Our move from Seattle to Portland happened two weeks before school started so we had a good amount of time to explore our neighborhood and beyond before settling into our new daily schoolyear routine.
Our school has so many bike staples!
It’s not entirely fair to say Seattle is hilly and Portland is flat since Seattle has some flat neighborhoods and Portland some hilly ones. But I think it’s safe to say that in general Portland is flatter than Seattle. I’m happy to say we landed in a neighborhood that is flat as far as the eye can see. Versus our old neighborhood in Seattle which a biking friend referred to as “living on the side of a cliff” (which is an exaggeration, but other than two flat blocks to the east it was a steep two- or three-block climb or descent in all directions).
Our biggest change is that school is no longer a two-and-a-half-block walk from home (it took longer to put on helmets and bike than to walk so we only bothered with bikes on Bike to School Day). Now school is 15 blocks away–a legitimate bike-distance from home, and I’m pretty excited about that.
One huge bummer is that my 10-year old broke his arm four days before school started. However, that meant I didn’t need to figure out a kid-safe bike route to school for a month.
I have 3 types of routes:
me alone (and sometimes me alone in a hurry versus me alone slightly less direct, but more pleasant)
me with kids attached on tandem or cargo bike
me plus kids riding separately
They’re rarely the same.
Allow me to stray from routing talk for a moment and acknowledge that my beloved cargo bike is yet again a lifesaver. The kids have been riding their own bikes primarily for a while, plus I needed them to ride on their own all the time while I was biking with a broken foot so it’s been a while since I’ve carried them both. And yeah, just the one kid broke an arm, but apparently there’s a rule that if one’s big brother gets a lift the littler kid gets a lift, too.
I’m pretty sure the arrangement of kids we found ourselves in is the only way this would have worked. I keep only the left rail of my Xtracycle Hooptie on the top of the bike (the right rail is down low for stepping up to the deck) so my 10-year old with the broken left arm sat backwards at the front of the deck to hold the rail with his good arm. Then the eight-year old sat sideways or backwards to have adequate legroom. This put the heaviest part of the heavier kid at the closest spot forward and the lighter kid more forward than had be been sitting forward-facing. I think I would need an e-assist with throttle/boost button to get started safely if they were both facing forward with the little one in his usual front spot and the heavier one at the very back. Biking around our flat neighborhood was fine, as was the one decent block-long hill coming back from all points close in. However, I had to stop twice to rest briefly on the big half-mile-long hill between the hospital and home. We took the bus to get to a few appointments downtown, though that was more out of worry about the kids sitting in the cold for such a long time on my bike–there’s always a bit of adjustment as the seasons change. Next broken arm (ha!) we’ll be acclimated enough to bike to the orthopedist.
Now, back to school…
Portland has some awesome bikeways, but there are also quite a few busy streets that only have stop signs or stop lights if you’re crossing using another busy street. There are two busy streets (one east-west and one north-south) between home and school. Those intersections are OK for me alone or me carrying the kids, but I don’t like the kids riding through on their own bikes.
I didn’t do a ton of exploring and experimenting, but the day before the cast came off I carried the kids on my proposed kid-friendly route to school and the kids declared it a winner. It’s 50% longer and takes over twice as long (I phrase it that way to sound dramatic–it only takes 13 minutes versus 6 minutes when I carry them on the more direct route). It also has more blocks of gravel than I imagined possible even in this neighborhood of many unimproved roadways. Obviously, that’s a bonus in the eyes of the kids.
What I don’t consider perfect is that instead of biking in a door zone bike lane for one block (a BIG block, the length of three of our other blocks) we cut through a church parking lot (which is fun and safe, but not as ideal as using a quiet public street) to avoid half of that block and then we stick to the sidewalk for the other half of the block.
But we all love the route! Highlights include spotting a feral cat, Mr. Moo, each morning and afternoon, the kids learning the different contours of our six consecutive unpaved blocks as the gravelly craters fill with rainwater and become enticing puddles, and my pride as the kids confidently zoom home ahead of me as soon as we cross the second busy street.
Let me start by apologizing that no, it wasn’t a bike move.
Also, you’re not the first to ask ;) I used a PODS (Portable On Demand Storage) portable storage container.
