Friday, October 28, 2011

Testing the locally-made child seat for a Brompton

The other day I posted about the Brom-upuan, the locally-made prototype child bike seat for my Brompton. I finally got to test it with my 20-month old daughter, Bea.
First things first, I did not have a hard time convincing my toddler to sit on the saddle. Not at all. She actually rode Brom-upuan like it was made for her (it was, actually, but don't tell her that). Anyway, Bea instinctively placed her feet on the footrest, held on to my bike's handlebar grips, and then we biked around our village.
I think Bea enjoyed the ride on the Brom-upuan. She was always pointing at something. She pointed at the cars. She pointed at the dog. And she pointed at the cat. Which brings me to my first concern. The Bromp-upuan does not have its own handlebar for the child rider. The child has to hold on to the adult biker's handlebar, which could be dangerous, especially during sudden turns. But this isn't the sole problem of the Bromp-upuan, as the IT Chair--the product it was based on, also does not provide for a separate handlebar.

My second concern is also on safety. Unlike the iBert Child Bike Seat where the child rider is cocooned in a protective shell and strapped in seatbelts, the child rider on the Brom-upuan is left out in the open. I worried that my daughter could easily slip off the seat at each stroke of the pedal. I had to remind her to stay on the seat and to hold on to the handlebar.

My third concern is again on safety. I don't feel the Brom-upuan is securely fastened to the Brompton. Sure, there's a clamp on the seatpost, but the clamp on the toptube is unsecured. I worry that if I hit a bump on the road, the clamp would come loose and send my daughter hurling to the pavement. This lower clamp thing really should be addressed in the future.

After having said that, I still like the Bromp-upuan. Hey, my daughter enjoys riding on it so I'm happy. I would not, however, use it outside the village and faster than 12 kph. I don't think it's safe and stable enough. At least for a 2 year old who can easily fall off the seat. Maybe I'd use it in a CMR or outside the village when Bea is older, like 3 or something. As for now, it'll be leisurely rides around our street.

Thanks again to Ariel and his welders for fabricating this father-daughter bonding contraption. Cheers, guys!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Child Bike Seat for My Brompton

I blogged about the IT Chair last May and September and raved about its simple and straightforward design. You see, other than the IT Chair, I do not know of any other commercially-available child bike seat that can be used with the Brompton. I wanted one for my daughter, but I found the product to be very expensive (It's 210 Pounds in the BikeFix website).

And even if I had that kind of money, the IT Chair is not available here in South East Asia. (the seat is manufactured in far away Spain)

So, what's a Filipino dad have to do?

Fortunately, those blog posts caught the attention of one of my cycling buddies and he graciously offered to fabricate a child bike seat, based on the IT Chair, for Bea.  This week, he delivered it to me. (Thanks, Ariel! You're the best!)

And here it is! I call it the Brom-upuan. ('Upuan' is Filipino for chair)
Like the IT Chair, the Brom-upuan is made of stainless steel. There is a bar jutting out of the main frame so that one can install the extra saddle. And then there is a footrest at the bottom end. The only difference is how the Brom-upuan attaches to the bike. Unlike the IT Chair, the Brom-upuan does not have a quick-release clamp for the seat post. It's just a screw on. I put rubber foam under the clamp to protect the seatpost from scratches. I did the same thing with the clamp on the top tube.
So that you can see the difference between the two, I borrowed some pictures of the IT Chair from the Our Man Inside blog (Thank you Mr. Christian Payne!) and place them side by side with photos of the Brom-upuan.
IT Chair on the left. Brom-upuan on the right.
The IT Chair has a quick release clamp. The Brom-upuan just has a clamp with a screw.

Both products have foot rests for the child passenger.
So that's the Brom-upuan. I will test it with Bea and report my findings and observations in my next blog post.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Video: Evolution of bike lanes in the Netherlands

I saw this video on the Small Wheels Big Smile blog and found it interesting. The short film details the evolution of modern cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. I  was surprised to learn that Holland also gave in to cars and highways in the 1950's. And that their cycling culture was revived only in the late 1970's.

They reverted back to bikes for the same reasons why most of us do today, namely:
1. Traffic;
2. High fuel costs;
3. Economic crisis; and
4. Air pollution and the destruction of the environment.

But what caught my attention was their fifth reason:
5. Increase in the number of child deaths caused car accidents.

