Thursday, January 19, 2012

25 Reasons to Love Family Bicycling, #2: Puddle Readiness

In more breaking news about the small pleasures of riding a bike with children, yesterday we splashed around in a staggeringly large puddle.

This little moment of kid joy was brought to you in part by the humble bicycle, which required the kids to travel fully suited in raingear for the sake of a nearly horizontal downpour.  We usually wear just our regular coats for short trips (woolen long underwear keeps the kids warm even if their jeans get a sprinkling of rain), but yesterday's weather forecast included a warning about 30-40 mph winds and heavy rains.  Biking alongside the creek (where the winds seem to be a bit stronger) felt something like a cross between swimming against an angry current and pushing an elephant with my bike.

Anyhow, because they were covered in waterproofed fabrics, the boys were able to really whoop it up in any puddle they liked.  The one pictured here is satisfyingly deep and broad, and there is a little seasonal pond nearby that we tramped around in, too.  Little's enthusiasm meant that we got five -- that's right, five -- separate puddle splashing sessions in today, ranging from two minutes to a little over an hour.  Every time we passed a puddle, he took the bait: before school, after Little and I dropped Big at school, when we returned to pick Big up from school, and then again after school.  Plus one post-nap puddle jump in our backyard, a place which essentially becomes a small lake at this time of year.

I sometimes suspect that other parents think I am a little cruel to subject my kids to these rainy rides.  True, no one likes to be pelted in the face with cold rain.  (Actually, though, Big discovered this morning that he can swivel a bit on his seat and face away from the wind, and Little just tucks his head into my back with even better results.)  But there is no way we would have stopped for all out splashing if we weren't already forced by bicycling to travel with the perfect puddle jumping attire.  And, believe it or not, only ten minutes after we returned, Big begged me to give his brother a nap on the bike so that we could spend an hour or two riding around the model solar system along the Ruth Bascom bike path.  Either he has a very poor short term memory, or he doesn't mind the weather that much.  (We stayed home, by the way.  The bike is the most convenient way to make necessary and short trips, but in weather this fierce, there's no reason to overdo it.)

While we were drying all our mittens and coats above the heater, we folded a few of these origami boats.  We used kite paper (which is waxed, I think) so that the boats might make it through a round in the seasonal pond tomorrow.  I can't say I'm excited for more of this weather, but it's bearable for short trips.  And really, how else would we find ourselves with such an irresistible constellation of puddles nearby?

Eugene Bike News: Last Chance to Help Put Bike Lanes on 24th Avenue!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a link to Shane MacRhodes' excellent coverage of neighborhood and school groups' efforts to put bike lanes on 24th Avenue.  This road is an important route for kids walking and bicycling to Arts and Technology Academy, Adams Elementary, and Family School.

You have one last chance to meet with city staff to voice your support for this project!  Please speak up in favor of bike lanes on 24th Avenue tonight, from 7-9 pm at the Washington Park Cottage (2025 Washington Street), at the Friendly Area Neighbors Meeting.  That's the little building at the cheese park, to you turophiles out there.  If you can't make it, please consider writing to Mayor Piercy and the city council to give your input about the need for safe, family-friendly bikeways along this school route.

Eugene Mayor and City Council:

You can read more about this project at the Eugene Safe Routes to School website.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Eugene Bike News: 24th Ave Open House Today

If you live in Eugene and find yourself bicycling or walking near Adams Elementary or ATA/Family School, please consider attending this evening's open house for the street rehabilitation project on West 24th Avenue!  I understand that the City of Eugene is planning to repaint the striping on this street this year, and that even very simple bike and pedestrian improvements could fall by the wayside if there isn't strong citizen support for walking and biking in this area.

I hope to join the conversation, but I'm still not completely healthy and may not make it.  I'll be sending a brief letter of support to the city if I can't be there.  If you have a couple of minutes to do the same, or to give your feedback to the city in person, please do!  This is an important street for people walking and biking in this neighborhood (especially to the schools nearby), and some simple improvements could go a long way.

Location: Adams Elementary School (Cafeteria/Multipurpose Room) 950 West 22nd Avenue, Eugene
Date: Thursday, January 5th
Time: 7:00 to 8:30 pm
Questions? Please contact Reed Dunbar at or (541) 682-5727

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bike vs. Car: Staying Warm in Winter Weather

"Aren't you just freezing?"  I think I've been asked this question (or some variation on this question) at least a couple of times a week since October.  Last winter was the same -- people seem to think that I must be cold and uncomfortable riding my bike through the rain and (relatively) low autumn and winter temperatures of Oregon.  Isn't this how "off-season" bicyclists are often seen in North America -- as gluttons for punishment?

