Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two Successful Experiments, Two Planned Experiments

Ok, so we've been slowing chipping away at sustainability. At first we thought we'd have to save up and buy a Prius or something, then we discovered bikes do the job nicely. Now that the bike thing is somewhat under control we've been moving towards food sustainability. We found a local CSA-it's a local farm where you can purchase a share in the farm's productivity for the year. In addition we began a home garden to supplement the food from the CSA.

The garden turned out surprisingly well. I began researching gardening (because I knew that I would totally *fail* otherwise) and found quite a lot of good info online concerning permaculture. I bought a book called "Gaia's Garden" Toby Hemenway and "The Four Season Harvest" by Eliot Colleman. Gaia's garden laid out a very clear plan for "sheet mulching". I heard mention of sheet mulching a lot on permaculture sites, but hadn't actually been able to find instructions for implementing it without the book. Essentially you loosen but not turn the soil with a fork, then put a layer of nitrogen rich material down. Blood-meal or cut weeds work well. Then you put a weed barrier than composts such as cardboard down. Then pile on 8-12 inches of compostables watching your balance of nitrogen to carbon components to maintain a 50/50 mixture. At this point I added a bacterial-composter which was not in the book, but seemed to work well for me. Then apply 2" of compost and 2" of mulch. Water the whole thing as you are mixing it up to the consistancy of a damp sponge. Then water it regularly. In the warm weather of May and June, I had 8" of nice black soil teeming with soil life in about 5-6 weeks! Amazing! The garden took off and we are still eating ripe tomatoes in November! The best part, I found was that I had no digging, no heavy garden work and almost no weeds.

We moved into our house in May and the plants were ready because I'd started them inside in March but the garden beds weren't ready. Starting in May, we didn't have much time for our sheet-mulch to decompose. So I modified the "recipe" by making the compost/planting layer deeper. I used one big bale of peat-moss and 4 bags of mushroom compost per 3' x 10' bed to make the planting layer about 6" deep. Then by the time the seedlings were growing deeper than 6", the compost underneath would be rotted down. This was a bit of a gamble, as I didn't know if the mushroom compost would be too hot and burn the roots, but it seems the peat moss diluted it enough so as not to hurt the plants. The garden was quite a success. We planted chard, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, basil, broccoli, spaghetti squash, butternut squash and bell peppers. All of the plants yielded well. The tomatoes got in the ground a little late for our area and consequently about 1/4 of them ripened on the bush and the rest I put in boxes in the pantry, layered 1-2 deep. They are just about all ripened now and we have been enjoying fresh tomatoes all fall! I may plant tomato bushes late in the season again just so I can enjoy them next fall.

I mentioned Elliot Coleman's book earlier, the "Four Season Harvest". I got very excited reading this book, thinking that winter gardening could provide fresh veggies for the family in the winter. So I headed over to our local gardening center to pick up some cold-season seeds, only to be informed by the gardener on duty at the time that Coleman's book, written in the Northeast (Maine) would not translate to our climate--at least not without modification for climate. He told me that the challenge here in Colorado for a cold-frame is that we have very low humidity which means that we have very broad swings in temperature. Seriously, for those of you who have never been here, it can be 70 during the day in December and then 20 at night or the next day. The problem this creates for plants is that their leaves don't get adjusted to the cold and then they get killed by the frost. This problem is exacerbated by a cold-frame. As it stores heat when the sun in shinning and it's already hot, so temps can get as hot as 140 very quickly and then the glass and wood doesn't insulate well enough to keep the plants from freezing at night. Well, I bought my seeds (I can't believe they even had all those winter seeds, Botanical Interests rocks!). Then I went home to brain-storm with Anthony. We decided to try insulating with straw-bales for the walls of the cold frame and then providing thermal mass with water. To do a good job of it, we'd really need a lot of water, but for starters, we did about 40 milk jugs filled with water lining the inside of the straw bales. Then to keep the cost of our experiment down, we just threw plastic supported by stakes over the top of the bales of straw. I planted seeds Aug 15 and covered the plants in early October.

It worked! I was totally shocked. The plants inside the "cold frame" not only survived, but thrived. Their leaves grew right up to the top of the cold frame and were pushing on the plastic. The ones outside the cold frame survived, but didn't grow much, (probably too cold). So, since it worked and the plants grew I built a tunnel arching over the top. This should take care of the snow crushing the plants problem I had with a flat top to the cold frame. And here, we have a new experiment. Will the water still be enough thermal mass to keep the plants going? Probably not without adding more jugs, because the mass of air just increased many times without the water mass increasing, so I anticipate I will need to add more water. Another experiment, I just planted some spinach and some kohlrabi. If stuff is growing, I may be able to plant more and have it grow this time of year, who knows! This will be my 3rd attempt to plant spinach. For some reason my spinach seeds have not been germinating. I am not sure of the cause. It could be slugs, squirrels which love to dig in my gardens, maybe I didn't keep the soil moist enough because I planted them next to mature plants which didn't need as much watering last time, maybe the soil is too acidic with all that peat in there. I'm not sure. If these don't germinate, I may try a different pack of seeds-maybe something happened to the seeds. I guess we'll see.

