Sunday, August 19, 2012

70km in a day

At some point, I would like to build my bakfiets-fitness to the point where I can ride with the kids to more distant places, including into the hills, and maybe even do some overnight trips.

In the very least, I would like to be able to ride a loaded bakfiets from Marion to Mt.Barker so that I can ride myself to CE Camp each year, leave my wife with the car, and generally have fun with the bakfiets with a hundred high-school age kids.

I hadn't planned today to be a bakfiets training day, but as it turned out I ended up riding for about five hours and covering about 70km, for an overall average of about 15km/hour, which I was pretty happy with.  I think that this can be easily improved upon, which I will explain later in the post.

My recollections of camping with a loaded mountain bike were of a similar overall average speed, so this is encouraging. This isn't too surprising, as the empty weight of the bike becomes less of an issue when you load it up.  Also, the bakfiets probably has some advantages in terms of better handling than a mountain bike with a large bag occy-strapped to a rear-rack, which translates into an ability to maintain higher speed when corners are involved, etc.

Anyway, my day today started out taking Mr.Grumpy-20-months-old out of the house to let Dione sleep. We set out at about 7:45am, and didn't need to be back until about 9:30am to get ready for church.  I figured that it was probably enough time to make a shot for the Toll Gate at the bottom of the freeway.

Route wise, I followed the Noarlunga line towards the city from Park Holme to Raglan Avenue, Raglan Avenue to South Road, then headed East up Edwards Avenue until Goodwood Road, and then North along Goodwood Road to Cross Road, and then straight up Cross Road to the Toll Gate.  This route is a fairly steady and gentle climb until Edwards Avenue, where it slowly builds in grade until the last part of Cross Road which is quite steep.  I should make an electronic inclinometer for the bakfiets so I can get a good feeling for which grades are comfortable and what angle is too steep to be feasible.

Anyway, I was pretty happy to make the 11.6km or so in almost exactly an hour, given that it was overall substantially up hill, reaching an altitude of 167m, for an overall climb of about 150m.  I found a  mapping site that lets you draw where you went, and shows you the climb etc data for it.  I mapped this trip here.  When we got to the top, it was, as is usual for my morning rides, time for hot porridge, before turning around and getting home in just 35 minutes, the time differential indicating the difference that the grade makes when riding a bakfiets.

Caleb eating his porridge while sitting in the box.  The fog was sitting just above where we were.
The second ride for the day was to church and back with Isabel -- only about 2km and one tricky railway maze each way.  Fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but always fun.  A few of our friends from church took the the time to oogle at the bakfiets, and one was even brave enough to give it a try in the church car park.

The rest of todays ride was from our place to the Zoo and back, via different routes each way.  To get there I followed Marion-Anzac-South and then the along the Torrens for a total of about 15km in almost exactly an hour -- about as fast as getting there by train from our place, once you factor in the walking at each end and waiting on the platform.

Isabel pretends to ride the bakfiets while we unpack at the front door to the Zoo.  You can just see that Caleb is in a backpack carrier, which I stowed in the bakfiets on the way there.  It is so great to have plenty of space in the box.
I was pretty happy with the speedy route to get to the Zoo, but riding along South Road is not the most pleasant, so on the way home I thought I would follow the Torrens further West, and then try to follow the Sturt River Linear Park back home.  The Western end of the Sturt River track was not well signed, and I got lost a couple of times in the backstreets near Glenelg.  Also, I ended up having to ride along Tapley's Hill Road on the Western side of the airport, complete with disappearing bike lanes at inopportune times, and lack of usable shoulder in the 80km/hour section.  The end result was the route was much longer, and amazingly slow, taking about 1 hours 50 minutes to get home.  The map is only approximate, as I did get lost a couple of times, and I am not actually quite sure of some of the parts near Glenelg, but it gives you the general idea.  My claim of 70km today is based on my odometer, not the maps.

The bottom end of the Torrens River Linear Park is very undulating with many short steep drops and climbs between river and road level, and not at all suited to a heavy bakfiets if you want to get somewhere reasonably quickly, or maintain a steady speed.  Thus, even with a fairly fast ride at about 26km/hour along Tapley's Hill Road, the overall average was only about 13.6km/hour for that journey because of the many short, but slow climbs.  With a more sensible route reflecting the overall flat journey, the average on the way home could have been more like 17km/hour or even better.