Actually, I am quite comfortable on my bike in the cold weather.  Over time, I've figured out what keeps me warm, and I wear it.  Simple, right?  I'm not seeking out discomfort and chill, I am wrapped in soft wool scarves and mittens, happily avoiding it.  I'm always tempted to make people feel how warm my hands are when they make remarks like these.

Just before Christmas, I needed to have some unexpected surgery.  During my recovery, I've mostly stayed at home, but I've also been transported to a handful of places in the passenger seat of a car.  In the course of these little journeys by car, I've been shocked at how very cold it feels to sit in a car before the engine has warmed enough to get the heater running.  (And the weather this year has seemed unseasonably mild, at least from my perspective.  I'm sure I would feel colder in a more typical winter.)  In a car, I've noticed, I am cold on my walk from the door to the car, cold for the first few minutes inside the car, and then cold again when I step out of the superheated car to walk to my destination.

When I am walking or riding my bike somewhere, in contrast, I stay warm from my door to my destination.  I bundle up inside, scramble around getting my keys or my thermos of tea, and then I walk out the door feeling very warm and bundled.  Then I get on my bike and pull my scarf up over my nose if needed -- still very warm.  In fact, I usually take off a layer if I'm riding for awhile.  I notice a bit of chilly wind on my cheeks, perhaps, but I typically have warm fingers, toes, ears, and nose.  (Unless someone sneaks my scarf from the basket by the door to make an astronaut costume for the dog.  There have been some big sacrifices around here lately in the name of space exploration.)  Our climate is milder than some, true, but even in the nastiest of Eugene weather I'm usually quite comfortable.

Most people seem to prefer wearing only light layers when driving in the winter, relying on the heater in their car to keep the cold away.  It's awkward to buckle yourself into a car wearing heaps of layers, and since the heat is often turned up quite high in cars during cold weather, it might feel too hot to wear a hat and mittens and a big bulky coat.  Plus, with a seatbelt on, it can be difficult to remove layers when the interior warms up.  Most of the folks I know who usually get around by car seem to be under-layered a lot of the time.  No wonder they see me outside and assume that I'm cold.  For those few minutes they spend outside moving from car to door, they're very cold!

Actually, I have to confess that this used to be me.  My friend Erin rides her bike long distances (and short ones) in all kinds of weather.  Not that long ago, I saw her choice to ride her bike through the winter as some kind of mystifying self-sacrifice.  Why was she always turning down my offers to give her and her bike a ride home?  Did she really think it was fun to ride her bike on a chilly evening?  Or, heaven forbid, in the rain?

Of course, Erin was right.  It can be fun to ride your bike in the winter, as long as the astronaut dog doesn't have your scarf on.  Take the car?  Something in the reptile part of my brain instantly recoils at the thought of chilly air blasting from the defroster and freezing dashes from car to destination.  No, thanks.  That would be too cold for me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

25 Things I Love About Family Bicycling, #1: Mama Mittens

Something about the cooler weather seems to prompt me to think more about the small pleasures of ordinary cycling.  Perhaps it's because bicycling in cold and wet weather was an acquired taste for me.  As an undergraduate, I had my share of long bike rides to work on rainy nights with inadequate gear.  Once I discovered wool clothes and warm scarves and mittens, bicycling in the autumn and winter became something I actually enjoy.

I've started jotting down some of these small pleasures to share here.  It's interesting to me how different ways of getting about create some kinds of experiences that might not otherwise emerge.

Consider the unique type of hand-holding that Big and I have discovered this season.  On these crisp autumn days, the front of the bike can feel a few degrees cooler than the back.  While Little is snuggled cozily into my back, Big -- who rides up front with me on the kid saddle of our Workcycles Fr8 -- usually wears mittens so that he can hold onto the center of the handlebars comfortably.  (The center part is metal, so it would feel quite cold to rest your bare hands there on a chilly day.)  Sometimes, though, Big doesn't put his mittens on for one reason or another, and we don't want to take the time to stop and put them on.

On these days, I get to be his mittens.  He puts his hands on the handlebar grips, and I place my own over them to keep the chill off.  I have to admit that I don't really mind it when he forgets to put his mittens on.  I sometimes wish he would forget them more.  Especially as I watch him growing by leaps and bounds in his first year of elementary school, I savor these moments when I can warm his hands with mine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Bike-Car Interfaith Marriage

Getting ready for a ride with Big and Little

Our family watching fireworks in the back of Grandma Mona's truck

Yes, I know.  It's a bit of an exaggeration to discuss decisions about transport in my family as though they were some kind of religious affiliation.  But the truth is, navigating our transition from being a two-car to a one-car family has been one of the most challenging, complex, and rewarding periods in our relationship.

