.
For example, if you bike by a homeless encampment instead of driving by it you can really notice details. Discarded couches set up like a living room - complete with a painting hanging off a chain link fence. A dog flopped lazily on a folding lawn chair like it was the front porch of a farmhouse. Sometimes you can see and smell food cooking.
|Beneath a Bay Area highway - May 2019|
Since I ride on roads that can pass for highways on the East Coast I think a lot about the space the Bay Area has invested for car movement. Since I also pedal through acres of parking to hunt for a bike rack I think about the demands the Bay Area has for car storage.
Few people think about it, but the cost of parking spaces at stores and restaurants are usually baked into the prices of the items in the stores and restaurants, embedded in the leases of most workplaces, and factored into the per-unit costs of building apartments. In every case the cost is carefully hidden from the drivers.
Understanding the cost of the space cars consume isn't just about the solvency of our wallets but the sustainability of cities like San Jose. No matter how much people like Elon Musk brag about the technology they can cram into a car, it still needs a place to wait when the owner arrives at his or her destination. Building those places to wait - parking spaces - costs. Building the heavy duty infrastructure needed to move them costs. The time spent by the driver waiting in traffic they themselves create is a cost. And the cost of the parking that puts more space between our homes, our schools and our workplaces costs too.
A lot of young people either just don’t enjoy driving or would prefer to live car-free - but for now we live in an area that assumes you own a car and punishes you if you don’t. Escaping from that expensive and unsustainable mentality is part of what Bike Month is about.
Where housing comes in is an easier fit than you think. When homes are built in walkable and bikeable areas near workplaces and transit we deliver a freedom to people who can’t or would just rather not be hit with the expense and hassle of owning a car. When we build, support and value that that kind of infrastructure, we can build more affordable homes.
A project the nonprofit Housing Trust Silicon Valley helped finance in early April plans for 130 homes and an allotment of ½ a parking space per home. It is a five minute walk from a VTA station, a ten minute walk from two Ford GoBike bikeshare stations, and a 15 minute walk to Diridon station. This past summer a loan was made to a different affordable housing developer to buy another lot even closer to Diridon - and 300 homes are planned for that site which has a similar car-lite design.
National Bike Month is all about getting people to think about using bikes more and driving cars less - and realizing just how much of a cost cars have become. Affordable Housing Month is about understanding and creating affordable housing. May gives us the chance to do both. Please learn more about and get involved by visiting www.bikesiliconvalley.org and www.siliconvalleyathome.org - and if you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it.
Also: if you want to explore San Jose by bike and learn about affordable housing at the same time, there's a ride Saturday, May 11th that starts at 1:00pm in St. James Park in San Jose. You can register for Wheelie Home: An Affordable Housing Bike Ride right here. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
I know a thing about bike trailers - maybe two. This was apparently enough to make me an expert in trailers - or at least the sort the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition would ask to make a trailer for.
Let me back up a second.
The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, in addition to making policy recommendations, supporting bike education, leading Bay Area Bike to Work Day (which is May 9 and you need to pledge to ride to work now), fighting for every foot of safe and protected bike lanes in the Bay Area, and engaging the public through creative and interesting rides...also does valet bike parking.
They have a tent and portable bike racks they bring from place to place so bicycle users have a safe and easy place to keep their bikes. It's really great and I've used it a few times - like at their annual Bike Summit in August and the annual Bike to the Bay event.
The portable bike racks and tent they use for these are large and hard to move without a car, and a friend said they wanted to use bikes instead and asked if I'd build a couple of trailers.
With excessive certainty, I said I'd be happy to build two bike trailers for them.
One of the first steps was to figure out exactly what these trailers would be carrying, and that involved going to the SVBC office in San Jose and using a borrowed tape measure. The most cumbersome thing the trailers would be carrying would be the racks and the tent - both about five feet long - so I planned to make the trailers about 5'4" long.
Next, the SVBC put out a call to members for them to donate unwanted bike trailers so I could use them to build what I wanted to build. What I had decided during this period was that I wanted to build two trailers that would be as identical as possible so they'd be easier to build and could share parts if one of them needed maintenance in the future.
I figured I had the best chance of getting two identical trailers if I didn't solely rely on SVBC members to bring me theirs, so while I was waiting for I engaged in my own efforts to acquire trailers, and I was able to find this at Good Karma Bikes:
This is a used Burley child carrier - and a pretty nice one at that. The price was quite low as the seatbelts looked as though they had been torn apart by an unruly family of wolverines.
Another friend of mine had a trailer she didn't use that was pretty much brand new. When I asked her how much wanted for it she replied that she'd part with it for ramen. I told her she had a deal, and after treating her to lunch at Kumako Ramen in Japantown I ended up with this.
