Freedom: In Praise of the Big Bike

I wrote this short essay as a review/thank you note for Sean Carter, owner of Calgary’s BikeBike, an independent Calgary bike retailer, after I had been riding the Babboe Big for about two months. I can’t overstate the impact getting my massive three-wheeler has had on our family this summer. I gush, and I can’t gush too much. This bike changed my life. By summer’s end, I had busted its gear box twice―Sean’s replacing it again as I write―because the Dutch don’t design cargo bikes to climb Calgary hills. No matter―the point is, I was climbing hills. I was cycling. I was moving. Again. 

We walked into Bike Bike on Friday, April 9 to dream and possibly flip through catalogues and to ponder whether it was worth the risk to order the bike of my dreams unseen from a US or Dutch supplier. Instead, there they were―the Joe Bike cargo-style bike I thought I’d have to settle for, and the four-kid Dutch cruiser trike I was dreaming of. We left $2100 poorer, but ecstatic, and I “triked” home with 140 lbs of kids and dog in the bucket.

Two months of pretty much daily bike rides later―ok, we stayed in when we had that foot-high dump of snow in late April. Whenever we’re out on the paths, I feel like we should be commissioned salesmen for BikeBike or Babboe. The machine attracts an awful lot of attention, even at first glance―and more so when people realize just what it is that we’ve got in the bucket. (On our last day trip ― the toddler, the 6-year-old after she ran out of steam, the dog in her kennel, and the 6-year-old’s bike strapped to the front of the bucket. On another trip: four kids, aged 18 months to 9 years, plus the dog. Another time: three kids, two scooters, and a bike. After a dog-meets-boy-with-disastrous-results incident on Prince’s Island, toddler, dog in crate, and 9-year- old’s bike in bucket, and 9-year-old sitting on the bumper over the back wheel.) When I’m riding with just the toddler up front, it feels like I’ve got an empty bucket!

Now, this bike (trike) is perfect for us, and it remains the bike of my dreams. But it has its quirks. Kid yourself not, this thing is slow and it’s heavy. Going full out, I can just keep up with my eight year old if he’s taking it easy. Everyone passes me on the bike paths―cyclists, joggers… I did pass an octogenarian jogger the other day and the kids cheered, “Look, Mom, you’re getting faster, you passed that runner!” “Yeah!” said the eldest, turning around and biking back to me, and biking a circle around me. “You totally whooped that Granny’s butt!” As I stopped pedalling to expound that it was not a competition and we weren’t biking to whoop anyone’s butt, the Granny picked up speed and passed me and… but I digress.

So―it’s slow even when it’s fast. Extrapolate from this that it’s really hard work going up hill. But once you get going on flat or a slight incline, man, because it’s so heavy, it has a great deal of momentum (fortunately, also good brakes). Although it just has five gears, they’re sufficient for climbing most the of the hills I have to. We’re in Sunnyside, so we go up the Prince’s Island and the 10th Street ramps all the time. I haven’t attempted climbing all of McHugh’s Bluff yet,* but that’s our goal before the end of the summer. The little inclines on the Sunnyside pathway―beside the curling club, past the Community Garden, etc.―are all eminently doable. The North side of the 19th Street overpass is a bitch. It doesn’t look that steep… but it is. That’s the one where I start fantasizing about getting this bike electrified.

But then I straggle onto the top, catch my breath, cruise down, check on the Osprey nest, and move on to fantasizing about other things.

A super-positive surprise has been how manoeuvrable the beast is. On my first ride, from BikeBike on 17th Ave/15th Street SW to our home in Sunnyside, with all three kids and the dog in the bucket, I barely managed to avoid light posts and parking meters. Turns were hell―I was actually getting off the bike and “positioning” its rear to enable me to make turns. Things got a little easier when we got to the river pathway and I had a little more room to play with and less car-induced stress. By the end of that week, I was taking the corners on the 10th Street ramp with just the slightest touch of the brakes. Now, you’ll never turn this thing around on a dime, and there are turns and corners that, unless you approach them just right, will have you scraping the bushes or massacring lawns. But they’re few and far between―and almost any turn is easier to execute on the bike than walking the bike.

It’s also clearly a pathway / city bike. It likes its asphalt. It can do gravel and alleys, but it really doesn’t like ruts and big rocks and rough terrain. And the day we took it around Prince’s Island when the snow was still in full force… well, it wasn’t pretty. I kept on getting stuck in ruts and puddles, and while I made it around, it was with no desire to repeat the experience. If the geese decided to go after me, they would’a got me.

The bucket seats four kids, and has four adequate harnesses. I don’t use them with the older kids, but do restrain the toddler―who loves the bucket, and loves being able to decide whether he wants to sit facing me or facing forward. He’s been falling asleep on trips, and the bucket is not designed for that―we’ve been stopping and unbuckling him and lying him flat on the bottom so that he can have a good nap that doesn’t jostle his little head so much.

We’re thinking of modifyng an old car seat for him so that he has a comfier ride during naps.

To say that I love this bike is an understatement. I don’t want to bore you with my personal medical history, but I’ve had a rough two and a half years, and being able to be physically active again has meant the world to me; being able to get around the ’hood without having to rely on the car for even the shortest trip has been amazing. Being able to load up all the supplies necessary for a day’s adventures with three (or more when friends come along) kids (and a puppy) into a bike has been phenomenal: knowing that if I overtax the older two, they can hop into the bucket for a rest and I can haul them AND their bikes for a little bit―well, it’s made our Calgary-world bigger again.

Happy cycling! And thank you, BikeBike, for bringing this incredible machine into Calgary, and into our lives.

*I did climb McHugh’s Bluff―with only the toddler in the bucket―successfully. Once. The second time, I busted the Dutch gear shift again. Sean’s replaced it with something more solid… but the last time I had to tackle McHugh’s, I made the kids get out of the bucket and not just walk, but push.

2 thoughts on “Freedom: In Praise of the Big Bike

  1. Pingback: Biking as a metaphor for life | Nothing By The Book

  2. Pingback: A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #11 | Nothing By The Book

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