I think that's what pushed the Dutch to change their transportation policies. In my opinion, that was their tipping point. Ang galing ng pag-iisip nila: Stop driving cars because it kills more people, whether as passengers or pedestrians.

If this was debated today in the Philippines, our policy makers won't even make an issue out of it. I can imagine them even defending the car industry by saying a car protects its passengers and that a bike leaves a cyclist vulnerable to the elements and other motorists. Our lawmakers would even find fault with parents leaving their kids to ride their bicycles in the streets, and that they should have known better. 

And this is the reason why I don't believe we'll have any drastic change in cycling infrastructure here in the foreseeable future. We don't think like the Dutch.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bike Tune-Up courtesy of Mang Nestor of Tryon

As you should know by now, there are no Brompton distributors or dealerships here in the Philippines. Ergo, no Brompton-trained mechanic available. Which brings us to the question, where do Brompton owners bring their folding bikes for servicing?
Enter Mang Nestor, the longtime bike mechanic of Tryon Bike Shop in JP Rizal Ave., Makati City. According to my friend Abel, Mang Nestor is the closest we have to a Brompton expert here in the Philippines because he is familiar with the parts, and has figured out how to take them out and put them back together.
So after my Vietnam trip, and with Brommie Skywalker still covered in Mekong Delta mud, I brought my bike to Tryon for some cleaning and a tune-up. This was the first time, since I bought it in Taiwan last year, that the crankset and derailleur would be taken out and cleaned. Mang Nestor looked like he knew what he was doing. He removed the chain and dipped it in a bowl half-filled with gas. He did the same with the other parts, this time using a brush to remove the dirt and grime.

After about an hour of cleaning and brushing, Mang Nestor was done. He reinstalled the parts and put oil on the chain. I checked his work area for any "extra" parts left behind, and to my relief there were none. I paid Mang Jaime, the manager, P100 for the service, and also gave a tip to Mang Nestor for the wonderful work he did on my folding bike.

So if you find yourself in the Philippines with your Brompton and need it serviced, look no further. Bring your bike to Mang Nestor at Tryon Bike Shop located at 425 JP Rizal Ave., Brgy. Olympia, Makati City.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

1-Day Bike Tour of the Mekong Delta (Part 2)

At the My Tho ferry terminal, we boarded a motorized wooden boat to cross the Mekong River (also known as "Song Cuu Long" or River of Nine Dragons).
My folding bike didn't know whether to sit on the chair or behind it. Hehe
That's Ria, Tiger and Floren
The Mekong Delta is vast and wide. It looked 10 times wider than the Pasig River. There are boats of all shapes and sizes that traverse this river. We saw barges carrying containers, fuel and seafood, as well as big ferries with cars and people. The water was brown but did not stink.
The river boat first took us to one of the islands in between My Tho and Ben Tre, Tortoise Island (Con Qui).
Brommie Skywalker getting ready to disembark from the Vietnamese Wooden River Boat.
We had lunch in Du Lich Xanh Con Qui. It's an open air restaurant located on a fish pond, surrounded by waterlilies. I think its a tourist stopover because most of the people I saw eating there were foreigners.
We had a sumptuous Vietnamese lunch (all the food we ate was inclusive in the tour package). We ate fresh spring rolls with fried fish inside. The shrimp was plump and juicy. Then there was fried calamari and crepe with bean sprouts inside. Yum. 
After lunch, Tiger, Floren, Ria and I returned to the river boat and proceeded to Ben Tre, an island province south of My Tho famous for its coconut industry.
Ria calls this photo, "The Wife with the Mistress"
From the pier, we walked to a small factory that makes coconut candy (Keo Dua).
There, we watched the coconut candy production process. We observed how the female workers cut sections of the processed sticky coconut mixture, wrap them in rice paper, and then pack the candies into clear plastic packages. I ate a piece of Keo Dua and it tasted like nougat. They sell their products to passing tourists, the rest they ship abroad.
From the factory, we boarded a horse-drawn carriage (a kalesa with no roof) and rode through Quoi An Village.
When we got off the carriage, Tiger, Floren and Ria walked to a bee-keeping farm (They left their bikes in the motorized boat). I brought along my Brompton, so I biked my way to the farm.
At the bee-keeping farm, we had merienda (again!). We drank honey wine and ate fruits like rambutan, longgan, pineapple and dragon fruit. Seriously, hindi ka magugutom sa bike tour na ito. 
Afterwards, the group boarded a traditional Vietnamese rowboat and we navigated a canal heading for the Mekong River. The ride was serene, peaceful and relaxing. Parang Loboc River Cruise minus the singing cooks and waiters. Ria and I enjoyed this part of the tour.
When we got out to the mouth of the canal, where it joined the river, the group transferred from the rowboat to the bigger motorized boat. The river boat dropped us off at another part of Ben Tre island. Ria stayed with the boat and they returned to the VBT Van in My Tho ferry terminal. (This is another reason why I like Vietnam Bike Tours, they are sensitive to the needs of their customers. Ria was tired of cycling and wanted to rest. No problem! Tiger just called the driver to wait for ria at the My Tho ferry terminal, and I didn't have to worry! Now that's customer service!)
Bye, Hon! See you on the other side!
Tiger led Floren and I to bike the rural roads of Ben Tre. It continued to drizzle throughout the afternoon, but that didn't bother us. The terrain was mostly flat kaya hindi nakakapagod pumadyak. 
Me following Tiger.
And that's Floren behind me.
The bike ride was fun until we reached a muddy portion of a trail. Tiger, I believe, thought the mud was only superficial and for a short distance. But it was really, really muddy. Di nakayanan ng slick tires ng Brompton. At one point I had to walk and carry the bike, for about 300 meters.

