My relaxing weekend down south or a truck, bikes, trains, a plane, and iPhone

Last weekend we loaded up a 22″ truck full of bikes and delivered them free of charge to their owners in the San Francisco area. It went well, mostly.

We made this trip because, frankly, our inventory of bakfietsen had become rather large just as the initial very hot sales rate in Portland cooled off with the weather. We figure that most any major metropolitan area has at least several dozen households who will leap for these things, at least once a few get rolling, and the “how can I get one of those?” referrals kick in. We wanted to jump-start that process.

We don’t think we’ll do this again, primarily because we’ve accomplished our goals of inventory adjustment and seeding future sales to the area. We delivered several bakfietsen to Jim in Chico, which he will sell [he sold out -- ed].

Another reason we’ll not likely do this again is simply that it was a lot of work, and stressful. I had naively believed that I could leave early one morning in Portland and sleep that night in Berkeley, making a significant delivery and acquaintance in Chico on the way. (That’s like Amsterdam to Milan with a stop in, what, Strasbourg?) It turns out I spent two nights in motels on I-5, with associated distress from fast food, poor sleep amid dreams of snowy mountain passes and stolen trucks, and general exposure to the monocultural vacuity of the interstate highway system. I’ve driven maybe a dozen hours a year average in recent decades. Driving 4 days with a giant truck full of costly bikes on a tight itinerary has left me pretty done. I have a new appreciation, or should I say sympathy, for those who truck for a living. It’s hard.

Handing over the keys to the bikes was rewarding, as usual. The award for most enthusiastic bakfiets reception goes to C.B. in Palo Alto, who took a “pro forma” practice loop with one of her children before coming back and loading up four more people, including her husband off the back, making six in all. Much whooping and similar signs of glee ensued. I love to watch this stuff, and submit it as exemplary of the incredibly easy handling the van Andel bakfiets design offers even with the biggest loads. (We’ve ridden superficially similar designs and, really, this one’s in a class by itself.)

After C.B.s delivery, with great relief I dropped off the empty truck after dark in a deserted industrial area. What then? Deploy the trusty personal jetpack: a Brompton folding bike! A Brompton is the hero of so many of my travels. With iPhone providing navigational support, I rode to the nearest Caltrain stop and headed north to San Francisco. On the train I assessed some bad news from a customer in the preceding day’s drop: an egregious mechanical problem, our fault. Customer lived near the Oakland airport I would be biking to in the morning, so I planned to stop to make things right on the way.

iPhone said I would need to wait at the Caltrain stop for a bus to connect further to BART that would take me back to Berkeley where I was staying. See, the Bay Area has many overlapping layers of independent, ill-coordinated transit systems, which means sometimes you have to buy 3 tickets, wait 3 times to go just a few miles. Nuts to that: I had Brompton! The bike creaked softly under my heavy load of smugness as I flew past the bus stops of SoMa to BART, feeling a little like Spiderman in street clothes flicking skeins of web between truck and train, train and tube, tube and dinner under the full moon.

The gods punish such feelings, of course. The next day, riding that clever British contraption in the cold rain to the Oakland airport while imagining myself in the role of Bond, James Bond, I got a flat in a cheery glass-strewn warehouse district. Who knew it rained in California? Q really must sort this puncture business. Could I patch it? Absolutely, and then I’d miss my flight. Soggy but unbowed, 5 strokes of the iPhone later a cab was on the way, and in 45 minutes I carried the bike onto the plane as usual, like Bond, James Bond.

Jim in Chico sent this in. I love the way the kids pop out like peas from a ripe pod:

38 thoughts on “My relaxing weekend down south or a truck, bikes, trains, a plane, and iPhone”

  • yangmusa

    Sounds like an epic trip! I also made a very rare trip by car recently, and found it very stressful..

    Anyway, I'm sorry your iPhone/511.org let you down with regards to Caltrain/BART routing. You could have connected with BART at Milbrae, where Caltrain and BART are merely a platform apart. Ah well, next time..