And this leads me to my next experiment, can we produce enough food on our .25 acre lot to mostly or entirely feed our family from our gardens? Maybe... if I garden three-dimensionally and try a forest garden. I'm currently looking into replacing our 100' long hedge row of an ornamental shrub with a hedge of hazelnuts. There are a couple nurseries out there supplying cold-hardy varieties. The extension out here said that hazelnuts aren't that productive here because of "the climate", but I will have to have more specific information than that before I give up on the idea.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nuvinci Longterm Review

Since we seem to get almost as many questions about the hub as we do the bikes we ride, I figured it was time to do a full fledged follow up instead of my abbreviated comments here and there.

At present we've got roughly 5-6k miles and 1.5 years of use on our Nuvinci hub, all of which has been with a rather full load (rider, 2 kids, assorted kid-related stuff), and all of that with a gearing lower than the mfg. reccomended minimum of 2:1. We have it geared closer to 1.78 : 1.

We've used it in single digit temps (F) and used it to tote 160lbs of kids and gear up over mountain passes a number of times.

This is all to say that the following comments come from pretty extensive and tough usage of the hub.

First let me say unabashedly that my wife and I both LOVE the hub. We would in no way change the decision we made to purchase this hub. In fact at this point even if given the chance to have a Rohloff at the same price as the nuvinci my wife and I both would choose the Nuvinci. It has earned our respect on a number of levels.

This hub is the closest I think you can come to the simplicity of riding a singlespeed while still having a full range of gearing at your fingertips. Its range of roughly 350% is really quite broad. A couple friends of ours who live essentially car free with 3 kids just got one for their Yuba on our recommendation and were initially planning to run it with a triple chainring up front, but after testing it out are now rethinking that plan and going for the low maint. singlespeed driveline as the range has so far proved more than adequate. There are gearing calculators out that to give you more precise numbers, but for some real world perspective, we can with the same gearing cruise along going 24mph without spinning like a track cyclist, and at the same time tote the kids and gear up a steepish mountain climb going 3.5-4mph.

Riding it is experientially really is a lot like riding a singlespeed in that it is so quiet, so smooth, and efficient as well, yet you still retain the ability to shift, but even that is a very different experience since there is no clicking or any other indication of a shifter other than a shift in cadence.

While I'm mentioning efficiency and shifting, I'll elaborate on two aspects of the nuvinci often talked about. I have not stuck this hub on any kind of testing bench and so cannot give hard numbers, but what I can say is that each person that has ridden ours, and Nickie and I as well find it perfectly comparable to riding a derailler based drive train. Here's an example. Shortly after I first built up the big dummy using the nuvinci 1.5 years ago, I commuted to work on it for a couple weeks. I'd been doing that same commute for several years, so was quite familiar with timeframes, and exertion levels. My commute was at the time 12 miles over slightly rolling terrain. The bike I typically rode has about the same body position, with rack and panniers and similar tires. The Big Dummy equipped with nuvinci probably weighed around 10 lbs more. Over the course of those couple weeks, I did not see any perceptable difference in commute times. In fact if anything my commute time was a minute to two faster on the big dummy. I keep my drivetrains in top condition and use the same lube on both. So as for efficiency, whether its because its really that good or because you are always in exactly the gear you want to be. It is certainly efficient enough to not be a detriment in any way.

As for the shifting experience, this is worth expanding on as well. This may sound like an obvious statement, but more than you might imagine, but... the nuvinci does not shift like anything else you've ridden. They say this in the literature, and it is certainly true, this bike will not shift at a standstill IF (thats a big if) you are putting any load on the pedals. The reason for this is obvious if you think about the design of the hub. It uses a traction fluid between the drive spheres and the output discs. When you apply load you are applying load to the traction fluid between the input and output and you are fighting against the hubs' means of transmitting torque. It simply will not budge. Now if you take your foot off the pedal you can spin the shifter through the whole range like its not even hooked up to anything. This understanding becomes important as you think about how it shifts on the go. A common question pertaining to gear hubs is "Can it shift under load". The short answer is definitely yes.

