Monday, December 29, 2008

More Yurt Pictures

Here's two pictures, one from the front and one from the back of the completed bike yurt.  Thanks to everyone who's checked it out :) Happy Holidays. 

The things on the bars are poggies.  Anthony was sewing them late into the night for a surprise Christmas gift for me!  I call them "hot chocolate" because they keep my hands so warm, it's like holding a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold night!  More on the poggies latter.  

A Bicycle Yurt

Stepping away from the dinning room table covered with conspicuous amounts of white fuzz (primaloft), I emerge a "gear elf" triumphant.  To say that the bike yurt is by far the most difficult thing I have ever made is quite the understatement.  The only thing I've made that took longer and more work were my children!  But three weeks of late night sewing vigils has now paid off.  The bike yurt is done.  

I based the pattern off of our rain cover pattern and added 8 inches to the bottom so that it goes clear down to the wide loaders.  There is a liner and a shell with insulation inbetween.  So the shell pattern had to be widened by 3.5 inches across the top to allow for the lofting of the insulation.  I also shrunk the windows to keep the warmth in.  I just cut about 5 inches off the bottom of the window pattern.  The yurt is constructed of Event, a waterproof breathable fabric which takes breathability to new levels.  Most breathables have to let the moisture condense on the inside before evaporating it to the outside.  This one allows vapor to pass directly out of the garment (or yurt for this matter).  It has 2.5 inches of primaloft insulation all around.  This places it at approximately R7 for insulation.  The windows are double paned thick vinyl with an 1.5 inches of dead air insulating between them.  It's warm, really warm.  This weekend only dished out weather in the 20 degree range, but the kids were warm and toasty.  Anthony had to ride the Big Dummy with the kids on it, as my shoulder is still not strong enough to handle the bike with the kids and the gear and the dog on it.   He said it handled quite well and the ability to have the kids on the Llama means that we can bring the dog in the trailer and get to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Christmas without one of those stinky, dangerous, expensive, ugly things with 4 wheels!  ;)  We also added some 3M Scotchlite to the sides, so it is very very visible.

The hardest part of the construction?  Sewing the lining between the double paned windows.  There is no room for the machine to get in between the two windows, so I had to hand-stitch between the two windows on the second window to be sewn into place.   There were so many thick heavy layers of fabric that my fingers were raw, even with a thimble.  The second hardest part: fabric management.  Oh my goodness, that is on big heavy piece of fabric as it starts to come together.  It was too heavy for the machine to feed it through, so I had to do that by hand.  The third hardest part:  the zipper.  There were 6 layers on one side of the zipper and 8 on the other.  Not all of them had to be sewn together at once, but I had to figure out what order to sew them in so as not to sew myself into a "corner".    But it is done and I am now vacuuming up all the last bits of Primaloft before the little one decides to eat them!  It worked!  Praise the Lord!  Whew... 

Next post... Poggies

Peace to all

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Rolling Yurt/Baby Bike Shelter

We are working on developing an insulated rain cover for the Llama. Using some yummy fabrics! Mmmm, makes me drool! eVent and prima loft. :) We managed to get our hands on some lovely slate blue gray eVent. eVent, if you don't know is a highly breathable waterproof/breathable fabric. One of the comparisons we found put it at about as breathable as Schoeller, another one of our favorites. So basically eVent is as breathable as a soft shell, but it's a hard shell. Primaloft has a similar weight to warmth ratio as down, but it does not absorb water. Should be perfect for cold mornings.

Anthony and I were talking about our needs for this winter. I take the older one to preschool early in the morning and some of the mornings have already been about 20 degrees. If I don't want to have to take 20 minutes to bundle the kids, we need to have a bike-mounted warming system. We are trying to design this one so I can just put a coat and a hat on the boys and them be fine in cold morning and snowy weather. That way, when I get somewhere I don't have to unbundle them to go inside. Nor do I have to bundle them up to go outside of the bike shelter. That scenario is possible if we made the yurt/bike shelter too warm for jackets even and then had to bundle them up to walk to the door.

We are working on designing double paned vinyl windows to prevent cold spots and condensation. We are also considering how the shelter will interface with a load vs an empty bike. Currently, the rain shelter just rides up over a load, which is fine as long as most air is sealed out. Another consideration is making sure the sides don't flap in the wind, transferring cold air in and warm air out. This should be an exciting project! We'll post pictures when the project is completed! :)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty....