    Reply
  • B. Anna

    so when you coming back down again lol. thanks for visiting the bay area, i'm sure the families you helped unite with their baks appreciate all the obstacles you overcame. i guess this experience means i'm SOL on a bak.

    Reply
  • Mark

    Woo hoo! Thanks for the delivery.

    I must say, I did find it surprising you did the trip solo, Todd. Not that it's like a cross country drive, but still not a quick jaunt either, especially for someone not used to marathon driving. Most of my friends drag someone else along with them even when driving just a car to Oregon, if only to break up the monotony of the road.

    I was finally able to take the bike out for a quick jaunt- yeah it is a bit less stable with no cargo, or maybe that was just me the first time on the thing. I then took it out with one of the kids- she looked relaxed with one arm over the back and the other resting on the side of the box. But that was probably just hanging on for dear life- I didn't see if she was white knuckled. But she seemed to have a fun time.

    Like the engineer I am, I've already started modifying the bike. I've pulled the lock off and started modifying it so you can take the key out wth it unlocked. I've got it all figured out- I figure I'll grind a notch in the bolt so you have to slide it closed a little before you can pull the key out. That way if you did want to leave the key in, it won't accidentally fall out while riding.

    I can take pictures if you want. I figure that after having taken the lock apart, I now know where you could attack it with a grinder or band saw to modify it instead of having to grind the rivets out of it first. Though you'd still want to remove the plastic cover which, annoyingly, is ultrasonically welded together.

    I must say, I was slightly disappointed to find the lock held on with sheet metal screws and coated in grease for corrosion resistance, but I guess fitting braze-ons just adds to the price. And adds weight :)

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  • neil

    Isn't the idea, behind it needing to be locked to remove the key, that you can't forget the key and you always use the lock (it only takes a second to lock or unlock).

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  • Jim Brobeck

    I have been eyeing the Dutch longbike for a year and finally invested in one...4 actually. My intention is to demonstrate and promote practical pedal power. Clever Cycles needed to have a few more cycles on their load to make it worth their while to drive all the way to California and offered to deliver 3 extra bikes to Chico so that folks in northern California would be able to test ride and buy Bakfietsen without having to drive all the way to Portland. [they are all sold -- ed]

    I have the first Bakfiets in Chico and the bike is turning heads! My granddaughters love riding in it too. During the past two days several people have expressed interest and taken test rides, so I am confident that they will sell soon.

    It is such a pleasure to ride these bikes. They are like riding longboards (surfing metaphor).

    It has been raining in Chico so I have been using the arched rain tent to keep the kids dry. They are delighted with the covered box space.

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    Mark, I'm with Neil in questioning the lock modifications. It wouldn't be a Dutch bike if it were possible to go without the key!

    As for the lock being screwed on, it's my understanding that the bakfiets frame was designed with a 622 rear wheel in mind, with a lower-profile tire. You can see this in early photos on the manufacturer's site: http://www.bakfiets.nl/album/ . Later, 559 wheels with the present tires were found more suitable, but the designed lock mounting point would then have been too high, hence the improvised present arrangement. It's characteristically Dutch to clamp, drill, bend, and otherwise de-virginize their workbikes to all kinds of practical ends, without hesitation: they wouldn't want frames too light to tolerate such attentions.

    We stock those locks, by the way, for retrofit to all kinds of bikes. The normal way to fit them in the absence of braze-ons is with what are basically hose clamps. It's not the security of the attachment to the frame that immobilizes the bike, as much as simply the fact that there's a handcuff-like device through the wheel in the rear triangle. The attachment need only be firm enough to prevent it from rattling or shifting around.

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  • Mark H

    If I recall the previous lock thread correctly, another rationale was that multiple people were using the bike, leaving the key in the lock was the perfect way to share the key- no one is going to leave town with the key in their pocket.

    But I'm probably going to be the sole user of the bike, so I might as well keep the key on my keychain (or not- we'll see how bulky my keychain gets).

