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On Biking: adventures with a bike trailer

Posted by Your Town  July 31, 2013 05:00 PM

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The second best thing that happened to me last Saturday was that my kitchen didn’t catch on fire.

And it had all started off so promising.

For the past few years, I’ve wanted a cargo trailer for my bicycle so that I could pedal my way around town. With a cargo trailer I could use my bicycle to run errands, haul lumber, and maybe even move furniture.

And so, last week, I decided to purchase a cargo trailer. Why now? For one, I’ve recently moved out of Coolidge Corner to a town that sits along a bike trail. In Brookline, the idea of driving instead of walking to run errands is absurd: it would take me longer to find a parking space than it would to walk to where I wanted to go.

But in the semi-suburban, semi-rural town where I now live, walking to the grocery store would be a Shackleton-like trip. Biking, on the other hand, makes even the grocery store on the other side of town seem within reach.

My cargo trailer arrived without any instructions save for a drawing of the trailer on the outside of the box. It looked easy to assemble, and in less than five minutes I had the wheels attached and the hitch in position. Fortunately, before I headed out, I glanced one last time at the drawing and realized I’d attached the wheels incorrectly. Another five minutes and I was now truly ready to roll.

After I filled up my water bottle, grabbed a bike lock, and adjusted my helmet, I headed out to my local big box store to buy a new lamp shade. I could have found a way to strap a lampshade to my backpack, or even prop it on top of my helmet. But I was itching to use my cargo trailer, and I hoped that this small purchase would give me a chance to iron out the kinks before I moved onto more challenging hauls, like groceries or a propane tank.

If pedaling a road bicycle is like driving a Porsche, riding a mountain bike with a trailer, even an empty trailer, is like driving a minivan. I was fine going along in a straight line, but when I swerved I swayed and I needed extra time to come to a complete stop. Which was fine by me: my trip to the store was not meant to be a time trial, just a relaxing ramble.

A few words of advice about cargo trailers: one, ride over, not around, potholes. That way your bike, not your trailer, gets bounced around. Also, turn slowly. The way a bike turns is by leaning, which a trailer cannot do. And finally, make sure that your hitch is properly attached to your bike. Halfway through my ride, I realized that the safety strap was the only thing that was holding my cargo trailer to my bike.

One of the nice things about pedaling to a crowded parking lot was that I could ride right up to the front entrance and hitch my bicycle to an almost empty bicycle rack. This was like valet parking, only without the requisite tip.

Once in said big box store, I succumbed to the allure of display aisles piled high with things I hadn’t realized I needed (and would later realize I didn’t). I’ve always liked toast, and after perusing the kitchen aisle, I decided to purchase a toaster oven to go with my lampshade.

Once I got home, I decided to try out my toaster. That’s when my day took a turn for the worse.

In less than one minute, smoke came out of the side of the toaster, and I smelled what seemed like the beginning of an electrical fire. I quickly unplugged the toaster oven and grabbed a fire extinguisher from beneath the sink.

And then I waited.

Eventually, the toaster cooled off, the smell went away, and I loaded up my cargo trailer and pedaled back to the big box store to return my recent purchase.

By the end of the day, I’d pedaled 32 miles to buy (and then return) that miscreant of a toaster. I’m glad to say that the lampshade looks fine, and so far, has yet to catch on fire.

And the best thing that happened to me last Saturday? Easy: I was riding my bike and rolling along, the wind in my hair and a smile on my face.

Jonathan Simmons is the author of “Here For The Ride: A Tale of Obsession on Two Wheels.”

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