On marriage, parenting, biking and blame

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.

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Biking with kids, Problems and issues. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to On marriage, parenting, biking and blame

  1. Melanie says:

    Blessings on the box is right! So glad (but not surprised) that everyone was OK. Sorry about the generator, that really sucks. I am very lucky to have a spouse with the time and inclination to take care of all that stuff for me, so I just don’t have to worry about it. I’m sure Angela feels the same way and is willing to forgive a little grumpiness.

  2. Cindy says:

    Love you both!

  3. Jason says:

    Accidents happen and cost of repair is likely a fraction of fixing any minor accident on a car. Yes, culture in this country is car focused in most cities. There has been some improvements over the last decade in certain cities, but there is a long way to go.

  4. dr2chase says:

    People to be grumpy with, is Shimano. That’s a breakable part (y’all broke it, right?), yet apparently not listed as an orderable part. This should be a painless trip, exchange a few dollars for the part and their time, and all better, but it’s not.

    For anyone who’s interested in the mechanical detail and the part itself, years ago I got a bee in my bonnet to see how much of one of these guys is rebuildable. I decided it wasn’t, but I happened to take exactly the relevant pictures for this problem, and put them up on Flickr for Dorea:


    (What I want, is for someone who knows the 3-d printing song and dance, to say, “hey, get me one of those, I could make a copy for you, no sweat.” I’m pretty sure all the hubs use the same plastic connector bits, since they all use the same plug.)

  5. Dorea says:

    Those photos are awesome, and in case anyone is following along on the details, the broken part is the one in this picture:


  6. sara says:

    I, too, feel grateful that Peter went along with my ideas when I first proposed the bakfiets and then the Xtracycle… and then the Yuba. When we are riding somewhere together and I am riding behind him, say he with two of the kiddos on the Yuba and I with one on the Radish, I find myself wanting to call out all time, things like, “Hey, you’re too close to the parked car. You’re gonna get doored. Do you see that car zipping up in the intersection ahead? etc. etc.” Now I think good communication is important when riding together but that isn’t what really is happening– he isn’t riding the way I would ride and here I am being a “back seat” bicyclist! I have to check myself, bite my tongue, for hey, he IS out riding with our kids all the time, too, and he loves them as much as I do.

  7. RickS says:

    We are a late 50′s early 60′s couple that are moving into cargo bikes. I have been a biker my whole life, but the wife is just starting. I am so proud of her, she goes along with my crazy stuff and like one of the ladies says above, even if you have to buy a new hub it is a heck of a lot cheaper than a car. We are getting the wife a Christiana and I have a Yuba with e-assist. Congratulations and you have made the right choice for yourselves, your kids, your pocketbook and the planet.

  8. Brian says:

    Dyno lights are awesome, but when they stop working it is an absolute pain to get them fixed. Kinda like Longfellow’s “little girl”

    Four months ago mine stopped working and I had to walk the kiddo home on the bike (until Dorea saw us and kindly loaned us her extra set; thanks!) After calling and emailing the light maker (Supernova), and testing the light in all sorts of ways (thanks Somervillain!) Supernova agreed that the light must be faulty and will replace it through the retailer (Splendid Cycles). If all goes well the new light should be in the mail to me now and this story will be over shortly.

    It doesn’t sound like the accident was particularly unusual, and the bike should manage that kind of stress with only superficial damage, which this would be if you could get a replacement. I would recommend seeing if the selling bike shop will replace or fix the damage. Maybe they can get the part, or work with Shimano to get a replacement hub. Then you could swap the part instead of rebuilding the wheel.

  9. cycler says:

    As you mentioned in the post, I bet you could solder the pieces together. You might also post on the hubstripping site to see if anyone has a spare they might sell you. There’s a place in Seattle that specializes in hub overhauls that might also have a spare…

    Sorry to hear about it- sounds like a PITA.

    Also was great to meet you and H on Saturday!

  10. John_in_NH says:

    As mentioned above, it is not a car so its not going to be really expensive is key here. Everything in perspective (even if it is a new bakfiets)
    On an unrelated note please do report this pothole to us: http://cambridgema.gov/iReport/pothole.aspx
    You might note you were bicycling when the problem occurred. In my personal experience pothole responses are pretty good but the quality of the repair in regards to how cyclists interact with the repair is actually not so good, and in some cases can make it worse. That being said if it caused an experienced cyclist to go down then it should be fixed!
    If nothing happens please send me an email at jpelletier(at)cambridgema.gov

    Glad everything worked out ok.

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