Parenting

  • Finally, some bikes for older kids

    As a family oriented bike shop, we've long disappointed many people asking about sensible bikes for older children. In between balance bikes for the littlest kids, and the smallest adult bikes, our selection has never been very rich, sometimes amounting to nothing at all. It's still not rich, but finally we have 20" and 24" kid bikes that are pretty decent, can be ridden at adult pace, will accept rack and fenders, don't weigh too much, and don't cost too much either! Between the two sizes, they should fit most kids between 6 or 7 and puberty. Welcome the Torker Interurban 20" and 24", at $389 and $429, respectively:
    PB120387.jpg
    PB120397.jpg

    And come Spring, we'll have simple 16" and 20" kid bikes from Linus, too, beloved among adults for their clean, classic, town bike style and good value. What's more, Linus is extending their popular mixte and roadster styles into 26"-wheel versions, which should fit many larger children and the smallest adults.

    Why is this so hard? If you think about it, a very small bike has the same number of parts as a big one, so for a given set of features it's not much less expensive to manufacture a kid's bike than an adult's. A little less raw material and shipping cost, sure, but offsetting that small advantage is the natural reluctance of parents everywhere to spend much on items likely outgrown in a few years, especially when they remember what bikes seemed to cost in their own childhoods. Add to that the domination of streets by motor vehicles in most parts of this country, limiting reasonably safe routes to ride, and the number of people clamoring to pay fair prices for quality children's bikes is rather small, killing potential economies of scale in production. It's a vicious cycle that results in the status quo of kid bikes built mainly to be as cheap as possible without exposing their makers to much liability of collapse: really crude, heavy, and hard to service, with styling too often extremely gendered and reminiscent of sugary cereal in-box toys. Blech!

    Parents send messages to their kids in the things they give them. Are they toys or tools, diversion or empowerment? When I handed our son the keys to his first "good" bike, it was a bestowal of responsibility to protect it from theft, as a valuable item. When showing him how to operate its lighting system, sure it was another fun gizmo, but also a promise of adventure going places together after dark. When fitting luggage to its rack, I was drawing out a parallel with his parents' bikes that this was a vehicle for life, however aspirational: a nod toward his waxing maturity more than his waning childhood. For biking families, it's hard to calculate the value of these messaging opportunities over and above the amount of use the bike may see. But I think these opportunities are better seized with bikes that resemble their parents in quality and features than with the low expectations and dollars-per-mile arithmetic that favors Walmart.

  • Fiets of Parenthood 2012

    How many people can you carry on your bike and still complete a challenging obstacle course? In 2010, the first year of the Fiets of Parenthood family cargo bike race, North Portland dad Travis Wittwer impressed spectators as he carried his three sons and his partner Ruhiyyih on their long-tail cargo bike. The following year, SE Portland mom Emily Finch rocked the assembled crowd by carrying her six children in, and trailing behind, a front-loading box bike. This year, more feats of parental prowess are expected with an event lineup including a family bike obstacle course, kid’s races, a bike-centric haiku competition, food vendors, and more. And don’t worry: if you want to show off carrying more children than you have, borrowed offspring are allowed.

    The event will take place outside Clever Cycles, located at the corner of SE 9th Ave and SE Hawthorne St, on Sunday, September 16, 2012, from noon to 4 pm. We're closing down an additional street to car traffic this year to make room for an even longer course. And what’s the point of these parental displays of strength? Event organizers want to demonstrate what cargo bikes can do when it comes to hauling families. They want to share knowledge with each other and with kid-carrying novices. And they want to determine, for the third year, which child-toting mom or dad is the mightiest.

    In past years, participants have traveled from Tacoma, Bellingham, Seattle, and Eugene to compete and socialize; we hope for a similar turnout this year.

    Attendees should plan for outdoor fun in typical Portland fall weather: it should be hot, unless it rains. There will be on-site areas for diaper changes and nursing mothers, along with bathrooms, food vendors, shade/rain tents, and water. Activities and race registration start at noon, races and competitions begin at 1 pm, and prizes will be awarded. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

    More info? See the Facebook Event page.

  • Emily

    Go read about the awesome Finch family at BikePortland.org:

    Photo by Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org
  • Not that you would, but that you could...