The long answer is this. Since, when you are applying torque to the hub it cannot shift without movement of the spheres you must think of shifting in a different way than you would on a bike with stepped gears. The word "shifting" really is quite appropriate. With a drivetrain that is infinitely variable, you tend to be subtly shifting your gearing much of the time as terrain changes ever so slightly. With this hub you walk it in whatever direction you need it to go as conditions dictate. As you apply steady gentle pressure to the shifter in whatever direction you need it to go, your hub will walk there during the lighter parts of your stroke at a perfectly ample rate to handle all but the most abrupt of changes. This may sound complicated and a large annoyance but in reality its much more intuitive after just a couple rides then any of our stepped drivetrains could ever be. On the occasion that you do hit a very abrupt change in slope and suddenly need to be in a different gearing, you just let off the load for a millisecond and give the shifter a good quick twist and you are immediately in that different gearing then dial in precisely as you begin pedaling.

It only takes so long to explain it because it is such a different experience to other gear hubs or derailleurs. After just a couple rides you'll find it to be more intuitive, quicker and easier to use than a derailleur can ever be.

Lastly let me comment on durability and service. In the time we've had this hub we have not had a single problem with it, NONE. And regarding service I've not had to do anything to it. One beautiful thing about this hub is that it is sealed for life. At first that is scary for someone who likes to be able to fix and service just about anything, but in thinking about how overbuilt the internals are and the fact that you don't have metal on metal transmitting torque through the hub, sealed for life starts to make a lot of sense and really begin to shine. It is as efficient today as it was out of the box, just as smooth and just as wonderful to use. I have replaced the cables since we first set it up, but I would call that general service on a bike, not a function of the hub itself, and I'm really considering using gore ride on cables to minimize that portion.

Are there any drawbacks? Sure, its heavy, but in this case on a cargo bike that is mission critical kid transport, I'll take overbuilt and heavy any day. Also Installation is a little tricky the first time you do it and there are a couple potential gotcha's. It is imperative that you do not kink the shifter cables. Since it is a little bit like a push pull with the dual cable setup a kink will really make shifting suffer and likely result in a cable failure. Also when you clip the excess cable at the pulleys you must clip it short enough that it does not scrape the inside of the shifter box. This will also cause poor draggy shifting. You will also need to keep a close eye on cable stretch for a time using the barrel adjusters to take out any slack so that you're not actually pushing one cable through the housing when shifting.

To sum up, it is a great low maint (no maint?) drivetrain option for the transportational cyclist. It has a very usable range, it is certainly efficient enough to not draw any negative attention to itself. It is a delight to use in its infinite adjustability, and I sincerely hope that they continue to manufacture and refine this hub for future generations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Car Free Pregnant and With an Infant

Since our two year anniversary of car-freedom, a lot of folks have asked me about riding pregnant or with an infant. They hear "two years" and look at our youngest child and the question inevitably pops up, especially from other families who might want to give it a try! I am more than happy to share our experiences because that's exactly how we are figuring this out too. It's exciting to see so many other families on the same path and to benefit from and contribute to this new wealth of information. So here goes.

We sold our last car when I was seven months pregnant with Anders. When I was pregnant with Samuel, I was only able to ride until 7.5 months. The reason was that I had a race bike and my belly crowded out my knees at that point. So there was one consideration, pedal room. Another obstacle was breathing room. My belly quickly crowded out my lungs and I needed a more "open" body position to breath. My doctor gave me the ok to ride with 2 restrictions. 1) I had to stop when my balance got "iffy" and 2) I couldn't pedal so hard that I couldn't carry on a conversation. With these things in mind, we chose to buy a recumbent tadpole trike. A recumbent gave me room to breath and pedal and the trike portion made it so that I couldn't tip over as my center of gravity and balance got less reliable.

Common wisdom says you can't carry an infant by bike. But what if you're car-free? There has to be a way. We did find some mom's putting the infant car-seat in the bucket of a bakfietz. Good idea, but at 3000 it was a bit costly for us. The dutch also had a rack that attaches an infant car-seat to the back of a bike with a suspension system. Also a good idea, but we didn't find any available in the USA. As it turned out, the trike also worked we for carrying an infant by bike, especially in the winter, as Anders was born in mid October. I put him in a moby-wrap on my chest and leaned back in the trike. I adjusted the seat angle to be comfortable for him. The moby-wrap was nice because it was not bulky on my back. The baby-bijorn active was good too, because although it has a back pad, the pad doesn't have any lumps or buckles so it's comfortable to lean against. Keeping Anders the perfect temperature was supper easy this way! I just put one of Anthony's coats over the two of us. I left the top un-zipped and put a warm hat on his head. For my exposed neck, I put on a thick wool scarf. This way he could have fresh air. I could feel his temperature easily as he was against my body. When his feet got longer, we added leather booties and wool socks for him. We traveled this way at about 25F for an hour and a half and he was still toasty warm. I think the coldest temps we ever reached were about 7F (but for a shorter time) and he was still warm and cosy!

