In which man fetches bike parts for his business with son in a car

Someday I’ll write about picking up a large load of Stokemonkey components with a Stokemonkey-equipped bike, but today I used a car. I did so because there’s over 40 miles of travel involved shuttling papers back and forth between the warehouse and US customs in the sprawling, confusing airport environs, because I was unsure of the dimensions of the 120-pound load, and not least, because I’d have my 2-year-old son along on this hot day. And I had 4 hours total before the warehouse closed.

One component of my product is a left-mounted spider and chainring. The motor engages this chainring via a freewheel in the manner of tandem bicycles’ timing rings. I’m importing suitable left spiders with matching right triples (in both eight- and nine-speed variants), custom configured by Sugino in Japan. And today, I learned that not only had the shipment arrived, but that these parts were waiting to be picked up at a warehouse near the Portland airport, and that I’d be paying daily for storage.

This gives me a chance to tell you about car sharing, folding bikes, and a couple other stratagems for functioning well in such situations without owning a car. Not because it’s remarkable, but because it isn’t, and some people might like some detailed assurance.

Car sharing is sort of like renting a car, except you do all the paperwork only once, you pay by hour instead of by day, and you can pick up cars from many locations, some of which are likely to be convenient to you. At least it’s that way in Portland and in our former San Francisco home. So I went online at 11:40 am and reserved a car from noon to 3:00 pm, from the pickup that’s about a 3 minute bike ride from here. That took less than two minutes.

Brompton bikeBrompton at carshareBrompton in trunkCar seatA few dithering moments later I rolled out the Brompton folding bicycle. The perspective in this photo makes it look even more ridiculous than in real life. I was once asked, in admiring seriousness, whether I was “performing” with the bicycle. It seems there was a circus visiting town, and I was mistaken for a clown of some kind. The clown bike is actually marvelous. I have ridden more than sixty miles in a day on it. It folds in half in about one second to a form that you can scoot silently on skate wheels into a shop or bank without raising eyebrows, and in about twenty seconds to carry-on luggage dimensions. There’s a front carrier available that can handle six longneck six-packs and two bottles of wine. I don’t carry a lock when on the Brompton; I have even taken it in to a crowded cinema with me. It’s that handy.

I spun fifteen short blocks gently downhill to the car in its reserved parking spot, a Honda Civic. Other times there’ve been hybrid cars waiting. Vans, pickup trucks, and even convertibles are also available by reservation. I waved an access card to open it up, popped the bike into the trunk, and returned home to fetch my son. Had my wife not been able to look after our son while I was out, I could easily have taken him along to the car either on foot or in a folding trailer behind the Brompton. What about the compulsory child seat, you ask? Most car seats are enormous. Our car seat is the size of a large book. It’s all we need for the three or four times a year our son sees the inside of a car. Tiny and folding things are key to enjoying the duck, fox, corn, and boat game that car-free parenting sometimes presents.

The car trip was like most car trips out of the neighborhood, which is to say we entered a speed-engineered wasteland of concrete and large signage just like any other nowhere–big box retail, franchise food and car service, and the usual highway pointers. I have a tendency to drive following the bicycle routes I know to avoid this, but today I was in a hurry, so figured I should take the high-speed route. As usual, I was surprised at how much farther the speed made the distance seem; I mean, I have ridden to and from the airport many times and it just doesn’t seem so far. It’s probably just that the ride is more fun. Also as usual, my lane positioning was wrong so we entered Washington state, losing any benefit of speed.boxesCranks

The runaround in the airport’s warehouse complex and clearing customs is too tedious to relate. I got my forty cranksets after paying about 10% in various fees of the merchandise and shipping costs, and we headed home. There I quickly unloaded the goods, tossed a folding stroller into the trunk, and went to return the car with my son. We stretched the short stroll home to nearly an hour stopping to buy bread, ham, chocolate and coffee from Pastaworks on Hawthorne, then meandering among Main, Salmon, and Taylor toward Mt. Tabor. My son munched on a breadstick in the stroller, and we picked some early sweet yellow apples too.

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