Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Family on Bikes: Shannon, Jonathan, and Cara

When I first considered how I might be able to get rid of a car, Shannon, Jon, and Cara were the only family I knew who were actually living car-free.  This gracious, warm, and beautiful family was an inspiration to me.  I hope that you enjoy getting to know them, too.

Are you a family that enjoys riding bikes?  I'd love to profile you here!  You need not be car-free, car-lite, or even living in the Eugene area.  I'm just interested in sharing the stories of families that ride bikes together.  Please email me at mamafiets at gmail dot com if you would be willing to be interviewed for this series.  Thank you!

Jonathan with Cara at age 4

Who are you? Introduce yourselves, please.

I am Shannon Boyd, mother to Cara (6) and one on the way, and wife to Jonathan.  I am a stay at home mama, 32 years old, and crave forest adventures.  Jon is a guitar and Spanish teacher at the Village School and Ridgeline Montessori, and Cara is a kindergartener at the Village School.  We are currently a mostly walking family.  We acquired a car over the summer, which is our first car in 5 years.  For the last five years of Cara’s life, we were solely a biking family.  We all love to ride!

What is your family bike setup? How is it working for you? How has it changed as
your child has grown?

At first we had a TREK bike cart that could hook up to either bike.  We rode like that for 2 years.   When Cara was 3, she started on the Like-A-Bike for shorter rides.  Boy, could she go fast!!  For town rides we continued with the bike cart.  When Cara was 4 ½ years old, we introduced the tag-along, but continued to use the bike cart, especially in rainy weather.  When Cara was 5, she mastered the 2 wheeler, so from then on, we had her riding on her own, even in the rain.  Currently, we all ride our own bikes.

Cara, age 4, with her family's park and grocery trip setup.
Check out the kids' bike in the cargo area of the trailer!
As far as how it has worked, it has HAD to work.  We had no other choice.  We got a lot of raised eyebrows having Cara in the bike cart at 1 year, but, when you have no other way to get around, what can you do?  Also, it was a choice we made.  To not support a car culture, to be healthy and fit.  But our set-up has always worked.  From grocery shopping (I could fit 5 bags of groceries and my daughter in the bike cart), to work/school obligations, or just for fun, the bike cart was our vehicle.  When the next baby comes, we’ll see how the set-up changes.

Why do you choose to ride bikes together?

As I mentioned above, we chose to not partake in the car culture, for gas, war and money reasons.  Also, we live in a place where everything we need is close together.  If ever we wanted to go out of town, we borrowed a car.  So aside from those reasons, we also chose to ride to teach our daughter how healthy and safe bike riding can be.  We are modeling for our children, and community, that we all don’t have to drive everywhere.  That you don’t need a big van when you have kids and need to go grocery shopping- though it is easier.  But is easiest the best way to go?

We also just have fun riding together.  Learning the roads, the rules, and how to ride is just so much fun.  It is a great family bonding experience.

Cara, at age 4, on her Like-a-Bike

What kinds of trips do you commonly make by bike? Are there other modes of
transport your family frequently uses?

Previously, we did everything by bike. Groceries, appointments, work, school, play dates, etc. -- everything.  Currently, due to tight working schedules and school schedules, we cannot bike to school,so our bike trips include library, small grocery runs, play dates, appointments, etc.  If not driving to school or work, we mostly walk.  Our neighborhood is pretty central, so we have been walking more often.

Would you share a great moment in your family biking experience with us?

All of our experiences have been great, it’s hard to choose just one...Some memories that come to mind are sweet summer rides to get some ice cream, or just to cool off.  Last summer we did a lot of summer riding because Cara could ride on her own and we were teaching her the rules of the road and such.  So, that summer, we had some extremely sweet rides...just special family moments – laughing, singing, riding fast, riding slow...good stuff!

