Thursday, September 6, 2018

#SpokesmamaProTip: 4 Family Biking Route Planning Tools

Not every arterial intersection has a beg button--knowing
where these are will take your ride from frustrating to fun
Do you remember the last time you navigated a foreign city, maybe in another country? You probably had a map, or someone gave you detailed directions to your destination. You may have looked at the transit or rail website, possibly even booked a vehicle or bought tickets ahead of time. Planning is pretty important when you're travelling, I find, especially with children. The same can be said for biking.

Particularly if you're just getting started with riding for transportation, planning your route can make the difference between a great experience & a lackluster one. If you're used to driving, or taking transit, following the same routes with your bike isn't generally a great idea if you want a relaxing ride. I know there are many cyclists out there who will brave the traffic on high speed arterials & highway shoulders, but I'm going to assume if you're visiting a family cycling site like mine you're not one of them.

Even if you have been riding this city regularly for a couple of decades, like me, you'll still benefit from a little planning when you ride with your kids. When I plan my routes, I don't just rely on my mental map of the city. Partly because of all the road work that's happening during the good weather right now, but also because the city has added so many cycling route improvements since I last rode through a given area.

Google is pretty good, but no substitute for the wealth of
mental maps you'll find among the family bikers of this city
  1. My first stop is usually Google Maps. When you open the app or website, find where you can show different layers & choose the Biking one. This will overlay a network of green & brown lines that show you where the bike routes are. The green are paved & the brown are unpaved. Be forewarned, however, that Google just lays down a green line whether it's a neighbourhood bikeway (i.e. a traffic calmed road with no protected lane like Ontario Street), painted lanes, & sometimes protected bike lanes (like Dunsmuir, Hornby, the Seawall, etc). Another caveat--Google can be behind on the new infrastructure in your city, so it will occasionally tell you that you can't ride through places like parks or vehicle diverters, which is why step four below is important. The next step is to input the start & end points of your trip for directions & click on the Bicycle icon to give you cycling route info. 
  2. Map it. Another option if you're concerned about riding with traffic is to check the PDF or printed bike map for your city. Tranlink has the entire Metro Vancouver area covered, but most municipalities also produce a city bike map (often a paper version that folds into a little pocket sized bundle) with details like where the steep hills are, insets with more information about routing around bridges, etc. These maps will generally also show the different levels of cycling infrastructure, from the all ages & abilities protected bike lanes to the painted lanes, to the sharrows on neighbourhood bikeways. This can help you choose which routes you'll be most comfortable riding.
  3. Crowdsourcing information is sometimes the best way to figure out a route. Talk to other parents at your kids' school or daycare, your coworkers or friends who bike for feedback on your route. In terms of online sources for advice on biking with children in Vancouver, your best bet is the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group. It's a great place to find out where people like riding on with their kids, & why they choose particular routes. A great example of this is "The Watson Wiggle" which is a route we take all the time, zigzagging from 10th Avenue to 11th, across 12th where there's a beg button, to 15th Ave, then home on the St. George bike route. It avoids crossing Kingsway, which can be a bit dodgy at the best of times, & takes you past quite a few murals to boot! It's not a route that Google would tell you about, but it's a nicer ride & avoids going down & then up some hills.
  4. Unforeseen road work can make a bike commute awkward
  5. Test ride your route! If you're planning the ride to school &/or work, try a test ride on the weekend to see how the distance & hills feel. For a better sense of what the traffic is like, try your ride around the same time of day as you'll be commuting, if you can. Riding with a friend, coworker or spouse for your dry run might make you feel more confident in future as well.
Finding resources you like & doing a little work ahead of time is worth the effort, I promise. One last thing to think about is how fast vs. how fun. If you're like me, & you typically just want to get there as efficiently as possible, you're probably thinking about the most direct route. Until we build A LOT MORE protected bike infrastructure on high streets in this city, the most direct route usualy isn't going to be the most pleasant. Look for a route that minimizes hills & avoids high traffic areas. Google will give you a hill profile for your route if you click on the details after getting bike directions--this is super handy for riding with younger children on little single speeds or when you're hauling everyone by heavy cargo bike. Avoiding those hills can mean your route is longer, but much more enjoyable.

