Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bicycles, Time and Leisure

Pilen, Charles River Trail
I was outside the post office, unstrapping a bundle of packages from my bike's rear rack, when a woman walking past with a toddler looked at the bicycle and smiled.

Her: That's a beautiful bicycle!

Me: Thank you.

Her: (Whistfully) It's nice that you have time to ride a bike. Wish I did.

Me: Oh, but I ride a bike to get places, so it actually saves me time.

Her: Yeah, but you know. When you're married and have a kid, you have no time for anything and need a car.

Me: Well, depending on where you live, it can be faster to get places by bike.

Her: Maybe if you're a student, but those days are past me! Love your bike though, take care...

Okay, so I've basically been told - albeit in the friendliest way - that I was either a bum or a woman of leisure if I had the time to travel by bike. It is a sentiment I've heard before. Looking at things objectively, I think that it is difficult for those raised in the US to overcome the association between the bicycle and leisure. It follows then, that if you ride a bike, you must have a lot of spare time. For people who like to project an image of being busy and hardworking, riding a bicycle can compromise that image. That's one aspect of it, I think.

Another aspect, is that of course it can take longer to do things by bike - for instance in the suburbs or in the countryside, where distances are vast and car parking is plentiful. I acknowledge this as a genuine obstacle to transportation cycling. But it is illogical to apply it to contexts where the opposite is true and where the bicycle can indeed function as a time saver - with or without children.

One thing I found particularly curious, is that the woman did not cite being worried about cycling with a child, whereas I didn't have that issue (which would also have been an assumption, but never mind). Instead, she just kept bringing up time and the difference she perceived in our lifestyles.

Our society has a complicated relationship with time and leisure. Both are viewed as commodities; we seek them out and are envious when others have more than we do. At the same time, we willingly give them up and waste them - be it by watching hours of uninteresting television just because it's on, or by organising our lives around stressfully long commutes for a small difference in salary. I am not critical of the way others live their lives and I make no assumptions about their values and priorities. Three years ago, I did not seriously believe that riding a bike to places could save time compared to driving there, but after trying it both ways I now believe it. I wonder to what extent the bicycle-leisure association is an obstacle for those who would otherwise benefit from transportation cycling.

84 comments:

  1. I'm gonna be blunt (really?): it takes a leap of imagination to envision the bike as transport. Some people aren't capable of it.

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  2. Just wondering... What bike did you have with you at the time?

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  3. Veloria said,
    "Okay, so I've basically been told - albeit in the friendliest way - that I was either a bum or a woman of leisure if I had the time to travel by bike. It is a sentiment I've heard before."

    Not to worry. People who say things like this are in serious denial that you are right and they are ,to a point, lazy. Just smile and wait for them to catch up just like they did in Europe after WWII.

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  4. Organizing your life so that you spend less time in a car is a pretty revolutionary concept in the North America. As you say, the choices we make about where we live and work make cycling possible.

    Beyond that, it's interesting how people want to have their perceptions confirmed ("Cycling takes a lot of time"), rather than learn something new ("Tell me how you manage to cycle in your everyday life!"). You find the same thing if you are a vegetarian, play a musical instrument, or engage in any other activity that is out of the mainstream. The response is: "I couldn't do because..."

    Maybe we should walk up to people with cars and say: "That is a beautiful car! I wish I had the time to drive more, but with a busy life, I just can't fit it in."

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  5. There are few places in the US that one can travel faster by bicycle than by car. It is much harder to travel by bike. In my case, for errands, I use a 25 year old, banged up looking, run of the mill, Japanese road bike, but I still worry more about theft than with our less than 1 year old car. I take the bike because it is more fun and it makes the trip more of an adventure. I always assume that people see me as a real dork when I use the bike, (and that is probably more true for you, than you admit.)
    It is more likely that you are having fun than the normal people. It isn't hard.

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  6. I think the biggest obstacle is that in North America bicycles are viewed as toys. Recreational purposes only. With that belief, it's a leap to begin viewing them in a utilitarian way. The woman you met was probably coming from that perspective. "I don't have time to play with a bike..."

    That's what worries me about the current crop of hipsters/fixie-kids. It's fantastic that they're riding bikes all over and having a blast doing it, but when they "grow up", the bikes they rode are going to be viewed as toys from their (advanced!) childhood.

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  7. I think that, even if it takes longer to go by bike, you're still saving time spent at the gym and the doctor's office.

    I don't have any experience biking with children, but it is possible that, when this woman says she doesn't have time, she means she hasn't wrapped her head around how to incorporate bicycling into her lifestyle.

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  8. when I used to commute to a job in Burlington, this was a familiar refrain ("oh, I would -love- to ride to work, but I've got kids at home and don't have the time") and for them it was as you say -- folks commuting in from 12+ miles away where a 30 minute drive would become an hour bike ride. If they're being genuine about it (as opposed to being merely polite) I propose things like cutting down on splitting overall commuting time by going intermodal (drive to work with bike, ride home, ride to work, drive home with bike, etc.) and that sometimes works. Though, I've since learned to never underestimate the amount of time kids can take up.

    From time to time, I get friends who, when we're hanging out around town, might offer to put the bike on their car \ in their trunk so that we can get to our next destination faster, not really realizing that it won't make any difference and, if anything, the bike will be there faster. Usually that's just politely declined and then exchanged for an offer to race.

    It's just common to assume that if a vehicle can go faster, it always will be faster -- much in the same way that some people usually gauge the time it takes for them to get from point A to point B based on the most optimistic scenario ("it's 5 miles away on a 30 mph road, I can get there in 10 minutes!") and don't really think about what their real average time will be with traffic.

    All the same, from these exchanges, I can't say that I've ever gotten the insinuation that I was a bum or not important/hardworking enough. If anything it always sounded like the person was just making excuses for their car.

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  9. Sadly I'm often seduced by this point of view. While I often feel like I could do without a car at all for my personal needs I find myself driving the mile to work because my aged dog who comes to work with me can't make the walk. She poops out after about half a mile. While I'm there it's so convenient to do some grocery shopping that results in 3 big bags that fit easily in the car-not so much on my bike.