When I first suggested that we get rid of a car so that I could purchase a new family bike, I think it's fair to say that my husband thought I was nuts.  He was worried about the safety of bicycling with kids.  He wondered how we might cope with bike breakdowns, and with longer travel times.  He was concerned about the potential hassle and expense of buying a second car again if for some reason living with one car didn't work for us.

These days, he still may think I'm a little nuts for riding my bike everywhere, but he's proud of me, too.  And our system works: it saves us money, keeps me healthy and in a good mood, and fits well into our very happy marriage.

Here's what has worked for us.

1. Poor Auto Maintenance

We had been discussing the possibility of selling one of our two cars for at least five months without finding much middle ground when my husband's car broke down.  After a respectful period of grieving for his...terrible misfortune, we approached the issue of what to do with that broken-down car from a purely budgetary perspective.  At that point I had already been living as if there were no second car for a few months.  He'd had some time to see what it would be like for us to have one parent getting around primarily by bike, and one parent driving.  Things were working pretty well.  Why dump more money into maintaining a second car when we were really only using one? 

I bring this up because I've heard of other families who got rid of cars this way: the car broke down, they figured out how to live without it while they were waiting for (or just procrastinating on) repairs, and they never looked back.  Car neglect could work for you, too!

2. Not Selling our Second Car Right Away

My husband decided he would feel more comfortable with transitioning to one car if we kept the second car for a little while.  We've never bought a car with credit, so both our (very modest, used) cars were already paid for.  We changed our insurance plan to an extremely low-cost, vehicle-in-storage policy for Austin's car, and completely stopped driving it.  (Easy to do when you don't fix it, of course.)  Frankly, I was ready to sell the car right away, but hanging on to the extra car helped us reach consensus on the transition.  Buying a second car after selling one off would be a big hassle, so for Austin, keeping the car around for a little while took the edge off a sizable concern.  And he eventually did decide he was ready to sell it.

3. Compromise and Seeing the Big Picture

Once we decided to rid ourselves of the second car and buy a very nice family bike, we faced what was actually, in my opinion, a greater test of our ability to compromise: navigating the endless transportation decisions that arise in day-to-day family life.  In some respects, I think our transition may have been easier if we had just gotten rid of both cars.  (Which I am totally open to, Austin, if you happen to be reading this.)  Because we still had one car, there was a lot of negotiation at first.  How would we get to our movie date?  What about last-minute, pre-dinner grocery runs?  Dinners out with the kids?

On each of these questions, my inner bike geek was shouting "Go Team!" at the top of her lungs.  I try, though, to take a deep breath and remember that my husband is making some really big changes, and often sacrificing his hard-earned free time (he works full time and goes to grad school at night) so that I can get around by bike.  And he, thankfully, usually remembers that how I get around keeps me healthy and happy, and saves us money.  There are trips that I make in the car with Austin because it would be silly or divisive to go separately.  However, I've also made a mental list of places that I absolutely will not go in a car, under any circumstances: grocery stores, our kids' schools, the library, or anywhere within 3 miles.  Those places are off-limits, and just as I wouldn't ask Austin to take the bus with me to his mom's house in Creswell, he doesn't ask me to visit the places in my no-drive zone by car.

One of the current challenges we face concerns my evening pilates class.  It's located about 35 minutes away by bike, whereas by car it's only 15 minutes.  I happen to really love the bike ride to class, and it seems ridiculous for me to drive somewhere in order to exercise.  But Austin is my babysitter, and he is so overworked that the additional 40 minutes of travel time feels like a significant loss of study time to him.  We've worked out a solution that I think will keep us both sane: if he feels like he needs that 40 minutes for schoolwork on my pilates nights, I can take the kids to a friend's house for dinner.  I think the key for us has been figuring out which seemingly small problems are grounded in something bigger for one or the other of us.  In this case, Austin's time is precious because he needs to spend so much of it studying and holding down a 9 to 5 job.  The longer rides are important for keeping me healthy and fit, and touch on my sense of equity and responsibility: It doesn't feel right to drive somewhere regularly when I can get there by bike or transit.  We feel frustrated with each other's choices sometimes -- what couple doesn't?  But we work hard at remembering to be influenced by each other, and at seeing how these little nuts and bolts issues are sometimes connected to something bigger for one or the other of us.  I feel that if we just managed a tit for tat kind of compromise for these problems, we wouldn't be quite as happy as we are.

