I have carried a lot of things on my cargo bike. It’s become a game: what unlikely object can I next transport via bicycle? I clearly remember the rush of hauling my first big item, a suitcase, five years ago. That load was liberating then, pushing the boundaries of what I could do, but now I wouldn’t think twice about it.
Yesterday I reached my high score in this game, if you will. Like in a heist movie, I sought to pull off the world’s greatest job before taking it easy evermore. And I did it.
I’m not done hauling – I’ll still carry things on this bike every day – but during the record-breaking ride I swore that if I made it home without incident, I’d not try anything this big again. This is the tale of hauling a 275 gallon plastic tote, in a metal pallet, six miles across Ann Arbor.
A year ago, Ann Arbor opened its first protected bike lane & cycle track: the William St. Bikeway. From my individual perspective, it’s been a huge hit. My family bikes on it to reach the downtown library, NeoPapalis Pizza, and the university. I see it used by other cyclists, skateboarders, and scooter-riders, snow clearing was decent last winter, and it’s only infrequently blocked by parked cars or trucks. Car traffic on William is calm and not noticeably backed up.
Construction of the city’s next protected bike lane is well underway, on First Street. And the city experimented this fall with temporary bike lanes around downtown, some of which have been great. The Division St. Cycle Track provides a divided, protected two-way bike highway without affecting car travel and it intersects conveniently with the William St. Bikeway, opening up travel in all directions. The William St. Bikeway was the proof point that made these other installations possible.
So it improved my family’s experience biking downtown and paved the way for other infrastructure. Did it change people’s behavior? In my post last year about the Bikeway, I displayed a snapshot of the Strava cycling heatmap that I took on November 1st, 2019. I grabbed one today, November 2nd, 2020, to compare. Here’s last year (see the old post for interpretation):
COVID-19 shattered my “fun aspirations for 2020” list, but one survivor is bike camping. I’m planning that trip (this weekend). It will be my first time camping via bike so I’m reading up and asking questions. In particular I’m focused on getting there and back, with two kids and our gear. Here are some notes on routes and logistics, to help me & others in the future and to see if anyone has other ideas.
Where to Bike Camp around Ann Arbor
The closest campsite to Ann Arbor that I’m aware of is Crooked Lake Rustic Campground, at Pinckney Rec Area. I’ve camped here via car several times so know what I’m getting. But I’m curious to know of other camping options within ~25 miles from Ann Arbor.
Getting There via Bike
For this post, let’s assume a starting point of Michigan Stadium. Google Maps suggests taking Dexter-Ann Arbor road to Dexter, then Island Lake Road to Dexter Townhall Road. Total 18.5 miles. This is the route I use to drive there.
I saw the documentary “Motherload” in September and meant to write a review. I wish I had done it fresh, but I keep thinking about it, so better late than never.
Motherload connected with me on an emotional level. I teared up as it captured on film and described feelings and moments I’ve had biking with my kids that I’ve never heard anyone articulate. People know I’m the crazy guy on the bike with his kids; this film told my story, our story. In this post I’ll remark on a few parts that stuck with me. Here’s the trailer:
Based on what I hear from cyclists in other cities, Ann Arbor drivers are relatively kind toward bikes. But maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, as I was harassed twice while dropping my kids off on the way to work.
I hate it. Car-to-bike yelling and honking carries the underlying threat that the driver could, if they wanted, kill you instantly and likely not even face repercussions. You’re alive because they tolerate you. By virtue of their speed and windows, they dictate when an exchange will happen, when it starts, and when it’s done.
When I get harassed, my heart starts racing, I second-guess myself, I stop chit-chatting with my kids. If I was harassed more often I’d be discouraged from riding my bike, and it’s undoubtedly keeping others off their bikes now.
None of that is news. But the two incidents this morning provided a useful contrast and left me slightly hopeful.
Driver #1: I was biking up Seventh Street north of Huron with two kids on the back. There’s decent room to pass here and cars often do, as they’re unable to on the previous block. A man in a pickup pulled up alongside me and drove parallel to me while he shouted, “that’s seriously unsafe, bro!” Then, not sure what else to add: “Seriously unsafe!” and sped off.
I didn’t have a snappy comeback, and don’t have one now. Bike safety is more complicated than a soundbite. My kids and I were quiet. They were rattled like I was. To the extent our trips to school are dangerous, it’s because a man like this could kill us. So it’s disconcerting to hear a warning from him.
I’ll just note here that the underlying issue is Ann Arbor’s terrible transportation infrastructure. We should not have to share a lane with this truck. In fact, the city just last year considered installing a bike lane on this stretch, but decided to use the space for storage of private cars instead. Yeah, the guy shouldn’t yell at me, but the City of Ann Arbor takes the assist on this one. I used to get harassed on North Maple Road, now there’s a buffered bike lane there.
Driver #2: having dropped the kids, I headed inbound on Miller toward downtown. The bike lane was pure ice so I took the lane. A Pontiac Vibe laid on the horn as it passed me – then had to step on the brake as the light at Seventh turned red. I pulled up alongside the car and told the driver, “the bike lane was full of ice so I had to drive in the car lane, sorry.” He rolled down his window, fumbling for words: “Sorry. It’s just hard.” Pause. “I get too pissed off, I’m sorry.” I smiled, and told him no worries, we are all trying to get to work. “Have a great day!”