    I think the issue in the original thread was that the commenter's heel was striking the key (or keychain, I forget which) while riding. Maybe that wasn't an issue with the 622 wheel, but this fixes the problem.

    I can also foresee some instances where I might not want to lock the bike, but I also wouldn't want anyone mischieviously locking it and walking off with the key, leaving me stuck.

    Call me the rebellious teenager, but I don't like to be dictated to how I should or should not be doing something. Yes, maybe it is to protect me from myself, but I guess I'm one of those people who have to learn things the hard way. I rationalize that by saying that it's the act of making mistakes (or catching yourself just before you make them) that helps you learn and think, not be some mindless automaton:)

    As I said, the way I'm modifying it won't affect the normal operation of the lock. If I unlock the thing normally and let the spring loaded bolt slam back out of the way, the key is still stuck in the lock- I'll still need to slide the bolt forward a little to be able to remove it.

    I'm all for bodging workarounds (after all, that's what I'm doing), but with thousands of 559-wheel bakfietsen made, you'd think they'd fix the improvised mounting. I'm worried about the long-term durability. Yeah, there's grease on the area (which obviously attracts dirt) but drilling the holes into the seatstays weakened them a little and the grease isn't going to protect the metal forever. Heck, I'd prefer the lock were held on with hose clamps. I probably don't have to worry about corrosion in the holes drilled in the seatstays, but it's the principle of the thing. What other compromises were made that I don't know about?

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  • Todd (admin)

    Mark, at the risk of provoking your rebelliousness, I really wouldn't worry about the long-term durability of the seatstays from the lock having been screwed on there. All of the tubes have weep holes in them anyway, and copious amounts of anticorrosive goo have been sprayed into them. Worrying about durability is, I must say, a very rare reaction to these bikes, which strike most close observers as massively overbuilt, "built like a brick s---house," etc. Concerning other compromises, I think your question is rhetorical, but I'm not aware of anything in the "dark secret" category. That said, most any design/build process is a whole raft of compromises. I think there are far, far more subtle excellencies in the design that you'll never know about explicitly than subtle problems waiting for discovery :^)

    Reply
  • Bruce A. Wilson
    Bruce A. Wilson January 23, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Mark H.:
    "If I recall the previous lock thread correctly, another rationale was that multiple people were using the bike, leaving the key in the lock was the perfect way to share the key- no one is going to leave town with the key in their pocket."

    Are the keys induplicatable? If more than one person is going to be using the bike, why not take the key to your local hardware store and have as many duplicates as you need made?

    Reply
  • B. Anna

    Todd- yes, I did... I wonder if he delivers?! I'll most likely contact Jim, but if not, my husband and I were planning to take a trip up to Portland anyway; it'll be a good opportunity to see the shop.

    Reply
  • Andy B from Jersey
    Andy B from Jersey January 23, 2008 at 10:01 am

    I don't blame Mark for modifying the lock. When I tried a Bak in Philly I kept hitting my leg into the key as I believe other people have complained about here. That was really annoying to the point that I would just take the lock off if it were my own. A real shame 'cause I like the idea of it.

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  • Mark H

    Heel strikes aren't that big of a surprise- the rear wheel can be tucked up close to the bottom bracket since the bike has a pretty long wheelbase already- no need to make it even longer. That puts the lock closer to the pedal circle too. If the bike had standard cantilever brakes, your foot would be hitting those too (another advantage of hub brakes).

    I was thinking that the lock could have been relocated to the support struts for the rack since, as Todd pointed out, it's not the security of the mount but the handcuff-llike nature of the lock. But I guess the problem might be in getting to the lock with panniers on the rack.

    Bruce, the keys aren't like your normal housekey- more like European-brand car keys. Yes, they could be copied by a good locksmith if they had the blank for a predominantly European lock, but it would also cost you.

    The problem is that any key that can be cut at your local hardware store is most likely vulnerable to key bumping. And bikes with bumpable locks are quickly stolen- at least any place where there are enough bikes to make theft lucrative. So bike lock keys are much more secure than your normal front door lock, but also that much harder to get duplicated too.

