Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Chariot Corsaire XL - Big enough for my kids, but how about an adult size?

A very big part of our transformation into a bikes-as-transportation family has been the bike trailer. We have 2 kids that we tow across town to school every day -- about a 5-mile round trip. I know... what did they ever do for us?

Plus, the trailer is great for hauling all the groceries and other crap that would be awkward on a bike without the extra square footage, as this gentleman demonstrates:

fail owned pwned pictures
More at Fail Blog

Not that it would have helped Matt Lauer...

It's hard to explain to someone who drives the same route to school that it is not some big sacrifice for us to tow the kids on bikes. We like it. It's less stressful. We don't have to get all up in some Escalade's grille over the last parking space (obviously an Escalade's grille is one place bike riders particularly avoid). We're in better shape than we've ever been, and we don't need to darken the door of a gym. I know, sad -- just think of all the swell times we are missing out on.

But enough of that. On to our new trailer - the Chariot Corsaire XL. (The XL is for eXtra Lovely! I mean, check it out!)

The issue we had in choosing a trailer was the fact that our kids, at 4 and 6, are getting bigger. The thinking in the bike trailer industry seems to be that once kids can ride a bike, there is no more need to tow them (I guess 'Big Trailer' has decided trailers are for entertaining toddlers as opposed to family transportation). But, even though our kids can ride, they aren't ready for a 5-mile trek through the mean streets of Santa Monica. Given our kids' sizes (the older one is about 44" tall), legroom and headroom mattered most.

A bike trailer can haul many moods from A to B.

We actually bought a Burley D'Lite first, but it didn't have the legroom we needed. As I recall, the D'Lite had about 17" of legroom while the Corsaire has about 21" -- a substantial difference.

There are plenty of pockets where you need them, and little ventilation windows the kids can open from inside. We added an extension for our lock that loops around a bar in the trailer, so we can feed our bike lock through it when we need to lock up. This keeps our bike and trailer our bike and trailer, and keeps us from being memorialized on the pages of bikesnobnyc for bike lock fail - unlike the bike owner below:

As bikesnob commented, "Oh yeah. That's not going anywhere."
Seriously if you aren't reading bikesnobnyc, you're missing out on
the discrete charms of bike related sarcasm/snobbery.

The Corsaire tows and rides great. It attaches to the bike with this ball and socket deal. The trailer's movement is totally independent of the bike's, and it's very easy to take on and off. We bought an extra hanger (10 or 15 bucks) that attaches to the quick-release on the rear wheel so we have one on my wife's bike too. (They supply a longer quick-release skewer that you may or may not need.)

The attachment mounts right next to the scars left by
our old trailer's bloodthirsty attaching claw...

The ball slips into the metal cup attached to the bike, then the metal pin slips through the holes to hold the ball in place, and the rubber strap locks the whole package down. There is also a nylon strap that loops around the seat stay to satisfy the Department of Redundancy Department.

It literally takes about 20 seconds to switch from one bike to the other.

The rear wheel suspension on the Corsaire really works - I was surprised how much difference it made. The ride for the kids goes from smooth to bouncy (road-surface depending), but they seem to get a kick out of that. After all, they aren't performing a bris back there...

The suspension can be easily adjusted with the black knob (pictured above) for different weights on each side. There is also a parking brake that attaches to the rear of the trailer, but we left it off to reduce the overall weight a bit. The brake didn't pass the weight-to-usefulness challenge.

There is storage in the back, enough for a couple small kid's backpacks and a few other items. It's a bit of a tight squeeze fitting things in through the opening, but it's roomier inside. The storage area is covered by a flap, and it's pretty rainproof. There's also a pocket in there to stow a bike lock or whatever you don't want smashed.

The cover on the front is also pretty rainproof, though not totally water-tight. But we've ridden across town in a torrential downpour and not much rain made it in - the kids got wet climbing out of it far more than rinding in it. I think there is an actual rain cover available that we might get for next winter if we feel our kids deserve such pampering.