    Once I'm home I use my bike for many transportation needs. I would do more if my 9 year old were an enthusiastic rider but he is not and often I will take the car rather than struggle with encouraging him. Of course I know that it is often faster and much cheaper to use my bike for most local errands but these little inconveniences sap my reason and will far too much.

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  10. She sounds like she is on the tipping point. If she read your blog, maybe she would find a way to make it work. :)

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  11. Erin - I was riding the Gazelle this particular time, but I've had similar conversations while on other bikes. When I am out and about here, I am like a magnet for women who are would-be cyclists or beginner cyclists, probably because of my unusual bikes.

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  12. Okay, so I've basically been told - albeit in the friendliest way - that I was either a bum or a woman of leisure if I had the time to travel by bike..

    Nah, she was just jealous that you've integrated cycling into your daily routine, and she's probably also still in mourning over her loss of freedom (perceived or real) by way of having to care for a small child. Her point about being married with a kid is somewhat valid. Not entirely, but having one small child does make it harder to incorporate a bike into your daily life, and your routine becomes much more centered around the child's needs, not your own. Two small children, as we have, and it becomes nearly impossible. As far as I'm aware, aside from having a triple tandem or a huge cargo bike, it's impossible to bike with one adult and two kids when the kids aren't old enough to cycle on their own in the city. This is exactly the situation my wife faces with our two kids. When I'm around, we can all cycle and get things done by bike as a family, since each adult has the capability of cycling with one child. But during the day when I'm at my job and my wife is with the kids, it's impossible for her wife to get around by bike. Simply impossible.

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  13. I would do more if my 9 year old were an enthusiastic rider but he is not and often I will take the car rather than struggle with encouraging him. Of course I know that it is often faster and much cheaper to use my bike for most local errands but these little inconveniences sap my reason and will far too much.

    This is my wife's argument as well. If she has to deal with kids who are not always enthusiastic about riding (or walking, for that matter) to do errands, it's just easier to take the car and avoid the defiance.

    Of course, you could make the argument that if you train your kids from when they were really young that biking or walking is the norm, and taking the car is the exception, they will view biking or walking as the norm, and not put up as much of a fuss. We see this all the time with friends who don't own cars-- their kids never seem to mind walking, whereas ours always put up a fuss because they know the car is so much less effort for them!

    Integrating cycling into your personal life is not always a steep challenge, depending where you live. Integrating it into a family routine with kids is much more difficult, and really involves a commitment and lifestyle adjustment, not just a transient enthusiasm based on novelty to 'try something different'.

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  14. Yeah, I think convenience often plays more of a part in this than strict speed does too - for instance, it might take me a few minutes longer to get somewhere by bike, but I can then park and be on my way immediately when I get there, instead of spending 5 minutes circling looking for a parking spot, which is both time-consuming and frustrating. To me, riding a bike is almost always less frustrating than driving a car, just because of things like parking, or getting stuck in traffic (which basically never happens on a bike, for me). But I can certainly see in other situations how the reverse could be true, and the convenience factor could tip towards the car, even if technically it might be faster to get somewhere by bike.

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  15. Someone with art skills needs to make a cycling version of those religious Chick Tracts and hand them out to curious observers.

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  16. I'm a stay at home dad and the one who's car light. Anything less than 8 miles or so is pretty reasonable for me and takes about the same time as driving. Running around with a two and a half year old is tough no matter how you slice it, but if you have the right equipment it's much easier. It's like grocery shopping on the bike, if you don't have a rack and appropriate bags, it's tough. If you don't have the right bike to carry your kid and extra stuff it's tough. We've got a longtail and loading up child & stuff for the day is about the same as with a car. Two would be tougher and in the winter I keep the car some days so that we can make it to more indoor locations. It just takes will. As with most other cycling, the hardest part is getting on the bike.

    That being said, when our second arrives, we'll be on the bike as early as possible. It turns an errand filled day into an adventure.

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  17. MelissatheRagamuffinAugust 2, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    I never argue with people who say they can't ride because of kids. I wouldn't want to pull a trailer with little kids in it. I know other experiences cyclists who feel the same way. I was working with someone trying to find a safe route for her to bike to her son's day care, and we just couldn't find one. I would never tell someone to do something that I would be unwilling to do myself.

    However, as a single person riding alone, I don't see that it takes me much longer to get around in town on my bike than it does by car. I've timed it. I can actually get from my house to my job in less time by bike than I can by car. It takes about the same amount of time to get up to the Walmart shopping center by bike and by car. Coming back on my bike takes slightly longer for both work and shopping because of hills.

    Once a month I have to go to a meeting at a place that I have to go through an area that makes me nervous in my car. It terrifies my on my bike. So, I ride out as far as I can, then walk my bike through the scary traffic area, then get back on as soon as I get through that one scary traffic area.

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  18. This was also brought up on my post about bicycles being viewed as elitist - that people who either legitimately do need, or perceive that they need more time to get places look at someone who is able to ride a bicycle for transportation as being privileged.

    I think there are two parts to that argument - one side is that our cities often put us at great distances from the things we need to get to, and the other is that many people never think about intentionally arranging their lives so that what they want to do is really possible. They never get to the point of questioning their current priorities and thinking about whether they could or should be different, and so they never consider that maybe their situation could change, if only they re-arranged their priorities to focus more on what is really important to them.

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  19. cris - Yeah, I don't think I'd be debating bicycle commuting with anyone whose commute was Boston-Burlington! My feeling is that once we get beyond a 5 mile one way trip, then we are talking about distances that are outside the average person's comfort zone.

    Somervillain - The kid issue is a complicated one. My personal feeling currently is that if I had a kid (no plans for that, so purely hypothetical), I would not feel comfortable cycling with it in most parts of Boston or allowing my husband to do that until the child was old enough to have its own bike. So if someone told me they were not comfortable putting an infant on a bike, I would certainly accept that.

    What I don't understand though is that if we take it as a given that: (1) the person has only 1 small child, (2) the person is not afraid to cycle with the child on a bike, (3) the person can afford a bike that would accommodate this, and (4) they live in an area where cycling is generally more convenient than driving, then in what way does having and caring for a child suddenly make it easier to drive than cycle? I am not talking about emergencies, but regular life stuff. If it's a question of lugging a lot of baby stuff around, then most Euro transport bikes (not to mention cargo bikes) will accommodate that. So just genuinely curious what is the problem I am not seeing, if fear is not an issue?