Plenty of laughs are coming to mind when I think of the past 4 winters we rode in the rain. Lots of wet faces, wet clothes, and all we could do was laugh it off, and warm up with yummy steamers at some local café. J

Do you have any tips or tricks to pass on to other bike-riding families?

Start your children young, so they are used to the bike cart, Xtracyle, or whatever set up you have.  The more familiar they are, the more safe feeling and fun.  Also, do not get intimidated by the on!!

Are there any changes (to path or wayfinding systems, auto speed limits, bike
boulevards, lighting, etc.) that you would you like to see to make bicycling more
convenient, accessible, and safe for families in your area?

I think there could always be improvements made in the biking realm – more paths, better lighting, all of it.  I think Jefferson and Willamette St. need to have better biking options...especially for families.  It’s hard to maneuver a bike cart with child and groceries up those hills!!!

Cara, what is your favorite thing about riding a bike?
It doesn’t give pollution.  [Shannon says: I’m one proud mama right now!!]

Cara, where is your favorite place to ride your bike to?
The river park or the cheese park.

Cara, age 5, on her big-girl pedal bike

Thank you, Cara, Jon, and Shannon!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Being Here Tonight

This afternoon, I rode the bus back from my teaching job.  The driver – it’s always the same woman – pulled up to my stop, and I pushed open the back doors.  The air was especially brisk as it hit my face.  I had a handful of errands to run by bike with my children today before dinner, so my steps were quick.  The wind picked up behind me, pushing me along.

When I walked in,the house felt a little cozier than usual.  My children, in turtlenecks and wool socks, were gathered around their aunt at the kitchen table.  There were still a few peanut butter cookies left.  As my boys poured forth all the news of their day, I washed my hands.  I let my frozen fingertips linger under the warm water, considering my to do list.  I looked outside, and saw a veil of heavy raindrops spill down from the sky.  A few of them became slush as they hit the window: frozen rain.

On the sofa, the children had installed a down comforter and a stack of picture books.  I imagined a cup of tea there, too.  Hot tea.  I glanced again at the freezing rain on the other side of the window, then to the picture books.  I mentally moved the handful of errands in my appointment calendar for Wednesday afternoon into the Thursday column. 

If you are a parent, then you already know what it is to have a little more on your plate than can be comfortably tucked into.  I hope that you also know the pleasure of putting the to-do list aside from time to time.  In my opinion, one of the unexpected benefits of getting around by bike is that, sometimes, I decide not to do it.

I could have made it work to get out on that errand somehow.  If the errand was really urgent, I could have left my children with the neighbor for a few minutes while I ran around on my bike.  I could have chosen to do the highest priority errand by bus.  I could have made it work to get everyone outside and on the bike had I really needed to.

But none of those options felt quite right.  So I looked at my list, realized that nothing really had to be done right away, and reorganized my calendar a bit.  I fished a cookie out of the jar.  I set the teakettle to boil, and asked my children which books we ought to read first.

As we pulled the comforter around us, the first few flakes of snow found their way out of the clouds.  Perfect. 

I wrote this post on Wednesday evening, but didn't have a chance to proofread and post it until after midnight.  I decided to preserve some language that reflected the original moment at which I wrote this: tonight, this afternoon, etc.

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!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Family on Bikes: Heather, Ryan, and Sylvan

I'm so very pleased to share the first in what I hope will be a lengthy series of interviews with families who ride bikes!  My dear friend Heather agreed to answer some questions and pose for a photo with her son and their bike.  She even sent me some pictures from her son's early experiences on a bike. Many thanks, Heather!

If you would be willing to be interviewed for this series, please email me at mamafiets at gmail dot com. 

Who are you?  Introduce yourselves, please.  Is there anyone in your family not pictured here who likes to ride bikes with you?

Hola, I’m Heather and my sweet 4-year-old is Sylvan. My husband, Papa Ryan, rides with us sometimes as well, though usually Sylvan and I are on bike outings while Ryan is at work.

What is your family bike setup?  How is it working for you?