    From yesterday’s Fiets of Parenthood, 6 kids and one mom on a Bakfiets Cargobike plus Follow-Me Tandem Coupling. Read more about the event at urbanMamas and Bike Noun Verb:

  • 10% of sales for Portland Public Schools

    We’ll be voting YES on the 17 May bond and levy measures in support of Portland Public Schools. Learn more about this important vote to repair and update our historic but pathetically dilapidated, inefficient, increasingly unsafe school buildings. $5M of the proposed bond will be allocated for transportation infrastructure improvements around our schools, including promotion of the Safe Routes to Schools program supporting walk and bike access.

    Yes, it’s a big property tax increase, but we think car-free and car-lite families, unburdened by the rising costs of motoring that send wealth out of state, should step up to protect and improve the crumbling treasures we have in our neighborhoods.

    This is a single vote, but you know what? Portland schools are chronically underfunded. That’s why we’re going beyond this one issue to support our schools in a more direct, comprehensive way.

    Starting today, through the day of the vote 17 May, Clever Cycles will donate 10% of purchases to the Portland Schools Foundation. All you need to do is mention this program at the time of payment, and we’ll set aside 10% of the total for our schools. Yes, you have to mention it so we know you care, and we can assure ourselves that this isn’t actually hurting our business. If the response is good, we’ll repeat this program over and over until our schools can’t get any better and Portland can’t fit any more of the kinds of bikes we offer.

    Portland public schools have some of the highest bicycling and walking rates in the country. Key to this success is the fact that most of Portland’s schools, like its homes, were built before the “American Dream” became synonymous with motor vehicle dependence and sub-urban home ownership. Portland largely resisted the freeway projects and related trends that emptied or impoverished the urban residential cores of so many other cities, destroying the tax base that supported the schools. Largely, but not entirely.

    Portland Public Schools are dramatically underfunded. Contrary to the myth that city life is more crowded than in the past, average household size in Portland is lower than historical norms. The density of children in particular has fallen. Schools are closing, with student bodies being consolidated into fewer and fewer, larger, cheaper-to-run schools further away, creating safety hazards and coarsening the close grain of city life that Portland has struggled over so many decades to maintain.

    We support well-funded neighborhood schools because they are essential to what we love about Portland, its scale and pace, and the sufficiency and dignity of human power in getting around it, whether you’re 8 or 80.

  • Fiets of Parenthood: how we roll

    After a long, cool, wet Spring, finally the sun came out in all her fierce blazing glory to bless the first inaugural Fiets of Parenthood Pedalpalooza event Saturday, along with everybody else on a bike this weekend in Portland.

    FoP

    sarah gilbert and boyAll during Pedalpalooza, there are multiple bike events going on at almost all hours, light and dark. Conflicts are inevitable. The problems we have, right? The fact that FoP conflicted with the the established family ride portion of Cirque du Cycling disappointed a few. This was an accidental oversight. But if it wasn’t, FoP would differ from other events in its tight focus on Portland’s growing everyday normality of raising children on bicycles, for all the ordinary, non-freakish tasks of getting from A to B as a family, hauling stuff, without a car. As a shop, as parents and citizens, this cuts close to who we are. That’s why we were especially proud to host this event. Lots of people contributed to the realization of Totcycle’s vision, but everybody knows that our customer Sarah Gilbert did more than anybody else — maybe everybody else combined — to make it happen. Thanks Sarah!

    There are several great Flickr sets up documenting the event. I made a gallery of my favorite shots from three of them:

    This, too, from Team CarFreeDays, in which no children or animals were harmed (do note evidence of training at 1:24):

  • Bike camping at Stub Stewart State Park with kids

    Last weekend, the first truly great weather of the year here in Portland, we took a bike ride. Yes, a recreational jaunt, not something we often manage. We rode from our door to MAX light rail, took it to the end of the line west, continued through farmland and forest 22 miles to Stub Stewart State Park, stayed there in comfortable cabins, and back the next day. It was delightful. This is something many Portland families can enjoy, so here’s the story.
    farmland

    My boy and I started preparing only a couple hours before we left. We packed sleeping bags, some extra clothes, tools, food and water in the front basket of our Workcycles Oma. This bike is about 50 pounds of lugged straight-gauge steel, shod with fat tires, built for hauling in comfort instead of speed. We also considered riding a Brompton folding bike with its child seat and awesome touring pannier. These are the two bikes we go about our business around town with more than any other these days. farmland Either way, we wanted to keep things simple, in part to make the point that you don’t need expedition-class, Stokemonkey-equipped cargo bikes like we took on last summer’s adventure just to go camping nearby with your kids.

