Cargo Bike Roundup

With May official bike month in the U.S., we’ll begin the festivities with a roundup of cargo bikes and trikes courtesy of Berlin corespondent Steve Rowell. These puppies answer the common objection to biking, “but I’ve got shit to carry!”

We imagine this sturdy old model, pictured above, delivering barrels of sauerkraut, blood sausage and hefeweisen to the local Bier Garten. The bike equivalent of the sturdy old Frau behind the bar at our local German watering hole, the Red Lion. This is Utility with a capital U.

Sadly, Mr. Homegrown Evolution has forgotten every word of his college German, so all we can make out is that this bike represents the Grüne Liga, some sort of environmental organization. Don’t know if this trike is an ad, or if the Grüne Liga uses it to distribute literature or environmentally correct currywurst.

We imagine this bike belongs to some way eurotrashy DJ dude who uses it to shuttle his 100 kilo collection of Eurodisco hits to all the hot Berlin nightclubs. Gotta say that while we dig the European commitment to biking, health care and the environment, it’s their terrible music that keeps us firmly planted in America. If you don’t believe me, spend some time watching this Eurovision song contest clip by way of an example.
Via Facebook, Russell Bell wrote us to ask about the trike pictured above manufactured by a British outfit called Cycles Maximus which Russell wants to use to deliver produce to a local farmer’s market. Go Russell! We had to plead ignorance never having used one of these things, but as long as you don’t have any big hills or angry motorists it should work just fine.

Sadly in our corner of Los Angeles we have both big hills and angry motorists, which is why Homegrown Evolution uses the amazing Xtracycle for our cargo trips since I can’t imagine riding a wide cargo trike in L.A. With the Xtracycle, cargo cinches up tight in the back making for a narrow profile. This allows passage through tight spaces, such as our substandard bike lanes and busy traffic. You pretty much ride it like you would any other regular bike. Surly has recently come out with a sturdy frame/Xtracycle combination.

Local biking comrade Josef Bray-Ali just picked up a Dutch cargo bike called a bakfiet similar to the one pictured above. You can read his review here. A local Los Angeles dealer, bucketbike.com has started importing bakfiets and other European style bikes to America.

We’ve found hauling cargo on a bike to be tremendously enjoyable. It’s an entertaining challenge to see how many ridiculously heavy things you can carry. Sixty pounds of dog food, bags of concrete, soil and many loads of groceries have all traveled on our Xtracyle. It’s allowed us to get rid of one of our cars and save thousands of dollars. While many of the bikes above are on the expensive side, if you replace a car with them you’ll come out way ahead. And again, it’s just plain fun, which is all that really matters.

A Bicyclist’s Bill of Rights Part II

Despite a few last minute grammar and punctuation controversies, the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights is now public at the Bike Writer’s Collective:

CYCLIST’S BILL OF RIGHTS

WHEREAS, cyclists have the right to ride the streets of our communities and this right is formally articulated in the California Vehicle Code; and

WHEREAS, cyclists are considered to be the “indicator species” of a healthy community; and

WHEREAS, cyclists are both environmental and traffic congestion solutions; and

WHEREAS, cyclists are, first and foremost, people – with all of the rights and privileges that come from being members of this great society; and

NOW, THEREFORE, WE THE CYCLING COMMUNITY, do hereby claim the following rights:

1) Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear.

2) Cyclists have the right to equal access to our public streets and to sufficient and significant road space.

3) Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement.

4) Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

5) Cyclists have the right to routine accommodations in all roadway projects and improvements.

6) Cyclists have the right to urban and roadway planning, development and design that enable and support safe cycling.

7) Cyclists have the right to traffic signals, signage and maintenance standards that enable and support safe cycling.

8) Cyclists have the right to be actively engaged as a constituent group in the organization and administration of our communities.

9) Cyclists have the right to full access for themselves and their bicycles on all mass transit with no limitations.

10) Cyclists have the right to end-of-trip amenities that include safe and secure opportunities to park their bicycles.

11) Cyclists have the right to be secure in their persons and property, and be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as guaranteed by the 4th Amendment.

12) Cyclists have the right to peaceably assemble in the public space, as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.

And further, we claim and assert these rights by taking to the streets and riding our bicycles, all in an expression of our inalienable right to ride!