    As for 1 adult and 2 kids: Again, I would not be willing to do this myself, but speaking purely in terms of possibilities - If the children are very young, most Dutch bikes will accommodate front and rear child seats simultaneously. In Europe, I see either that or cargo bikes until age 5 or so, after which the child gets its own little bike and cycles in front of the parent.

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  20. Oh I get this all the time and it irks me. People praise me and tell me how amazing I am for biking, but they drive piddly short distances because 'they have no time, they have kids etc..' My husband was a single dad for years before I met him and he had to take the kids to daycare and school and then go to work. He did it all on bike with bike trailers in a rural area with long distances.
    One just has to adjust their lives a bit, but it becomes second nature. Even if I get a ride to work I regret it because I am not getting my ride or am dependent on other people's whims to get home. Or if I take the bus I end up getting stuck having to wait hours for the bus home. Do shopping and errands within your area, have the kids go to school close to home, make sure your job is a reasonable commute as well. For example my sister was whining about cars killing the planet, and the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill killing dolphins and sea turtles. All she has to do is move closer to downtown where she works, find a school that she can bike to with the kids in the morning and a daycare close by. She used to be a year round commuting cyclist, now a slave to driving nonstop as she is way out in the suburbs. But she does not WANT to give up the comfort and lifestyle of always being in a car, sitting down and trying to 20 things in a day. The weird thing is, when she was looking for a place with her 2 kids a few years ago, she found a lovely apartment in a safe treed area close to downtown. There were schools, daycares and grocery stores nearby. Only problem was inlaws were pestering her about something silly like a cemetery nearby so she hesitated and lost it. Then had to rent something way out in the suburbs.
    Biking is incredibly efficient, one of the most efficient things out there. The summer issue of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine has a brilliant article about the power of cycling.
    And yes, in the city where traffic gridlock is endemic, you will get around much much more quickly and efficiently by bicycle. You can take detours, you can take short cuts and routes a car could never go.
    Even if you are biking a further distance as I do, I simply think of it as getting fitness time on my way to work or to town. If I bike into the nearest town it is 15-20 minutes. It still takes at least 10 minutes to drive on the highway.
    Pilypas: you could get a child bike carrier for your dog. I see it fairly often. And from experience, you can fit loads of groceries, dog and kid on those carriers. My husband made the mistake of not being firm with his kids about riding once they were old enough to be out of the trailer, on the trailabike or on their own bike. They refused to learn how to ride, so, he kept hauling them until they were way too old for it. Now they ride only because friends taught them. But it hurt my husband that they would not ride with their dad as a committed cyclist he is. He imagined touring with them on nice little touring bikes and tandems. So, if you can't get the kid on a bike, at least consider a trailer for your commute and shopping with the dog.

    And yes, I have gotten the insinuation that I am a bum, lazy, but mostly the insinuation that I have a lot of time on my hands. There's a look too. But I also know how far many of these people drive to and fro and it's totally bikable.

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  21. I'd say that the woman who complained because of having kids is quite right. In fact in many neighborhoods it is a huge challenge even for a grown adult to cycle across town because of the traffic.

    Trying to do that with children makes it nearly impossible. Add in some snow or rain and forget about it. School books, lunchboxes, homework, school projects, mega-groceries, sports equipment and toys. No problem! lol!

    If the layout of the streets was like Amsterdam, and every destination was level and nearby and there were streets devoted solely to bikes, it'd be different. But such is not the case in 90% of american cities.

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  22. "Okay, so I've basically been told - albeit in the friendliest way - that I was either a bum or a woman of leisure if I had the time to travel by bike."

    Well, I think it's valid to say that was your reaction to her friendly comment....She may have just been saying life is so much easier when not having to move a child around all day long. As a parent and transportation cyclist I couldn't agree more! As much as I'm committed to cycling an all it's benefits, it became next to impossible when my first was born. When first putting a child carrier on my bike it was fun to run a couple errands with my two year old, but then I also had an infant and couldn't carry two. While moving around on a bike is indeed often quicker than a car, it's not when carrying a child on the back--travel time increases and so does the amount of hassle. I'm glad you didn't give her a lecture on the logic of bicycle use in the city, and time management--no one likes to be lectured to, and if it was me, when my little one attached to my side, I just may have bit your head off:) Just today I bicycled to the post office and the grocery store. It was quite easy alone--yet took more time than if I were driving--but if I had to carry my child as well it would change the whole dynamic and been next to impossible...

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  23. then in what way does having and caring for a child suddenly make it easier to drive than cycle?

    Some might argue with me on this, but weather, for one. Personally, I can withstand commuting in all sorts of weather, but I wouldn't subject a small child to riding in the rain, or snow. Sure, you can bundle them up and even give them rain shields and capes, but if you have to stop at five different stores, that adds up to a lot of time spent fussing with getting your kids on and off, not to mention fastening all the cargo onto your bike as your kid is screaming to go home, or have a snack. With a stroller, it's easy to just walk your kid into the store without reconfiguring all the accouterments. And with a car, it's easy to just throw your purchases in the trunk without fastening them down securely. Not so with a bike.

    Not that I don't go out of my way to do all these things by bike, and you know full well that I do. But as a parent, I can see all to well how easy it is to fall back on the convenience of a car.

    In Europe, I see either that or cargo bikes until age 5 or so, after which the child gets its own little bike and cycles in front of the parent.

    Perhaps, but where we live it's not acceptable to allow a 5 year old to ride on its own in the street, with or without a parent nearby. Around here, the minimum age for that is more like 11-12.

    Also, you can't be referring to all European cities. Amsterdam, for certain, but I didn't see nearly as many cyclists in any city in Spain as I do here, and within that small group, virtually no children cycling in the streets. In parks and playgrounds, yes, but that's recreation, not transport. And cargo bikes in Spain? Forget it. Didn't see a single one, but saw literally thousands of cars in every corner of every city. So I wouldn't make this a US/Euro comparison in general.