By Nickie

...had a great fall!

That's right.  I crashed.  Complete with 60 pounds of gear for a weekend stay with the grandparents, the two kids and the dog in the trailer.  First of all, I'll state that the kids are fine.  One scratch on Samuel's wrist is the only injury between them.  However not so with me.  

I was riding down the hill on Arapahoe Road with the new hub motor finally running, I was able to really get going!  The road there is quite old.  I am not sure if I hit a patch of uneven ground, but the front wheel began to shake.  Anthony gives this the more accurate term "head shake", but I am assured by my brother that the more dramatic "death wobble" is the appropriate terminology.  I think I am inclined to go with "death wobble".  The wobble got worse and worse as I tried to slow down and regain control.  When I realized I was in for a crash, I steered off the road into the grass and leaves and laid the bike down.  Went down going between 15-20 mph.  I landed on my shoulder and broke the "humeral head".  That's the ball at the top of the arm bone.  Drat!  

The good news:  kids are okay.  The wood of the seats protected them.  You can see where the corner of the seats was getting ground down, but the kids where safe though scared.  Also good is that I don't need surgery.  

The bad news:  I can't ride for at least a month leaving me and the kids without transportation.  

We ordered one of these.  It's a steering damper made by Hopey that will prevent this from ever happening again.  Who knows why this happened?  So weird we've ridden thousands of miles will heavy loads and Anthony's been riding this bike all week with no mishap.  We read up on it a bit, sounds like it must just be the perfect set of circumstances producing a bad harmonic.  In any case, with the steering damper, this should never happen again.  

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Breathe, Pray, Eat: The Continental Divide

by Nickie

I've been long wanting to post about my favorite and most challenging day on our trip. It's interesting that the two coincide. I suppose that is the way it goes.

We stayed at Aspen Glen campground in RMNP the night before our continental divide attempt and woke early (5 ish) to the beep of our cell phone alarms. Fortunately, the baby between us and the toddler next to us did not rise. This was the first challenge of the day, getting the camp (and tent and bags) packed up while keeping two little ones asleep. We dressed silently in the dark and packed everything onto the bikes except the kids in the tent with their bags.  We then made a mad *but quiet* dash to load the kids and pack the tent before they woke too much so we could get them back to sleep on the bike! Success!!! We rolled out of the sleeping campground around 6 am with two kids asleep! This was really important, because we needed to get as much of a start on the day uninterrupted as we could.

There's something quite magical about RMNP early in the morning, in the dark, watching ribbons of pink and orange rip across the sky as if they are physically pulling back the curtain of night. The quiet. The coolness of the morning. The rhythmic crunching of gravel under your tire. The atmosphere that is not quite night and not quite day... there is a certain energy in it. One that you can't really hold onto... a fragrance, a kiss, fleeting and precious. We rode up out of the campground, and on the main road began to approach a large valley on our left with more than a few elk in it. Just as we began to circle around the valley, the sun rose! The view of the valley was amazing, circled in rocky peaks with pink light flooding the park. On the other side was the edge of the valley, flanked with an aspen forest and above, rugged peaks of dizzying heights. On one of the peaks, you could see where an old dam had broken leaving piles of rubble across the face of the mountain. I truly got a sense of the power of this place and my own lack of might.

We began the climb toward Trail Ridge Road and slowly clicked into the rhythm we would keep for the next 16 miles. We had trained for this all summer, and were well aware of what it would take to have a chance at success. We had to maintain a consistent even spin to the top. We had alloted 2.5 hrs to stop for the kids and 4.5 hrs of riding time to the top. Even as I'm writing this, I cannot believe we did it. I also cannot believe how beautiful it was.  Cascading waterfalls.  The kind that sing. And no one in the cars even saw them, all surrounded by aspens and flowers. Deer, elk, forests of pine and aspen. Rocks of every color, covered in thick orange, green and red lichen. That is the stuff of the lower altitudes on the east side of the divide. We stopped by one such waterfall to feed the kids breakfast. Samuel had fun climbing the rocks and seemed to sense he was really taking part in the adventure. Anders was definitely happy and having fun.