Have a great ride & see you on the bike routes! & if you have any other route planning tips & tricks to share, whether for Vancouver, or other cities--leave them in the comments below!

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

#SpokesmamaProTip: How to Use Bus Bike Racks

Practicing #bikebusbike at Broadway Station bus loop
Having the option to carry your bike on a bus is great as a backup plan if you have mechanical issuses, terrible weather, or if you're just starting to commute to work & it's a long distance. Being able to use the bus bike rack makes touring--especially with a kid--a lot more possible, & the bus system can help you get through the various tunnels & bridges & highways around Metro Vancouver that you can't or don't feel safe riding on. Translink bus bike racks accommodate bikes from a 16" wheel up to a 700c. That covers the vast majority of two-wheel bikes out there, even folding & children's bikes.

BUT. Big but. How do those racks work? Am I going to be able to figure one out when I need to, with a bus load of people staring at me? Using the bus bike racks can be a bit intimidating at first. It just takes a little practice, however, & then loading your bike on a bus goes much more smoothly!

Here are my top tips for using bus bike racks:

  1. Consider starting your trip at the first stop or a layover point if you can, to make the process more relaxed. The first stop means you'll be the first to load, so the two spaces on the bike rack won't be full already.
  2. Pack your panniers or basket so they're easy to pull off the bike or unpack before loading it onto the rack. You're not allowed to leave them on the bike as they can impede the driver's view.
  3. Watch this video to see how the rack folds down & how the extendable arm works. Then ride your bike to a bus loop or layover point along a route & ask the driver if you can practice with the rack. There are also two practice racks permanently installed outside Main Street Skytrain Station & North Vancouver City Hall.
  4. When you lift your bike, grab it on the front fork with one hand (this prevents the front wheel from flopping around & hitting you in the head with your own handlebars) & the seat tube with the other so you can lift it as high as needed. Put your bike on the back spot so another person can use the front one.
  5. Be ready at the bus stop pole before the bus arrives & make eye contact with the driver so it's clear you're planning to use the rack. Once you get on the bus, tell driver where you're planning to get off. Stay near the front, so you can keep an eye on your bike. There's usually a luggage rack area just inside the front door where you can stash your bags. When you're going to get off again, let the driver know, & then get off via the front doors.
  6. Don't forget to put the rack back up if it's empty!
  7. Once you've taken your bike off the bus, move onto the sidewalk to reattach panniers, etc. Don't stand in travel lane or cross in front of the bus.
Visit the Translink Bikes on Buses page for more information.

I hope these tips are helpful in demystifying the bus bike rack! I put my bike on the bus occasionally as part of my commute to work when I'm travelling farther than I want to ride, or I want to avoid a particularly heavy traffic route. (Check out the hashtag #bikebusbike or #biketrainbike to see pics on Instagram.) We have also used transit to make bike touring more doable when we're hauling children & camping gear.

Have you got any other handy #bikebusbike tips or stories to share? Let me know in the comments below.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: Walking in the City with Jane: A story of Jane Jacobs

Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs is an engaging picture book aimed at kids aged 6-9. Author Susan Hughes provides a fictionalized retelling of the life of Jane Jacobs. If Jacob's isn't a familiar name to you, she's one of the world's greatest urban thinkers & activists. The book is a great introduction to the ideas of civic engagement & city planning through the lens of urban life, as well as touching on the history of New York & Toronto.

As an advocate for active transportation, I love that this book helps explain the idea that cities are living, breathing entities, & it's possible for ordinary people to influence how they work & make them better for the citizens who live there. There are so many small details that can serve as a jumping off point for further discussions about how cities work, like the mechanics of gas, water, steam, electricity, sewage.