There are many brands of movable storage containers, some that operate only in certain regions, and I’m pleased to report I found my PODS very convenient. Choosing arbitrary dates for the container when booking it was the hardest part, but it ended up working out just fine. I had the container at our house for a week and gradually carried all our stuff into it…alone, because I was too stubborn to ask for help, which I don’t recommend. At one point while collapsing under the king mattress in the basement stairwell for the third time I muttered, “I wish there were two of me!” so do consider using a movable storage container, but also consider enlisting help. Then we camped out in sleeping bags for a week because that’s how long it takes the PODS to make its journey. I traveled down solo by train to meet the PODS and unload (with help for the few big items this time–I learned my lesson) in just a day.
I used the largest of the three container sizes (16 feet, holds 3-4 rooms worth of stuff). Fortunately, my many recent forays to the thrift store to give away years and years of accumulated needless stuff paid off and I was able to fit just about all of our belongings into the one container. I originally booked two, with the smallest of three sizes (7 feet, holds one room worth of stuff) to arrive right after the big one was picked up, but it was easy to cancel the second container as soon I could tell everything would fit in the first PODS.
While I thought I had put just about everything in the PODS it turns out those “just a few essentials” left out to use during the moving process somehow expanded. In addition to my train trip down to meet the PODS, I also took a trip down with my friend Michelle in her Westfalia camper van packed with quite a lot of leftover stuff.
One of the hardest things was deciding which bike to leave out. I wanted to get everything except for my new Brompton folding bike in, but I ended up not being able to fit my Surly Straggler into the PODS (not for lack of hefting, whining, falling, getting scratched, getting chain marks on a bunch of stuff, etc) so that was the bike I left out. That ended up working to my advantage because after the container left I borrowed a Haulin’ Colin trailer (I have the special hitch on my bike already) so I could make one last thrift store run. And then I took the Straggler down on the train (and the Brompton back up).
I ended up renting cars twice for visits to Portland to look for housing with the kids (after a couple solo trips that were easy to do by train and bike). The first time we got stuck with an SUV. I always like getting the smallest car possible for better gas mileage and easier parking. Previously I’ve always refused the “For the same price you can upgrade to a larger vehicle!” thing, but this time it was paired with, “Oh, and your small car won’t be ready for a few hours” and that unexpected delay would have put a big wrench in our plans. At least that made it easy to bring bikes along so our weekend wasn’t all spent in the car.
After so much driving, I couldn’t stomach one more car trip so we made our final move by train. And surprise, surprise, I somehow still had a lot of stuff to carry. I had the Brompton with me and it played the role of luggage cart marvelously. Most notable was when a homeless guy on the last bus leg of our trip (after bus, walk, train, walk, light rail) took one look at me and said, “Wow. I’d been feeling sorry for myself with everything I have to carry, but look at you!” I’m happy to have brightened his day. It pains me that I’m sometimes mistaken for being homeless just because I’m on a bike, but I do like that having a bike along (even when it’s not overloaded) often makes me more approachable to homeless people. It’s not the most apparent way bikes unite people, but it is indeed a thing.
I’ve left behind some amazing friends in Seattle (whom I hope will all come down to visit!) as well as some great bike events that I’m happy to say will all live on in my absence: Kidical Mass with Familybike Seattle, Seattle Critical Lass, and #coffeeoutsideforher. We look forward to visiting Seattle to play bike tourist and see what changes and what stays the same. There are already new protected bike lanes going in downtown!
4 Xtracycle EdgeRunner longtail cargo bikes (3 with e-assist)
1 Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike
Each kid-carrying bike carried just one kid (except for mine which carried zero kids). A couple younger sibling babies who aren’t on bikes yet joined us via car.
This was our sixth year camping at Fay Bainbridge Park and it was as awesome as always. We’ve done a lot of trips with groups and a lot of trips just the three of us and there’s always something new to learn.
Also new this year was a new route. It was kind of in between the two main routes we all use, the flatter highway route (my favorite) and the hillier scenic route. I still can’t decide if it’s the best of both worlds or the worst of both worlds. It’s definitely a third option, though! The route was suggested to us by the Bike Barn Rentals guy as we were waiting on the next ferry to bring some of our campers to us. This wasn’t his original suggestion–that was a bit hillier, though not the same as our regular hilly scenic route. I tried to explain that with 150 pounds of bike and gear I didn’t agree that a couple steep sections could equal a better route. He may not have agreed with me, but he did make some changes to the route. I took this new route on the way back, too, to see if that would help me decide if it was a keeper or not and I still couldn’t decide. I’ve since learned (thanks, Chris!) that looking at the grades of a given route are a good indicator of if I’ll like something or not. In general, I like things less than 6%, so the 6.4% of this new route is also iffy. I’m mostly torn on it because it still contains plenty of highway and plenty of shoulderless side roads, so it’s certainly not all good if you ignore the one big hill.