We continued our steady climb watching the valley fall farther and farther down, and the peaks that were once so high steadily drop downward. The rock that was above us in our campground sank beneath us as we began to climb higher and we reached the fork to go back down into the park or up to Trail Ridge. Turning right toward Trail ridge, we caught a beautiful view of Longs Peak before riding into the pines and leaving behind the passing cars which had gotten steadily more frequent as the day went on. The day before, we'd watched the sparkling glass from the windshields of cars hitting the sun as they went around a high rock outcropping. From the map, we knew that that particular spot marked the beginning of the alpine climbing. As we climbed higher and higher, I watched that spot draw closer, nervous about the level of exposure on the outcropping. And knowing that we needed to hit that spot by about 11 so we could get down safely. We carefully watched the time with the kids. Stopping when they needed breaks, food and a diaper or potty break and going steadily while they napped. One of the challenges we found was getting water and food while they were sleeping. If we stopped, they'd wake and we might have to stop and then get caught in a storm at the top. So when our water bottles emptied, Anthony circled the bike on a scenic overlook while I feverishly refilled the water bottles from the larger canteens in my panniers. I kept the food in my basket and handed him handfuls as we road. As we approached 10,000 ft, we began traversing the side of a ridge that went between two peaks. The wind cropped up and we went in and out of the shade with huge changes in temperature. We stopped to put jackets on the boys, our wool sweaters on and put the wind/rain cover over the bike seats. This proved to be a better move than we could have ever imagined. The rugged outcropping drew closer and closer and the wild flowers got smaller and more fragile. Tiny streams penciled their way down the mountainside, and I knew we were getting up into the tundra. We soon reached the outcropping and saw that there was plenty of room! In fact there was a parking lot and a bathroom! No danger of being pushed off the mountainside. In fact, the drivers in cars had been so incredibly considerate. The slowed *way* down and gave us a whole lane the entire way! Very considerate folks. We stopped only long enough for Samuel to use the bathroom. Clouds had begun to gather. It was only 11. The rangers had said storms that week hadn't been coming in until 1:30! The sky wasn't yet dark and stormy, but we were watching the clouds very closely, ready to be forced to cut bait and make a break for safety below. The winds began to pick up as we began the long trek across the alpine tundra. Altitude was about 12,000 ft now, topping out around 12, 200. 

We began riding across the side of the mountain with steep rock slides off to the right until the mountain began to drop away to the left and I could see up ahead there was a section of road about 50 feet long where we were exposed to the wind. I had to dismount and walk because of ferocity of the wind. Anthony seemed to have no trouble with the Llama and the kids. There went any concerns about the rain tent in the wind! It didn't seem to affect the bike at all, and the kids were toasty warm. I must diverge for a moment to tell you about what we refer to tongue in cheek as "snot suckage factor". This is when the wind is almost rushing perfectly horizontally and incredibly fast. Rushing so fast, in fact, that it tries to go in one nostril and out the other literally sucking the breath out of you and anything else which might happen to be in your nose! Usually when the wind is going that fast I have to get down low or be blown over. With the exposure to the left and right, I did not want to risk being blown off the mountain! Anthony seemed to have no problem with it whatsoever! Amazing! My hero. :) After passing the scary ridge the terrain while still steep was not so exposed to the left and right and I began to enjoy our ride again. We passed a herd of elk a the characteristic boulders dotting the landscape like marbles a giant forgot to collect after his game. Truly, I feel so small up there. The views to the left here were magnificent. I am certain Samuel thought so too. However, he began to get antsy and ask to get down. With the alpine center still two miles away and the clouds still gathering over the mountain, we had to explain to him that we needed his help to ride over the mountain. I think he caught the urgency in our voices and he waited patiently the rest of the way! What an amazing boy!

About this time we both began hurting. The altitude was high, we'd been going for about 5.5-6 hrs (with kid stops). The grade was really steep and it was hard to breathe. But we were both getting low on blood sugar. The clouds were continuing to mount. The landscape all around us had so few features. It felt as if I was pedaling in place. About this time, Anthony prayed for help and the Lord reminded him to eat every time the grade let up enough. We were breathing too hard to eat on the steep sections. We switched from trail mix to salty whole grain crackers. The salty food was more palatable. This helped a bit. Then as we were pedaling up a steep section, courage waning, a man drove by with his window down and yelled, "Bless you! You can do it!" I think that was a turning point. His kindly face and words lifted our spirits and we found the strength to breathe, pray and eat.