Although Sylvan was never a huge fan of the bike trailer (I think I should have started earlier), he loved riding on the WeeRide as a toddler and has been on a balance bike (Adam’s Runner) since his 2nd birthday (thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!).

Sylvan, at two years old, on his balance bike

Our current family bike setup is with Sylvan on an Adams Trail-a-Bike that was given to us by a friend who used it with his daughter who is now 17. Sylvan and I have been riding with the tagalong for several months now. At first I had to carry all our gear in a backpack, which limited our excursions except when Emily offered to add our gear to her already full milk crate! In order to fit the tagalong over a rear rack I recently replaced my suspension seat post with a non-suspension post so I could mount the tagalong higher. I excavated from deep storage the set of panniers I used when I lived in Seattle 10+ years ago. After a thorough wash they’re good to go and have increased our cargo capacity as well as my comfort. The next step is to attach the cargo trailer my husband fixed up onto the tagalong and see how I feel about such a long setup. I’d also like to look into a cargo bike like an xtracycle.

Why do you choose to ride bikes together?

Oh, there are so many reasons, where do I start? I can say that a bike ride brings infinitely more presence of mind, connection with our surroundings, physical wellbeing, and simple joy than any motorized trip. As you’ve said, Emily, we can be crabby up until the moment we hop on the bike but it all melts away when we start to ride, and that is just not the case in the car.

What kinds of trips do you commonly make by bike?  Are there other modes of transport your family frequently uses?

With our increased cargo capacity and confidence we've moved beyond a bike ride for the sake of a bike ride and now take trips to the grocery, dentist, pool, parties and many other destinations.  We recently dropped by the blood bank during a day of errands, and though I had to take it easy on the ride home I'm sure the fresh air was beneficial.

When Sylvan was an infant and toddler and I carried him in an Ergo front/backpack, we used to walk places then ride the city bus home (to help Mama with the child/grocery/library book/etc. load).  We'd like to learn about loading our bike on the bus, and we look forward to planning a train trip soon.

More cute toddler Sylvan!

Would you share a great moment in your family biking experience with us?

In my job as an Early Childhood Special Educator I have to drive all over the county (ex. Springfield, Bethel, Creswell, occasionally all in one day) to visit children and families at their homes or preschools, so any moment biking with my son is a fabulous biking moment! Some highlights would be Kidical Mass, the recent Parade of Champions (after being unsure at first, Sylvan was quite pleased at the end that everyone was waving at him), and singing “Singing in the Rain” at top volume during a particularly wet ride (and staying utterly dry). 

Do you have any tips or tricks to pass on to other bike-riding families?

I’m new at this and learning from others with more experience but I suppose my word of wisdom is that the time and money you invest in getting set up (i.e. gear, cargo capacity, safety, maps), is totally worth it. Whereas in the past we had to really plan for a bike ride (i.e. What will he wear to stay dry? Are the batteries charged for my light if we’re out after dark? How will I carry my stuff?), now we’re out the door in no time and we’re set up so we always enjoy the ride. 

Are there any changes (to path or wayfinding systems, auto speed limits, bike boulevards, lighting, etc.) that you would you like to see to make bicycling more convenient, accessible, and safe for families in your area?

It’s been inspiring to have recently started meeting folks who are advocating on behalf of bicyclists and bicycling families. I don’t yet know what potential improvements exist but I look forward to learning more and getting involved.

What else do you think we should know?

You’re an inspiration, Emily! I hope we have a weekly bike train trip to the pool and back for years to come!

Thank you, Heather!  It is such a joy to be your friend!  I'm loving riding around town with you and your sweet boy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Park and Climb

When I asked the clerk at Coastal Farm if they had bike parking, she suggested I lock my bike to this play structure.  While it's a little sad that there isn't a designated rack for bikes, the play structure is on display in a parking space right by the entrance to the store, so it was actually pretty convenient to park there.

The kids always play on empty bike rack spaces anyhow, so why not?