The front cover can either be this plastic cover or it unzips and rolls back to reveal a mesh screen.

The rear flap that covers the storage area can be flipped forward as a sun shade, but we've never actually used it that way. I think the department at Chariot that came up with this had the highest incidence of drug use on the job. Just a guess.

When you roll the rain cover out of the way it gets secured at the top with these stretchy loops - they don't really grab that well (because they can't slip under the rolled-up cover itself) and could be handled better with a Velcro strap or something. A nit-pick.

One other small gripe is the snap buckle that holds the cover down when you close it -- it takes two hands to attach it, so it's a bit of a pain when you're loading kids and getting ready to go. The Burley has a nice D-shaped ring at the end of the strap that hooks over a metal tab on the frame, so it only takes one hand. I've been trying to come up with a DIY version of that, but I haven't yet. Hey Chariot, how about comping me a retrofit when you sort this one out?

I think it can do the usual conversions to joggers and such, but I really don't know. This will be the only mention of "jogging" on these pages. We don't run.

Oh, one other thing: My bike has 26" wheels and it tilts the trailer ever so slightly down in front. My wife's bike has 700s and it's level with those. Any trailer would be the same in this regard.

But all in all, we're really happy with the Corsaire -- we love it and get tons of use out of it, and the kids love it, too. It's built really well - both materials and craftsmanship - this will definitely last for many years out there on the road. One thing, it's love except for the price -- almost $800 taxed and shipped! You read that right. [UPDATE: Just saw an ad for a sale price of $697...] The upside is there were no options that had to be bought separately (like the arm that attaches it to the bike, which with some brands is additional). We wanted something that would fit, and it was seriously the best fit we could find. Maybe they don't sell too many of this model, so they come at a premium? But dang... Eight bills...

So come on, jump on into the Bronze Age. Your cardiologist will hate you for it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No-body walks-in LA

But we are riding more and more. Here's a ride coming up that looks cool - family friendly and a way to see some sights between Pasadena and downtown that we miss out there on the freeway. (I'm taking their word that there are sights to see there beyond cryptic gang tags and the fallen day-trader or two...)

Join us if you can!

And this kind of thing reminds me (loosely) of the great events they have in NYC called "Summer Streets", where they shut down Park Avenue and connecting streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park on 3 days in August. No auto traffic, just open to bikes, rollerblades, Jazzys, whatever. It looks like an amazing event, and an idea we should definitely steal here in LA.

In terms of bike-friendly local government we're getting our asses kicked by the Big Apple...

My dream? Create an event where we shut down a route from downtown LA to the beach on some summer Sunday - a mad dash of conflicting demographics all with their eyes on the prize: to be first in line at Hot Dog Stick!

I'm going to work on this. I think I can I think I can I think I can...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Infrastructure & Incentives

My friend Mark sent me a couple photos he's taken while working in NYC. Though I'd been aware of a substantial cycling culture there, I hadn't thought much about New York as some kind of bikes-as-transportation Mecca. But as a recent NY Times feature confirms, NYC is looking at bikes with fresh eyes. For starters, these bike lanes:

Photo by Mark Imgrund

I would love to see this kind of thing in Santa Monica. Bike lanes separated from traffic (between parked cars and the curb, not between parked cars and the traffic...), and with the I-must-be-dreaming anti-dooring zone built in. Now that is some real Portland-on-the-Hudson enlightened infrastructure there. I mean seriously, if New York City can carve out a couple feet for safe bike riding in a dense urban area, can't we? [UPDATE: Commenter Alexander posted a link to this interview with the Commissioner of the NYC DOT. Amazing glimpses of the improvements in NYC and the leadership at the top that makes it happen. Can we get some leadership like that here in LA/Santa Monica?!]

Then in the next photo, a local business takes it upon themselves to make a difference:

Photo by Mark Imgrund

As you can (vaguely) see on the sign in the window, "Arrive by bicycle - 25% discount"! There is nothing in it for this business (I mean 25% off! That's real money), nothing except the love and devotion of local biking customers. It's just the right idea - that's the upside. I also notice the Revolution Rickshaw out front for deliveries...