When we first decided to stop using one car, Austin had some lingering concerns about the safety of bicycling with kids, logistics of long bike trips or fixing flats with kids in tow, and future changes in our family.  Each one of these topics could be an essay in itself, but suffice to say that we talked each one out, in careful detail.  I took a confident cycling class, which really did help me to figure out the best ways to get around (and taught me about inductive loops -- I can't recommend these classes enough).  We made some specific plans for how I would cope with mechanical problems or with really bad weather (hail, electrical storms, etc.).  And we've discussed our options for future changes -- such as the possibility that I will need to look for full-time teaching work in a bad economy, which could mean a position very far from home.  I think that if we didn't take each others' fears and priorities seriously, we couldn't have made it through the transition to being a one-car household and still love being around each other.

4. Multi-Modal Dates

Another key to our success is dates.  As many dates as we can get.  They have been a great opportunity for us to travel a little by the other person's preferred mode.  And also?  They're dates. 

In general, we alternate.  One date is to the movies by bike, and the next is to some far-flung restaurant in a car.  I do have to suck it up and pretend I don't wish I was riding my bike.  (At least, most of the time I remember not to complain about it.)  But Austin is a good sport and does his part by trying out going to places he normally wouldn't on a bike.  He gets to see that I actually do know how to get around safely, and that most trips are pretty quick by bike.  Now that it's getting dark so early, our bike dates are more likely to be on a weekend afternoon.  No one wins converts to bicycling by making someone ride a bike in the rainy, cold dark.  And we have fun -- by bike or by car.  It would be a waste of perfectly good babysitting not to live it up when we have an evening to ourselves.

5. Having a back-up plan

In the course of those discussions about bad weather and bike break-downs, I had to think through how I would cope with major transportation failure.  Would I call my husband to come pick us up?  Sure, he would be willing to help, but I also have other options.  I could take a taxi, or catch a bus.  I actually did take a long taxi ride one afternoon when I jotted down the incorrect time for a bus from Veneta to Eugene.  (The bus service on rural routes can be infrequent at best.)  It cost me twenty bucks, which seemed expensive at first.  But then, of course, I remembered:  that's less than a tank of gas for our station wagon.  I think it was a relief for both of us to consider some worst-case scenarios and realize that I wouldn't have to call on him to bail me out if it didn't feel like the best choice.

What doesn't kill you...

It's a cliche, but true: taking on big changes makes can make a relationship stronger.  I had some moments of hesitation about going car-light at first -- wouldn't this really be hard on my marriage?  For us, though, the big changes we've made to our life together -- though they may cause some bumps in the road in the short term -- make our marriage stronger and better in the long run.  All those complicated things we throw at our relationship are not just worth it because of their own merits, they also help us stay happy and connected: kids, graduate school, getting rid of a car.  There were difficult conversations and frustrating experiences aplenty along the way to our current, more balanced experience of being car-light.  But that's how it is with everything complicated and interesting that's worth doing, right?  Ultimately Austin wouldn't want to stand in the way of me doing something I find truly important, just as I want to support him in pursuing what he wants from life.

Our marriage is stronger now because we tested it with a bicycle.  Add that to your list of things that are better by bike.

Kidical Mass Giving Thanks Pie n' Chai Ride

By the way...Hello again!  I have been enjoying an unplanned hiatus from blogging.  The time away has been lovely and relaxing (especially while my grad-student husband was on his summer break), but I've missed writing for this blog.  And I've missed hearing from you, all the friendly people I've met here.  If you've written me an email while I was on unofficial hiatus, please know that I was not checking that account while I was away.  I'll be composing my replies over the next few weeks -- thanks for your patience.

In the meantime, if you're in Eugene, we'd love to see you tomorrow at Kidical Mass!  I'm helping to organize and bake pie for the ride, and it would be gratifying to see some familiar and some new faces at Cesar Chavez Elementary tomorrow.  Here's the official blurb:

The weather is just right for cozy mittens, warm drinks, and delicious pie!  Join us for a short and sweet afternoon bike ride from Cesar Chavez Elementary to the Whiteaker Community Center, where we can play outdoors or nosh on homemade pies and hot chai tea inside (decaf rooibos version will be available for the kids, of course).  Along the way we'll stop to admire some fabulous new improvements to our bikeways, and create a simple thank you to our city for making it safer for families to walk and bike through our neighborhoods.

We always ride safe and legal, and all kinds of family bikes are welcome!  Remember your mittens and hats for the coziest possible ride.  Bring lights in case we'll be out after dark. 

Questions?  Find more info at  Hope to see you tomorrow!