His contrition buoyed my spirits and offset the incident with the truck. He was a normal human: a decent person on foot and an impatient, unkind one behind the wheel. This near-universal transformation applies to me, too, and it’s been widely acknowledged since before this 1950 Goofy clip, where driving a car transforms him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde:
I was lucky to catch Driver #2 at the light for this moment of redemption. It left me optimistic about the power of people to get past differences, see each other as humans worthy of respect, and come together – once we log off our devices and get out of our cars.
The William St. Bikeway officially opened last weekend, though it is not yet finished and is in fact entirely closed in segments as construction is finished. Here I am with my boy at the grand opening:
I realized I should grab a “before” shot of the Strava cycling heatmap so I can eventually compare it to “after.” [the hardest part of data analysis is collecting the right data]. I took this November 1st, 2019, though a week ago would have been better:
In it we see that William is less popular for East/West travel than either Liberty or Washington. This might have been due to its more peripheral location at the south edge of downtown, confusing lane changes, and higher traffic speeds. The latter two are mitigated by the protected bike lane.
Will we see traffic spike? The biggest increase in ridership will likely be in the non-Strava-using crowd, i.e., regular people. And that will be my explanation if this heatmap looks the same a year from now. I’m not sure if those cycling for sport will find the protected lane more appealing. The data service Strava Metro would allow for better analysis of this question, including looking at those rides tagged as “commutes”, but I don’t have access to that data.
Incidentally, I’m curious about the “advisory bike lane” unprotected segment between First and Fourth. With winter approaching, I don’t expect that segment to be painted anytime soon. An informational poster on William St. describes how it will work and it doesn’t sound like anything I have seen around Ann Arbor.
I wrote about how the cargo bike changed my life. The #1 game changer is how mundane car errands become joyful adventures. Whenever I can, I haul things by bike, and it’s become a game to see what new objects I can haul.
Here are some favorites. Photos 2016-2022.
Babies & Toddlers
Babies love the Yepp seat. They start off awake:
Then quickly doze off (don’t worry, he had his helmet on during the ride):
I don’t have hard data on this. Ann Arbor should collect this kind of data – Portland, OR has being doing bike counts since 1991. But I feel confident that the number of electric-assist bikes and cargo bikes on the road in Ann Arbor is growing rapidly.
Yesterday I parked in the excellent covered bike parking in the 4th and Washington structure and when I returned saw five e-bikes parked there:
Ann Arbor is a good town for an e-bike. It has some serious hills, which many people can’t or don’t wish to ride up while commuting. It has people with disposable income and environmental leanings who can be the early adopters. And we have two great stores for e-Bikes, Human Electric Hybrids and the newer Urban Rider (same ownership).
(Regarding one particular hill: the William Street Bikeway is slated to open this fall. This will be a veritable sales pitch for e-bikes, offering a safe and pleasant way to get to campus and downtown … to those riders who can surmount the steep, short climb up William from First to Ashley. Increase your assist level!)
Electric-assist bikes will grow in popularity here, becoming a critical part of how we move around in a world without abundant gasoline. (Even in a world with cheap gas they’re gaining steam, since they’re more fun, healthier, and cheaper than cars). E-bikes are already hugely popular in Europe and China, and while America has been slower to catch on, sales have nearly doubled annually in recent years. They’re the future.
I chatted with the owner of the Sondors bike (pictured above) as he locked up. He said he had been close to buying a moped but a friend talked him into buying an e-bike instead. He’s happy he did.
It’s a pleasure to watch e-bike numbers grow here in these early years of adoption.
A few days in a row I saw the same bike locked up in the same place outside of Workantile (the co-working space I belong to on Main Street). And it was always locked like this:
This is insecure as only the front wheel is locked to the post. A thief has only to open the quick release skewer and then carry off the bike, leaving the front wheel behind. It would take seconds.
After several days of walking past this, I wrote a short message on a yellow Post-It note. I didn’t want to draw attention to the target by putting the text out in the open, so rolled it up and tucked it into a gap on the handlebars.
Not knowing anything about the rider, I took care not to mansplain. I politely suggested that their bike could be locked much more securely if the lock passed through the frame, and signed off “Happy Riding! :)”
The next day, their bike was locked in the same place – but with textbook-quality locking technique. The U-lock passed through both the frame and the front wheel. It’s appeared that way each morning since.
Today I saw a sticky note fluttering from the bike’s seat. It was a reply to me:
Here’s to anonymous kindness and old-fashioned passing of notes.
Cargo bikes, in particular those with electric-assist motors, are life-changing. They are also, unfortunately, expensive. (Mostly. For now. Which I’ll come back to). The price tags of most brands put them out of reach of many potential riders and make them appear to be toys of the comfortable.
This came up in discussion at a cargo bike group ride this weekend: we all field constant questions about the bikes from strangers and the one that makes us pause is, “how much did it cost?” To the owner of an average adult bike, a thousand-dollar bike can seem unfathomable. And even if you compare it to the cost of purchasing a(nother) car – which is often a fair comparison, say, for Hum of the City‘s family – the very top-end cargo bikes from Riese & Muller or similar can be half the cost of a subcompact car. And said Toyota Yaris can get you to your job 30 miles away, which the bike cannot.
This week I did 50 miles of bike commuting, mostly moving my kids around, and 0 miles of driving. It was delightful. And I remain confident that e-cargo bikes are the future. Here I want to put the high price tags in what I hope will be the accurate historical context and explore factors that will make them universally accessible. Time will tell.