While at the Zoo I happened to bump into an old friend who had lived in Cambridge for a couple of years and seen plenty of bakfiets and had been looking around at getting one here.  The more the bakfiets in Adelaide, the better.  I also spoke to a few families along the way to and from the Zoo about the bakfiets and how great a way to get around with kids it really is.  This was in contrast to sitting up at the Toll Gate where bike traffic was mostly people on skinny bikes trying to get to Mt. Lofty in a hurry.   It's just a different state of mind.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Useful weather monitoring tools

The weather here in Adelaide has been pretty wooly lately.

Fortunately there are some good tools for cyclists trying to dodge the worst of it.

First, somewhat strangely the Norwegian Meteorology Service has the best hour-by-hour forecasts for Adelaide, including wind speed and direction (both very important when riding a bakfiets with the weather canopy on), and expected rain-fall:

Image copyright © Norwegian Meteorological Institute and Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation 2007-2012. Image used under review and criticism exemption (s41) of the Australian Commonwealth Copyright Act.

The other very useful facility is our own BoM's Rain Radars.  Set these to loop, and you can see where the rain is moving in near-real-time.  Very handy for working out if that downpour is about to stop, or whether you are wasting your time trying to wait it out:

© Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2012, Bureau of Meteorology (ABN 92 637 533 532). 
Image used under review and criticism exemption (s41) of the Australian Commonwealth Copyright Act.

A quick check this morning reveals that the heavy rain and hail outside has just stopped, and is unlikely to recur while I ride to work, so I had better offski while the going is good.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Commuting along Anzac Highway to the show grounds for Science Alive

Today I took the bakfiets to the Wayville Showgrounds where I was presenting at the Science Alive event as part of National Science Week.

I was curious how long it would take me to get from my backdoor to inside the show grounds, suspecting that since I was leaving during peak hour that it would not be too different to driving.  My chosen route was Marion Road, Anzac Highway, Leader Street.

Easiest way to time it was to take a picture of my watch while loading the bike at home, and then another once in the show grounds.

The verdict, just under 26 minutes.  Google Maps directions by bicycle suggests that it should take 29 minutes to cover the 8km.  So apparently I am as fast on a bakfiets as Google thinks a normal person on a bike should be.

On Marion Road I wasn't able to keep up with the traffic, but once I turned onto Anzac Highway, I was going substantially faster than the car traffic.  Good for me, but not good for the car traffic, since I was only doing 18 - 23km/hour.

I did have some problems with the slow traffic on Anzac Highway, with a bus and truck sitting so far left that they stuck into the already narrow bike lane.  One point in particular the gutter that is part of the bike lane was quite broken, and hard to see in advance, which led to a few tense seconds.  It would be nice if the bike lanes on Anzac Highway were upgraded as the rest of the road has been.

As many Adelaideans know parking in the show grounds is notoriously policed, so I decided to get into the spirit by using the exhibitor's parking permit that had been mailed out to me.

The permit instructions were quite particular that the permit had to be visible through the windscreen of the vehicle.  No problem with the weather canopy.

I was only occupied with official duties for about half an hour, so spent the rest of the time wandering around and looking at various things.

Plenty of school kids present.

Large liquid-crystal panels that are fun to for making hand prints.

The sign reads "Imagine being paid to taste food!!!".  Quite a clever way to get to at least the male half of the school students present.
 I also took a couple of videos that I will attach when I can.

Sleeping in the bakfiets (it had to happen)

It was only a matter of time before it happened.

This evening on the way back from shopping, Isabel fell sound asleep in the bakfiets.  After a short while and a couple of head bobs out the back window, she eventually worked out that you can lean into the corner of the weather canopy.

This first shot was taken holding the camera out over the front while stopped on the way home.  The shot worked better than expected, especially given the low light and difficulty in aiming.

The rest of the shots are when we got home, with Isabel still sleeping.  The bright patches are where the fog on the canopy reflected the flash.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bakfiets parking at Park Holme Shopping Centre

We live around the corner from Park Holme shopping centre, which has been receiving a major revamp the last year or so.  They are getting close to finished now, working on some of the car parking areas.  I was quite surprised the other day to discover that they have marked out some parks just the right size for a bakfiets.

One presumes they were really designed for motor cycles.  The only motor cycle I have seen parked there didn't really fit in one park, and was parked more or less sideways.  