    I admit that our bike was operating near the limits of its capabilities with heavy, high loads both front and rear. It’s the least stiff of bikes we carry in this class, so irregular surfaces and higher speeds or higher pedaling power would occasionally get it shimmying in a way that required a lot of steering input to hold a line. I’d choose it again, though, because it’s comfortable and fun to watch people’s reactions as I pass on my granny bike with big-ass wicker basket, wooly neo-Mennonite getup, big smile, cheery klang of brass bell, and the boy waving off the back. I might as well be on fire.

    Dean and his two older boys took a tandem with Burley Piccolo attachment:
    train

    I’m a little bit skeptical of how meaningful is the real locomotive assistance provided by most young kids (and sometimes adults!) in arrangements like this. The strongest rider ends up doing far more than their fair share. That little man off the back? Thinks the pedals are foot rests. Dean is strong! My boy had actual footrests, but for all his excited jiggly fidgeting he might as well have been pedaling.

    getting on MAXWe rolled out early in the afternoon to catch MAX downtown. In retrospect, that wasn’t the best place to board, as the train was a bit crowded there in the fareless square and our jumbo bikes wouldn’t fit in the small spaces allocated for bikes on each car. We split up to board at separate doors. We managed with assiduous bike-shifting not to hinder anybody.

    Riding out, I was reminded of the last time I rode this train this way, in 2000, on my way down the coast to then-home San Francisco. I reflected on all that’s changed and stayed the same these nine long years. Same: practical bikes as instruments of bodily, social, civic, economic, and spiritual reclamation, integration. Different: almost everything else.

    Once out in Hillsboro, we relied on the cue sheet. Suburbs faded to farmland soon enough, with its quiet narrow roads and open vistas. And what a day!

    In Banks we stopped to eat and get our bearings. The cue sheet would take us the remainder of the way to our destination via Highway 47, which we preferred to avoid. 5 wheels 5 peopleWe asked at a gas station about the fabled Banks-Vernonia trail parallel to 47, and got directions to the trailhead just a hundred yards away. Attendant said it was rough for a ways but then got better. What it was was abandoned railway, “closed”, overgrown with brambles. But far in the distance it looked like it got better, so over the ties we pushed, maybe half a mile. We wondered whether the attendant was amusing himself at our expense, or had never come this way himself, or deemed any length of the highway unsafe for our passage. I worried about the tires on the thorns. When finally the way improved, there was a short path directly to the highway. Next time we’ll know better. At least the kids got to carry their weight a little ways.

    The trail proper is very nice. Free from the threat of motor traffic, I put in some earbuds and enjoyed the latest David Byrne & Brian Eno [coming to Portland!] collaboration for the 1,234th time approximately, slapping the bars giddily in time as we shuttled along:
    banks vernonia trail

    The last six miles or so were uphill, gentle railroad grade, as we entered forest. Mr. Byrne was crooning something about his neighbor’s car exploding up ahead when on my left Mr. Todd Boulanger appeared astride his Batavus. He had raced ahead of his family to greet us, so we stopped and chatted about our day. Just as we were about to get going again, my front tire began hissing. Fiddling with the valve stem, it seemed to me likely that the tube had failed at this very point, which filled me with dread because while I had brought patches and pump, I neglected foolishly to pack a spare tube. We’d be stuck if the valve had failed. I’d investigate in camp, ideally, before dark. I decided to sprint as long as I had any pressure remaining, not wanting to push too many miles.

    On Dutch bikes like this, the bars are so close that you can’t stand up to get more power. But you can rest your elbows on the hand grips and grasp the bars near the stem to brace your upper body and put your back into turning the pedals. Think Amish triathlete. So we powered our way up as I kept an eye on the bulging sidewalls of the front tire, stopping several times to pump a few more pounds of pressure in, thankful that it would hold air for half a mile at a time at least. Todd B. passed me at one of these top-off stops, offering that he had packed a tube just in case. He also offered to check us in at the camp registration site in case they’d close at five. This set my mind at ease in equal measure as it drove home my stupidity in not being prepared. What if he gave me a tube and then he or a family member had an irreparable tube failure?