We pulled into the visitor's center around noon. As we parked the bikes, the first snow flakes began to fall. We had a hot meal, let Samuel down to play, nursed Anders. Samuel thought it was great fun looking out the big windows at the snow falling and the great drifts of snow curling like a great 30 foot wave on the side of the mountain. Truly, a stunning, wild place on the earth! We stayed for about an hour and a half and watched the sky. We saw a gap in the clouds and raced off the peak and out of the storm, down into a lush green valley on the west side! We made it!

The west side is truly a reward for our efforts with lush hanging valleys and little lakes surrounded by peaks. The grass and flowers were so deep that an big bull elk looked as if he was laying down when he was actually walking!

It turned out that storm was a front coming in that would last for 3-4 days. If we hadn't gotten up over the divide then, we would not have gotten over at all this trip. Also turned out (as we heard from other travelers who passed that way) that we shot the gap between a snow storm and a hail storm and never caught a drop! The rain cover proved priceless in that in all that temperature variation, we never had to change the kids clothes while we had to stop to change ours 5-6 times! Couldn't have done this without it.

I suppose this was one of my favorite days because of the intense beauty and the challenge. I felt as if I was swept up in an adventure that asked all of me that I had to give and still more. And the "more" comes from those around me that love me and fight for me. And I have a chance to fight for them too.

Monday, September 22, 2008

When kids give back

I figured it was high time I actually posted at least one story from our tour last month.

For any of you who are parents one thing you’ve probably figured out by now, is that parenting as a general rule is probably the most challenging thing you’ll ever undertake in your life. Consistently having the patience, and energy to be present, and loving with kids even when they’re testing is no minor feat. On the flip side there are those moments when kids give back, that make it all so worthwhile.

In the middle of our trip we stayed in Keystone with my sister and her family while they were there for a business trip for her husband’s job. We had a great time, except for the fact that a few of us came down with a rather unpleasant bug, some kind of cold with fever and nausea for some. Nickie came down with it pretty hard while we were there in Keystone and was down for the count for a couple days.

Unfortunately for me mine had its worst bout out on the road. Two days out of Keystone, we rode from Idaho Springs up onto the peak to peak highway ending at the Cold Springs natl forest campground. On the map it didn’t look like it should be all that bad, especially after having done things like tow the kids and gear up over the highest continuous paved road in N. America (trail ridge road). I was wrong.

The day started easy (downhill), riding down the valley from Idaho Springs to the junction with central city parkway. Central City Parkway starts its climb right from the get go, averaging 8-10% grades for the first 1.5 miles or so. If I were smart, I probably would have realized I was not up for what the day had in store at this point, turned back and taken a down day. That however is NOT what I did. After climbing those first 800-1000 ft. I had to get off the bike and sit down as I thought I was going to pass out and was beginning to feel pretty rotten.

After eating and resting for a bit I got back on the bike and started going again. It was a hot dry day and every climbing grade on the Central City Parkway was around 8%. I was already feeling really weak and a bit feverish, so these types of constant grades plus the heat were beginning to wear me down rather quickly. As we were rounding out 2,000 ft. of elevation gain and about to roll downhill into Central City, Nickie would ride ahead a bit, park her bike, jog back and give me a little push for a bit then repeat, was I ever grateful!!

After stopping through Central City for some lunch, we got back on the bikes for our last 1,000 ft of climbing up to the Cold Springs Campground. I was feeling worse and worse, and having a hard time stomaching food even though I needed the energy to keep pedaling. The weight of the bike kids and gear (around 160lbs) was literally getting to be more than I could manage. My stomach was cramping horribly, and my head was reeling.

At this particular moment a couple of guys drive by in a truck yelling at me out their window. Normally, I really don’t mind when folks in cars do stupid stuff or yell at me, in fact I kinda get a kick out of just smiling and waving at them as they drive away. On this particular occasion, not so much. If I could breathe fire they’re car would have been reduced to a heap of smoldering metal and rubber ;)

By now it had come to the point where I couldn’t even ride the bike up those grades any longer and had been pushing the bike uphill. Between the stomach cramping, feeling like I was gonna pass out, the sheer exertion of pushing a 160lb bike up 7% grades, I broke down and just started crying. Nickie came back and hugged me for awhile and demanded to push the llama with kids. I consented for a bit, but my stubborn streak kicked in and swapped back.