But there was some great stuff about this new route:
* We biked by the Bainbridge Island Blueberry Co. which has U-pick blueberries! I prefer rushing straight to the campground and settling in, but lots of families do stuff on the way to camp and this would be perfect for that.
* The Port Madison Lutheran Church where we turned off Madison Avenue had lots of shade, a water faucet, blackberry bushes, and a play structure! It was a wonderful spot to rest and snack at the five-mile mark (out of 6.3 miles).
* It was very nice to arrive to Fay Bainbridge Park from the south along a relatively flat section. The big hill (only 5.6% sez Ride with GPS but it feels steeper) at the end of the “flat” highway route is right at the end which makes it that much more unpleasant.
It was nice having the three reserved camping spots this year and not having to worry about space. It was also neat having the car parking spots that came with the three sites to allow a few families to do supported bike camping. We’ve been joined by car camping, or partially car camping, families in the past, but they had to find and figure out the car parking those years (though I’ll admit I don’t know if that’s difficult or not, not having car camped at Fay Bainbridge Park myself).
I had planned on staying two nights so the kids could play all day Sunday (and I could rest all day) and have energy for riding home Monday morning. It’s always fun to watch the different groups take off when you’re the last to leave. However, after playing all day we all felt done with the beach and with camping so I cooked our dinner for a late lunch and we hit the road. I am so incredibly amazed that my kids made it without complaint! We took our time and met up with friends at the ferry which helped immensely. And we stopped for the spray park on the way home.
I’ve been to Salt Spring Island many times, primarily as a kid in the backseat of my family’s car as we trekked our way north from California. We camped along the way, but once on Salt Spring we always stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house so I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there before now. I have, however, biked there once before: four years ago I borrowed a three-sizes-too-big bike and panniers and left early in the morning for a one-night journey to the island and back. It was quite the whirlwind trip, but very worth it to visit with my aunt and uncle before their health failed. The visits (by car) bringing kids of my own were rewarding, too, of course, but it was nice to have a very focused visit this one time.
I started a blog post about that trip, but never finished it. I don’t think I discovered anything that I won’t write about for this new trip other than: consider not doing a big trip on a bike three sizes too big because it might really hurt your back. And wash your old water bottle out well because you can food poison yourself–which is really not fun on top of an aching back. Here’s a photo from that trip. I also learned brown bikes with brown panniers don’t photograph well in woodsy settings.
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada. June, 2013.
My friend Velotron joined me and it was awesome to have company this time. It was also awesome to do it on an appropriately-sized bike and with clean water bottles. Unfortunately, Velotron’s commuter bike was out of service so he was on his too-small bike he uses for hauling his cargo trailer. And I think his back was bugging him on account of that. By the way, Velotron is my friend from Bike camping in Iron Horse State Park, take two last year. I had been pretty bummed out we weren’t going to get a chance to do a repeat John Wayne Pioneer Trail trip, but with my broken foot still on the mend, I haven’t been much for planning big trips. I’d certainly call this trip big, but I didn’t need to do planning in the sense of deciding on a destination or date. My aunt died last November and my uncle the year before. This was the weekend of her birthday so on the Friday friends and relatives scattered their ashes at sea (unfortunately I couldn’t make it all the way to the island in time for that) and on Saturday we had a memorial luncheon.
Maps. Or, my love letter to Ride with GPS
I want to interrupt my trip report with a love letter to Ride with GPS. Four years ago I did my routing at home with Google maps and hand wrote turn by turn directions on a piece of paper. It was a nerve-wracking experience, wondering if I’d made the correct turns on the trails of Vancouver Island while racing the clock to catch my second ferry.