We’d like to highlight article 12, “Cyclists have the right to peaceably assemble in the public space, as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.” Take a look at this excerpt from an old film, showing a trip down Market Street in San Francisco circa 1905, the year before the 1906 earthquake and fire:

Most people looking at this film today would probably think that our present day congested, but reasonably orderly, streets have improved, that the chaos of this old street scene has been “cleaned up.” But what has been lost? Our streets in the United States are no longer the living, breathing, admittedly chaotic spaces they once were (Or still are in many parts of the world—witness this video of a present day intersection in India). Instead, the typical U.S. street is a monolithic traffic sewer, a blighted corridor with the only purpose being moving as many cars as fast as possible.

Today, all the pedestrians in this old film would be cited for jaywalking, the cyclists for “impeding traffic”, and the various equestrians and carriages would be harassed by the entitled, luxury car driving hordes. And while San Francisco still has its trolleys, most cities, including Los Angeles, ripped up the tracks in the 1950s.

This unquestioned idea that our streets are for cars not people would be extremely offensive to our founding fathers. Since it costs, on average, $8,000 a year to own and maintain an automobile this discrimination amounts to an unfair tax and worse, an infringement of our right to traverse public space.

This is why we need to assert our rights. This is why we need a Cyclist’s Bill of Rights.

A Bicyclist’s Bill of Rights

Thomas Jefferson, founding father and fixed gear gallery addict.

Biking back from downtown this morning in the poorly designed bike lane on the high speed/high volume traffic sewer that is Sunset Boulevard, I came upon a treacherous bend in the road that I’ve navigated a million times before. Over the past few months our city has seen fit to erase the bike lane markings, dig up the road and then apply asphalt the way a five year old would spread meringue on a pie. Months have gone by and they haven’t bothered to reapply the stripping. The city crew also left gouges of a size perfect for catching bike wheels, and a few slick metal plates to give us two-wheeled fanatics some extra challenges. Despite occasionally losing my temper, I try to view these challenges as a skateboarder would view a bleak modernist office plaza full of railings, concrete benches and staircases–as an opportunity for fun, while keeping in mind Robert Hurst’s, author of the excellent book The Art of Cycling, admonition to “ride with fear and joy.”

But occasionally the indignities tip the balance and my ego makes an ugly appearance. Today, coming around that bend, in addition to the amateur street repair work, I came upon two semi-trucks, one parked the wrong way, with both taking up most of the bike lane. Adding the proverbial cherry on the shit sundae, the film crew these trucks belonged to had placed an unoccupied folding chair in the bike lane, blocking the narrow strip of rough asphalt separating me from all the cell phone wielding SUV monkeys barreling westbound towards their cubicles.

In a moment I’m not particularly proud of, I picked up said folding chair and threw it forcefully on to the sidewalk. Had I been wittier this morning I might have launched into a critique of Hollywood’s inability to make a decent movie, but instead unimaginative expletives were exchanged between me and the craft services chefs disgorging the wrong-way parked semi. If all Hollywood films were directed by Werner Herzog or Goddard I might put up with the occasional dangerous inconvenience, but instead this long winded introduction gives me a chance to push a bold new way to end these indignities: the Bicyclist’s Bill of Rights.

Alex Thompson, over at WestsideBikeSIDE lays out some excellent reasons for this badly needed set of principles. Later this week we’ll put up the complete bill of rights, which we hope will spread beyond the auto-clogged dystopia that is the City of the Angels. In the meantime, wherever you are, take back the streets–they belong to all of us, not just General Motors!

Pedal Like Hell


Thanks to the folks at IlluminateLA for a tip on this human power competition on youtube. We especially like the entry above for the honest admission that our everyday tasks take a lot more energy than we imagine. It’s good to be reminded occasionally of the inescapable laws of thermodynamics, which C.P. Snow summarized as,

1. You cannot win (that is, you cannot get something for nothing, because matter and energy are conserved).

2. You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases).

3. You cannot get out of the game (because absolute zero is unattainable).

Practically speaking, you’ve gotta pedal like crazy to keep that laptop running.

The Horror

Terrifying photo via Bike Snob NYC
The day began with the discovery that our neighbor’s roommate, practicing the kind of gardening we associate with crazy people and goats, had hacked off half the length of the native grape vine that we had counted on covering an ugly chain link fence. An innocent mistake, but evidence that some folks apparently don’t know what grape vines look like and that they loose their leaves in the winter. So what does this have to do with man bras? Nothing, but both make us cranky.