As with most picture books, the artwork is crucial & this one does not disappoint. Stylized illustrations by Valérie Boivin perfectly evoke the eras covered by the story, with a muted watercolour palette. The last pages of the book include a brief biography of Jane Jacobs.

Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs is published by Kids Can Press, available in hardcover for $20 CAD at bookstores & online.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vancouver Spray Park Challenge

Our cargo bikes parked at Connaught Spray Park in Kits
Earlier this summer I was poking around the Vancouver Parks Board website & came up with the idea to make a list of all the spray parks in the city & try to visit every single one this summer. I made a checklist (of course--I love checklists!) which you can grab from the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook group in the Files section, if you want it.

We haven't made a huge amount of progress, despite the summer being half over. Here are the spray parks we've been to so far.

Connaught Park

Geese having a drink & pooping at the edge of the Connaught Spray Park
This one is a bit off the beaten path for us, but we trekked over to Kits to see it after going to the Let's Go Biking Book Launch event along the Arbutus Greenway. It is right along the 10th Avenue Bikeway, so it's quite nice to ride to.

It is a cute little spray park with painted concrete surface, several different sprayer things, no water guns & SO MANY GEESE. The geese mostly stayed away from the kids, moving back & forth from the field to the edge of the spray park while we were there. Until the water sprayers turned off after the kids took a break for a while. While the kids were playing in the adjacent playground, the geese invade the middle of the splash pad & POOPED all over it. Bleagh.

Linny runs through the water spouts in Harbour Green Spray Park

Harbour Green Park

This is a park we often bike through on our way to & from Stanley Park, but we rarely stop at. The spray park is very minimalist, no rainbow coloured pipes or giant ladybug things to climb on, but more like a fountain. Nonetheless, the kids looooved running around between the spouts of water. There are plenty of shaded benches on either side & the mist from the water blows over toward them intermittently, which is fantastic on a hot day. The park also has public washrooms on the south side of the spray park & it's easily accessible by bike as it's right along the seawall.

Relaxing in the shade as the kids play in the "stream" at Prince Edward Park
Prince Edward Park

This is our default spray park, only a few blocks from home. It features a small splash pad with a variety of sprayers & water guns, a bioswale artificial "stream", public washrooms, plus a large shady area right next to the spray park that has a couple of picnic tables. There is a good playground with lots of swings, as well as a small community garden & a playing field--definitely a place you could spend the day with kids.

I'll post again once we've visited a few more spray parks in the next couple of weeks. Have you been to any of Vancouver's spray parks? Which one is your favourite?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Where to Buy a Cargo Bike in Vancouver

Cargo bike party outside Tandem Bike Cafe!
If you're looking to buy a cargo bike in Vancouver, the options are getting bettter & better. But, there's no one stop shop to test ride different brands. Quite a few brands of cargo bike, like our Bakfiets, aren't even sold here in brick & mortar stores--your only option is buying online.

Until we get a great family & cargo biking shop (like Seattle's G&O Cyclery) here in Vancouver, you'll have to pound the pavement a bit.

In the interests of making that easier for you, I've updated my list of bike shops that sell cargo bikes here in Vancouver. There are a few disappearances from my previous list--Grin Technologies has stopped carrying complete cargo bikes & is focussing on adding electric assist, or regular e-bikes. Dandy Lion Cargo has also stopped selling Bullitts, & Phil from Metrofiets has stopped building his gorgeous long johns.

Cit-E-Cycles 3466 West Broadway Vancouver 604-734-2717
Riese & Mueller Load; Tern GSD; Benno Boost
Their Surrey location has Pedego cargo bikes on the floor to test ride as well. Read about the daily school dropoff run on an electric Pedego Stretch by Lee-Anne Ekland on Mom Pardigm.

