The Transportation Solution! September 10 2014
I traveled the world a lot in 2006, partly with Paul Anka and orchestra, and also for several trade shows. The highlight of this was the beginning of the European leg of the Paul Anka tour in Amsterdam, where we had several days off. This is a magnificent city, for two reasons at least. The first, and one that many of you pick up on at the mere mention of Amsterdam, is that the sale of Cannabis is legal. But what's more interesting is their open-mindedness about whatever vice one might seek. I noticed a lineup of store, including a cafe, a bar, a bakery, a coffee shop, and a brothel. Pick your vice: caffeine, alcohol, sugar, cannabis, or sex. It's all equal to them, and certainly harmless in moderation. Now THAT is forward thinking.
The second wonderful trait of Amsterdam is the opportunity for and feasibility of the car-free lifestyle. Despite some rather horrid weather due to proximity to the North Sea, the majority of people in Amsterdam ride bicycles as their primary transportation. Encouraging the move towards bicycling is a lack of parking for many cars, high gas prices, the compact size of the city, and also a huge network of bikeways. I rented a bike for three days and rode all around the city. Besides the fact that there is no better way to people-watch, I saw much more of the city than I could either by foot or by car. I witnessed the car-free lifestyle first hand: mothers with cargo bikes holding several toddlers and bags of groceries passing me, couples riding together on one bike, and singles commuting to work. It's leisurely, quiet, calming -- like no other place I've been.
I've always been a bit of a bike commuter, even since high school, but I was inspired to move as far towards the car-free lifestyle as I could. No, I won't be riding down to Disney Hall for a gig, but for all other errands, you bet I'm pedaling. I live in Los Angeles, with one of the nicest climates in the world. I live in the suburbs, where the traffic is not a nightmare, and alternate routes abound. I live close to work and local shopping. When I returned from my travels, and gas had jumped to $3.50 a gallon (seems low nowadays...), the tipping point was reached, and now I pedal everywhere. I've even ridden to a few gigs. Yes, in the local mountains, it takes a bit of fortitude to climb the hills with a load of groceries, but it's easier than anyone (including me) might think. Do it a few times and you'll be in fine shape.
It's not just any bike I'm riding, and that's the point of this article. The equipment I now own has changed my life. It may be a world-changing technology, and I'll illustrate it here:
This is the Xtracycle FreeRadical!
You can read much more about this device at Xtracycle's website. The simple version is this: The FreeRadical is a kit that bolts onto an existing bike. It extends the wheelbase, allowing a large carrying space for cargo or a passenger, without affecting the handling of the bike. It's like having a hitch-less trailer, but the capacity is always with you. You can do any errands and pick up anything you need without worrying about a pack, a messenger bag, panniers, or a trailer. It's an S.U.B: A Sport Utility Bike.
The founder of Xtracycle was working in the third world and found that even though bicycles were available, they weren't useful as a transportation solution. Even our town bikes are based on racing designs, so carrying a passenger or cargo is beyond their scope. And big cargo bikes and tricycles are expensive and unwieldy. He designed this kit to reuse an old bike and turn it into a useful tool for business. Now Xtracycle sells this high-end version in the US, and teaches people in Kenya and Senegal to make their own, through the WorldBike Foundation.
For those of you who play trombone and need to zip around town, either to high school or college or wherever, please know this: there is no way to get anywhere that is nearly as fun as is getting there by Xtracycle. I haven't driven to the grocery store in months. I ride to the post office, the dry cleaners, the bank, the hardware store, the printer, the drug store, the bike shop, the office, and anywhere I need to go in the local area. Except for far reaching jaunts across greater Los Angeles, I am car-free.
For the more committed, they even offer an entire line of fully built bicycles featuring the extended cargo design!
This bike has changed my life.