This is a Burley cargo trailer and the only thing it seemed to share with the one I purchased at Good Karma Bikes was the trailer hitch - which was one I hadn't seen before (ignore the thing in the middle of the photo - I'll get to that in a minute).
As most of you know I welded a universal trailer hitch onto my City Bike a couple of years ago - and this trailer took neither. It did, however, come with a coupler that can be attached to a rear axle. So I left the trailer under my desk at work, attached the hitch to my bike at home that night, and towed it all the way home the following evening (I also made, from a piece of 1" square tubing seen in the middle of the above photo, a hitch I could weld to the City Bike but I abandoned the idea since it didn't seem strong enough to support the weight).
A few days passed before I was told a few trailers were available at the SVBC. I picked them up and brought them home on a day I had my car.
Things weren't looking promising. I had four trailers, all with different styles and built with different methods and materials. I was worried I wouldn't be able to build two identical ones like I wanted.
But then, my friend at SVBC said there was yet another trailer available in San Mateo. When she described said trailer it sounded like it could be worthwhile. It found its way to the SVBC office, and it was a match to one of the others.
Both of these are an older style of Burley I'm quite familiar with. In fact, I built a bike mover for the Domus bike drive and used it to carry shopping carts using an old Burley trailer.
This was also the design I was hoping to find since these trailers use 20" wheels on a normal hub. Even though the spokes are usually offset, 20" wheels can be found anywhere. The last thing I wanted to do was build trailers that took special parts - like the Burley pop-on wheels. They're very cool, but I'd rather an SVBC volunteer pop in and out of Good Karma Bikes for a minute and a half to replace a 20" wheel than have a trailer out of commission for days while ordering a more expensive pop-on wheel.
The trailer directly ahead of me and the one to my immediate right would be the main platforms for the project. I did swipe out the tires from the fancy blue Burley trailer with the ones on the red and yellow one since I wanted the SVBC trailers to have the newest tires. I added Tuffy tire liners* to both so the trailers would be less likely to get a flat to begin with.
I went to work on the cloth sides like Errol Flynn knifing his way down a ship's sail**. I noticed the frames were just about identical but the mounting points for the tongue were plastic and would get in the way for what I had in mind.
My idea was to use simple, aluminum frames bolted on top of the existing trailer frame with a 1/4" PVC floor. Based on what the SVBC had told me, the cargo the trailers were expected to carry could ride on the PVC easily without too much worry that they would break. They'd also be light and wouldn't swell and shrink when exposed to water. Wood would have been cheaper but it would absolutely have been heavier and would not last nearly as long.
A trip to Lowe's netted most of the material I needed that wasn't lying around the shop. I also made subsequent trips to ACE Hardware on The Alameda (one of which was to discover the bike racks were being installed out front).
I did manage to get all of the materials to my shop on brand.
I toyed with the idea of trying to learn, once again, how to weld aluminum (a task I had tried and failed in spectacular fashion in the weeks after getting a Lincoln Electric spool gun as a self-given birthday gift years ago). But I ruled that out soon too. Not only was I squeamish about allowing SVBC volunteers towing the trailers to be the test subjects for my aluminum-welding skills, but I reasoned the construction of the trailers should use hardware that could be easily found and have the ability to be fixed with tools that would be readily available.
Measuring the inside of the Burley trailer gave me something along the lines of 22". When the large, 5'4" aluminum frames I was making would be mounted on them, I knew I'd have to extend the tongue of the trailer to account for the longer cargo bed. I intended to buy a tube long enough that was the same thickness, bend it with a pipe bender, and use the existing hardware.
It was at this point I ran into a problem: finding an aluminum tube that thick wasn't easy. I made a lot of phone calls to some of the random industrial-looking buildings clustered around Monterey Road in San Jose but got nowhere. I even rang a place (recommended by another place) and the person who picked up the phone greeted me gruffly with the words "This is Eddie."
My heart leapt when I heard that, because I was sure that Eddie would be the one to help me. But alas, Eddie didn't come through.
Not having a long enough trailer tongue meant I'd have to modify the design. Moving the existing tongue forward 15 inches meant having a completely new mounting system since the plastic brackets - which I had mentioned earlier - couldn't be moved.
This took longer than I thought to figure out - and most of my thought process involved cutting and moving pieces of aluminum around while season 2 of 'Justified' played in the background.
By the time season 2 spilled over to season 3, I landed on the idea of cutting L-shaped pieces of aluminum brackets and using two bolts each to mount them to two pieces of 1" square tubing that would span a couple of inches wider than the inside width of the frame. To assemble two trailers, I was only short about 4' of square tubing so the other night I set off to Lowe's to buy what I needed.
Instead, I came back like this.