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  24. just a bit of a tangent, this past Sunday, I was driving up Mass Ave. (had to sell a few long boxes of comics that wouldn't fit in bike panniers) and saw a mother on a Bianchi with one of those dutch style top-tube mounted front child seats very confidently and assertively making a left hand turn across two lanes of traffic while her child was clapping from its front row seat. It was a splendid thing to behold.

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  25. Did you see the pics of my Truss bike? Its just perfect, so glad I went to the museum in NYC and found out about Mike's great creations.

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  26. Anon 4:18 - I never lecture people period, don't believe in it. I would also never debate the practicality of cycling with a person who is in a radically different situation than I am (kids, long commuter distance, disabled, etc).

    Having said that, the woman did approach me and initiate the conversation (which was longer than the bit I paraphrasingly transcribed). She also made judgments/assumptions about me (that I was unmarried, a student, with no children) that were 2/3rd incorrect. While on the surface friendly, I also felt a critical vibe from her that was expressed in a passive-aggressive manner. To draw a parallel, it would be like a cyclist coming up to a driver and saying "Oh what a beautiful car! I used to dream of one just like it when I was in high school. Of course, now that I'm environmentally responsible..."

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  27. V. said...
    "What I don't understand though is that if we take it as a given that: (1) the person has only 1 small child, (2) the person is not afraid to cycle with the child on a bike, (3) the person can afford a bike that would accommodate this, and (4) they live in an area where cycling is generally more convenient than driving, then in what way does having and caring for a child suddenly make it easier to drive than cycle?"

    That is an awfully long list of qualifications for people to be able to meet before they can bike with kids. I would also agree that weather places a huge part of it.

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  28. With respect, I think you're overthinking that exchange. The way you've described the conversation, it seems nothing more than a warm and friendly communication from someone who is living in a very different manner than you are.

    Hidden adversarial intentions don't exist in every human interaction, regardless of how one may be trained to think in graduate school.

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  29. There's something on the Icebiker site, I think, about the value of having dynamo-powered lights on your bike. Maybe it is Peter White's page. Anyway, the point there is that once you have them, and start to think of your bike as something you can use for transport all the time, your attitude changes about what is possible. You start planning your day around travel with your bike, and no longer think of it as something you'll do when you have some free time. The effect of this is pretty major, because, as you know, there are places that are easy to go and access on a bike which are difficult in a car. So you start changing your planned destination and the flow of your day changes. Maybe you spend a bit more at a local store instead of driving to the big box store, but save on gas, etc. If you just think of a bike as a substitute for a car, or as a leisure activity, you'll never get there.
    As to riding with kids -- the lady you mention seemed to have just one -- lots of people do that. It is entirely doable. And it's not a bad thing to show a child how they can make their way in the world with something as simple to access as a bicycle.

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  30. I don't think the lady in the post was outright rude, but she clearly lacks tact. Let's just say she failed to be conscientious, at least during that conversation. But, whatever; she's one of *them*. I met one of *them* on the PATCO train once; he was riding into the city with his daughter, and I was catching the train into Rutgers b/c the ice was really bad that day. He said "Kinda cold for riding a bike today, isn't it?" I told him it was cold for cyclists, just like it was cold for everyone else. He asked "What do you do when it rains?" I told him "I get wet. It's part of being a human." He sort of clammed up, and looked pretty pensive for a few stops, before engaging in some sort of conversation with his daughter. I think my cheesy, college-kid comments were food for thought, but is he ever gonna start riding? I doubt it.

    As for kids who whine rather than pedal or walk-- this is pretty easy for typical kids. Explain to them that cars need gas, and gas costs money. Whenever they refuse to walk/bike, let 'em know that they just knocked pizza/Wii/college tuition off the table. In time, they'll be more willing to exert themselves. Kids are broke, and too few parents are willing to use that fact as leverage in good parenting endeavors.
    -rob

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  31. Erin B - Yes, it is a long list of qualifications : )

    The immediate solution to weather that comes to mind is... raincoat with a hood and all the kiddy items inside waterproof panniers? Assuming you don't have a cargo bike with a cover of course.

    But again, when it comes to children, I feel not only completely unqualified to talk about it, but also pretty confused about the issue - mainly because some of the most ardent transportation cyclists I know have kids. There are even bike shops - such as (sponsor) CleverCycles in Portland OR - that cater specifically to family cycling, not to mention loads of websites dedicated to this... Which is a moot point, since I freely admit that I would not be willing to put an infant or toddler on a bike myself!

    Anon 4:56 - Very possibly you are right.

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  32. Remember how once you mentioned that you saw cycling as a non-political activity and I answered that you cannot escape it as the politics of the bicycle gets applied to you whether you like it or not?

    Basically that woman told you, in a nice manner, but still, that she is a "serious" and "responsible" person while you are some non-serious and irresponsible bohemian jobless student. And that's the nicer version. She probably thought you were some (all be it nice and cute) MaryJ smoking pinko leeching society out, not paying your fair share of taxes, yadi yada.
    Notice how she assumed you unmarried and with no child. She applied a political template onto you.

    Read this:
    http://waterloobikes.ca/2010/11/23/all-cyclists-are-pot-smoking-hippies/

    You cannot escape the politics of what you associate yourself with.
    Listen: ever since I started sporting dreadlocks, people have pulled up to me asking where they can get good ganja... And they get f*cking offended when I tell them I don't have the first idea, that I have never tried etc. which is true.

    So imagine, a dreadlock on a bike...

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  33. As a family with a 3 year-old with another on the way, we find we're able to do anything with a trailer. There will be a slight lag with a newborn, but in a year both will go into the trailer.

    I don't really get what all the fuss is about. Our daughter loves it. We put her into the trailer, we go somewhere, and we take her out. Exactly like a car, except it's easier to find parking. Groceries, suburban retail, coffee shops, commuting, leisure, whatever.

    Sometimes we need to find side routes to avoid unsafe roads, but that's a minor delay..or a pleasure if you're in the mood.

    Not having a car erases the conflicts about preference. Our daughter knows nothing else. Haha... sometimes she dictates which bike she wants us to pull her on.

    I can imagine Somervillain's problems come from the kids being older. I suppose we'll deal with that when we come to it.