I still use Google maps as my initial route planner, but if I want to save a route, I use Ride with GPS. For this trip, I saved eight routes, one for each leg of the trip: Ride with GPS – My Routes. I’m too frugal to invest in an international data plan when I visit Canada so I downloaded the maps of those eight routes for accessing offline. Now what I didn’t realize ahead of time is that even in airplane mode, I could get turn-by-turn navigation! It didn’t occur to me that GPS is independent of internet despite having used my Garmin GPS bike computer to record rides (stored until I’ve found wi-fi and then transferred to my phone via Bluetooth and ported over to my Strava account).
So yeah, turn-by-turn navigation! In Canada! Impossible to get lost! Note: I have a Ride with GPS paid Basic account, but you can still do a lot even with the free account: create routes, download routes, and record a ride (I rarely record with Ride with GPS because I’m already used to my Garmin/Strava system for when I want to keep track of things, but I imagine I’ll do more Ride with GPS recording in the future). What the free account doesn’t do is turn-by-turn navigation. And I see the premium account (fancier than my basic account) also gives estimated times. I got estimated times from Google maps and included it in the name field–for example, “Ruckle Provincial Park to Twig and Buoy (1.5 hours)”–but for long field names like that one, I had to click to edit it in order to see all the way to the end of the title on my little phone display. Another note: I had a discount code when purchasing my Ride with GPS account for being a Cascade Bicycle Club Ride Leader.
Ooh, and I found the screen with elevation profile! I’m not sure if following my blue dot slowly climb the hill was all that helpful or if I was just punishing myself. Maybe Chris Froome Looking at Stems isn’t missing out on the experience after all, because I still had a great time even as I grunted constant reports about how close we were to the top and what came next.
Since I had to bring my kids to summer camp at 9:00 a.m., I couldn’t catch the 7:30 a.m. Victoria Clipper ferry like last time so we took the 3:15 p.m. one. It’s a passenger-only (no cars!) high speed ferry–less than three hours to get from Seattle to Victoria. It’s pricier than Washington State Ferries, but it’s so convenient! Bikes are $20 (cargo bikes and tandems are $40) each way and they’re parked outside under a tarp, but still exposed to salt spray so some people don’t bring bikes for that reason.
The ferry to Salt Spring Island’s Fulford Harbour leaves form Swartz Bay which is two hours north of Victoria. I found a campground right next to Swartz Bay, McDonald Campground – Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and was able to make a reservation over the phone–$27.20 CAD, $13 of which was the reservation fee. Our boat arrived late and we stopped for dinner in Sidney along the way so it was dark when we arrived. The campground has pit toilets and no running water (that I could see during our very short stay), but the location can’t be beat!
We set our alarms for 6:00 a.m. to roll out at 6:30 a.m. for a seven-minute ride to the ferry terminal and catch the 7:00 a.m. ferry to Salt Spring Island.
I couldn’t reserve a campsite at Ruckle Provincial Park ahead of time. There are only 10 reservable spots and 68 first-come, first-served spots. I called and was told they don’t turn bikes away so even if we couldn’t find a spot, we’d be OK.
UPDATE: We met a couple on bikes on our return ferry who had been turned away! They said there’s a new guy at the park who turns bikes away if it’s full. They found a place to camp in Ganges and paid $24 CAD rather than $20 and had RVs for neighbors.
Check out is at 11:00 a.m., but I wanted to try our luck finding a vacated spot at 8:30 a.m. so we could dump our stuff. Salt Spring is hilly and I wanted to ride to lunch and back without camping gear. We got incredibly lucky and scored an empty site right on the water.
Ruckle is gorgeous. People who arrive by car have to park in a parking lot and then bring their stuff in with wheelbarrows. So the campsite area is free of cars and despite being packed with tents, doesn’t feel overly crowded. A gravel trail runs through the campground and to get to our waterfront site, we had to follow a narrow trail through a couple other sites. I was worried about finding our way if we returned after dark, but it was still light when we got back.
Lunch was in Fernwood, 15.5 miles from Ruckle and our biggest leg on the island. It was hot and hilly, but we made it with some time to spare before noon. I was too tired to do any exploring of the small village, but just beyond Twig & Buoy was the water.
Twig & Buoy is usually just open for dinner, but this day they accommodated our special event and it was terrific. I heard many wonderful stories about my aunt and uncle and shared my own. Some of the old photos on display I hadn’t seen before, but my favorite will always be this one, from a bike tour they took all over Vancouver Island:
Our route to and from Fernwood took us past St. Mary Lake and I wish we’d brought suits for a quick swim after lunch.