A little ways up the road when we were on the last stretch of climbing about .75 miles before our destination, Samuel did the sweetest thing, and walked beside me helping to push the bike up the hill. You might think that a 3 year old can’t do much to help with a load like that, but I can assure you at that moment, his contribution both emotionally and physically were just tremendous to me. I’ll never forget that little guy walking behind this monstrous load of a bike pushing with all his little might as we proceeded uphill.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We're back, and what a trip

Early morning in RMNP, originally uploaded by stoutag.

I don't have time presently to any kind of real trip report yet, but what I can say is that it was a great time, and despite some definite obstacles (everyone coming down with a ferocious cold while visiting family in Keystone, and having record rainfall in August) it was a great time.

We saw a lot of beautiful stuff that we'd never gotten to experience by bike, Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road, Summit County mountain spleandor, the Peak to Peak Highway and Boulder Canyon.  Many places we've known and loved much of our lives, but it was all new getting to tour them by bike and share that experience with our kiddos.

Next year I'm definitely getting a waterproof handlebar bag, so that the SLR is more accessible, as there were simply too many great vistas passed up due to the camera being packed too far away.

What sums it up is this  "Where are we going next year?!?!"

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Calm Before the Sto.... I mean FUN!!!

We're pretty much just wrapping up small details at this point in preparation for our two week family bike tour. It was rather entertaining when Nickie and I were wrapping up the night before last and we started to list off all the major preparations we've made in the last 1.5 months to get ready for our trip through the Colorado Rockies. All I have to say is PHEW!!!

Things we've bought (excluding materials for things made by us:

  • Wide loaders for the llama
  • Extra sunshade for the kids on llama
  • Various spare bike parts (brake pads, tubes, etc)

Things we've made (this list is a bit more extensive):

  • Ultralight down bag for our toddler, good to about 15F and weighs 8oz.
  • Centerstand for the llama much better stability when (un)loading kids and gear on all types of terrain.
  • Rain cover for the kids on the llama
  • Two 60L rolltop waterproof duffels out of silnylon, weigh about 5oz a piece.
  • Made some improvements to our ultralight two person (plus baby) down quilt just under 3lbs. including stuff sack and also good to 15 degrees
  • Snapdeck kid seat with sunshades, weighs about 15lbs which is 15lbs lighter than trailer, lower rolling resistance, single track, allows conversation with kids, and more aerodynamic.
In truth, while this is all part of preparation for the trip, much of these things were part of our ultimate transportation direction with the kids for the next few years.

We've made lists, lists, and more lists, crossing things off, adding new things on. Its been a refining process, but our aim was to have a couple days before leaving to actually just chill so we're not starting out ragged.

So back to the title, preparations are now winding down and the remaining items on the list get more and more minute and less critical if we decide to scratch and just chill till departure day.

All the weight saving measures and ultralight gear construction has paired our total gear/food/diaper weight (for 2 days without restocking) down to just under 40lbs, which all said and down is at least 25lbs lighter than our first couple camping trips up to the mountains by bike.

So onto the tour itself...

We're taking two weeks to ride up from Longmont towards Rocky Mountain National Park, up over trailridge road, down through Granby, over to Kremmling, down South ultimately to Keystone. We'll be meeting up with family there for a couple days, then turning around and heading back the way we came unless we change our minds.

The route involves three significant days of climbing with somewhere in the ballpark of 13,000ft of total elevation gain and just shy of 370 miles of riding.

Generally what we've found works best with the kids is to do a 1-1.5 hour riding stint right after breakfast, then stop someplace convenient and play with the kiddos for a couple hours, eat snack and lunch, then hang out another 45mins-1.25 hours and then load up for another 1.5 hours of riding during their usual nap time. Between those stints we can cover all planned mileage most days, except the 3 days of heavy climbing. Those days we'll be waking the kiddos early giving then a quick snack and loading up so we can get some riding under our belts before they fully wake up, then the rest of the schedule is pretty much the same.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bike camping at its finest

Bike camping at its finest, originally uploaded by stoutag.