One also boggles at the placement and orientation of the trolley coral over the end three parks, and facing towards the rest of the bakfiets/motorcycle parks, making the end parks ideal places to get trolley kisses on your bike.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Carting water the easy way

This afternoon one of my colleagues in the lab asked if I could give him a hand carting in some full water bottles for the cooler in our lab.  His car was parked fairly close by, but it still would have been a bit of a chore to cart 4 x 12L bottles in.  So I suggested we use the bakfiets, since this is the kind of thing it is designed for.  

I rode around to the back of his car, and we put all straight in, and before we knew it we were unloading the bottles and carrying them up the stairs to the lab.  Very easy and very efficient.

You can also see the white bike computer and sensor attached in the rather unusual location by the crank.  I'll talk more about that in a future post.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Carrying a Suit in a Bakfiets

Today I needed to wear a suit for some meetings at work.

After getting changed, ready to ride my bakfiets down to the other end of campus for my meeting. Photo credit: Corey Wallis.

Before I got the bakfiets, this would mean either giving up riding to work for the day, or going into work on the weekend by car to drop my suit off, and then another visit to pick it up again later.

Now I can just hang my suit back in the weather canopy, and get changed into my nice uncrumpled suit at work.

Here is my suitbag (and porridge maker) in the bakfiets ready for departure this morning.
 There is a little trick to it, so that the suit back hangs from the top of the canopy, instead of sliding down and perhaps getting a bit crumpled.  Use the rear window catch on the canopy to hold the hanger near the top.
Hook hanger over fibreglass rib, and then hook it with the little catch used to keep the back window rolled up when open, so that the hanger doesn't slide all the way down the rib.
 The suit made it nicely.  I planned to walk from my lab down to the meeting, but time got away from me, so I rode the bakfiets down to the other end of campus (about 1.5km and a vertical drop of about 100m) wearing my suit.  I did remember to take my full-face helmet off before walking into the meeting.
I packed the suit bag and my civvies in the bakfiets so that I wouldn't have to ride back up the hills in my suit.

There is a saying that if you are sweating while riding a bakfiets, you are going too fast.  However, when the route consists of an average grade of almost 7%, and several short sections that are much steeper, you just about need to be riding backwards to avoid sweating.

Bakfiets navigation hazards #2 - South Road / Flinders Drive Intersection

To get to work at Flinders University, I normally go through the Warriparinga Wetlands and go under South Road using the bike track along the creek.  However, during the first stages of the duplication of the Southern Expressway (our rather unusual but effective one-way direction-reversing freeway), it is not possible to go that way, because the path through the wetlands under the expressway is closed.

The next best route is to go part way through the wetlands and come out at the intersection of South Road and Flinders Drive, and ride up Flinders Drive to the University.

In documenting this intersection, my concern is not just for bakfiets riders, but for the hospital staff who use this intersection.

Unfortunately, that intersection is not really set up for the level of pedestrian traffic it gets now that the hospital has a staff car park behind the old Sizzler Restaurant. Often 20 or more people are waiting at the pedestrian crossing at a time.  There are several problems, not just for someone riding a bakfiets.

Problem 1 - Tiny Refuge.

The refuge in the middle of South Road is too small to fit this many people (and too narrow to fit a bakfiets at all), and both sides do not always go green at the same time for pedestrians, so it is possible to get stuck in the middle with no room. Not fun when it happens, especially at night or in the rain.

Tiny refuge in the middle of a very wide busy road, too small to fit all the people who might cross at once.

 Problem 2 - The pedestrian crossing is on the wrong side of the intersection.

Practically all of the people want to get to the Flinders Medical Centre.  So they walk across the pedestrian crossing, and then all just fan out across Flinders Drive, which initially has no traffic on it due to the traffic phase.  

While obviously silly, the location of the pedestrian crossing encourages it, and the lack of a sufficiently sized refuge on the eastern side of the intersection means that it isn't safe to wait there, either. We really should do something to protect the lives of our hospital workers who do so much to protect and care for all of us.

The following frames show the migration one morning, complete with pedestrians oblivious to cars coming around onto Flinders Drive from South Road.  This is a fairly common site at this intersection in the mornings.

Problem 3 - You have to cross both roads, because the pedestrian maze by the hospital is too tight, and the back streets have near-vertical bits.