Instead we biked straight to Ganges, the biggest village on the island. We had an hour to kill before dinner with my dad so I lazed in Centennial Park while Velotron explored. The Saturday Market had just closed up for the day, but it was still packed in the park and all over the village. Then despite needing to search around for a dinner place with seating, we were done eating and back to Ruckle before the sun was down.
Have I mentioned Salt Spring is hilly? I was exhausted and fell asleep before anyone else in the park.
Sunday was structured around us being back to Victoria in time for the 7:00 p.m. ferry. So as not to be rushed, we met my dad for breakfast at Rock Salt by the Fulford Harbour ferry at 10:00 a.m. and took the 11:50 a.m. sailing. We saw so many more bikes getting off and on the ferry as we had the previous morning! And then once we were back on Vancouver Island there were bikes everywhere! We kept crossing paths with the same people as we stopped for water, shade, and blackberries and had progressive conversations. The couple that had been turned away from Ruckle warned me off my plan to swim in Beaver Lake due to E. coli the last few years. And later they recommended our Victoria lunch spot: Tacofino. And we met the sponsors of the drinking fountain at one of the bike rest stations.
We ended up with tons of time in Victoria. So we immediately found ice cream.
And then we found Tacofino. I second my ferry friend’s recommendation.
After lunch we found a shady spot near the Clipper terminal and were so early we could watch the Clipper before our Clipper set sail. I don’t think I would have enjoyed rushing to catch that earlier boat and I didn’t have energy to do anything but rest and read, so hanging out in the shade with a view of water taxis, seaplanes, and the MV Coho coming from Port Angeles was just great. However, Victoria is a blast if you’ve got the energy–the kids and I had a terrific time three years ago: Victoria, BC with family bike and saw a lot of Victoria two years ago during our camping trip at Goldstream Provincial Park Campground: Spring Break 2015 Recap.
I’m not sure I’ll visit Salt Spring Island again. It is a beautiful place, but it’s just not the same without my aunt and uncle there now. If you haven’t been yet, though, I highly recommend you check it out. My whirlwind visits were well worth it, but know that one is allowed to camp at Ruckle for up to 14 days. Also, I have a feeling most people bike from Fulford Harbour to Ruckle Provincial Park and then stay put rather than go bike an additional 30+ miles. That seems like it would be pretty nice.
So #coffeeoutsideforher kind of fell apart again. First the long, cold winter had me too chilly and grumpy to keep it up and then my broken-foot grumpiness had me canceling everything nonessential (not that coffee and friendship isn’t essential!)
But we’re getting the band back together one last time!* Join me on Saturday, August 12th at 10am in Gas Works Park. We’ll be in the plaza area deep in the south part of the park. No need to bring anything and as always, everyone is welcome.
Having kids with birthdays during Spring Break and Summer Break means we haven’t been in town to throw a birthday party for a while–six years sez the blog! Doing super fun (usually bikey) things on their big days has been terrific, but my freshly minted eight-year old wanted a party in town this year.
He decided we’d watch Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and have Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt (one of those places with too many apply-your-own toppings and then pay by weight) afterwards. The only place still showing Captain Underpants was the Landmark Crest Cinema up in Shoreline, nine uphill miles from home. The birthday boy wanted to bike the whole way there, but I thought that might be too big a day, even with the closing sugar high so I suggested we bus there with our bikes and bike home.
Menchie’s is two miles from the movie theater so we shuttled the party between the two venues by city bus. And we started the party at a park near the theater so they could play a bit and then trek half a mile while the kids and I pushed our bikes. Fun and multi-modal!
I did most of the carrying (the kids carried stuffed animals on their rear racks) on my road bike. I have a handlebar bag and saddle bag (Swift Industries Paloma and Large Zeitgeist) that hold a lot, but most of the stuff (snacks, cake, candles, party favors) were in my big All-City backpack. One of the mom offered to carry the presents to the end of the party, but we’d eaten enough snacks that they fit in the backpack.
Snacks and Captain Underpants Craft Stick Bookmarks
Our starting park was Northcrest Park and it was great! We took two buses to get there and it took about an hour…which is probably quicker than it would have taken us to bike there (Google maps says 59 minutes, but Google maps doesn’t bike with two kids). We entered at the south of the park and biked along a great trail a quarter of a mile long to get to the playground at the north end of the park.