    Near the park entrance, the last mile, the way becomes quite steep. I stopped to ask an older fellow on a mountain bike to confirm that the camp was up the hill. Without answering, he flagged down a truck driver of his apparent acquaintance and announced that we needed a lift up the hill. “No, no, we’ll be fine thanks — just wanted to know the way!” “But it’s a LONG way!” he said. “We came from Portland!” I offered half-truthfully. Incomprehension. “Thanks!” I grunted up the hill. Pushed maybe half a mile, half from steepness of grade, half from flatness of tire. A nice cool-down in lovely late afternoon light. We made it.

    The cabins were quite luxurious: electricity, heat, ample insulation against sound and cold, vinyl-clad futons, wood tables and chairs. Not really like camping at all! Separate bathhouse with free hot showers.

    Team Boulanger put us to shame for thematic consistency with sweetly atypical touring bikes (for this continent). Their astonishingly well-socialized older boys, witty and vegetarian, each rode scaled-down versions of my bike. I think Todd B. prepared at least a 5-course dinner on his gas stove with elaborate nesting titanium cookery. I might have seen an apron. There was whiskey late and mimosas in the morning. And French-press coffee. Todd B. even fetched firewood for us after showing us how to operate the cabin keyboxes. (I promptly locked myself out.)
    boulanger camp

    Meanwhile in Camp Schlub, our kids dropped TJ’s wieners into the firepit, incinerated marshmallows, and threatened to put each others eyes out with pointy smoldering sticks. There was much coughing and beating of fly embers. I whittled something that could be useful in case of attack by giant marauding boars, snarling through their cruel sallow tusks, but dangerous in all other cases. Dean brought a Hobo Pie press which, filled with gobs of TJ’s pizza dough, produced excellent panini-esque Hobo goodness. That’s right, Mr. B, grilled panini: think European hot-pocket, only lacking any kind of filling or even salt. Mr. B. sent over some late-harvest estate-bottled Tuscan EVOO to keep them from sticking and turning to charcoal, as well as one of their leftover sauces for dipping.
    hobo pie

    My flat turned out to be the normal kind, a thorn, easily reparable. I was able to relax after fixing that. In the morning, Dean found his rear tire flat, too. Patching that, we chided ourselves for pushing our luck by not packing more contingency supplies.morning light We know better, but it seems running a bike shop has engendered in us an excessively casual approach to these things. Cobbler’s-children-go-barefoot syndrome? That and the iPhone, which can’t yet be used as a wrench, but did spare us from the horrible bother of a paper map. At least Dean packed a first-aid kit!

    The morning light was beautiful. For the first time this year I left off the wool long underwear. The ride home was fast and easy down the long railroad grade. Too fast for Oma, it turns out. The trail is punctuated with many bridges. Many of the bridge transitions are sharp. I hit one at about 10 MPH, and the upward jolt caused my basket to fly open and my camera to tumble down a steep embankment. I had been looking for it for a few anxious minutes when along came none other than Mr. Todd Boulanger, who bounded down the slope and fetched it in no time. My camera now has a photo taken by Todd of the boy and me peering helplessly down at him, expertly composed I might add.

    A few miles on, I swallowed my last shadow of pride and borrowed Todd’s hex keys to adjust the child seat that the jolt had shifted. Thanks man! I owe you.

    .

    THE END

  • Family bike trip: Portland to Breitenbush and back again

    For our vacation, we the Fahrner family rode from our door in Portland up into the Cascade mountains along the Clackamas river, camped one night along the way, then spent four nights at Breitenbush Hot Springs. We rode home in one day. 193 total bike miles, 12,000′ of climbing, with a camping load and our 6-year old son in a child seat. This was an unforgettably wonderful experience for all of us: 4 days of total relaxation at the springs book-ended by 3 days and a night of bike camping.
    loaded

    breitenbushWe first visited Breitenbush last autumn, taking a Zipcar. The stay was far too short; we resolved to return. Breitenbush Hot Springs is an amazing place, a worker-owned cooperative on a beautiful site in ancient forest. The soaking pools are clothing-optional (mostly none). The food is organic vegetarian, no alcohol or caffeine. It’s off the grid: they generate their own electricity from the river and operate year-round on geothermal heat. They even run their own code-compliant sewage system for 190 people. There is no phone service apart from the office, no cell coverage: forget internet, radio or TV. Beside soaking, eating, and lounging about (I napped a lot), the hiking really can’t be beat, and there are usually new-agey kinds of workshops taking place for those so inclined. That’s not us, but I did indulge my inner hippie by slathering naked self head-to-toe in sulfurous volcanic mud, letting it bake on in the sun, and washing off in the c-c-c-cold swift river. Perfect!

