A few weeks ago, Angela got into an accident with our brand spanking new bakfiets.
She caught the front wheel in a really bad pothole turning onto a poorly maintained street/alley near H’s Hebrew school. They went over hard. There was no traffic. Everyone was fine. R was in the bike but he was fine (blessings on that bakfiets box. It’s really hard to get hurt in that thing).
When she told me about this that night, she insisted the bike was perfectly fine. I, however, was pretty worried. I’m no bike mechanic, but I know there is some important stuff in and around that wheel – the generator for the lights, and the connection of the steering rod to the front wheel in particular. But she was right, when I rode the bike, it felt exactly the same. Nothing obvious looked amiss, except a little scratch on the box, and the lights still worked, so we were just glad it wasn’t actually a bad accident and we avoid that alley now.
Except then about a week later, the generator lights stopped working.
It turned out that the plastic tab on the hub that the lights plug into broke in the fall, but was hanging together loosely until another bump came along and it broke all the way. The broken tab is pretty tightly integrated with the hub itself. Some initial conferring with both a mechanically savvy friend and one of our favorite cargo bike savvy local shops indicates it’s going to be a difficult or at least expensive repair, as Shimano does not import the part we need, though working out a different plug may be possible with some creative soldering (the generator still produces current fine, it’s the connection to the lights that’s broken).
The whole thing put me in a really foul mood. This is our perfect bike! We’ve only had it about 4 months and Angela already broke one of the really cool things about it! As our family bike “manager” I’m now stuck figuring out what to do to fix it. It’s something I don’t really know about and something not just any mechanic can help with, which means it’s daunting, and if the whole hub/wheel needs replacing, it has the potential to be pretty damn expensive. Sometimes I like a new puzzle, but I just solved those other bike problems! I don’t want to solve this one! I don’t want our perfect new beautiful bike to be broken!
In short, I was being a big whiny brat.
And even though I wasn’t saying it directly, I definitely blamed Angela.
She should be safer. She should pay more attention. Just open your eyes and you can see the potholes! She should at least be a lot more sympathetic when I’m stuck fixing something she broke.
After a week or so of me stewing and fretting, she called me on being more or less an asshole. I hemmed and hawed. I said she really should pay more attention. I said she should at least be nice and understand that when you have weird bikes and not a ton of mechanical experience, this kind of thing is a real PITA. I said maybe I’d feel better if at least she said sorry, in a genuine sort of way.
I saw the flash of anger in her eyes, but then she didn’t say anything. She took a deep breath. She started to open her mouth, about ready to muster something of a genuine apology, and I suddenly saw clearly what a jerk I was being. I said, ”Stop. Don’t say anything. It’s just a bike. We’ll fix it. I’ve got this all mixed up. I’m the one who had an accident where our son got four stitches and you were nothing but gracious and understanding and didn’t once make me feel like a crappy parent or a crappy biker. And that actually was my fault and someone actually did get hurt. Of course you didn’t do this on purpose. I’m sorry.”
I still have to decide what to do about that hub. But that’s not why I wrote this. I wrote this to apologize for being a judgmental whiny jerk, and to acknowledge out loud that sometimes the interpersonal piece of family biking is tricky. It takes a lot of trust to send your kids out on a bike with your partner (apparently it also takes trust for your partner to ride on a freakishly expensive bicycle that serves as a proto-third-child…). We’re all exposed out there, and it’s not just that we’re exposed as unprotected bikers on busy streets built only for cars. We’re also exposed as parents. People judge us every day for riding with our kids, and some say outright (in front of the kids even) that it’s not something a responsible parent would do. The cultural norm is that it’s our duty to encase our kids in a big “safe” car and then we wouldn’t even notice the potholes. Sometimes this social reality means I start on the defensive, that I demand perfection, of both of us, that we can’t make mistakes or we’ll prove them right. But mistakes come. We both make them. We’re both doing the best we can, and on balance, I’m so grateful I have a wife who loves to ride with our kids, and even loves that new bike as much as I do, even if she did hit a nasty pothole.