In this way, my body acted as a stabilizer for his neck and head and a shock absorber and warmer for him. I can say in riding around with him, he was more stable than being carried. We had spoken with our family doctor to find out the considerations for transporting an infant. In his opinion the biggest concern is that the baby is not jostled as the neck muscles have not yet sufficiently developed in the infant to stabilize the head and neck. He also said that once Anders showed good head control, he could transfer over to the infant sling in our chariot trailer, and that should be between 3-5 months of age. As it turned out, Anders got big fast and his favorite game was pushing off my legs and up on my chin! He would lift his head and look around as we rode around about 3 months. At around 3.5 months we tried walking with him in the trailer in the infant sling. He was very secure. We then tried riding that way with me pulling and Anthony watching him inside the trailer. There was not a wiggle. Being re-assured of his stability in the trailer with the infant sling and his neck-strength. We went ahead and switched him over to the trailer, but only on smooth sidewalks and going very slow (that's all I could do anyway!). This worked very well. It was still cold, but we put him in the primaloft snow suit we'd made for Samuel the year before. Inside the trailer, he was toasty warm!

This set-up worked very well. Anders traveled this way until he was 9 months old, and he started crawling into big brothers seat and looking hopefully at us, so we switched him at that point to the trailer with no support. Shortly after we switched to the double seat on the Big Dummy.

To some it may seem like a bit of an expense to get a trike just for the pregnancy and carrying an infant. It didn't turn out to be that bad, though. We bought it at about 1500, and sold it for 1000 18 months later after both me and another mom used it as I described. A car payment for 18 months would have been a lot more than 500. It worked out to be pretty economical! :)

In summing up, I'd say it worked out pretty well. If I were going to have another baby, I'd probably do it this way again. I was able to ride clear up to a week before Anders was born! I turned in my hospital registration with a bike helmet on--boy that gave the nurses a scare!! They thought I was coming to have the baby! LOL I was able to get on the bike again 4 days after the birth because the seat was so wide and spread the weight over my whole back and seat rather than applying pressure on child-birth-injured areas like a traditional bike seat does. The biggest challenge I'd say is having patience with myself as I would watch my athletic capabilities decrease and decrease as time went on. Doing all that riding, I expected to get stronger and stronger. But my lungs would get smaller as the baby grew and my energy level would go down and down and down as the baby's demands increased. By the end of the pregnancy, riding up the gentle 15 foot hill to our apartment was slower than walking! Riding on flats was fine, but the trike wasn't all that efficient on hills and I had very little oxygen left by the end.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2 Years of Carfree living as a family

Yesterday was our two year anniversary of going carfree, all of which has been tracked here on this blog. That being said, I figured it was appropriate to post some thoughts on that time, as well as some thoughts regarding this blog.

Overall, our experience has been very good in the two years since we sold our last car. I won't pretend that there haven't been some challenging moments along the way, or a couple times when in a fit of frustration car ownership crept back in as a thought. Everything has its moments.

When we first sold our car, it was partially to make a statement about the need for societal change towards more sustainable methods. It was also partially because we felt that in order to be a part of the solution in figuring out more sustainable ways to live in suburban America we needed to cut the cord so to speak, and go all out. We also wanted to take away people's typical excuses and we knew that owning a car even if we didn't drive it would be something of an out for people in how they viewed our lifestyle.

I certainly don't want to give the impression that we're out to make anyone feel bad for their current lifestyle, but we do want to show unapologetically that another way is not only possible, but also profitable, and hopefully in that process encourage others to take steps of their own. We are all on this journey together, simply at different phases in the process of sustainable living.

We started this blog back when we were learning how to apply car lite living to parenthood. I'd been car free when we got married, and Nickie and I both tended to get around largely by bike up until our first child, but felt a bit like we were starting over once kiddo #1 came onto the scene, then the next challenge was not just how to get out by bike with kids, but how to actually displace errands. This blog was and is about trying to figure this, within the greater picture of sustainable living, out collectively. Basically its about being part of an open source society, where we share our ideas and resources and try to figure this new way of living out together. Hopefully our blog has been and will continue to be an encouragement and source of info from time to time on how to make this lifestyle work.

Below are some things we've learned in this time.

1)Cargo bikes and electric assists can be real lifesavers with mediocre mass transit plus kids. Nickie and I have been tremendously grateful for cargo bikes currently on the market. We have two young kids too close together in age for one to be vastly further ahead regarding what he can contribute than the other which means, at this point they are both cargo, when you add long distances, diaper bag, groceries etc. Cargo bikes and electric assists become a tremendous commodity. There are also the times when one of us is sick, but still needs to cover a great distance, or when Nickie was injured last year, and I was toting her on the back of the bike plus the kids in the trailer, for 1.5 months.