Because the pedestrian crossing lands on the wrong side of Flinders Drive, you either have to cross Flinders Drive so that you can ride up it, or go up Rupert Street, the little side road on the south-west side of Flinders Drive.  However, once on Rupert Street, there is no way you can get a bakfiets back onto Flinders Drive: your two apparent choices are the pedestrian maze between Flinders Drive and Rupert Street, which is too tight, or to proceed up Francis Street to the slip lane onto Flinders Drive, which requires riding up a very steep piece of road, which would be practically impossible on a bakfiets.  

So the best solution is to aim carefully when crossing South Road so that you can manoever the bakfiets into the tiny refuge island, and then cross Flinders Drive when the signals let you, and then ride up Flinders Drive, dodging the migratory hospital workers, who have long since got fed up with doing the same.

But there might be something the transport department can do about it...

It seems that all of these problems might be able to be addressed by moving the pedestrian crossing from the southern side to the northern side.  

First, the median strip there is about 7-metres wide instead of the metre and a bit on the southern side of the intersection.  Much more room to fit the migrating hospital workers, and to keep people safe if they are stuck waiting for the next cycle.

Second, it avoids the need to cross Flinders Drive at all, and will thus avoid the motivation for pedestrians to wander haphazardly across the road.

Third, it avoids the tiny waiting area at the south-eastern corner.

The downside would be some interference with the traffic flow along South Road, which is presumably why they put the pedestrian crossing on that side to begin with.  However, that was before there was a busy hospital car park.

Meanwhile, beware of wandering pedestrians, the lack of a usable refuge island in the middle of the road, and a tiny waiting area on the eastern side of the road, and the futility of taking Rupert Street to avoid these problems.

Cooking Porridge While You Ride

I mentioned in another post that I sometimes cook porridge while riding the bike, to have a hot and filling breakfast when I get somewhere.  On the off chance that someone is wondering, here is what I do.  There really is nothing to it.

Step 1: Preparation

Put 150g of rolled oats into a yoghurt maker by filling it to just over the 350ml mark on the side of the canister (I eat a lot of porridge). Add pinch of salt,  brown sugar or other condiments to taste, and then fill the yoghurt maker right up with boiling water.  Quickly screw the lid on before the container gets uncomfortably hot to grip tightly.  Now insert it into the insulating jacket.  Since the hot water in the porridge is providing the heat, you don't add any water into the jacket.  

You might like to come up with some solution to keep the jacket closed, since they were never designed to stay on in a bike.  When I used to do this with my mountain bike I just stuck it upright in my panniers, and all was well.  But with the bakfiets, the jacket can fall over and roll around and undo itself, possibly spreading porridge on your stuff, so I would wrap it in a towel, or tape it shut or something unless you keep your bak full enough to keep the jacket upright.
150g of oats porridging in a 1kg yoghurt maker.

Step 2: Carry it somewhere on your bike

I find that it takes about 20 minutes for the porridge to do its thing and be ready to eat.  Riding to work or the beach offers plenty of time.  For that matter, getting the kids organised and in the bike after preparing the porridge can take that long.  I have left it in for more than an hour without ill effects.  However, it must also be said that I am fairly robust when it comes to porridge, and so non-optimal porridge texture doesn't worry me.
On extraction, the porridge is ready to eat, yum!

Step 3: Hatch it out, stir it, serve it up and eat.

You will almost certainly need to stir the porridge to get that nice creamy consistency happening.  But apart from that, the porridge is ready and can be eaten straight out of the yoghurt maker if you are lazy.

Below are some images of our porridge eating escapades.  It's an especially nice way to do breakfast at the beach in winter with the kids.

Porridge should always be eaten using old silver cutlery.  Fortunately,  I keep some of my grand-mothers old silverware at work for this very purpose.
Our daughter about to not eat her porridge (we forgot to pack some milk to put in hers) at Brighton Beach.

Also at Brighton Beach, our son happily tucking into his porridge.  He doesn't care if it doesn't come with milk.

Bakfiets navigation hazards #1 - The Railway Maze

This is the first in I suspect what will become an ongoing series of posts about some of the hazards for navigating Adelaide by bakfiets, and how I work around them.

Rail-way mazes are designed to let pedestrians, wheel chairs, electric scooters, and normal-sized bikes through.  

