Monthly Archives: December 2013

Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on December 12, 2013.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer.

It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare shopping trips. But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa.

Microwave in Trailer

If you haven’t done much shopping before by bike here are a few tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most racks are built to carry at least 40 pounds.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

Want to see 36 rolls of Costco toilet paper on a bike? Check out my Shop by Bike gallery for that and more.

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Bicycle Getaways: The Riviera on San Francisco Bay

When most people think of traveling by bike they think of bicycle touring, where you carry everything you need to be self-sufficient for long distances: clothing, sleeping bag, tent, cookware. Like backpacking on wheels. Or perhaps “credit card” touring, where you skip the camping and stay in motels or hostels. Or supported tours, where guides plan your route and vehicles carry your gear (and you too, if you don’t want to ride that day).

When my husband Dick and I bought our touring bikes last year, we didn’t really have a plan. I suspected we’d set out for credit card type tours, and we still may. But so far, our overnight bike trips don’t fit any of these models. I would call them “bicycle getaways,” 2-4 day trips, more urban than most touring trips, using transit to increase our travel ranges, and with luxury accommodations. Ideally a hotel with a fuzzy robes and great restaurants nearby.

So far, we’ve done four bicycle getaways: San Francisco, Sacramento, Folsom and one I planned last year for Dick’s birthday. Instead of giving birthday gifts, we have a tradition of surprising each other with short trips. Dick’s birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, which makes planning more challenging for me. Airports and highways are full of holiday travelers, and after ten years together we’d already visited all the closer spots. I was running out of ideas.

Strawberry

Then I thought of Tiburon, a small town on the north end of San Francisco Bay that along with neighboring Sausalito and Belvedere Island make up what’s affectionately called the San Francisco Riviera. I was sold.

Like our other bike getaways, the train made it easy to ride from home. The late-morning Caltrain bullet got us to San Francisco, where rolled slowly up the waterfront under clear blue skies. Since Thanksgiving is the traditional start of Dungeness Crab season, we stopped for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf. Messy but tasty, I was grateful for the seafood bib they provided.

After lunch we changed into bike wear for the 30 mile ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the bay to Tiburon. Having ridden across the Golden Gate in the fog and wind of summer, I must say the late fall crossing was a delight. We hugged the bayside then rolled down Tiburon’s historic Ark Row, named for former houseboats converted to stores when the lagoon was filled, and arrived with plenty of time to rest and clean up for Thanksgiving dinner on the bay.

The next day we rode to San Rafael along the scenic Paradise Drive and through the new Cal Park Hill Tunnel, then finished the ride with a 360 degree tour of hilly Belvedere Island. From Belvedere, the complete view of the “San Francisco Riviera” could be seen in all its glory, from Sausalito to Tiburon. Getting home the next day was just a ferry ride, a short spin down the Embarcadero, and train ride away.

San Francisco from Tiburon

Starting from home in Mountain View, we traveled this route for a total 165 miles: 80 miles by train, 75 by bike, 10 by ferry, for less than we’d spend on a tank of gas. No holiday traffic like a driving trip would be, and more luxury than a traditional bike touring trip. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Where have you ever done loaded toured with your bike? Did you go hardcore with fully-loaded touring or did you “credit card” it for a lighter load?

Check out the photo gallery for our trip.

Categories: Destinations | Leave a comment

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