2)Living carfree in suburban America requires a pretty significant mindset change. We've blogged about this before, but your world becomes smaller and bigger at the same time. You may not stray far and wide as you do with a car, but because you see so much more and experience the world in a different way, your local world seems bigger. The other big shift along these lines is thinking differently about seasons and weather. We've become much more seasonally adaptive, keeping our thermostat at 60-62 in the winter during the daytime, and letting temps get into the high 70's to 80 in our house during the summer, and adjusting more to the seasons as we're consistently exposed to them.

3)Living carfree is very healthy for our kids. They are much more engaged with their surroundings and as we now take steps with our older child to involve him more in the process of getting around (tag alongs, sitting on the rear rack/deck) it seems to have a very positive effect on maturity and self esteem to have more responsibility and to be able to contribute in some way to something Mom and Dad do. They are also much more in touch with their surroundings which can only be good. They see so much more, smell so much more, notice so much more than when they go someplace via car. Being able to snuggle your kids on the bus and read a book together is also so much nicer than sticking them in a car seat in the back seat of a car.

4)Living carfree with kids in suburban USA requires a VERY flexible attitude, and A LOT of creativity. We are not advocating via this blog that all folks go carfree, but that they do endeavor to live carlite. Like most things there is a point of diminishing returns. Living 80% carfree is VERY doable, going the next 20% up to totally car free requires at least as much effort if not more than the first 80%. Does that mean we don't think its worth it, well, thats a question only the individual can answer, but as we've said, we'd rather figure it out all the way, so that most can more easily go that 80% than not. Besides we've found there are few experiences that we don't enjoy more by bike than we did by car.

5)While it is true that biking does save money over driving a car, it takes time and initial investment before you begin to see the returns on it. Buying and/or building setups for toting kids in all condition with the ability to do errands year round with our wild climate variations, has not been what I would call cheap. It has certainly been cheapER than car ownership. Here's some perspective. My wife and I had one car as I was car free when we got married, we maintained that model up until going car free as I typically bike commuted. The one car we had was paid for, and I did most of the repairs myself, and our insurance was cheap. Back in the day when gas cost $1.80/gal we generally spent around $3,500 a year on car ownership. In the two years since going carfree we have spent around $2,500 out of pocket a year on transportation. I would say we are now getting to the point where that will settle down to about half to 1/3rd of that amount. The most complicated solutions are now paid for, and henceforth, its kids bikes and maintaining our current fleet.

6)Carshare's a great model of car ownership for the coming generations.

7)Relax and enjoy the journey.

8)Know that you really don't know it all... :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Surly Big Dummy for sale

Not to steal Nickie's thunder with that wonderful post regarding food and sustainability, but if someone's in the market for a used Big Dummy we're putting ours up for sale. The listing can be found here and the ebay listing now here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sustainability and Food

Why don't we do more programs like this in the US? Not sure, but here is a link a to a great program put on by BBC called "The Farm of the Future". Aside from having *amazing* videography, this film does an excellent job of explaining exactly what the problem is with the way we produce food now compared with regards to sustainability. I often times have a hard time explaining to folks I come across why I believe it is worth the effort to buy local or buy organic or grow food or plant fruit trees. I can certainly see their point, it is a lot more work than it's worth from any monetary sense or time sense. It is hard to explain that the entire system from seed, to the soil it grows in, to the process of watering it, fertilizing it, harvesting it, transporting it, processing it, transporting it again, marketing it, cooking it and finally eating it are all intimate bed-fellows with petroleum. This video, however, makes it quite clear how dire the situation is and exactly why it can't go on like this. For me, this is all intimately connected to our need for peace and justice in the world as well.

The video also goes a step further to suggest some possible alternatives and provides a glimpse of what food production might look like in the next century. One thing that particularly struck me about the "alternatives" to oil-dependent agriculture is that they truly are very much in their infancy. We can't go back to horse and plow, where do we go from here? Some of the innovative ideas included permaculture and forest gardening with some great interviews of people who are doing this on a small to medium scale. They focused on working with nature to reduce the amount of work necessary to produce food. Ideas included nearly eliminating weeding by creating plant eco-systems, improving the soil starting with the "life" in the soil, the insects and micro organisms and inviting bio-diversity in the garden.