We took our first bike camping trip with the kiddos this last weekend. It was beautiful, fun, and a lot of work ;)

We rode up Lefthand Canyon past Jamestown and hit a singletrack trail up over the crest around 22 miles up from Longmont, 8,400ft elevation, and rode down to where we setup camp.

A couple years ago when we first braved backpacking with out older child, our first trip was unforgetable on more than one front, but the one that comes to mind is the overpacking first time parent, who in this particular case happens to be be carrying *everything* on their own back. Thus we were propelled into the lightweight backpacking age after lumbering up a 6 mile hike in with somewhere around 70lbs worth of stuff for an overnight stay in a mountain meadow. By the end of that summer through many steps we'd widdled our weight down to a much more manageable 30lbs or so for food and gear for the whole family

Now after last summer off from mountain adventures from a then pregnant wife, this was our first time back up, and this time, with two kids and doing it via bike as a now car free family.

In some ways it definitely reminded me of that first time backpacking. There's just no way around it, riding up 3,500ft with a load of kids and gear is not easy. Is it worth it? I suppose that depends on who you talk to. To us, yes, although it makes me think about getting that electric assist up and running on the llama sooner than later ;)

When we got back on Sunday, after settling back in and unpacking a bit the first thing we did was reevaluate the loads, and start to trim the fat. After much calculation and brainstorming we figured ways with a bit of gear making and a bit of creativity to pare our loads back by around 16lbs, which leaves our current total gear/food weight for an overnight at somewhere around 45-50lbs for the whole family.

We'll hopefully get in another overnight camping trip at least once in the next two weeks just to iron out a few more details before we head out on a 2 week bike tour with the kids up through the Rockies.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Centerstand, originally uploaded by stoutag.

I couldn't wait any longer for Xtracycle to release their centerstand, nor could I justify paying almost 400 for one when I have the tools to roll my own, so thats what I did.

It is amazing just how much of an improvement this is. Now loading and unloading large loads and kids are total no-brainers.

I borrowed from some design points from xtracycle's interbike model, and improvised the rest myself. It clears the chain and all other obstacles and is easy to deploy and store being spring loaded.

I still need to paint it, but wanted to give it a bit in use before doing so. I also still need to weld feet on it. Ultimately it'll mount via the wideloaders coming in the mail next week. In the interim I took some rigid conduit and put them in as stubbies to hold it in place.

Kid seat details

Pics of the details.

Here's a seat with padding, straps and sunshade installed. The sunshade is slid up a touch in its sleeve so you can see the upper portion of the adjustable shoulder straps. All straps mount to the seat have tee-nuts from the back side for a very secure flush mount.

Here's a closeup of the sleeves for the sunshade stays, and the adjustable shoulder strap setup.

This is the seat with pads out so you can see how all straps are fastened.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The American Moederfiets (mother bike)

Or in this photo, Father bike

We finished building the kid seats complete with sunshades.

We used 12mm marine plywood for its waterproof glue (avoid delamination if an edge gets chipped then wetted. I pre-drilled a ton of holes on each junction so as not to split the wood when screwing. I striped the mating edge with gorilla glue then screwed together. So all said and done the bonds should be quite strong.

The order of assembly was seat back to wedge shaped rear facing support. Then I attached the sides drilling from the backsides of the seats, so that the upper portions of the seats were fully assembled. Then I lined them up on the base, clamped, pre-drilled, glued and screwed the uppers down to the base.


Some tips on working with marine plywood, its has more plys for a given thickness, and consequently requires some extra care in working with it. We clamped a backer lock for all holes drilled through the wood such as for the tee nuts, otherwise it will blow out the backside and make a mess of splinters. Also you have to be real careful sanding the edges or routing to avoid splintering it. I even had to saw away from the grain line and use very sharp finishing blades to keep from chipping it like mad.

For the straps I had a local shop put metal grommets in webbing so that I count mount tee-nuts from the back sides for a threaded insert then use a fastener to mount the straps via the metal grommets. Its all VERY secure.

The assembly and prep sanding of the seats took the better part of a day with my wife and I working largely together. The puttying, further sanding, staining, varnishing was done in a little bit of free time here and there over the following week. Exactly one week after starting, we were assembling it on the bike and putting the finishing
touches on it.

