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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

Ebikes are an urbanist’s dream—and my dog’s, too

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I am an excitable person. Getting me going on a particular subject can be a regrettable experience for whoever made such a mistake. I’ve come to acknowledge this. The subject could be Mariners prospects, my favorite neighborhood brewery, progressive politics or Williams’ 1995 classic pinball adaptation of Dirty Harry.

Or it could be my bike, as happened the other day. Picking up beer at my favorite neighborhood brewery. But that’s another post.

This is that excitable rant about a bike.

Back in November I purchased a RadWagon from Seattle’s own Rad Power Bikes. Nuzzled between three neighborhood breweries in my native Ballard, they do test drives of every model out of their Apple Store-looking studio, beneath a roughly five-story building that houses their headquarters and, presumably, three figures worth of employees.

I’d take one, but there was no need for a test drive. I’d read—and watched—the reviews. It was half the price of basically every other ebike. It was local. And they had a Black Friday deal going.

I’d set out to buy an ebike I could take my 60-pound sheepadoodle to work on and there’d never been another option. A day after spending 10 minutes whipping the loaner around the same streets I’d cruised along on a bright red Uber JUMP ebike, I was back to make the purchase.

And if you’ve ever ridden one of those JUMP bikes, or a similar offering from Lime, and were wondering how these compared to those wonderfully-enjoyable contraptions, they’re about twice as good in every way. Maybe more.

I zipped up 14th Ave, racing my fiancé Michaela to our apartment building about a mile away. She, joined by Grinnell (said sheepadoodle), gave me a ride down and the big rack about to be installed a ride home. Moments later, they were all in our living room. I won, for the record.

Rack mounted, ready to roll.

The purchasing experience, the charmed local-ness of it all, is emblematic of what it’s been like to own one of these things going on five months and 1,200 miles. Offering all the giddy childlike adventures of a bike, but better, it brings everything that’s nearby even closer.

For me, that’s a corner of Seattle—what may be the most beautiful city in the world.

Before all this started, the bike had a more purpose-driven role—getting me and Gri down to the LexBlog offices at the Holyoke Bulding WeWork at First & Spring in downtown Seattle. From the heart of Ballard, near the high school, the roughly six-mile ride winds down along the ship canal in Fremont, past the western shore of Lake Union and through Amazonville/SLU before reaching the older business district of downtown.

As a commuting bike, I couldn’t ask for more. Topping out at about 20mph, it gets me there quickly—and easily. It isn’t exhausting and, running counter to one of the bigger complaints I hear from the “Not everyone can bike!” crowd, you’re not all sweaty and gross when you get to work. Because, with the electric kick, going five-plus miles each way with a few hills mixed in isn’t remotely arduous.

All the enjoyment of getting around on a normal bike, just a little easier. And, from where I am, basically as quick as commuting by transit.

It’s humorous though, to see Seattle’s improving—but still very much lacking—bike infrastructure at rush hour, more like an interstate and less the luxury cruise it felt like on the weekends. There’s traffic, the occasional grouch, good commutes and bad. It has all the usual stuff if you think might miss it, just at 1/15th the scale.

Of course, that commute went away. And so did almost everything else.

The bike was already perhaps the best purchase I have ever made, and it’s a lifeline now.

It started, when this started, with just getting lost in Seattle. Literally. Actually literally. The end of the workday meant getting on the bike, with either Grinnell or Michaela on the back, aiming it in the direction of an area of Seattle we hadn’t been or didn’t know well—and just going.

A quick ride up to Capitol Hill meant cruising down Millionaire’s Row and visiting Volunteer Park.

When this started, I had a strict “No using Google Maps. At all.” rule, but that doesn’t go over super well when another person is along for the ride. Even with Gri on the back, delighted to go anywhere, I was quite skilled at biking deep down into some random neighborhood along the water and having a hell of a time climbing back out.

That specifically included enclaves like Blue Ridge, a completely foreign-to-me neighborhood adjacent Ballard along the Puget Sound, and Lake Forrest Park, which funnels down to Lake Washington.