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  • Son of Shaft

    The stuck key in a open lock has to do with bicycle insurance in the Netherlands. If your bike is stolen the insurer asks for the key so you can proof it was actually locked.

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  • Todd (admin)

    I think several important Mayan calendar cycles converge on the day a Cockney gecko pitches bicycle insurance to Americans.

    Reply
  • Patti

    Hello,
    I'm so sad to learn that I missed my mark to pursue one of your bikes, oh, by a few weeks :(
    As a recent college graduate now looking to start grad school soon, and seeing that more of
    my friends in their early 20's are looking to settle in more pedestrian/bike-friendly areas
    after graduating, I hope many more people will voice their need for a bike shop that carries
    more of these wonderful Dutch bikes, as it is Portland.

    Sad in San Francisco, California

    Reply
  • Jim Brobeck

    Patti,
    As I ride my new long box Bakfiet around Chico I see curious eyes everywhere. People bold enough to call me over are invariably intrigued by the revolutionary utility of the cargo bike. This bike is perfect for the compact urban landscape around here.
    I have a couple of extra Bakfietsen stored in my shop for resale if you are planning any trips to Butte County.
    Jim

    Reply
  • Patti

    Jim,
    Thank you so much for alerting me; I thought by this point all bikes had been as good as sold. Chico is indeed not that far from Santa Clara County (I'm actually in South Bay, with a number of my friends), but this knowledge will definitely be passed on to some of my recently-married friends. Sounds like you're doing a fantastic job of advertising them around Butte County though! Be safe in the rain-

    Patti

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  • Mike C

    > ... in 45 minutes I carried the
    > bike onto the plane as usual ...

    They let you take the Brompton into the passenger compartment as carry-on luggage? Did it fit in one of the overhead bins? I confess I'd find that surprising, in this era of security hyper-paranoia... I'd think a B would be too heavy, too metallic, too many shiny sharp poky bits that (in the TSA's eyes) could be used as (or used to conceal) weapons to ever be permitted as carry-on these days.

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  • Todd (admin)

    Mike C, I gate-check the bike. This means you leave it literally at the hatch of the plane like strollers and wheelchairs. It's last to go into the luggage hold and first to come off. On one occasion an attendant asked me to bring it into the plane instead. The bike will fit in the overheads of some planes but not of others. It passes through TSA x-ray belts no problem.

    I've never had a problem with security or at the gate with this, but I have heard of somebody else having to check it. I think it's a confidence thing. Just smile and state nonchalantly that you need to gate-check "this". I usually have the saddle off at this point so it won't get scuffed in the hold, but it also maybe helps it pass under any anti-bike radar.

    Reply
  • Bruce A. Wilson
    Bruce A. Wilson January 28, 2008 at 6:01 am

    I've never taken my Montegue on an airplane but I've taken it on both Greyhound busses and AmTrack trains.

    Reply
  • neil

    About the plan trip - just asking (not preaching), but was flying back the only practical solution?

    Reply
  • Jim Brobeck

    Chico kids in Bakfiets: youtube clip:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2XUUM20VXA

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    neil, i took a train last year. 27 hours and much more expensive. i was already tired. i have similarly unpleasant experiences with long-haul busses, besides i was due to work in the shop next day. i know that flying isn't fuel efficient. i probably write myself too many passes for not having owned a car.

    Reply
  • Bruce A. Wilson
    Bruce A. Wilson January 31, 2008 at 2:02 am

    Here in Charleston, that could get you ticketed; riding on the sidewalk is against the law here.

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  • Jim Brobeck

    Sidewalk riding is prohibited in core downtown areas of Chico. I know that there are hazards associated with sidewalk biking, both to pedestrians and bikers (motor cars exiting and entering driveways may not see the bike). But some American streets are to damn dangerous for bikes during rush hours. The sidewalk in this video is on a busy street near 3 K-12 schools; no bike lane; fat trucks parked and cruising at speeds over 30MPH.
    We are working at “Safe Routes to School” and enforcement of bikelane parking violations and 25MPH speed limits.
    Todd mentioned that Europeans see our American Bakfiet photos with big kids in the box with wonderment. Their kids start riding their own bikes on the street at 4 years.