The newer ones are blessedly much larger, such as this one where the Sturt River culvet and Noarlunga line cross on the Sturt River Linear Park.  I suspect the larger size is to better accommodate electric scooters and probably even bikes with trailers.  However, they aren't quite big enough to allow a bakfiets through without having to lift the tail and pull it around a couple of feet.

Proof that I can at least get my bakfiets into the maze!

View of interior of maze.
It's about three metres from side to side (left to right in the photo), allowing a bit of room to do repeated 3-point turns to get it most of the way around. But the depth (the same as the length of the white line on the ground) is too shallow to allow the bakfiets to turn around, or even be 3-point turned around without the bike eventually hitting the centre rail.  This can be remedied by getting it as far around as you can, and then picking up the rear end and pulling it around half a metre or so, after which the bike can be walked around the corner.  A bit tricky if you are not reasonably strong, or have a lot of stuff/kids in the bike.

View of the entire maze crossing the Sturt River.

Between Marion Road and Morphett Road, I believe that the Sturt River crossing shown in these pictures is the only crossing that you could navigate with a bakfiets like ours.  The one at Marion Station is probably slightly too small (I will confirm this at some point), and the one along Murray Terrace is way too tight -- I can't even get our old bike trailer through.

Most of the older mazes are too small to even do this, so be careful, especially if riding on the footpath with kids in the box when you approach level crossings, as you may be forced onto the road.  

This happened on the weekend heading west along the northern side of Daws Road, i.e., the opposite direction to traffic flow, towards the Tonsley line railway crossing.  We had to either from walk the bike along the bike lane on the wrong side of the road, or walk the bike backwards along the narrow footpath until we could turn the bike around, and backtrack.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A visit to S.A.S.M.E.E Park

Today my wife and her sewing friends met at our place, so the usual plan of waiting around home until Caleb wakes up from his post-lunch nap needed changing.

Isabel and I decided that we would visit SASMEE this afternoon.  This was encouraging, because Isabel had already been in the bakfiets for at least an hour earlier in the day, first to the beach for breakfast, and then to church.  When offered riding in the car to get to church, she was adamant that she wanted to go in the bakfiets.

SASMEE is the South Australian Society of Model and Experimental Engineers.  They have a lovely space where the Noarlunga and Belair railway lines join at Millswood, about 6km from our place by bike trail.  For $5 for adults and $3 for kids you get entry for the afternoon, oogling at stationary engines, a model boat pool full of all manner of radio controlled craft, and a fairly extensive model railway network with free rides.  The queues take a while to go through, but in the meantime you have a good view of all sorts of model trains carting other people around the place.  Plenty of fun for Miss 4.5 and Daddy.

The weather was fine when we set out, so Isabel opted for no canopy so that she could "fly all the way there".  I had heard that it was possible to wrangle the weather canopy into the box, so with a minute or so of experimentation I was able to twist it around so that it would fit in the box.   I secured it from springing back out with a 3m ratchet strap wrapped around it several times and tensioned up a bit.  Maybe I will video how I did it some time.
Isabel ready for departure to SASMEE Park.  The weather looked okay, so she opted for no canopy, but we packed it in the bottom of the box along with snacks and general stuff.
To get there we rode along Winston Ave towards the city, and then took the last street on the right before the train line, then first on the left, and follow the road until the small sign and endless stream of people revealed the laneway leading to the SASMEE entrance.  It was quite easy to navigate the bakfiets there.  Isabel and I chatted away much of the way.

SASMEE park has plenty of room to park your bike by the ticket house inside the gate, which was great.  I felt comfortable just using the AXA Defender lock that is built in to the bakfiets.  The ticket man politely asked me to park the bike in the designated spot, making the experience quite simple and clear as to what we were to do.

Then it was time for fun, watching all the little trains and boats.
One of the model trains going past the boat pool will galleon in full sail.

The boat pool even has a harbour.
 We quickly joined the queue for one of the stations, and waited until we made it to the front of the queue for our first ride.  We ended up on this train, immediately behind the driver.

Isabel while we were in the queue for our first ride.  As it happens, we ended up on the train you can see behind her.
 Then we bumped into some good friends who were also there.  Lots of little people at SASMEE park having lots of fun (and occasionally getting upset when they have to get off the train again).
We also bumped into some good friends while we were there.
 The driver on our second ride stopped at a green light, which initially confused me until I realised it was for him to be given a mug of hot tea.  It isn't just the trains that need fuelling.  I took the opportunity to snap the train that pulled up behind us while our driver took his tea.
The train behind us while we were stopped so that our driver could get given his cup of tea.
Then it was time to ride home, into a bit of a headwind.  It probably took 30 minutes to go from Parkholme Shopping Centre to SASMEE park, and about 40 minutes to get home again.