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  34. M - I have a post somewhere that addresses the political/apolitical stuff, but I forget now which one it is.

    Basically, I feel that there is a distinction between how others perceive our actions and how we perceive them. In other words, you may view my life/behaviour/whatever as political and describe it that way in a blog, or in a book if you need evidence for a "movement" or whatever, but as a person with ownership over my own thoughts, identity and emotions I also have a right to describe and view these very same actions as apolitical. We are both correct. And neither of us has a right to deny the other person's perspective.

    Your example with dreadlocks is apt, if you think about it. We cannot be defined by how other people view our behaviour, which includes our political intent.

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  35. I think my cheesy, college-kid comments were food for thought, but is he ever gonna start riding? I doubt it.

    Or quite possibly, your comments were interpreted as sarcastic, and further confirmed the man's existing convictions. And did he actually state that he never rides? He may only ride in fair weather. Heck, even I take the train occasionally.

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  36. somervillain said:
    "Or quite possibly, your comments were interpreted as sarcastic, and further confirmed the man's existing convictions. And did he actually state that he never rides? He may only ride in fair weather. Heck, even I take the train occasionally. "

    Sure, that's possible. I don't think he took at as sarcastic; I hadn't intended it as sarcasm, and there was no sarcastic tone of voice. My point was s'posed to be that most humans aren't the same as the pampered ppl of Haddonfield, NJ; most humans get wet when it rains and get cold when it snows. The idea that I'd get cold & wet while riding seemed foreign to him, at least to such a point that he made an incredulous comment.

    I think he took it more at face value, as in "This crazy SOB gets cold AND wet. Imagine that!" This was ages ago, of course. Guys like him, some of them do ride nowadays, and even the ones who don't, they can now appreciate and applaud cyclists for "going green". Maybe it takes a few extra decades for the obvious to sink in on some ppl.
    -rob

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  37. I've actually found it's harder now that my daughter is 10 to get everywhere by bike. When she was younger I first had a trailer, then a trail-a-bike, and distances and speed were mostly dictated by my own abilities.

    Now that she's on her own bike, our range is limited by her ability, and the type of environments I feel are safe for her to ride in. We live in the NJ suburbs and there aren't many places to go within 5 miles of home.

    Still, we've been car-free since March, mostly because, after being downsized, I ran out of money and couldn't afford to keep a car on the road. We bike where we can, my daughter gets rides from friends and family members when needed, and I leave her home with my mom when I have to do longer-distance errands.

    It IS tough to manage the biking life with a kid in some places, but when it's a matter of necessity, you can find a way. The next step is to try to get her a better bike with a wider range of gears, so longer trips become more practical (she's outgrown her old mountain bike, and now has an old 5-speed).

    On the up side, she really loves riding her bike places!

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  38. "We cannot be defined by how other people view our behaviour, which includes our political intent."

    We cannot be DEFINED, maybe, but get to be TREATED according to how others view us.
    Now, some random lady in a street is one thing. What when it's the police, the judge, any authority, the neighbours, the in-laws?

    That's how politics keep catching on to us. What if this lady were to testify later on in a case involving you... She saw you right before, in I don't know what situation but you were there, on your bike, and they have to hear her. The portrait she would paint of you will be tainted by her own political perception of what you are. And you could get in trouble just for that. Back before civil rights, a lot of people's asses got on the line based on "perception". Try being a homeless or a gypsy in a area where a robbery happened or fire caught and see if anyobdy gives a rat's ass about how you see yourself.

    That's why I feel it is better, not to embrace the others' view, you are what you are, but to face it and address it bluntly instead of pretending that it does not affect us like a lot of cyclists (or other "marginals") do.

    Too bad you cannot find this post. Would love to read your thoughts.
    I firmly believe when one is at risk of being perceived as part of "them" the "strange" "other", one should be doubbly proactive on the political front.

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  39. In the future, more people will be forced to ride bicycles. Those of us that do now are just ahead of the times.

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  40. The idea that I'd get cold & wet while riding seemed foreign to him, at least to such a point that he made an incredulous comment.

    I don't see how it was incredulous... more like curious, at least from my experience with people who pose similar questions as the man on the train in your example. For some people I think there is a very reasonable curiosity surrounding cycling in bad weather. After all, it's not like we can easily hold umbrellas as we cycle (even though some in Holland do). And, we're usually traveling a lot faster than a walk, so there's a wind chill factor as we ride that doesn't apply to someone who walks. As a vehicular cyclist who commutes to work by bike year-round, I'm constantly asked the same questions as you were asked-- even by hardened New Englanders. We have weather extremes just like you do in NJ. But instead of pointing out that humans have evolved to endure wetness and cold (which is a false argument since no one readily enjoys it, even if they can endure it for short periods of time), I provide rational answers to how I deal with riding in foul whether such as how I use specialized gear to help keep me dry, like fenders and waterproof shoes, and rain pants and lots of wool clothing. That usually satisfies their curiosity.

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  41. I can appreciate this post because I can relate to this one. I've had similar interactions with strangers and acquaintances. V, you're 4:42 comment says it all. The woman may not have intended to maliciously insult, but she did express a level of superiority over you.

    My neighbor approached me recently as I was pulling out of my driveway on my road bike (for a leisure ride not transport). He started the conversation by saying, "oh, are you going for a ride." He said he had recently purchased a road bike (a Cannondale). I got excited and asked him questions about the bike. As we continued to converse about places to ride - he too said that he did not have the time to ride. It was said in the same type of manner that you describe. I nicely told him that I'm busy too, but I try to find an hour, or two in the day, a couple of times a week to break away. I saw him the other day, and I told him how I would love to see the new bike, but he said he had it stored away in the badement and it was too much trouble to pull it out. Ok, I give up at this point. Still have not seen that darn bike :).

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  42. Depending on the circumstances, it is possible to bike with two small children. I've set up Kona Africa (stable, heavy step-through bike) with back and front child seats. I ride the bike for short trips to daycare, library, grocery store etc... For longer trips and in bad weather I drive.

    I don't blame the lady you've encountered for not biking and I don't think she was being mean. Cycling for transport is not obvious. I spent a lot of time thinking about routes, safety issues, selecting the bike and experimenting (trailers gave me trouble on short trips because they are difficult to back up or park). I spend a lot of time thinking about biking, as, I am sure, do a lot of people reading this blog.