For a long time, they’d just been names on the front of buses, places I’d never thought to check out—even if, in the case of Blue Ridge, it was on my own line. But now, why not? And there are so many to go see. In Seattle, but probably in any big city.

At a time when, physiologically, the mind craves seeing more than the inside of your apartment, checking out every open public space within a 15-mile radius is a much-needed elixir. From my vantage point, there’s no discernible difference between cruising under a dark green Pacific Northwest canopy with your 60lb dog on the back and Calvin hitting kickers with Hobbes and the red wagon.

Eventually, it was clear to Michaela and me that we needed the whole gang for these rides and, if we were going to be a two-RadWagon family eventually, we may as well be one now.

A new way to get to a familiar spot—the lighthouse and the adjacent beaches at Discovery Park.

Now we ride damn near every day. If there’s a big green splotch on the map, touching either of the big blue splotches that are Lake Washington or the Puget Sound, we want to be there—sometimes even on the same day. We’ve cruised to places we’ve never been, on trails we’ve never used, like taking the Interurban North to Innis Arden Nature Reserve and Richmond Beach Saltwater Park.

One Saturday, we hit the former before jumping on an Interurban/Burke-Gilman Trail Connector—which is just a marked route, not a trail—that had us winding through a forest, the road following right alongside McAleer Creek as it made its way down to Lake Washington and the Burke. From there, it was quick shot to the near-empty Matthews Park Beach.

A couple local favs—smoked salmon and a Crikey IPA—at Richmand Beach Saltwater Park.

It was empty because, like all the large parks in and around Seattle, the parking lots were closed due to the pandemic and an attempt to limit crowds. We try to be as safe as possible, steering well clear of anyone we encounter—but this has been an interesting window into a world with much fewer several-ton metal boxes flying around. Plus, even if the lots were open, it sure is nice to pull the bikes right up to the spot we intend to chill.

It’s just a different way to experience all the public spaces around us. A better way.

We might be slowly cruising through the Washington Park Arboretum and notice a spot right next to the giant Sequoias that looks like a nice place to pause—so we do. When we think of another destination, something we have to do, it doesn’t feel like an errand because the trip itself is enjoyable.

Gri gets a swim in at Magnuson Park.

Even the shorter rides, which happen on weeknights when work runs a little long and we don’t want to be out too late, are something like a quick 10-mile loop out to Fremont, up and around Green Lake, over Phinney Ridge and home. With the e-assist, it’s nothing.

And between every pit stop, there’s a chance to see a new neighborhood I haven’t been in, find a bike-friendly route I hadn’t considered, visit a park I didn’t know was there or, generally, it’s the experience of getting to know Seattle better than I ever have before.

And if it comes with the chance to wade into water with my Tevas on, to throw a stick for Gri to swim after, all the better. As the title alludes to, she’s enjoying this as much as anyone.

A dog on a bike raises questions, so let me answer those here before wrapping this up. I purchased the metal Caboose Rack that’s normally for children and slid a $20 plastic tub right in. Gri wears a harness connected to a short rope that runs through a hole I cut in the bottom of the tub and is fastened to the bike—keeping the tub in place. One of those motorcyle cargo nets goes over the top for added protection. The first test ride had her a little shook and confused, but after that, it’s been a delight for her and me.

If I so much as touch my bike bag or the battery, even if it’s in the morning just to charge it, she makes clear she’s ready to roll.

It’s rare in life that you could go into something with the expectation that it’s going to be great—and it evens up being even better. But when it comes to flying around Seattle with my dog on the back and my significant other by my side, that’s exactly the case.

The view of the Olympics from Magnolia.

•    •    •    •

I saw I’m not alone in my enjoyment—and that, during the pandemic, Rad’s bike sales are up about 300%. While this was by no means the incentive for this post, if it’s made you want to snag one, go ahead and do it and take $50 off.

You won’t regret it.

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