The pads are a cordura covers that my wife sewed with a combination of a closed cell foam backing and an open cell foam upper for breathability and shock absorbtion.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

The llama

We got all the parts in for the Big Dummy build, and got it up and running a little over a month ago.

I can confidently say, besides the trailer which opened us up to riding with kids, this is the next best purchase we've made bicycle-wise. I can also say that if I'd known 8 years ago what I do now. I would have built something like this when I sold my car and went to two wheels. Although admittedly, the Big Dummy was not available, neither was the Nuvinici hub, and disc brakes have come a long ways in that time as well. So I suppose I did the best I could with what was available at the time.

To start, we named it the llama, as its a bit of an on-running joke between Nickie and I. She's joked about how great it would be to have a llama so that when we go backpacking the llama can carry the kids instead of us. Me being a little more pragmatic, and having less of an infatuation with animals decided that the cargo bike was a much better, lower maintenance option than the wooly variety of llama.

As for my impressions so far, it is remarkable how much less strategic this bike makes living car free. My wife and I had gotten rather accustomed to running errands strategically such that we could make the most of the cargo capacity of the kid trailer. This bike however makes that all a moot point. It can carry twice as much weight as the chariot trailer and far more volume. I've already toted a couple loads that friends with cars have commented "I'd have a hard time fitting that all in my car!!".

The remarkable thing is how seamless it is. What I mean by that is how little difference there really is between it and a "normal" bike, and how little difference there is with this one when loaded vs. not. When I am making use of its cargo capacity, for example carrying 50-60lbs of groceries, I have to remind myself that its even back there, and the only time it is felt while riding is out of the saddle or climbing a stiff incline. Otherwise you could ride along blissfully unaware that there's even a load behind you.

Many, (including myself prior to owning one) ask how much it affects your speed or overall ride times. Going back to the seamless comment, it once again is genuinely surprising how well it hold its own despite all the added utility. My commute time one way on my race focused road bike was pretty consistently around 31-33mins for my 11.3 mile commute. Now riding my big dummy for everything with 26"x2.0"(schwable marathon supremes) my commute now takes between 34-38mins. That basically boils down to a 10% difference in speed between this monster of a bike that weighs more than twice as much as the road bike and has monstrous rims, tires, cargo capacity and a bolt up-right riding position.

We purchased this bike with two-fold intentions, one it just seemed a no-brainer living without a car and having a family, two these bikes seem to be pretty much the best human powered option for taking kids and gear any considerable distances and for any off-roading with those same kids and gear (most of our favorite hiking trails in the nearby mountains require some off-roading to reach).

Consequently we have not fully realized the second portion of this as I haven't yet built the kid carrying snapdeck. I'm blatantly copying a fellow xtracycle lovin parent. The image below is basically where I'm going with this. Thanks Mark!!!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Surly Big Dummy

Nickie and I had come to the conclusion awhile back that an Xtracycle was a "when" type purchase, not an "if".

I had developed quite a distaste for some cheap panniers I'd purchased last fall. They had a propensity to hop off my rack on the bumpy winter road accumulation, or any bump for that matter.

Consequently I began looking into a nicer set with retention qualities. When analyzing the price of a good set of voluminous panniers like ortlieb's my wife pointed out that this was well on the way to an xtracycle kit which was on our eventual hit list.

Well one thing led to another and in the end we managed to thoroughly justify a Surly Big dummy and put money down on one earlier this week. Lucky us we happened to get our hands on one of the last ones available in the country.

It will be showing up this coming week and we'll be working towards setting it up for serious kid-toting, mountain going fun. Honestly at this age range for the kiddos, our chariot trailer still has many benefits for portage around town, but the Big Dummy makes trips into the mountains and up 4x4 roads much more doable.

My build out will incorporate:
Nuvinci CVP
Shimano disc dynamo hub
Alex DM24 rims
Schwalbe Marathon XR's (likely the 2.25" variety)
Winzip's Santana comissioned tandem disc brake for the rear
Avid BB7 for the front
My beloved Brooks Champion flyer saddle
Nitto Albatross bars
Chris King Headset
Phil Wood Bottom Bracket
Bobike Maxi + for carrying the younger kiddo, and a built-in seat on the snapdeck for the older kiddo

It should be in Tuesday of this coming week and once I've prepped the frame and started building I'll try to post some pics and progress up here.