Rows of red pepper seedlings
I may look happy here, but I wasn't. Iniisip ko na lang, part of the adventure.
Grabe yung putik. Di na kumakapit yung slick tires ng Brompton.
When we finally got out of the trail and into the cement road, I noticed my shoes and bike were completely covered with mud. I had to ride over puddles just to get rid of some chunks.
After about 40 minutes of biking, we ended the bike tour somewhere on a highway in Ben Tre. Ria was there with the driver at our pit stop.  There was water, Pepsi, Wet Ones and watermelon waiting for us.  Solb!
We covered at distance of 12 kilometers in the afternoon, which brings the total to 40 kilometers for the whole bike tour. Not bad... Not bad at all.
This is the part of the Mekong Delta we crossed.
We cleaned up our bikes, loaded them in the van, and then drove back to Ho Chi Minh City. Got back at our hotel at 6:15pm.
Had to clean up the Brompton before loading it in the VBT Van.
I enjoyed this bike tour. I got to explore a country on a different level. Believe me, magkaiba yung nakikita mo pag nasa loob ka ng tour bus sa nakikita mo kung nakasakay ka ng bisikleta. You get to appreciate the landscape, the people, and the culture and much more. 

It was a bit expensive (paid $71 per person), yes, but it was worth it. The tour guide spoke conversational English. There was a back-up/support van that was always there. The bikes and helmets were decent (not those cheap China-made knock-offs). I didn't have to worry about boat and ferry fees. And food and water were overflowing.

I wish we had something like this in the Philippines. I believe there's a market for this. I asked Tiger who were their customers and he said mostly Europeans and Australians. These bike tourists fly all the way from their country to Vietnam just to bike. Some bike for 2 days, others for 7 days. There's a bike tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh that's 14 days. Tiger even mentioned a bike tour he led that lasted for 40 days!

We can do this in the Philippines!  Sure, it's an archipelago, but there's RORO naman. Imagine organizing an "Islands Bike Tour" from Pagudpud in North Luzon all the way down to Davao in Mindanao! Oh my god, I'm sure madaming foreigners ang kakagat niyan. Tapos may stop over sa Sagada at sa Boracay.

And I don't think its capital intensive. Tiger is not a permanent employee of VBT. He's a freelancer. He just gets called when there's a tour. So is the driver and his van. They're just sub-contractors. Bale, ang puhunan mo lang talaga ay yung bikes. We can probably start out by borrowing the bikes from friends.

Anyway, I digress.

This bike tour was really bonding time with the wifey. She does not bike. In fact, prior to this bike tour, she hasn't biked outside our village. So when she agreed to do this with me, and in a foreign country for that matter, I was so happy. Thanks, hon, for humoring me. You're the best! Next time, promise, I'll make sure you have a softer saddle. : ) Happy 3rd Wedding Anniversary! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

1-Day Bike Tour of the Mekong Delta (Part 1)

My wife and I flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) last weekend to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. I wanted to do something special together and I found out that there were tour operators in Vietnam offering tours on bicycle. I said to myself, this is something I want to do with the missus. I mean, we ziplined in Korea, reverse bungeed in Singapore, and skyjumped in Macau, why not bike tour in Vietnam!