The truth about oil-free agriculture is that there aren't a lot of current large scale examples of oil-free farming. This is very exciting because it is a real opportunity for innovation. Even home-scale agriculture could play a part. Back in the second world war, Americans produced about 40% of our food in "Victory Gardens" in their own yards. There is nothing more local than your own yard! This also re-defines the idea of wealth to a more sustainable model as well. Perhaps the Forest Garden or the vegetable garden may take on more status than the most pristine, dandelion-free green lawn. A fruit-tree may become more a sign of wealth than an Audi. Honestly, we need this. We really need this. If our kids and our grandchildren (and even us for that matter!) are to have a future in which they can drink the water, and eat food and breath the air and not be killed by wars over diminishing land and resources, than we need to redefine the idea of wealth. It can't be how much stuff can you buy anymore. Wealth and success have to be re-defined.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Longtail for the heavy user...

We've been using our Yuba full force now for a couple months, and figured were overdue for a follow up.

Yuba Mundos are in a word surprising. I remember first reading about the homely Yuba Mundo. It weighed in at a portly 60lbs without any bags or accoutrements. It came with intro level componentry, and wasn't even made of cro-moly steel, just hi-tensile steel. To top this all off, its sticker price is right at $1,000 which just screams of cheap when you're expecting to pay at least that much for a decent single bike let alone a serious cargo bike.

The frame looks reasonably well thought through regarding triangulation and seat tube angle, but really its just seemed like the Huffy of cargo bikes.

This is precisely why I titled my initial review of the Yuba Mundo, Yuba Mundo - wow....

A couple months later, after daily use and a bike move involving thousands of pounds of stuff, it all comes back to "surprising". My friend Randy and I intentionally TRIED to induce torsional flex on these rigs, going so far as the load you see below in our attempt to do so. Even at that point, the only real squirm was coming from inadequate tire pressure for the load, not frame flex.

Another surprising thing about this rig in the experience of Nickie and myself as well as Randy and his SO all of whom have thousands of miles logs on xtracycles, is how smooth this thing is. That seems so contradictory considering how little that frame flexes under any load we've dared to try. After much pontification on the matter we've finally (I think) hit the nail on the head. Its like a car with good shocks vs. bad. When you hit a road irregularity with bad shocks the reverberations live on for a time after. With good shocks, you take the hit and its done. The Yuba is not unsettled by road irregularities loaded or not. So when you hit a bump, thats all there is. With our Big Dummy, you hit the bump and if you're loaded much at all, it lives on for just a few moments longer in various reverberations.

One other nice thing about this bike and this one is a bit telling, is that it comes with horizontal dropouts. We run an IGH on it (Nuvinci), and its just nice not having to run a chain tensioner. When I said this is telling, I mean that they are able to do this at all BECAUSE this frame does not flex. adjusting chain tension absolutely is only possible because of it. It really does make for a smoother more efficient drivetrain.

I've sung a lot of praises of this bike, and I think those are rightly deserved. Does that mean it does not come with its downfalls, of course not. I still stand by the comment about cheap componentry. At this point the only component on the bike that is stock is the seatpost. If you are picky about the parts you use, do yourself a favor and just buy the frameset and build from there.

Also the welds seriously look like they were done with a buzz box. I don't have any concerns about them holding up, but its worth pointing out to a crowd whose used to the beautiful little tig beads prevalent on most bikes these days.

Lastly, and this is a biggie for many, at present it is still really more for the DIY or tie down strap kinda person. Its quickly getting better in this area, but has a ways to go compared to the likes of Xtracycle who has spent over a decade now fleshing out the accessories to make their kit do A LOT of things.

My main gripe on the accessories front is the lack of a useful centerstand. Once again I rolled my own. which you can faintly see in the photo above. It still needs a little tweaking, but its at least as good as the stand I made for the Big Dummy. I've seen little tidbits that hint at a heavy duty centerstand which is coming out this year, but at present it does not yet exist. They should not sell a bike without one in my opinion.

Thus far my list of modifications is as follows:

Brazed in spacers to reduce the rear dropouts from 14mm to 10mm
Added Nuvinci drive train after modifying dropouts
Swapped out front fork for Surly Instigator fork
Went threadless with FSA DH Pro pig headset
Added front disc brake (Avid BB7)
swapped out front wheel for disc compatible build
added albatross bars
added Velo Orange leather saddle (which btw, we both like as much or more than brooks)
Added Ergon Grips
Added Berthoud 60mm stainless fenders
Homemade bags
EDIT: forgot to list custom centerstand

I should make a little comment about our bags. First off I'll give credit where credit is due (thank you Xtracycle!!!). We shamelessly took a few cues from your design. We love the idea of the xtracycle freeloaders, but often find they just dont go as big as we'd like. I'd rather not have to carry tie down straps unless I'm gonna carry a washer and dryer. Consequently we decided to use a very similar sling design as the freeloaders, but made the sling about 8" longer, made the straps total length about 6-7" longer, and lastly, made the two end pouches out of a solid fabric (silnylon) and made them a couple inches taller.