    We approached the idea of riding there tentatively, because though we ride every day, it has been some years since we’ve camped or even put more than 35 miles in a day on bikes as a family, much less nearly 200 heavily laden with lots of climbing mostly in mountain wilderness, beyond all services including cell phone signals. How would our son handle days straight sitting in his seat? But between the waste of parking a shared car at Breitenbush all week, our wanting to get some long-form biking in, and the need for blog fodder, well, we had to try it. Plus, we’ve needed to put in some extended test miles on new production elements of Stokemonkey, our elusive electric assist system specific to longtails, and this sounded like a good challenge.

    It had never been entirely clear to me at what range Stokemonkey would become more burden than help. For utility hops of a few dozen miles or less in steep places like San Francisco or Seattle, it’s a no-brainer, but could we make the charge last this many miles in these mountains, with these loads, and still have Stokemonkey, with its weight and displacement costs, be a net advantage? I’m happy to report that we could. And that son is a champ in the seat for long hours, even offering back rubs. We’ll travel this way again.

    We rode out about 18 miles along the Springwater Trail to join this route near Gresham, shared by Matt Picio at Bikely, complete with excellent cue sheet:

    Clackamas Camping out to Breitenbush (route courtesy Matt Picio)

    elevation

    cycleanalystI figured out the total miles, then divided by the number of watt-hours we’d be packing in the batteries on each bike to come up with a per-mile power allowance of about 8 watt hours. It takes a lot of discipline not to open the throttle every time you get a little tired, but keeping under the allowance would assure that we’d have enough juice left to help with the tough climbing on the second day as shown in the elevation profile above. In practice, this meant using the assist only uphill and for the odd acceleration from a start, at least on the more climb-intensive outward leg. Coming home we could be more liberal with the assist.

    Though each bike weighed nearly 150 pounds with cargo, 2 large NiMH battery packs each, passenger and all, we maintained an average speed of 11.7 MPH over the 193 miles, working no harder uphill than on the flats. Downhill, that extra weight is all gravy, which allowed us to ride home in a single easy 96-mile day. The bikes handled beautifully with all the weight; they are designed to.

    climbing breakOf course, riding lighter bikes with lesser loads and no motor assistance is entirely feasible, and preferable from a simplicity point of view. It would also be slower and rather grueling on the steeper, longer inclines. For that matter, we could have hiked there and home if we had so much leisure. For us, for this trip, motor assistance made the difference between practical and appealing, and not.

    In all, we used 1642 watt hours of assist each, so 3284 total over 193 miles, or 17 watt hours per mile for the 3 of us together. (Our capacity was half that; we recharged from Breitenbush’s small hydroelectric service.) Now, a single gallon of gasoline packs about 37,500 watt hours. So, if you come up with a car that gets 2,206 MPG with 3 occupants and camping gear in the mountains, you’ll have matched the energy efficiency of our quiet, cool-running, simple little human-electric hybrid system, now patented.

    Packing was a bit stressful. I come from the minimalist school of camping, where you remove the staples from the teabags after discarding the 4 layers of extraneous packaging, and then decide that loose tea would be better yet, and conclude finally that you can do without tea for a few days. I shaved my head to sidestep that whole shampoo and comb quagmire. My wife, on the other hand, thinks nothing of packing a few books, four changes of clothing for five days, giant towels, etc. We compromised, sort of: if it fit on the bikes after the batteries, tools, charger, first-aid, water stowage, and other basics, I was fine with it. We’ll pack less next time. I packed some trash bags so in the worst case we could stash useless items in the woods at a marked spot for retrieval at a later date, including batteries if it came to that.