Our crankiness leaves us at a loss for words, so instead of a lengthy post we offer a few bike related links:

Bike Snob NYC has a nice essay on why cycling is a fringe activity, which may explain why it’s one of the least favorite topics on Homegrown Revolution according to a poll we did last year. Hint: it has something to do with aesthetics. And for the bike fetishists out there, Bike Snob’s deconstructions of Craigslist ads are a great time waster.

Fellow LA Bloggist and committed bike commuter Will Campbell (his mileage indicates that he’s got the Kool-aid in those bottle cages), has smacked down Cato institute stormtrooper Randall O’Toole in an ongoing debate on cycling in the pages of the L.A. Times.

Urban Velo #5 is available for download and it’s free.

Lastly, Commute by Bike has some tips on how to ride in cold weather without opening the wallet for expensive clothing.

Here’s this morning’s Vitus californica desecration (Vitus californication?):



We Are the Festival!


Here in Los Angeles we’ve got a number of lame Christmas traditions including the low-rent Hollywood Christmas parade and the L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland (no joke). But the lamest of all has got to be the Department of Water and Power’s annual Christmas light show, which turns one of our few parks into a exhaust clogged traffic jam during the holiday season. Worst of all the city bans bikes from the light festival in spite of the fact that it takes place on a public street. The city’s ban is a direct violation of state law.

Thankfully the folks at IlluminateLA are planning to swarm the festival this Friday. Ride your bike and join them at the Mulholland Fountain at Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard at 7:30 p.m. From there the plan is to ride through the festival and take back the streets!

Unfortunately, Homegrown Revolution will be hob-knobbing with our publisher and won’t be able to attend, but we’ll be on call and ready to put down our cheese plate to bike over just in case a certain city council member needs to be taught a lesson.

Safety Films Night

Homegrown Revolution, in support of the ongoing two-wheeled revolution, is putting on an evening of vintage bicycle and traffic safety films at the Echo Park Film Center on Sunday November 4th. It’s a special benefit for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Watch as little Jane and Johnny take to the streets for the first time to learn the rules of the road. But bring your motoring friends as well, since we’ll also serve up a selection of classic driver’s safety films. We’ll round out the evening with a few bicycle related shorts and oddities from the world of educational films.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) is a membership based advocacy organization working to improve the bicycling environment and quality of life in Los Angeles County through advocacy and education. The LACBC envisions a Los Angeles County that is a great place for everyday, year-round cycling with bicycles accepted as an integral part of our transportation system, culture, and communities.

Admission is $10 with all proceeds going to support the LACBC.

Sunday November 4th
Time 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm

The Echo Park Film Center is located at 1200 North Alvarado Street @ Sunset Blvd. Map

This ain’t a safety film and we won’t be showing this gem on Sunday, but it reminds us that we need to write about the aesthetics of urban homesteading. Something about the three-way nexus of Germans, country music, and “new wave” speaks to the notion of growing food and keeping livestock in the city:

Homegrown Revolution at the Alt-Car Expo

Homegrown Revolution will be making an appearance at the Alt-Car expo this Saturday October 20th at 10:30 a.m. to pimp for the bicycle as an alternative to the electric and ethanol cars crowding the improvised showroom at the Santa Monica Airport. We’ll be joined on a panel discussion by Jennifer Klausner of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Joseph Linton of Livable Places. The panel is entitled “Getting out of the Box”. He’s what we’re gonna say:

We don’t ride bikes because they are good for the environment–we ride them simply because they are fun and unlike a car, each mile we go makes us stronger physically and more alert mentally. Riding a bicycle puts us in touch with the spaces we live in and the people who inhabit those spaces. As the Situationist Guy Debord said,

“Traffic Circulation is the organization of universal isolation. In this regard it constitutes the major problem of modern cities. It is the opposite of encounter, it absorbs the energies that could otherwise be devoted to encounters or to any sort of participation.”

By riding a bike we break out of the isolation and anger that a box on four wheels stuck in traffic breeds.
The bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions. Repair and maintenance are within the grasp of virtually everyone. Parts are understandable and, for the most part, interchangeable. With each pedal stroke, legs, heart, lungs and mind grow stronger.