    Reply
  • martina

    A lot of streets at least in Germany have separated bike lanes as part of the side walk and I remember riding several hours an evening during the summers starting when I was 5 or 6, cruising through our relatively quiet neighborhood, needless to say, without a helmet!

    When I was young, kids up to 7 were allowed to ride on the sidewalk; after that you had to use the bike lane next to the side walk. I started to bike to school with 12 and did all the way through high school.

    I hope my son will do the same (as soon as he can ride a bike!).

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  • Al

    What a heroic trip...a great read for fans of your bicycles AND a Brompton rider in L.A. (a rara avis). And even the pang of the fate of all Brompton riders A FLAT!! I've always read...just hope it's not a rear flat. Then I read about the Brompton Nano (an electric Brompton). One comment from a Nano rider was: just hope it's not a FRONT flat (front wheel electric drive).

    PLEASE don't give up. Collect purchases in Southern Cal and make one last trip!! Or maybe make a deal with Alaska Airlines for a fly to Portland pickup...like Mercedes pickup in Germany.

    All the best from SoCal.

    Reply
  • Andy B from Jersey
    Andy B from Jersey February 4, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Jim,
    I don't have kids so I guess I'm not really qualified to say but from what I saw in your video (really cool BTW) the traffic on your street seemed spars at best. Heck in New Jersey we used to play in streets with that much traffic. ;) No Joke!! I guess it was just the timing.

    Oh yeah! I started riding a bike at 4yo too. How times sadly change.

    Reply
  • Ian Hopper

    Todd, I'm sorry I missed you while you were in town, though I can see your schedule was HECTIC. I'm still pining for a Bakfiets, though I don't really need one. That ride we went on will forever be burned in my memory: such an awesome velo! I'll be up this weekend for the NAHMBS and I'll stop by the shop: maybe you can rent me a Bak for the day?

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  • Mikael

    It must have taken ages to drive that far in a 22 inch truck.
    :-)

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  • Todd (admin)

    Ha! mikael, i'll leave the typo in place for the amusement of future readers. At many junctions in the wild Siskiyous I was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXGbwIkvh38

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  • Ian Hopper

    OMG todd... thanks for reminding me how much I love the boys of Tap... freakin' hilarious!

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  • Kerry

    Does anyone know if there are any bike stores in the Bay Area that now carry the cargo bikes? I promote alternative transportation in a business setting and would love to feature these bikes at an event. (I would love one myself!)

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    There are no California dealers of these bikes, Kerry. Jim in Chico may still have one for sale, however. Prospective dealers: ask.

    Reply
  • Magnus

    Kerry,

    While they might not have the flair & style of a Bakfiets, the Xtracycle is a very popular cargo bike and they do have dealers in California:
    http://www.xtracycle.com/dealers.php?stateselect=CA

    You could also consider the Yuba Mundo (http://www.yubaride.com/), which is available from Rock the Bike in Berkeley. (http://rockthebike.com/)

    Todd - sorry to plug these other brands on your blog! But the more people we get onto bikes, the better - right?

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    We love longtails, Magnus! Indeed the more bikes the better. It's not a competition. Longtails and bakfietsen, each have their strengths and weaknesses for a given situation.

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  • AC

    Just saw the video of the moms on Bakfiets in London. Lovely little piece. It clearly points out how well the bikes ride, because we see the TV reporter riding her own son around as a closing shot. I don't know about you, but it always seems to me like TV reporters are the klutziest goofs on the planet, so if they can ride them, anyone can!

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    For what it's worth, we've found a trucking company who will deliver bakfietsen anywhere in California (and some other Western states) for $250 instead of the previous $500+ rate. And we have stock. Holiday gift to yourself?

    Reply
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