I miss Orchard Supply Hardware - a local hardware store chain that was founded in the early 1930s and eventually bought by Lowe's before being unceremoniously dissolved in 2018. Since then, I've resigned myself to the fact there are only two sizes of aluminum ever available: a unit that is half the size of the aluminum I need, and another that is twice the amount of aluminum that I need. Lucky for me, I always carry reusable wire ties and these marvelous things called Gear Ties.
With the square tubes of aluminum in hand, I sawed them carefully to the width of the trailer, used an angle grinder on the ends to smooth out the sharp spots, and set them on the frame about five inches apart to mimic the approximate placement of the mounting points on the existing trailer. That done, I sawed up four pieces of a 1" L-bracket, ground off the sharp bits, and set them in place.
During this time I found that owning several pairs of vice grips is a wonderful thing. What I would do was clamp the two pieces of aluminum in place so I could make 1/4" holes with a cordless drill. Since I was using 1/4" bolts throughout I had to be careful not to drill too close to one another or to one side of the L-brackets.
In order to mimic the original mount as much as possible, I spaced them out on the underside of the frame the same distance apart as they are on the unmodified trailer. I also bought a bolt the same thickness and used clovis pins so one could easily swing the tongue out of the way for storing the trailer. For the sake of paranoia I added anther piece of aluminum as a brace between the square tube and the L-bracket frame.
Before cutting and attaching the 1/4" foam PVC floors, I wanted to add some strength to the center of the trailer. As it happened, I had some aluminum tubing and found a lock nut could fit inside if I put in a bolt and dropped it repeatedly on the workshop floor to drive the nut deeper into the tube. I kept removing the bolt and looking inside to monitor my progress.
I'm positive there's a more elegant and sophisticated solution than this, but you build what you can with the knowledge and materials you have.
Done on both sides, I carefully drilled through the Burley frames so I could thread a bolt through the openings and into the nuts that were now lodged in the frame. You can see the rod in the middle of the frame in this photo.
The PVC was easy - because of my failed cargo bike business (more on that another day, I promise) I had a big, yellow piece of 1/4" foam PVC standing in the corner of my shop that was 2' by 6'. A visit to Tap Plastics on The Alameda gave me some 1/4" foam white PVC at a reasonable price (they even cut it at the location so I could carry it easily).
For the floors all I did was place the PVC on the table, set the upside-down trailer frames over them, and trace around them with a sharpie. That accomplished, I took to sawing them with a jigsaw.
I think I've told you before: those collapsible table-things that are used at tradeshows? They are fabulous workbenches whenever you need to saw anything large. The sawblade passes right through and the piece you're cutting off won't fall to the floor. Then when you're done you just collapse it and put it on a shelf.
With the foam PVC in place, I used more 1/4" bolts and locknuts to fasten the PVC to the frames - spacing them out about every 8" or so. When I was done, I added some reflective stickers - white in the front and red on the sides and back so they'd be more visible if the SVBC volunteers would be towing them at night.
When I did a test ride carrying a few random items I noticed the items would slide, so I found a couple of old yoga mats and cut them to shape. I also added a couple of mounting points to the corners for bungees and used an angle grinder to take off the ends of the bolts.
That's pretty much all testing consisted of, really. I also rolled the trailer off of curbs to make sure nothing particularly awful would happen.
I ended up naming the design "The Alameda Bike Trailer" because everything you need to build one is available along a short stretch of The Alameda in San Jose: from Ace Hardware to Tap Plastics (even to La Dolce Velo, if you wanted to buy trailers to use as bases there). With a few parts and a few local shops anything is possible.
And there you have it. Other than 1/4" bolts 1" in length with lock nuts, 1/4" foam PVC, 1" square tubes, 1" flat angle pieces 1/8" thick, four 2" zinc-plated corner braces, reflective tape and probably any kind of trailer and you can make The Alameda Bike Trailer. As you can see I'm not really into posting detailed instructions - this post is more like one of my grandmother's recipes, where "smidgekin" is a unit of measure but it's up to you to determine what that means. The point is, build on. And if you're in the Bay Area please remember: Bay Area Bike to Work Day is May 9th so be sure to pledge to ride on the SVBC site.
Also: there is an affordable housing-themed bike ride in San Jose on May 11th I'd like you to ride in. I've talked about the problem of traffic and housing as the same problem before and this explores bikes and affordable housing as the same solution. It'll be worthwhile and I hope you can come. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.
*after the debacle in Manchester that had a embedded piece of glass give me several flats, I installed tire liners and haven't had a flat on the Bike Friday in almost two years.
**or Sloth and Chunk sliding down One-Eyed Willy's pirate ship in 'The Goonies' - whichever you prefer.