They work "like a charm" We have not needed tie down straps yet.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Successful Bike Move, thanks to many!!!

We've spent the last two weeks simultaneously remodeling the house we just bought and moving a bit everyday and capping it all off with a large group move yesterday.

I owe thanks to many people all along the way and on the day of the official bike move. One that stands out is my good friend Randy Burgess, who took several days of his two week break from classes to load up our respective rigs and tote thousands of pounds of stuff between places, the most memorable load being a washer AND dryer both on one Yuba (these are intense bikes). He was also a tremendous help on move day on many levels.

Its a little surreal and at the same time perfectly natural to be on the trailing end of doing this process by bike. Its strange to watch a video like the one below (courtesy of my friend Del) of our very own bike move, yet at the same it feels so perfectly natural to have done this process exactly how we do everything else, as well as very rewarding.

It was a bit odd to have the local paper for our town of 80k people, show up, interview us and many others, photograph the whole shebang and post it as a front page story on the Sunday paper. We're flattered but at the same time, wish it was a bit less newsworthy...

Anyway, it was a blast and would definitely do it all over again.

Thanks Del for putting the video together down below.

The Stout Family Bike Move from Happy Thursday on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bike Move!!!!

Photo courtesy of

Well its looking like we're actually going to close on that house, only 2 months later than we initially planned. I guess the news was accurate in stating that the pendulum had gone the other way and that banks are slow and SUPER cautious about lending money...

Anyway, on to the point, at this point we're leaning strongly towards a bike move. I know we've got some Longmont and Boulder readership, so if any of you local folk would be interested in doing a bike move across town with us (around 5 miles) on a weekend about 3 weeks out, please either comment here or email us.

If you don't have a bike that can carry stuff, we do have at least a couple friends with either trailers or cargo bikes that are at our disposal for this move.

Of course yummy food will be provided, likely some kind of breakfast treats, and pizza round lunchtime.

The good news is that most of the route we'll be taking is a very very gradual downhill, AND about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the route will be along path (st.vrain greenway).


Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Chariot For All Seasons

This post is a little overdue, but perhaps it will be of use to someone for next year... After using the Chariot kid trailer last winter, we decided it needed a little modification for winter use. The main issues we had with it were the lack on insulation for cold weather. The really cold wet rain would saturate the fabric on the bottom of the trailer and then saturate Samuel's pants, making for a very cold little boy. Also, he would kick it open and then cold air would flow right threw and we'd have to stop, velcro it closed and keep going, then repeat all over. In the snow, when there wasn't precipitation to wet the bottom of the chariot, the cold would get through the fabric and chill the kiddos. This isn't really a design flaw in the Chariot, I understand that it's not designed for the kind of use we put it through. We needed to modify. I was shocked at how inexpensive (free) it was to modify it! We had all the necessary materials laying around and even if we hadn't, the materials were not too bad. :)

For insulating the bottom of the Chariot, we took 3 double thick strips of closed cell foam and encased them inside a double thick layer of polar fleece. Construction is simple. It's essentially a giant rectangle of fleece with the foam inside. The closed cell foam is unique in that it is really stiff and doesn't compress flat and so it makes a really good insulator. We put a nylon panel across the bottom so we could easily wipe off boot grunge. We then encased a double layer of 6 oz Primaloft in down-proof nylon to make a super warm quilt and attached this too the bottom of the insulated fleece/foam panel. this way you can flip the blanket forward, insert kiddos without dropping the blanket on the dirty floor and then flip the blanket back. We made this blanket extra wide so as to tuck in around the sides of their hips where there is no insulation. To block the draft through the netting at the back, we just stuffed a down jacket in the back pocket. Finally, we attached a hook to the velcro and tied some shock cord around the front wheel attachment place to secure the Chariot closed, so no more kicking it open. :) In reality, we only had to use this a few times until the little guy gave up. It's nice to have that secure closure as an option though, in case there is cold weather and a child gets into a "kick the door open" mood.

We've used this set-up all winter in Colorado. The coldest rides were about 4 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time (1.5 hrs +) and the kids are so warm, they are taking off their mittens! Yay! One nice thing about the trailer in the winter is that it can't fall over if I do. This makes me more relaxed in the ice, even though it's highly unlikely that I'll fall with all the studs on the tires and the slow speeds I carry. The down-side is that it can be very slow in deep snow. With the motor working again I don't worry about it as much though!

Happy modifying!


Monday, January 26, 2009

Yuba Mundo - wow...

Nickie and I swung over by a friend's place this last weekend who's starting up a local Yuba distribution channel. He's another avid bike lifestyle advocate with kids and all.