    The lady you've talked to probably thinks biking is nice but just isn't interested enough in biking for transport to put in an effort (which could be large for a parent) to include cycling in her own life.

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  43. "In the future, more people will be forced to ride bicycles. Those of us that do now are just ahead of the times."

    Totally agree and, man, will this be violent!

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  44. Based on the dialogue you have provided, it seems you may have "read" a little too much into it. A mother with a young child may feel extremely harried to the point, at times, of being overwhelmed. Her wistful response may have come from that point of view. Perhaps, and hopefully, the seed you planted may lead her to explore cycling further.

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  45. Some kids love to ride in the bike, some don't. I've got some of each. Same treatment, but kids have personalities (and rights). Maybe they start out as tabula rasa, but it doesn't take long before they and their friends start influencing them!
    Kids over the age of about 6 are hard to drag around on a trailer, and they are too young to put into traffic. So there's a period of about 10 years where it's going to be hard to be car-free, and in a lot of circumstances (3 kids 3-4 years apart, urban environment without decent public transportation, long distances, schools far away, etc.) where it just can't work for a long period!
    I lived through them. Survived them.
    Now I'm back on my bikes; two of them the same bikes as I had before!
    BTW, it takes some imagination to have some compassion for people whose circumstances do not allow cycling in their lives as well. I just encourage those that this stage of life will pass, that dreams resume, and thank them for the future that children make possible.

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  46. I live in the middle of a sprawl-y city, so I get the "benefit" of having plentiful parking but living relatively close to everywhere I want to go. This means that driving a car is almost always faster than riding a bike, since I can almost always find a parking spot and traffic is usually not completely awful. However, the way I look at it, the two hours I spend going to and from work by bicycle (as opposed to one hour total by car) are two hours I'm not spending at the gym. So really, it evens out.

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  47. Montrealize - This is the politics post I mentioned earlier. More in re to your comment later.

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  48. It seems to me she was trying to convince herself that her choice of transportation was better. IMHO you probably did not make much difference. I think she was just looking for someone to agree with her and since you didn't agree with her first excuse she moved on to another one. I still don't understand why people are so bold to walk up to a complete stranger on a bicycle and begin to put down your choice of lifestyle. I don't know maybe I am being harsh. I have read the other comments on here and most think the lady did nothing wrong however why did she put down your choice of lifestyle and then try to say her choice was a better option. As for myself I really don't like people like this I would just soon they go waste their therapist's time instead of mine.

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  49. I re-read your account of the exchange, seemed to me like she sounded more jealous of you than anything. Parents of young children often miss having the freedom to pursue some of the activities they enjoyed in their childless days, and maybe she used to ride a bike, but can't leave the Wee One alone for a spin up to the corner store (and feels guilty leaving him/her/it with a sitter while she does something "selfish" like go on a bike ride).

    Maybe, as her kid gets a bit older, she'll find the chance to ride more often. We can only hope. :-)

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  50. I don't mean this to be directed at anyone in particular but it always seems that these discussions always seems to involve certain elements of Euro-fetishism.

    The funny thing is, many Europeans do the same thing (they don't all think of us as fat and lazy after all, despite what the media may say!) and this causes a lot of confusion I think and a certain degree of obfuscation when it comes to the bicycle issue. Sure, as some have noted, there are certain cities where cycling is big in Europe but, the honest truth is that much of Europe looks at bicycling like a sport too and struggles with many of the same issues that we do here (road safety, bicycle availability/quality, infrastructure, etc).

    The fact of the matter is that the question of cycling as a serious form of transportation is not an issue that solely plagues North American families. In many non-urban areas transportation cycling is a non-issue due to distances, weather and any number of issues.

    Also something to consider when discussing this issue with families is that many people have more than the recommended 1.2 children so one has to figure out logistics if you're talking about hauling around, say, a family of 6 or more via bicycle! For example, I grew up in a very rural area and knew a family with 9 kids. I think even the most serious transportation cycling adherent would have to acknowledge that cycling in this situation would be difficult if not altogether impossible. Imagine a grocery trip! :)

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  51. The impression I got, is that she was first and for most attracted to the bicycle. She liked the bicycle and started talking and accidentally said something mildly insulting without meaning to.

    The more I think about this exchange and others I've had like it, the more the discrepancy itself becomes interesting. Women come up to me who seem irresistibly drawn to my bikes - specifically the loop frame ones with chaincases. And then, after asking some questions about the bike and admiring it longingly, they tell me why it's not possible or practical for them to cycle. But the bicycle's seductive powers are strong, and perhaps they indeed continue to think about that elegant curved top tube and glistening chaincase on the way home, thinking "well maybe I can..." That's kind of what happened to me, after all : )

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  52. Oh! Coincidentally, great post on cycling with children today here

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  53. My wife and I lived in Arlington a few years ago, and had two cars and no children. We have since moved to Winnipeg, and gradually transitioned to two children and no cars. Oddly enough, our children were the biggest impetus for us to make the change, rather than (as seems to be more commonly the case) a reason not to, or to make the switch in the other direction.

    Last summer, I took the two of them everywhere in a Chariot trailer, which was fairly convenient. Shopping trips (mainly for groceries) with just the younger one (about 1 year old) were very convenient, because I could time the outing with a likely naptime. She would fall asleep in the trailer, and I didn't need to move her at all when I got to the store; the trailer became a stroller/shopping cart, and kept the baby asleep.

    Alas, though it did a good job in most weather, it failed to keep the kids dry in heavy rain, and I'm pretty sure it would not have been adequate for the winter, either. We bought a bakfiets. The funny thing is, with appropriate gear (pogies, in particular), I was almost never cold in the winter. Keeping the kids warm was easier than expected, too, though it helped that they never had to go on long trips (not that I did, either). The main thing that people around here have trouble believing when they talk to me about full-time transportation cycling is that we can do it in the winter, even when the temperature is -40. Which I have done, without feeling cold.