    The ride up was pleasant after Estacada, if uneventful, and just plain uneventful before that. Having son narrating in his tireless way kept us entertained even passing through the town of Boring, Oregon.
    lower clackamas
    We camped at Riverside Campground, at mile 60-something the first night. This is the site of the last readily potable water along the route. We slept in two Hennessy hammocks, which I’d long been curious about as compact comfortable alternatives to a tent. Need to fine-tune the bottom insulation strategy for the cold dawn hours or colder seasons, but we’re sold. The sound of the rushing river lulled us quickly to deep sleep.

    hammocks

    The second day’s climbing was more intense, or we were sore, or both, but the weather was great and the scenery fantastic. It culminated at mile 18 in a wall of a climb to the pass that we dreaded to imagine hitting without Stokemonkey. The pass came sooner than expected, with a breathtaking view of Mt. Jefferson clad in glacier, and we then bombed down to Breitenbush with some euphoric whoops. I ran out my charge to a splutter along the loose gravel road just a mile or so from our destination.

    parkingWe parked our bikes at the door of our cabin, which led to quite a lot of curious loitering by other visitors to the springs. But we learned quickly to stop telling people that we had biked there with child from Portland because it stopped conversations cold, as either a greener-than-thou affront or just too freaky. “Who drove the support vehicle?” A Dutch family we met there on the last day found out as we were leaving. They were incredulous. I admit that made me proud: Dutch people think we’re hardcore. At the same time, I wish more people understood that biking needn’t be some kind of enviro-martyr stunt, sport, fundraising strategy either personal or institutional, etc.

    carl crosses

    Homeward was mostly downhill, after the initial very sharp climb back up to the pass. The first couple hours after the pass were the nicest riding I’ve enjoyed in many years, with perfect light and warmth and a bike heavy enough to hold its momentum up nearly all the little rises after letting loose up to around 35 MPH on the longer descents. We whistled and sang in gratitude.

    Our mood took a big hit at Austin Hot Springs, which is right alongside the road. We thought we’d lunch there and maybe take a dip where the hot vents mingle with the cold river water. We rolled up to the river’s edge, between trucks, and beheld a sickening spectacle: trash, trash everywhere. Brawndo cans and Doritos bags, used tampons and condoms, excrement-smeared toilet paper, giant bean cans, inflatable water toys, cassette tape fluttering, cigarette butts and beer bottles, some broken. Green trees sawed down and dragged halfway into fire rings. And there in the clear water, some yahoos had submerged a large roll of carpet and weighted it with rocks so bathers could avoid coming in contact with the riverbed. It was a crying Indian moment. Anger and shame drove us back to the road.

    The Breitenbush community states that its primary purpose is to protect the springs and the land around them. Instantly, in view of the fate of Austin, we felt a wave of gratitude for that mission accomplished. I thought of some of the remarks I’d come across about Breitenbush being expensive or exclusive, or a bit precious, and I murmured “well thank god!”

    Clouds rolled in low and it began to rain lightly. For the first hour or so it came down at a rate about equal to evaporation in our wool and peached nylon pants, but after a few more hours we were quite wet, though warm from exertion. My body proved an astonishingly effective rain shield for our son, even in his denim jeans. Beyond cell range, without radio we couldn’t guess whether these showers were going to blow past or compel us to set up a hasty camp. We had no raingear save those trash bags. We changed into dry wool and pressed on, just as the showers luckily subsided for a few more hours, catching us again only 15 miles from home on the Springwater.

    flatBoth bikes acquitted themselves flawlessly, with zero trouble save a flat due to a heavy staple; we patched in place. We rode my 2003 Xtravois longtail, and a 2007 prototype of the Surly Big Dummy longtail. The Surly’s running a Shimano Nexus 8 gearhub with roller brake, the same robust setup as on all the Dutch bikes we sell. Xtravois has a Rohloff gearhub. Schwalbe Big Apple tires on both, 24″ on the Surly. Both bikes have been “dutchified” to produce effective seat tube angles below 70 degrees, with short stems, swept bars, and sprung broad Brooks B67 saddles. I don’t think I’ll ever ride long distance any other way willingly, assisted or not. The only bicycle-specific items of clothing we brought were helmets.

