Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Family on Bikes...Mine

First, an introduction:

I'm Emily.  I work mostly as a stay-at-home parent to Bigger (age 4) and Little (age 2).  I also work one day a week at a rural elementary school as a writing teacher.  Both of these jobs are my dream jobs.  My husband, Austin, is a superhero: he works full-time as a carpenter, and spends his evenings in graduate school studying library and information science.  He is also an amazing husband and papa who makes seriously good waffles.

Austin and the boys

No, my kids are not actually named "Bigger" and "Little".  But this is Eugene, so I understand why you might be curious.

Our family bike setup:

Our family bike setup is currently in transition.  While we are awaiting the arrival of a Workcycles Fr8 Uni this spring, I am riding Austin's hybrid bike with a ragtag circus of kid and cargo attachments: a Bobike Mini front child seat with windscreen (you can get one in Eugene at Arriving by Bike), a Follow Me tandem coupler that allows me to tow Bigger's bike behind mine, and an extra-large milk crate for hauling a limited amount of cargo.

Our new bike will be able to carry two children on seats mounted to the rear rack, as well as one up front on a child saddle.  It will also have a very large, lidded wicker basket up front and panniers on the rear rack.  It will probably tow Bigger's Follow Me tandem, but I haven't entirely made up my mind about that yet.  Installing the Follow Me would allow me to carry four child passengers!

When we got rid of our second car over the summer, I considered a bakfiets or an Xtracycle, but the deal breaker for me was compatibility with the bike racks on buses and trains.  We share a garden on my mother-in-law's 7 acre property in Creswell.  I need to be able to take a bike on the bus to Creswell with me so that I can cycle (instead of walk) the three miles between the bus stop and my mother-in-law's place.  I've also heard stories of folks being denied the opportunity to load larger cargo bikes onto Amtrak trains.  So we're going to see how bus and train friendly the Fr8 can be.  It is a seriously heavy bike.

We love our Follow Me tandem coupler for a number of reasons.  Unlike most tagalong-style bike attachments, the Follow Me allows families to install rear child seats, crates, and virtually anything else on the adult bike.  Once he feels confident enough, I will be able to disconnect Bigger's bike from mine so that he can ride solo on the bike path or quiet streets, and then reattach him when we're heading into car traffic.

While I'm excited about my new bike, I also want to emphasize that it's not necessary to purchase a special bike in order to get around town with your kids and stuff!  If I had decided against the Fr8, I could have made my current bike setup work better for me.  But since we were getting rid of a car, it made sense for us to upgrade to a much nicer bike.

Little, loving his pink bike
 We also have a balance bike used by both Bigger and Little, a pink Strider.  We like that the Strider is lightweight and relatively sturdy, and that it's small enough to hold a very little passenger (both boys started on it at age two).  I would say that I feel that many of these balance bikes are a little overpriced given the quality of the product, and that it is simple to remove the pedals from a 12" kids' bike from the Goodwill for a total cost of $10 or less.  (Our neighbors transformed a 12" Salvation Army cast off into a truly awesome, custom painted balance bike that I hope to feature here sometime.)

Why we choose to ride bikes together:

As Heather pointed out last week, there are too many reasons to share all of them here!

Our decision to give up a car was tied into our beliefs about what is practical, sensible, and fair.  I think that people on bikes, foot, and public transit (and the infrastructure that supports these modes of transport) make our communities richer, more equitable, and pleasant places to live.  I believe that getting around by bike is helping my children to grow up more confident, resilient, and fit.  I think that it will help them to be more independent as they grow older and begin to be able to get around town on their own.  It almost always lifts our mood to get out by bike.  And getting rid of a car helps to free up money in our budget for other things that are more important to us.

What kinds of trips to we make by bike?  And what other modes of transport do we commonly use?

I make almost every trip by bike, by foot, or bus now.  We do our shopping, appointments, playdates, and most other trips by bike.  I ride the bus to my teaching job. We walk to various destinations close to home (the park, the bakery, etc.) regularly as well.  I've started to frequent shops within four miles of our house almost exclusively.  I've become more efficient in the way I run errands.  And because we really enjoy riding our bikes, taking the bus, and walking, I'm more likely to plan a couple of pleasant errand and park trips every other day or so.  When I was driving my kids around, I often crammed several hours of errands into one day in order to avoid the unpleasantness of errands by car as much as possible.

We also love taking long-distance trips by train.  Our most frequent trip by train is to visit my parents' house near McMinnville.  I have taken my two kids on several overnight train trips by myself, which is actually really fun provided that you have the good sense not to let your kids drink the complimentary sparking juice right before bedtime.