I hadn’t counted on the six kids tiring of the small-but-fun play structure way before our 45 minutes of snacking and playing was up and they bolted for the trees and all found very big sticks. Eight-year olds have matured beyond the “sticks cannot be longer than your arm” rule I found out. But no one got hurt and I talked one of the kids out of brandishing a log (a log!) and soon enough we hiked south through the park trails and one sidewalk block to the movie theater.
The Landmark Crest Cinema shows $4 movies! And has bulk snacks! I got the kids two large popcorns (comes with a free refill!) and initially talked them out of sweet snacks since we’d be having plenty of sugar later, but was overruled halfway through the movie and ducked out to get $8 worth of bulk M&Ms. I thought the movie was pretty great, too.
Then we had a bit of a walk to the bus stop, from 165th to 175th. I say the street names because that makes it sound farther than “half a mile.” I lost control of the group again as they spied a preschool playground next to the bus stop. That helped the 15-minute wait go by more easily.
Paying for the bus proved a little confusing. I asked our driver on the first bus (when it was just us three) if I could tap five kids on one ORCA youth card (I know you can do this with ORCA adult cards) and he said they were really just for one kid. So I asked what the price for each extra kid was and was told it’s 50 cents. Um, no. I know that’s not the cash price because there’s a great Summer Youth Program giving kids free ORCA cards and charging all youth paying with ORCA only 50 cents. Finally he shared that cash youth are $1.50. Which I really should have looked up, but I was sure we’d be able to tap them all on one card. So I gave my oldest our three ORCA cards and $6 to pay for us all while I put the bikes on. Except everyone had to hold something so three someones had ORCA cards, someone had a five dollar bill, someone had a one dollar bill, and someone was sadly empty handed. Probably the birthday boy’s big brother. I wish I had thought to bring six one dollar bills. I forgot how fun it is to feed things into the bus till. By the time I had racked the bikes and climbed the steps into the bus, I came upon the end of some confusion. I’m not sure what happened, but the driver had the kids keep the cash and I think she tapped them on my adult card. Or maybe she just let them on free? This led to a brief moment of excitement by the two party attendees holding the cash over possibly keeping the bills, but I was able to get them back. The kids were very well behaved for our six-minute bus ride, though the driver stressed I wasn’t allowed to leave any behind on the bus. Heh.
And then we just had to cross two busy streets of the Aurora/185th intersection and were at Menchie’s! Everyone’s eyes were bigger than their stomachs, plus we had birthday brownie cut into small pieces to add as an additional topping. Thank goodness for good weather and outside seating because I didn’t think Menchie’s would take kindly to fire and food brought from home in the shop. I gave us an hour of Menchie’s time before the parents were supposed to arrive and again I kicked myself for not planning for a bunch of fresh-out-of-an-action-movie, sugar-fueled active kids. I reined them in to open presents, but the last 20 minutes were spent playing dodge ball with a small dog in a bear suit stuffed animal. Poor Boo (or poor Poo as we was renamed moments after his name tag was removed).
And then everyone left and I crammed all the stuff back on my bike.
I hadn’t realized this Shoreline Menchie’s is the one right on the Interurban Trail! I think riding from the trail the two miles to the movie theater would have been hilly and unpleasantly busy, but only riding along the trail in the south/downhill direction was awesome.
It’s still a longer ride than we usually take and we stopped for a few brief rest/water breaks. We opted to come over the top of Green Lake on our way home (we usually go south of the lake) and contemplated stopping at the wading pool to get our feet wet, but the kids decided they would rather rush home…that is, until we cruised by the dirt jumps in Lower Woodland Park.
And to round out the day with the birthday boy’s favorite meal, we made one last stop on the way home for sushi to go. Happy happy!
Note: I think e-bikes are amazing. I truly believe bikes can save the world, and for a ton of people that means e-bikes. This post–like everything on this blog–is simply my own experience. If you want an e-bike, you should totally get an e-bike!
For years I’ve joked my way out of answering why I don’t have an e-assist:
“I’m too rough on my bikes, it’s just one more thing for me to break.”
“I’m too stubborn to add one now and they weren’t really a thing when I got my cargo bike six years ago…and the kids were 100 pounds lighter back then!”