He's been using an xtracycle for awhile now as his primary car replacement, but was considering a big dummy to upgrade the capacity and handling characteristics, but not long after he decided not only to go for a Yuba Mundo instead, but also to give it a go at starting up a side business to help folks get over the car habit by selling relatively inexpensive car replacement cargo bikes and an e-assist as an option.

Hence his new business. He got his first Yuba in last week and consequently we stopped by to check it out. All my wife and I could both say was "wow...". First I took it for a real brief spin around the block and was thoroughly impressed with how smooth and efficient the ride was. I was actually say it was better than the Big Dummy. Then I had my friend hop on the back and took another spin. Absolutely no flex at all. I stopped back by his driveway and asked my wife to hop on as well. Even at this point there was no flex at all!!! As soon as I was above 5 mph they might as well not have been there. We love our Big Dummy and are truly grateful for how it has facilitated this lifestyle, but I must say after that test ride and me riding passenger for my wife to get a sense, plus a couple hours looking over the bike, this thing is in a whole nother league when it comes to carrying consistantly larger loads.

Our base weight with the llama is around 85-90lbs when you include the two kids, kid seat and diaper bag. with that load, the big dummy is certainly better than the xtracycle kits I've ridden, but its not hard at all to induce flex on the frame. With the Yuba, I had over 300lbs of payload and there was still no perceptable flex. Despite this bomber rigidity, the real suprise was just how smooth it is to ride. I was truly the silkiest ride I've ever felt on a bike, yet not slow at all for a cargo bike.

This may come as shock to many, but we are now plotting our move to a Yuba from the Big Dummy. The way that it handles the heavier weight, plus the larger cargo area in the rear, thoroughly won us over. I must admit that I also love that it comes with a proper seat tube angle for a cargo bike right out of the box.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Whole Wheat No Knead Bread

I was looking for an easy way to make bread and came across this article and this video from the NY Times.  It's easy, but didn't work well with whole wheat flour.  After a little research and tinkering (thanks Anthony) we've come up with a recipe that works for whole wheat flour.  I now use this as our primary bread.  It's good for sandwiches and takes very little time.

Whole wheat flour, as I discovered, absorbs more water than white flour because of the bran.  So if you use the online recipes for white flour, the dough doesn't rise properly.  The yeast needs room in the dough to move around, so if the bran absorbs all the water, the yeast doesn't propagate well.  So the biggest difference between my recipe and the white bread ones is an increase in water.  I also don't let this dough rise as long as the white flour recipe as it yields a more fermented taste which I don't think fits the sweetness of the whole wheat too well.  I'll include the recipe and the link for the method.

You'll need a cast iron pot with a lid (Dutch oven).  Mine measures 9" wide by 3.5" deep.

470 grams whole wheat flour, the one I like is quite fine but not as fine as pastry flour.  The fineness of the flour will effect the amount of water needed.

585 grams water (about 2 2/3 cups) at about room temp.

1/4 tsp yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1 T honey or sweetener of choice.  (I've used molasses successfully too).  I dissolve this in the water.


Lots of flour for folding the dough.

Ground flax or cornmeal for dusting.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and cover except the folding and dusting flours.  The consistency of the dough should be like wet cement.  You just stir it all up with a spoon.  Stir it really well. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 7-12 hours.  When the dough fills the bowl, spread a thick layer (about 1/4 inch) of flour on a clean surface.  You'll want to start your oven preheating to 450 F with the Dutch oven in the oven.  Pour the dough out onto the flour.  Sprinkle the dough with flour and spread it out into a circle about 12-14" wide and about 1.5" thick.  Fold the dough in thirds like a business letter.  You'll now have dough that is long and skinny.  Fold the long ends in toward the middle so that you have a square or round ball.  Lift the ball into a bowl that is lined with a clean cloth napkin or dishtowel that has been heavily dusted with cornmeal or ground flax seed.  The dough will be super super soft and wet and you'll have to move it really fast or it will slip through your fingers.  At this point you can either bake it right away or wait an hour.  I think it's better if you wait, but you don't have to if you're in a hurry.  Lift the napkin out of the bowl and gently roll the dough into the pot. Put the lid back on and set the timer for 40 minutes.  Take it out and let it cool.  It needs to cool before bagging.  The bread doesn't cut too well when it's hot, although who can resist a taste?!  I refrigerate my loaf to slice it and then leave it out in a bag on the counter.  It stays good for about 3-4 days.  If I'm waiting longer than that I'll refrigerate it until we're ready to eat it or it will get a fermented taste.

The Dutch oven creates a humid atmosphere while baking that creates a superb crust and nice texture to the loaf.  Happy baking!