Riding a bicycle is something you can do now. You need not wait for a future of expensive electric vehicles or technical innovations that may never come. The bicycle has a proven 150 year plus record of dependability.
You need not wear Lycra and, as the picture above proves, sometimes skin-tight clothes can be a very bad idea. You don’t need to be an athlete or have special clothing or equipment. Just jump on and roll.

In Southern California we don’t have the excuse of bad weather. Conditions are perfect for year-round cycling and the terrain is mostly flat. It’s a bit hilly in Homegrown Revolution’s neck of the woods, but these hills build character.

We’re what you might call “car-light”. Between Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown Revolution we still have a battered 1994 Nissan Sentra which spends the overwhelming majority of its time sitting in the garage collecting dust. Around the time we got rid of our second car we put together an Xtracycle. While it’s hard to improve on the basic design of the bicycle, the Xtracycle is a great way to haul cargo. We can easily pack just as many groceries on this bike as we used to in the Sentra.

The chief objection that we hear is that cycling is not safe. We used to use this excuse not so long ago before we hopped back on our bikes. We respond by saying no it isn’t safe, but neither is any other mode of travel. Cycling is definitely what Socrates would call, “the considered life”–it demands your full attention. But there are ways to minimize the danger and maximize the fun. Two good sources: the League of American Cyclists Road 1 class and Robert Hurst’s excellent book, The Art of Urban Cycling Lessons from the Street. Route choice, i.e. going out of the way if you have to to choose mellow streets, will also greatly reduce the hassle of dealing with impatient and distracted motorists.


We’ll close our brief presentation with this image of a Ghanaian welder who created this tall bike. To ride it he first pushes it to get it going, climbs up high enough to turn the pedals with his hands and, once he has enough momentum, jumps up in the seat. It symbolizes for us not only the shear joy of riding a bike, but a future that will be more about techniques than technologies. As Daniel Pinchbeck said,

“Instead of envisioning an ultimately boring ‘technological singularity,’ we might be better served by considering an evolution of technique, of skillful means, aimed at this world, as it is now. Technology might find its proper place in our lives if we experienced such a shift in perspective–in a society oriented around technique, we might find that we desired far less gadgetry. We might start to prefer slowness to speed, subtlety and complexity to products aimed at standardized mind.”

The bike is ready to go. That showroom full of electric cars, ethanol guzzling engines, and pie-in-the-sky fuel cells are all the dying gasp of a disastrous 20th century fixated on technology for technologies’ sake. It’s time to ride on.

We’ve taken the flowers out of our hair

Homegrown Revolution is back from San Francisco with a couple of random observations from our trip:

1. The picture above of a gas cap spotted in the Mission District demonstrates, that even in a bike and mass transit friendly city many folks take their cars a little too seriously. Let’s remember folks, we suspect that Jesus rides two wheels and takes the bus and does indeed look anguished every time we open the gas cap.

2. We took our bike with us and enjoyed the numbered bike routes that take you north-south and east-west. While not perfect (we would have preferred a few more signs to point the way) these routes help a cyclist navigate thought the city taking you down more bike friendly and less hilly streets. The San Francisco bike map (pdf) shows the routes in addition to signage on the streets.

3. Raising chickens made us appreciate San Francisco’s strident health food store, Rainbow Grocery which has a chart in their egg section to show how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. We meant to get a photo of this elaborate chart but unfortunately we forgot the camera. Posted on the refrigeration cabinet, the chart tells you which of the brands they carry clip beaks or wings and whether the chickens have access to pasture. Rainbow Grocery was the first San Francisco retailer to carry only cage free eggs.

4. Unfortunately we didn’t see this exhibit by photographer Douglas Gayeton at Petaluma’s Singer Gallery, but you can view images from his slow-food related photo essay about Tuscany here.

5. While Homegrown Revolution promises never again to get into celebrity gossip, we’ll note that we spotted gravelly voiced alt-rock singer Tom Waits gassing up his Lexus SUV at a filling station in Berkeley. More exciting to us was discovering that our base of operations in the Mission was a mere block from the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army safe house where heiress Patty Hearst became urban guerrilla Tanya. We have a feeling we’ll see the return of revolutionary noms de guerre in the coming few years and when that happens we’ll see Tom ditch the SUV for two wheeled transit on Berkeley’s many bicycle boulevards.