  • Cleverchimp is now Clever Cycles

    Cleverchimp LLC is now Clever Cycles LLC. The latter company has absorbed the former. The formalities are complete; we’re opening a bike shop here in Portland. We’re now a two-family business instead of one. Or rather, we’re now two families very busy opening a new business. Before long this site will look quite different. Stokemonkey will continue to be developed and supported; the Cleverchimp name will likely shift from being a company name to a brand name of products that Clever Cycles develops.

    Dean and Rachel Mullin live a ten-minute ride away from us. They have four children, three dogs, a cat and a dozen chickens. They’re down to one car now that sits idle mostly. Like us, they’re an all-bicycle, all-the-time kind of family. After working through the usual succession of typical solo bikes to trailers, tag-alongs, tandems, and sprawling mutant permutations thereof, they acquired a ZEM, and found it rather heavy. Their search for an assist motor put them on the Stokemonkey/Xtracycle path. They bought two. Rachel had meanwhile identified the Bakfiets as a missing piece of the puzzle between the too big, 300-lb ZEM and sometimes too small or light Xtracycles for big family transport. A few weeks after we spent a warm afternoon on a slightly tricky Stokemonkey installation, Dean proposed “Let’s open a bike shop!” It turns out he was serious.

    I had always imagined Cleverchimp diversifying away from just assist kits into a bike shop, but not so fast. Not fast at all. Dean’s a lot more decisive than I am. All four of us complement each other pretty well. We all want our children to see and understand what we do for a living, to understand that turning 16, or 21, or 42 doesn’t mean you need, or need aspire to a car (if it will even be an option in 2020, 2025, or 2045), and to build a business they can someday run, if they choose.

    We’re doing something that’s either unprecedented, or whose previous attempts to do in this era, in this country, have failed in silent obscurity. We’re selling bicycles designed squarely to replace car trips, or render cars entirely spurious within town, even for larger households, as a matter of pleasurable, enlightened self-interest instead of frugal compulsion, hairshirt eco-guilt, or body-sculpting fantasy. Exclusively. Bikes you can haul your sweetie to the movies with, that he can haul you back home on, and that you’ll both haul your kids to the grocery on. There’ll also be folding bikes for their ability to permeate the smallest interstices of your mobile life, be it under the table at a posh restaurant, through the aisles of local shops, between the seats of a train, or in the trunk of a shared car or cab. Soon there’ll be more hub gearing, generator lighting, center stands, mudflaps, bells, and steely plain-clothes cargo goodness than under maybe any other roof on this continent. I’ll save details for future posts, but longtime readers of this blog should have a pretty good idea. We live it. Actually, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’re always learning.

    We assure ourselves often that “if it can work anywhere in this country, it can work in Portland.” We can’t go anywhere without being halfway mobbed by interest in our rides, and nobody in town sells this stuff. Whether or not it works as a business, we won’t regret introducing vital new material strains of bike culture to Portland. We hope to help restore Portland’s streets to the child’s play and slow conviviality they were designed for, to return the advantage to city businesses without parking lots who sell bulkier stuff than haircuts, to revive the enchantments of place and distance within our city by opening the eyes, ears, nostrils and lungs of those who traverse it, to take back family vegetable gardens and fruit trees from retrofit driveways and garages, to reclaim our bodies for the complete locomotive functions they are evolved to serve, and to proclaim, daily, that free and dignified people of all ages and stations in life needn’t strap themselves into cages weighing tons to go places, carry things, live long, and prosper.

    Our shop will open during the month of May June (drat contractors!) at 1516 SE 9th Avenue, right off Hawthorne, across from the Lucky Labrador brewpub. A grand opening will follow us getting up and running more completely.

  • Stoke your bak?

    Richard and Jonathan have been heralding the rare but growing presence of a certain kind of Dutch workbike (Bakfiets) on the streets of Portland. Want a bike that seats five kids, with weather protection? No problemo (it’s the one in back, sans weather cover): 4oclock
    Many commenters are quick to point out that these bikes are quite heavy, and dismiss them as unsuitable outside of the flat, dense, flat Netherlands. Enter Stokemonkey:

    9oclock
    7oclock

    Apologies to Bianchi on the celeste/red thing, but the electrobrombakfiets moves. Here we are returning on a trip from NE to Milwaukie; I’m pretty sure the bullet-profile weather cover is an aerodynamic help:

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