I did some research beforehand and chose Vietnam Bike Tours (VBT) as my tour provider. It had most positive reviews in TripAdvisor.  I searched their official website for tour packages and signed up to do the 1-Day Bike Tour of the Mekong Delta. It was easy to make arrangements with Mr. Vu Trong of VBT. Despite the exchange of a lot of emails (I had many questions), he was very accommodating.

The tour package already includes a bike and helmet, but I still brought my Brompton. After all, what’s the use of having a folding bike if you don’t take it with you, right?
Anyway, on the day of the tour, we were fetched at our hotel by the VBT Tour Guide, Mr. Tiger. He was accompanied by a driver, whose name I cannot remember. He loaded my folding bike in the van, and we were off to the Mekong Delta! We were with another bike tourist: Floren, a risks consultant from France.
We left Ho Chi Minh City at 8am and travelled 55 kms south to the town of Tan AnWe stopped at the Co-op Mart, where Tiger and the driver unloaded and tuned up our bikes. The bikes provided by VBT were Marin Pioneer Trail bikes. They showed a little age, but were still trail worthy.
My Brompton M6L and VBT's Marin Pioneer Trail
Look, Ma, there are Jollibees in Vietnam!
With our tour guide, Mr. Tiger
At 9:30am, we left Co-op Mart to start our bike tour. The Tan An area looked like a typical Philippine rural town. If not for framed photos of Ho Chi Minh on walls and signboards, one would think he was biking in Laguna or Bulacan. Outside the town proper, it was just rice field after rice field. Ang naiiba lang, at talagang napansin ko, may mga nitso o puntod sa gitna ng iilang palayan.  I asked why there were singular graves in the middle of the rice fields--because in the Philippines, graves have to be in a cemetery. Tiger said their local governments allow the families to bury their loved ones in their property. Weird.
We're in Vietnam, alright! Check out at the Vietnamese Cyclo!
Ria had to take the Brompton because the Marin Pioneer Trail provided by VBT was too big for her. (N.B.: My wife does not bike. This was her first bike tour)
We passed by a lot of kids on bikes. Some of them greeted us with, "Xin Chao!," which is Hello in Vietnamese.
The weather cooperated with us for the first 6 kilometers... Then it rained.
We found shelter in Vietnam's version of sari-sari store. Tiger ordered Bon-Bon (Lanzones in Filipino) and Vietnamese Iced Coffee. We waited for the rain to subside and stayed in the sari-sari store for a good 30 minutes. By this time the VBT Van had arrived and Ria decided to hitch a ride because she was tired of pedaling.
Ang isa pang napansin ko sa Vietnam, madaming mga sari-sari store na puno ng mga duyan.  I asked why there were a lot of hammocks and chairs underneath a leafy shade next to a store. I mean there was a group of hammocks every after 500 meters along the highway. Tiger said they were for people to lie down on when they had their iced coffee. In effect, their local sari-sari stores were their version of Starbucks.
Tiger, Floren (the other bike tourist) and I continued cycling the South Vietnam countryside. From the cemented roads, we made our way to a small village lined up next to one of the tributaries of the Mekong River. The bike path we followed was narrow, it was almost a single track, but it was cool because there were houses on our right and the river on our immediate left! One wrong move and I could've fallen in the water.

After 10 kms of biking, we came out to the main road and stopped at the parked VBT Van where Ria and the driver were waiting. He offered us cold wet wipes, ice water, and sliced watermelons and dragon fruit. Yum!!!
Ria rejoined our small tour group and we proceeded to the town of My Tho
We biked another 8 kilometers and stopped at a big Buddha shrine, where the VBT Van was again waiting for us. Had another water break.
At the Buddha Shrine with fellow bike tourist, Floren.
Ria was exhausted. She couldn't bike anymore and so she rode the van. Tiger, Floren and I biked a few more kilometers until we reached the Ferry Terminal in My Tho.
At the My Tho Ferry Terminal
We biked a total of 28 kilometers from Tan An to My Tho.