    As far as having the time for things (such as bicycling), I think people make too many assumptions about which things are necessary. Just like people are fooled by promises of "saving" money, they feel that they can "save" time, except that with time, it passes no matter what you're doing. The goal should be to use one's time as wisely and pleasantly as possible, but even when we're aware of this, we never have complete information about how our choices will affect our goals in the long term.

    Pretty soon, I'll be facing the problem of transportation for a somewhat older child. My four-year-old can ride his two-wheeler now, and he's going to want to ride his own bike to school very soon, but he won't have the skills to do so safely on North American city streets (in my opinion) for at least a few more years. I don't feel like I'll ever be comfortable with him riding on these streets on his own, but then again, before he was born, I was sure I would never be comfortable taking an infant on a bicycle; now I'm certain I'll do it if I have another child.

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  54. MFarrington:

    Also something to consider when discussing this issue with families is that many people have more than the recommended 1.2 children so one has to figure out logistics if you're talking about hauling around, say, a family of 6 or more via bicycle! For example, I grew up in a very rural area and knew a family with 9 kids.

    9 children between the ages of 1 and 10? I'm the second child of four, spread out over a ten year span. The older kids looked after the younger ones, and that's not a radical concept. Grocery trips would be no more difficult than with two kids (unless there were multiple-births involved); there would be no need to bring them all along.

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  55. Merlin:

    I think the issue would arise more at the halfway point, assuming you had approximately 1 child every 1-2 years, which is not unheard of.

    Regardless, there's still the sheer logistics involved in purchasing and transporting certain things for that size of a family via bike. I can imagine that a normal shopping trip would be a bit of a challenge, especially if one person is handling it via bike! :) I think this is the reason some people may balk at the idea of transportation biking, especially if they are a larger family.

    This is why I think that people who question the idea of transportation cycling with a family aren't necessarily being judgmental of those who don't have families, they are simply recognising some of the logistical issues that typically don't apply to single people or couples without kids.

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  56. I cycle for pleasure, not transportation, its just that most of it is done on the way to work and back. I don't mind that it takes a few minutes longer than by car, its my leisure time

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  57. I find it interesting that the statements for cycling being too difficult with kids tend to be the same ones used for cycling being too difficult in general:

    Safety, time, weather, traffic, etc.

    I regularly transport my kids all over Glasgow (hills! rain! traffic! snow!) in all seasons. I use a trailer with a rain cover if the weather is nasty. If it's cold, I give them a blanket. I never hear complaints from the kids.

    The trickiest bit is choosing the route. This definitely needs to be done ahead of time and takes a little planning.

    Hills are steeper and longer when pulling the kids, but this is easily dealt with through appropriate gearing.

    Safety: Could someone please explain to me why it can be considered perfectly safe for me to ride my bike into town on my own, but the minute I take the kids along (on the same route) there are all these concerns about safety? Do kids sitting a trailer cause some kind of metaphysical reaction that turns them into danger magnets ?

    The upside time wise is that the kids get their nap-time in while I get some exercise and get to where I need to go all at the same time. It's no less convenient than any other kind of travel with kids.

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  58. I can relate to what that woman said as i have 3 children, now all grown up, so I am free to cycle whenever I want. I see my daughter, who has her own child now, use a trailer on her bike to carry the baby in and it works fine, she unhooks it when she gets to her destination, locks up her bike and uses the trailer as a pram. It is more trouble than cycling alone, but then so is taking kids in the car and getting them out at the destination, that is part and parcel of being a parent.

    I recently went out a night in the car and it was so frustrating in the traffic, I decided it was time for me to set up my bike with lights so I could ride at night. A few nights later I was out on the bike in the evening and what a contrast! riding along the bike track beside the traffic in the dark had a sort of eerie calm about it which I loved. And none of the frustration of driving in the traffic. I had always been scared of riding at night as cyclists can be so difficult to see, even with lights, but I have changed my mind now, though I do try to stay off the roads.

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  59. @somervillain
    "Sure, you can bundle them up and even give them rain shields and capes, but if you have to stop at five different stores, that adds up to a lot of time spent fussing with getting your kids on and off, not to mention fastening all the cargo onto your bike as your kid is screaming to go home, or have a snack."

    But isn't it the same with a car? You need to strap them in and out every time.

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  60. I think the reason the woman didn't mention issues of transportating a child on a bike is that Burley and other companies have done a good job promoting bicycle trailers for child transport. Nearly everybody is aware of that modality, as well as frequently seeing child seats on bikes. Although a lot of people I know worry about safety issues.

    When she said she didn't have "time", she may have meant "time and energy". Child rearing is a tiring business, which is why many of us spend a few hours everyday watching bad TV - it's a form of physical and mental rest.

    What many people don't understand is that the mild physical exercise of bicycling actual restores energy ( eventually) to a person who is use to driving everywhere. Being a "mom chauffeur" with a car is really tiring - the combination fo loss of physical fitness and the stress of driving.

    Bikes, of course, are cures for both.

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  61. This is why I think that people who question the idea of transportation cycling with a family aren't necessarily being judgmental of those who don't have families, they are simply recognising some of the logistical issues that typically don't apply to single people or couples without kids.

    Bingo.

    My personal feeling currently is that if I had a kid (no plans for that, so purely hypothetical), I would not feel comfortable cycling with it in most parts of Boston or allowing my husband to do that until the child was old enough to have its own bike.

    Just out of curiosity, what is the reasoning behind your discomfort with transporting your own hypothetical kids around?

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  62. I live in a rural area near a larger town in Illinois. There is no place I can go from home that wouldn't be faster by car, and we have several perfectly good cars that I'm not afraid to use(and a school bus, if you believe it). Having said that, I ride the bike almost exclusively (Sam Hillborne, Pashley, yay!). I commute to work through open countryside, run errands, and I do it solely for the joy of it. I'm very busy and I don't sleep enough, but I think people can find the time for things they really want to do.

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  63. Great post! Sadly, I think a lot of people believe you have to live your life in a certain way once you have a family- house, suburbs, at least two cars, limited travel, etc. It seems difficult for people to think outside the box, even for something as benign as riding a bike! I bike to work and get surprised comments from coworkers regularly- like it blows their mind! I like to think I'm expanding their horizons. ;)

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  64. "Just out of curiosity, what is the reasoning behind your discomfort with transporting your own hypothetical kids around?"