Porridge for breakfast by the beach

I like to try to let my wife sleep in on the weekends.  This requires keeping Miss 4.5 and Master 1.8 quietly occupied, or somewhere away from the house.  This Saturday was the first time that I had the bakfiets on hand to help, and on this morning I only needed to keep Caleb occupied, as Isabel was staying with Grandma, making the barrier of organisation and child-wrangling a little lower.

Brighton beach, and more importantly, the playground just south of Jetty Road, is only about 6km from our place, following bike tracks and cycle-friendly streets the whole way.  Playgrounds are a good way to keep our little people occupied, so I made in impromptu plan to take Caleb down there for breakfast and a play.

A few months ago I worked out that you can cook porridge while riding a bicycle by using a home yoghurt maker.  So one yoghurt maker full of boiling water, brown sugar and oats, a bib, some bread, margarine, water bottle, bowl and miscellaneous cutlery were thrown haphazardly into the roomy box, along with Caleb and helmet.

Caleb eating porridge at Brighton Beach, cooked in the bakfiets on the way.  Note the mid-winter sea fog hazing the jetty.
The morning was foggy, which is quite unusual for the Marion area, and the reason became clear when we approached the beach, with sea fog hovering over coast.  It was really nice riding the bakfiets through the fog, and enjoying the quietness.

Then on arriving, it was wonderful for us to be able to tuck into some fresh hot porridge before attacking the swings, ramps and slippery dip.  The fog did mean that everything was a bit damp, and Caleb just about reached escape velocity on the slippery dip, his nappy saving him from a sore bottom on reentry, so a mental note was made to pack a towel or two for future visits.

The biggest challenge was extracting Caleb from the playground to go back into the bike for the ride home, not because he didn't like the bike, but simply he wanted to stay at the playground.  Indeed, within a minute after we pushed off again, he was happily pointing at things and yabbering away.

We then repeated the same this morning (Sunday), with both Caleb and Isabel. The porridge process was refined slightly (adding brown sugar before the hot water, instead of the other way around), with pleasing results.

Ready for departure for breakfast at the beach.

Caleb quite happily had his porridge on the park bench again, but Isabel found the weather too windy, and her hair kept getting in her eyes.  This was solved by serving her breakfast under the weather canopy in the bakfiets.

Isabel and porridge under the weather canopy.  Yoghurt maker and my full-face helmet can also be seen.
It took about 20 minutes to get from our place to Brighton beach, just a few minutes longer than driving thanks to the very direct route of the bike path, and better traffic light sequences compared to the car route.  Add the benefit of being able to park in the playground, and not having to ferry kids and stuff across the road, and the result was that it probably took no more time than driving.  Getting home took about 25 minutes, so probably a little slower than by car. All in all not bad given that it was just my legs moving three people and a 34kg bicycle.

So why did we get a bakfiets?

We bought a bakfiets a few days ago.  You don't see many in Adelaide, despite our having a fairly flat city, that is reasonably cycle friendly, and there seems to be very little information about the practicalities of using a bakfiets in Adelaide (or Australia for that matter). So I thought I would document some of our adventures as we go along to help fill this void.

What is a bakfiets?

Also called cargo bikes, bakfiets are quite common in the Netherlands and Denmark and some other areas in Europe.  The category covers a variety of bikes, from long-tails like the xtracycle, classic butcher/baker/milkman bikes with sturdy racks front and back, like the WorkCycles FR8, trikes like the Nihola Family or the classic heavy-duty Dutch cargo trikes, still being made in Holland after more than 100 years, as well as the middle-sized cargo bikes with mid-mounted passenger box that are common for lugging kids and shopping on a variety of errands, such as the cargo long (having a bakfiets manufacturer called bakfiets, does cause some confusion).

Bakfiets is the Dutch name for "box/tray bike". The "bak" in bakfiets is the same base word that gives us "baker", someone who works with goodies in ovens on trays.  The "fiets" part basically means "bicycle" and has a rather curious origin.  