But the thing is, I never really thought it through. Yes, I am stubborn, and it wasn’t at all on my radar six years ago (knowledge-wise, budget-wise, necessity-wise), but that’s not it.
I Don’t Have a Car-Replacement Bike Because
I Don’t Have a Car-Based Life; I Have a Bike-Based Life.
I don’t want a life with things car distances away or with things timed such that the distances must be traversed at car speed.
I don’t want my backup plan to have to be a car.
Were my bike to break, or were myself or one of the kids unable to bike, I don’t want that to mean our only alternative is a car.
I always want my options to be walking and busing, and our bikes simply make things quicker, easier, and a lot more fun.
Right now “bike distance away” is the distance I can bike on a slow and heavy bike or that the kids can bike on their own little bikes. And if it’s farther, I want to take the bus, train, or ferry, ideally paired with bikes. If there’s ever a time we can’t bike or don’t want to bike, I want my life to support taking a little extra time to walk to the close things and bus to the far things.
Caveat: this works for me because we live in a big city (a.k.a. an Urban Cycling-friendly city) and I want to take advantage of that. Things are tightly-packed here. That means school is three blocks from home, and everything else is almost as close: a few parks, a few libraries, a few bike shops, a few grocery stores, farmers markets, art supply store, veterinarian, umm…what else does one need?…cat cafe, funky gift shop, conveyor-belt sushi a ten-minute pedal in either direction along the multi-use trail two blocks from our home.
One very important thing that makes this work as a family biker is that I’ve been biking with my kids since they were tiny and totable. I was able to build muscle, confidence, and stubbornness; they were able to grow up learning getting everywhere on bikes is an ordinary thing. Babies and toddlers are so little, light, and portable, and many conveniently grow into kids who will ride their own bikes right around the time they become too hefty to carry easily. When kids are young, they fit well on regular bikes, like my old mamabike, so it’s not necessarily a big investment to adopt a biking lifestyle.
Nowadays my main bike is a Surly Big Dummy, one of several longtail cargo bikes available these days. It makes it easy to carry both kids and stuff. One things exceptionally terrific about longtails is that they make it easy to carry kids and their bikes, so I can carry the whole show through sections I don’t want the kids riding on their own or give them lifts when they get tired. The bike weighs about 75 pounds and is geared for hauling weight. The kids weigh about 70 and 55 pounds, but fortunately I rarely have to carry them these days. Toting one kid and his bike is fine, but they have hit a combined weight that I prefer not to carry.
Cars and me
And yes, we use cars occasionally. A year and a half ago I rented a Zipcar to take the kids snowboarding: Snowboarding for the car-free family. I’m not sure I could get us up early enough for the ski bus so we may do this again next winter, but when the kids are bigger and I’ve hopefully outgrown my phobia of waking sleeping babies too early, the bus it is!
This year we rented a car during Spring Break to stay near family in Venice Beach and easily drive up to my hometown of Santa Barbara. I dream of finding a way to visit Los Angeles without a car while still seeing my family as much as when we have wheels.
So cars for big things, but not for everyday things. Oh, and we’ve carpooled with friends three times over the last year, but that’s it for our car stuff.
I started writing this blog post months and months ago so those Uber stories are dated and I’m sure there is even more horrible data available now. I’ve never used Uber and never will and it seems like there are plenty of better options out there (and please feel free to correct me/argue with me/disagree with me in the comments because I don’t understand why Uber is so popular).
One good (?) thing about my taking so long to finish this blog post is that I can put my money where my mouth is: I broke my foot four weeks ago and my bike-based life holds up to the test as I’m successfully biking with a broken foot.
Photo courtesy VisitKitsap.org
E-Bikes and me
Also thanks to the delay, I finally go around to posting about last summer’s week in Portland with an e-bike. It was awesome! That week was eye opening and I TOTALLY GET IT ABOUT ELECTRIC ASSIST NOW! We spent the week living the equivalent of a car-based life, but with a bike. Yeah, it was fun, but it also wasn’t our normal pace of life. I guess renting an e-cargo-bike in Portland is the equivalent of renting a car in Southern California. Except so much better.
Photo by Cory Poole
Perhaps there will come a day I need an e-assist to keep up my current non-e-assist-bike-paced life. That’s OK by me, but for now and the foreseeable future, this is it.