Monday, January 21, 2013

The Burley

Loaded with Girl Scout cookies.

Coming back from the store I was trying to catch up with the bicyclists in front of me.  A couple seeming to be closing on 60 years were dress for the winter Tour de France.  Nice road bikes.  A little too nice to be outed on a winter day.  I prefer to keep mine safely tucked away until the Spring rain can wash the streets and trails.  THMUMPKT, THMUMPKT, THMUMPKT....something is odd with the audio behind me.

It could be something on one of the Burley's tires.  Mud, gum or a piece of trash.  But the noise continued despite my efforts to shake it off.  Time to stop and look.  Without getting off my bike, I rotated and squeezed the tire of the trailer.  Flat.  Yes, THMUMPKT is the sound a flat tire makes when the stem is on the bottom of the rotation.  I should have realized that.  Nothing could be done about it now.  No tools, no pump, no patches, no spare 20" tube and no levers.  Maybe 2 miles to ride until home.  Another journey with a flat tire.

I purchased the Burley trailer from Europa Cycles in Waterloo, Iowa.  It must have been in February 1991, because it was for the birth of our first child.  $335.  Yellow and red,  Rain cover, bug shield, straps and seats.  Many wing nuts.  I remember assembling it when a nurse came to check on Mary and baby.  We probably waited months before we used it due to winter.  Since then it remains among the oldest and most prized possess of our biking collection.  Somewhere buried in the archives I probably have a photo of it.  I know there is a VHS tape of us using it.

Floor pump and all.  If you got space, use it!

We used it extensively for children and travel.  In 1992 Mary and I drug it behind a tandem for our first Ragbrai together.  Complete with all our gear and boom box and the ever necessary Star Wars sleeping bag.  Luke holding his blaster out at any bicycle or foe threatening us.  Since 1992 it has joined us on several more  rides across Iowa.  I recall leaving Marshalltown one year, Running With the Devil screaming from the boom box and Mary shouting over Van Halen that the Burley just hit an orange traffic cone.  I looked behind me and witnessed another cone launching from its position.  We had to laugh.  Perfect song for the perfect moment of Ragbrai.  One rainy day with a moment of glory.

Other memories are not so good.  In 2006 we took two tandems and the Burley.  In Waukee we experience the first crash.  One if its wheels got caught in rail tracks and flipped the Burley.  I shoved a cone wrench next to the hub and taped it secure.  By the time we got to Sioux City it was apparent that the axle was broke.  But on Ragbrai proper we found a bike mechanic that fixed the wheel for us.  He even gave it a quick release!  But there was another crash before Sioux City.  North of Breda on the Sauk Trail we hit a hole that was hidden by sand.  The hole flipped the trailer up on one wheel and it took all my strength to keep the tandem upright and out of the ditch.  But when the Burley landed on its side the tandem stopped as if an anchor had been dropped.  Quin, my stoker got the worst of it.  I escaped with a scraped leg.  Finally, on our homeward leg, the rain hit us pretty hard in Waukee.  We were aiming for the Mc Donalds to dry off and wait for air support to evacuate us when the lightning zeroed in on our two tandems.  One particular strike was extremely close and I tightened my turn to shave a few micro seconds to get us to safety.  Too tight.  The wheel hit a curb and once again only one wheel was on the ground.  Quin let out a loud shriek during that moment of danger and the wheel thankfully reestablished contact properly with terra firma.  2 minutes later we were inside.  That was the last time the Burley was used for Ragbrai.

After the crash I erected this stick with bags as a warning for those riding on this trail.

As the family grew the Burley was modified with it.  The seat was removed to make room for more children and stuff.  I do not recall the demise of the rain cover or the bug screen.  We learned how to bungee a child's bicycle on the back of it for when they were too tired to continue riding.  The wooden supports on the side got wet early on and in a hot garage got a bit moldy and stained the yellow sides.  The flag is a long forgotten memory.  And the hitch...  broken for a few years but a great field repair delays its replacement.  We use the stiffest and strongest fuel hose that an auto-parts store sells.  Purchase a foot of it and there is enough for 3 repairs or 3 years worth.  I was given a free foot of the tubing on my last visit.  Oh well, even if it were pristine I would not sell it.

Now its main use is grocery runs.  I store it on the deck under a tarp.  Inside the trailer we keep a large plastic tub that we fill with redeemable bottles and cans.  Once the tub is full, usually overflowing and accompanied with a few garbage bags of bottles, we hitch it up and ride to Hy Vee.  I think $9 is the current record.  As for grocery loads, it carries a heavy load.  I know I have carried nearly 100 lb of goods.  Easy to load.  Heavy stuff up front.  The lack of covers makes it even easier.  

We have also used it for bicycle recovery.  For example, Katie had a flat and walked her bike to Principal Financial Group and got a ride home leaving the bike at PFG.  I picked it up with the Burley.  Another time I decided that abandoned Raleigh Grand Prix, 3 months rotting, needed a new home and some TLC.  Yep, hitched up the Burley and brought it home.  Other times I use to ferry bikes to and fro the Bicycle Collective.

So here I am on the Des Moines River Trail on my way back from Hy Vee.  Maybe 15 lb of chicken, 4 2 lt bottles of soda, cat food, dog food, veggies ect with a flat tire.  So 22 years of rolling behind my bicycle and it suffers its first flat tire.  I really have no idea how may miles this beast has.  But I know it will have many more.  I was discussing with an employee at a local bike shop what he thought of cargo bike.  "I can all that and more with a trailer," he said.  Yes, I just save nearly $2K USD.

The Burley in its urban element.  FX as its engine underneath the SE6th bridge on the Des Moines River trail.

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