Dream Cycle 1010 Commercial Drive Vancouver 604-253-3737
Surly Big Dummy; Bilenky custom longjohn
Dream focuses on custom bikes, but they do sell Surly longtails--they usually don't have a floor model, so give them a call if you're hoping for a test ride.

Mac Talla Cycles 2626 East Hastings Vancouver 604-707-0822
Mac Talla has no floor models available for test rides, you can order Babboe through them.

Mighty Riders 10 East Broadway Vancouver 604-879-8705
Surly Big Dummy; Xtracycle Edgerunner
Ed generally has both bikes in stock for test rides, but call ahead to make sure they're ready for a test ride.

Rad Power Bikes 3296 E 29th Avenue Vancouver 1-800-939-0310
Rad Power ebikes
Note that you can test ride bikes at this location, but they are currently not offering ebike purchases from the Vancouver retail store. All ebike purchases must be made online.

Reckless Bike Stores 110 Davie Street Vancouver 604-648-2600
Babboe City; Urban Arrow
Reckless has two locations, but the Davie Street location has Babboe & Urban Arrow on the floor.

Sidesaddle Bikes 2496 Victoria Drive Vancouver 604-428-2453
Bike Friday Haul A Day, Yuba Spicy Curry
Andrea opened Sidesaddle specifically as a women-friendly shop. They have at least one Haul A Day & a Spicy Curry available for test rides. I posted about the shop not long after they opened.

Tandem 3195 Heather Street Vancouver 604-376-8223
CETMA; Douze Cargo; Yuba various models; Bullitt; Triobike; Bike Friday; custom longtails
Tandem carries the widest variety of brands of cargobike... but the small shop doesn't have room for floor models. Clint's personal CETMA is  available for test rides most days--call ahead to be sure it's at the shop. Here's a short review I wrote after borrowing Clint's CETMA for an afternoon.

Pro tip: this is where we go for service on all our bikes--the mechanics here really know & love cargo bikes.

The Bike Doctor  137 West Broadway Vancouver  604-873-2453

UPDATE: (August 2018) Bike Doctor is having a retirement sale, selling off all stock, so may not have many of the below brands left.

Babboe; Yubas of all sorts electric assist & regular; Felt Totem & Bruhaul
Bike Doctor has a floor model of most of their cargo bikes available to test ride, except Babboe, which need to be ordered in. We bought our Yuba Mundo there in 2014--you can read much more on that on my cargo bike FAQ page.

That about wraps up my updates to the list. Please let me know if you know of other cargo bike selling shops in the city that I've missed!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to list these bike shops & have no affiliation with them, other than being friends with Clint from Tandem. The above information is correct as of the writing of this post & opinions above are my own, as always.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Learn to Drive with Modo

I've written many times about how we've made carsharing work with babies & young children. Modo makes it possible for us to save thousands a year by not owning a car. But what about when they want to learn to drive, eventually? Will we need to buy a car then? Or pay thousands to get every minute of practice in a driving school vehicle?

I've got good news for carless families with teenagers who want to get their drivers license: Modo is launching a new category of membership, Modo Green, allowing new drivers to use their carshare fleet!

Teens 16+ with a Learner (“L”) licence haven’t been able to take advantage of the benefits of carsharing, because previously, drivers needed to be 19+ with an “N” licence; as old as 21 with some other carshare providers. In fact, Modo is actually the first carsharing organization in North America to offer this to members.

Why? Modo believes the benefits of having younger people develop their driving habits & behaviour early is good for everyone. Modo's wide range of vehicle types mean new drivers can get practice manoeuvring different sized vehicles. It can also save parents a lot of money, which is important, since we live in one of the most expensive regions in Canada. Now you don't need to own a car or spend hundreds or thousands on driving school to teach your kids to drive. It also saves on insurance costs, as you don't need to pay higher rates to add a new driver.

Modo Green has some conditions, of course. Learner drivers can only be added to a Primary Member’s account & they don't get their own fob, since they have to drive another member anyway. For all the details, visit the Modo Green page here.

Happy carsharing!

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