Santa Monica should get with this - provide some actual incentives to people who ride their bikes to our business district. Of course they could start by creating actual bike lanes TO the business district.

This is one of my pet peeves - as you can see in the map, the pink bike lanes all end about 3 blocks before you get to the Promenade... I know 3 blocks isn't much, but they are 3 blocks where the streets and sidewalks are totally jammed. If Santa Monica wants people to ride there (which appears questionable), spend some cash at a local business and then ride home, you need to create a safe route (that a family could ride). Us hardy, everyday riders can wing it, but it's a real barrier to new riders. And don't let the green "Bike Routes" fool you - they are totally useless for anyone but the most daring (Lincoln Blvd.? A bike route? Really...?).

Whenever we get to the "Bike Route" sections of our daily ride towing the kids to school, marked with the "Share the Road" signs discreetly tucked behind trees and such, it translates consistently as "Get on the Sidewalk". They really are a (well-intentioned) joke...

What if there were actual incentives to ride to the Promenade? The benefits to overcrowded parking structures and general congestion are obvious. What if we had at just one route in - say Arizona Ave.? That would also serve the Farmer's Market. Maybe have a bike valet like the Sunday market down on Main Street. Maybe some actual discounts for people who ride there (maybe a coupon for a dollar off the next time you get stung $50 for leaving your car at home on street cleaning day...).

While we face depressing cutbacks in bike infrastructure, we need to find creative ways to encourage people to use the bike that don't cost much to local government. Though as we see stimulus money flow into the state, if we could carve out just a tiny fraction of those millions it could go a long way if the ideas are responsible, practical, and truly encourage riding. This map shows where transportation dollars are going, and as you move the mouse over the counties in California an obvious pattern develops - roads and highways are getting the cash. You move up to Oregon and you see another story - Trails and other alternatives are seeing some real love.

But California? Not so much...

But there are some positives. Obama announced new national fuel standards today, with both auto workers and executives at his side. Matt Yglesias offers some praise (and a bit of silver-lining darkening...). And I'll link here to his earlier post pointing out that George Will is, in fact, a tool, and takes particular issue will Will's (now regular) ignorance of the facts. In this case, ragarding the number of Americans that commute by bike... [UPDATE: Oregon Congressman Blumenauer (co-chief of the Congressional Bike Caucus) throws down, challenging Will to a transportation tie-off - defending Portland's approach. What's the matter GW? Ya chicken?]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Last Mile. Again.

So I've been thinking (again) about this idea of "the last mile". Generally that term is used in regards to public transportation and how to get people "the last mile" to their destination.

After all, we all can't live in Vauban...

But I've been thinking of it others ways too. Many people I know and work with just live too far from work to make biking it practical. They're interested, but the realities of time, distance, traffic and sweat are too great. So I've been suggesting this idea to them - put the bike in the car, drive towards work, but park a mile or two from the office. Then bike the rest of the way.

There are a few benefits to this. Most importantly to me, it gets them some exercise and it adds them to the visible bikes-as-transportation community. Second, it reduces some traffic in the area of their office - which is usually a fairly high-density traffic area. And to a lesser degree, it cuts down on a bit of carbon burning. All of those are good things.

The thing I like about this idea is that it can work for anyone. They don't need to have the ideal situation I have - 2 1/2 miles to the kid's school, and 2 miles to my office. (I also make a bikeable commute a priority - before taking my current job my first question was, "I don't have to drive to Burbank, do I?" But I know I'm lucky in that regard. )

One consideration is where to park when they hop on the bike for the last mile. That issue will be different in all cases, but it doesn't seem insurmountable.

So, I think there's something to this. This could be a good outreach idea, since many people aren't joining us in the bike lane because of distance. But if you remove that hurdle, maybe they'll join us?

At least for the last mile...