Just to confuse us native English speakers, "fiets" is the singular, "fietsen" being the plural, with "bakfiet" not being a real word, although you will hear it from time to time. 

So why did we get one?

Our two kids are now about 4.5 and 21 months, and we began thinking about next year and how to get Miss 4.5 to school and Master 1.8 to school and childcare in a reasonably efficient and sane manner.  

Driving Miss to school is out of the question because of the school's proximity to a particularly congested area near the intersection of the Noarlunga rail line with Diagonal Road near Marion shopping centre.  Also, while we live only about 2km from the school, the shortest car route is more like 4km due to various traffic obstacles.  

In contrast, there is a quite decent bike track along the Noarlunga line that goes almost directly from our house to the school.  So cycling has the potential to be substantially faster than driving, as well as much more pleasant experience.  But we needed an all-weather solution that would keep the kids dry and happy.  

Also, Sunday afternoons my wife usually has the car when she catches up with some friends.  I really wanted a transport option that would allow me to go places and do things with the kids during those times.

In the past I have used a bike trailer to cart the kids around.  However, they are just too big to fit in there any longer without achieving the same effect as putting a several rabid ferrets in a shoe box.  Things will only be worse next year when they will be Miss 5.3 and Master 2.4.  So we needed a new solution.

I already knew that the Danish and Dutch had solutions to this problem, so a bit of hunting around and talking to our Danish friends enabled me to find out a about a variety of bakfietsen, with the feeling that it was just a matter of finding the most appropriate type.

The more I looked into it, the more I discovered that many people who had a bakfiets found it really contributed to their lifestyle, especially the type where the kid seats are in front.  Kids seem to love riding in them much more than in a trailer, which isn't too surprising since it is effectively a long-range wheel-barrow ride.  It also seems to foster a very relaxed and social riding style.  Being able to talk with your kids, and even just listen to them yabbering away in front of you is lovely.  

The simple practicality of a family transport bike was also appealing.  For example, taking the kids to the beach on a regular bike+trailer is a pain.  Issues such as locking it up, keeping it out of the sand/salt, and keeping the kids happy in the trailer, and fitting in the gear all add up to make it easier to just drive.  In contrast, just being able to chuck them and their stuff into a big bakfiets, and riding it directly to the beach, stoping it on its own stable stand, and using the built-in lock, as well as being able to talk to the kids about what they are going to do when they get there makes for a much more appealing excursion.  

This enabling aspect of owning a bakfiets was particularly appealing, and I have to say that it seems to be panning out already.  But more about that in future posts.

So what did we buy?

In the end we chose a cargo long (without electric assist), as it seemed to meet our needs (fit two kids, full weather cover, and room for their bags and my work gear, long-lasting and low-maintenance).  I was particularly encouraged that these bikes are quite popular among Dutch mums who have essentially the same requirements.  They are not cheap (about $3,100), but they are built very solidly, and should last for many years.  It's hard to find things built to last, but the bakfiets from seem to be.

Caleb in our bakfiets with his big sister's bike in the front of the box.  The big thing in the front wheel is the heat-sink for the Shimano roller (drum) brake --- we didn't buy an electric assist model.
Originally, we hadn't intended to get one just yet, but Dutch Cargo Bike Australia had some specials on, and it seemed worth our while to buy the bakfiets a few months earlier.  The deal eventually consisted of a full-price bike, but with the sturdy weather shield thrown in, a saving of about 10% overall.

Alternatively, I could have got one of their ex-demo bikes for 10% off, which would have worked out fractionally cheaper, but with a Shimano 7-speed hub instead of the 8-speed one in ours.  The main benefit is the significant greater range of the 8 compared with the 7 (306% versus 244%).

I am already glad to have the 8-speed Nexus hub, because I work at the top of Flinders University, about 140m higher altitude than my house, and with some quite steep grades along the way --- not really that naturally suited to a heavy bakfiets (ours weighs about 34kg). Ideally I would probably like one lower gear, but I am not willing to give up the top-end yet.  With the 7's narrower range I don't think it would be possible to get the bike and all my stuff up there under my own steam, without sacrificing the ability to pedal faster than about 20km/hour.

If I was saner, I would probably have got the electric assist, but I fortunately have good leg strength, and am keen to get my riding strength and stamina back up again, so while it is hard work, it doesn't worry me.  Also, at about $1,200, economic rationality suggested trying without first.