Austin carpools to his job as a carpenter each day.  He sometimes has to make trips of up to 50 miles with large loads of lumber and tools, so I think that this is a pretty sensible option for him.  The final few car trips I make a month (between 0 and 3, typically) typically involve and social obligations in distant areas at times when there is no bus service (or very limited bus service).  The moms at Carfree with Kids have a great post about this which is helping me think about how to collaborate with friends and family so that visiting is more convenient for all of us.  One of the goals I have for this year is to try to get to rural family members' homes at least a couple of times a month by bus.  I'm hoping that this will help us refine our rural bus trip routine so that it's more automatic for us to visit our rural family members this way.  Plus, if we're getting to folks' houses by bus regularly, they'll understand if we can't make it to some of those late weekend events.  Not to mention the fact that my kids are always asking for more bus trips!  At $3 for a day pass (the kids are too young to pay fare) it's a cheap thrill.

A bike tip for other beginning family bicyclists:

See if there are Kidical Mass rides where you live.  Meeting and talking with folks at Kidical Mass helped me build confidence about riding my bike with my children when I was just getting started.  I learned some family-friendly, low traffic routes to my favorite destinations.  I've gotten advice about family bike setups, and seen some really interesting family bikes in action.  And I've met a community of people who enjoy riding bikes with their kids.  There's a Kidical Mass in Eugene tomorrow -- meet us at 3 pm in Monroe Park!


  1. I have a question about the follow-me. My child's bike, like most 12" and 14" kid's bikes, has a rear coast brake set-up. Have you found that Bigger will brake while you're pedaling? What happens if this occurs and how have you taught him to avoid doing that?

  2. Ash, this is a great question. Big does have a rear coaster brake on his 12" bike. He does occasionally (almost always accidentally) engage it while were moving. Ultimately, though, it hasn't been a significant problem for us. Here's how we work around it:

    -- If Big accidentally engages his brakes, I say something like "Oops, I think you're braking. Please pedal for a second." It's most often the case that he is simply resting his legs, and has put some unintentional pressure on the pedals. If he pedals for a second, and then rests, he usually gets his pedals to a spot where he can rest comfortably without braking.

    --It does sometimes happen that he brakes intentionally in a typical pre-school age display of displeasure. When this happens (and it's pretty rare), I treat it (to use a car metaphor) as though he had just removed his seat belt in a car. (The truth is that it's more annoying than it is unsafe for him to brake. I can still balance when he's braking, but I could imagine a scenario where it might be unsafe for him to brake while we're in motion.)

    We pull over to a sidewalk, I remind him that braking in transit is unsafe, and I tell him that I will wait for him to calm down and act safely before we continue our ride. We also have a bike trailer, but he'd much rather ride his own bike. We talk about how riding his own bike is a big responsibility. (And we don't just talk about it when he's upset and acting irresponsibly -- it's good to talk about it at other times too, especially in a positive way.) If he seems to need an extra push in the right direction to calm down, I remind him that I am looking to see if he can be responsible enough to ride his own bike, or if we need to go back to pulling him in the trailer. (And if I thought he needed to go back to the trailer, we absolutely would.) He has always stepped back up to the plate.

    I hope this answers your question! I need to write a thorough review of the Follow Me. We really like it. (Although Eugene has good enough bike infrastructure that I'm hoping to teach Big to ride his own bike on the streets this summer, instead of towing him on the tandem.) However, there are things folks should know before they decide to buy one, and I had a hard time finding a review in English. The only real problem we encountered is that the Follow Me is made of aluminum, and it can bend slightly out of shape if your bike falls over a lot, as my previous bike did. If you are planning to use a Follow Me, I would recommend that you get a good double footed kickstand (aka centerstand), and carry cargo in something with a low center of gravity (like panniers), instead of up high on a milk crate, as I did. It has been easy enough to tweak the Follow Me back into shape in our experience, but this aspect of the design is something you should consider.

  3. Hi Emily,
    We have really enjoyed (and used) our FollowMe. Some people balk at the price, but it is indeed about the best solution out there. I'm looking into purchasing a Fr8 as well, so I've enjoyed your reports. Thanks!

  4. Hi Emily,

    What model and make is the chil bike trailing in the first picture? Are you satisfied with it? We have been looking for a bike like that for ages

  5. Hello! The little bike in the 1st picture is a 12" child's bike we bought used. I think it was a Raleigh or a Trek? We painted it, gave it new tires, and otherwise spruced it up.

    We also connected the bike to mine with a product called a Follow Me Tandem. I believe they are still sold at Clever Cycles in Portland, which also has an online storefront.

    Good luck!