    Fear : )

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  65. Of what, exactly? I mean, sure, one can intuit what you mean in a general sense, but what exactly? Fear of your child falling off and getting injured? Hit by a car?

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  66. @somervillain:

    Sure, you can bundle them up and even give them rain shields and capes, but if you have to stop at five different stores, that adds up to a lot of time spent fussing with getting your kids on and off, not to mention fastening all the cargo onto your bike as your kid is screaming to go home, or have a snack.

    @Erik Sandblom:

    But isn't it the same with a car? You need to strap them in and out every time.

    Bikes vary more than cars in this regard. In my case, the places where I most often take the kids (school/day care, grocery store), and with the bike I use (bakfiets w/canopy), I actually have less trouble with the bike than I did with the car. Getting them in and out of the bakfiets is easier than the car, and I can park the bike under an extended, awning-like roof, so they don't even need rainwear as much as they would in a car. Plus, they never have to traverse a parking lot and/or street to get into the building.

    I'd also challenge the presumption that you "have to stop at five different stores" in one outing. That's something that I'd be much less likely to do on a bicycle than in a car; it's just a matter of scheduling.

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  67. I'm too busy to waste my time stuck in traffic in a car. A bicycle saves a lot of time. I simply don't understand and can't imagine people with so much idle time that they can spend the time in a car.

    Dan.

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  68. @MFarrington:

    I think the issue would arise more at the halfway point, assuming you had approximately 1 child every 1-2 years, which is not unheard of.

    Are these hypothetical children all being home-schooled? My eldest started "junior kindergarten" when he was 3 1/2 years old. If it were really necessary, I could do grocery shopping in the evenings, after my wife gets home. I could easily transport one more in the bakfiets, and pretty soon I'll have my son set up on a trail-a-bike. If we had even more young kids, the two of us would share the child-transport duties. In another couple of years, I fully expect my son to be able to ride his own bike along with me, and a few years after that, on his own. I will grant you that a minivan would be easier given the lousy infrastructure here (compared to the Netherlands -- see: http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2011/07/school-bike-trip.html). Just like cycling in winter, which seemed preposterous to me just a few years ago, I expect that managing bicycle transportation with multiple school-age children will turn out to be much less difficult than it seems to someone who's never tried it.

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  69. "Sadly, I think a lot of people believe you have to live your life in a certain way once you have a family- house, suburbs, at least two cars, limited travel, etc."

    Lots of people are so conditionned by our society's dogmas that you really have to pinch yourself not to think of them as nothing else than robotic zombies.
    That's why I think that pushing cycling per se will not go anywhere. The whole paradigm must be changed which implies tying up cycling to a new lifestyle "Euro-centric" maybe, but better for all stakeholders in any case.

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  70. somervillain - Yes and yes, basically. It's one thing to take responsibility for myself, but I can't imagine strapping a tiny chubby cheeked human creature onto the rear rack and cycling through Boston traffic. It's not based on logic, pure emotions. I would be more comfortable transporting an infant/toddler in a "box" type cargo cycle though, provided that I got the hang of the handling first. And it would have to be positioned in front of me, not behind.

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  71. When I lived in Brooklyn, I commuted to Manahattan by subway to work. However, all my errands other than going to work were done by bike or walking as I did not own a car, and I had a small child. After a while it was second nature, as all things become when you've done them over and over. Four years later I had another child and with the first in school did the same with the second child. THEN I relocated to Florida, the drivers are 100X worse than Brooklyn. I still do errands by bike here, but I must plan my routes much more carefully and ride much more defensively.

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  72. I'd also challenge the presumption that you "have to stop at five different stores" in one outing. That's something that I'd be much less likely to do on a bicycle than in a car; it's just a matter of scheduling.

    How is my comment presumptuous? We often spend the day doing errands, and end up stopping at even more than five stores in one outing.

    Are these hypothetical children all being home-schooled? My eldest started "junior kindergarten" when he was 3 1/2 years old. If it were really necessary, I could do grocery shopping in the evenings, after my wife gets home.

    Not all families decide to ship their young ones off to full-time, 5-day a week programs. My wife opted to be a stay-home mom, so that our kids could experience a warm, nurturing home environment for as long as possible before entering school full-time. Of course, we did part-time pre-school and recognize the value in the socializing aspects of such programs, but when they're in short, part-time programs, for the parent that often ends up being even more like running an errand, since you don't have a lot of time to do errands while they're in school.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending my own stance-- and enough people who read this blog know how we get around; I have nothing to prove. But, I can also understand how it's much more difficult for some families to transition from car to bike. The only reason we can do utility cycling as a family of four is because I have a flexible enough work schedule. If I were one of the unlucky members of the workforce who had to be out of the house by 6:30am and not home until 7:00pm on a daily basis (because, say, I had a two hour commute each way), we would not be able to bike our kids to school and other places the way we do.

    We also happened to choose where we live because of its high urban density and proximity to everyday needs. But this comes at a price: I know lots of people who choose suburban or rural lifestyles, and each has its own distinct advantages. That is not up for debate. So again, I would cut families slack for not automatically embracing the bike as the solution to their transportation needs.

    I would be more comfortable transporting an infant/toddler in a "box" type cargo cycle though, provided that I got the hang of the handling first. And it would have to be positioned in front of me, not behind.

    That's interesting, and it just demonstrates how diverse family cycling setups can be-- there are so many radically different types of bikes and setups used to transport children, that it's impossible to say that one is better than the next. My advice to parents who want to cycle with their children is to *speak* with as many parents as possible who have discovered what works for them, ask them how they arrived at their solutions, what failed, what worked, and integrate all the info, and come up with a rational plan. What we discovered was that almost every cycling family we know has come to a different type of family cycling solution: what worked for one did not work for the other, and so on. Whether it be a bakfiets, a trailer, a front-mount seat, a rear-mount seat, a trailer-cycler, a tandem, etc... and another thing we learned was that there is a lot of personal trial and error. What you think will be the ideal solution often does not work after you try it, and you have to start all over again. For example, when we spoke with families about mounted seats versus trailers, trailers seemed to be desired by more families. Well, we bought one, and learned after one ride that we couldn't ever hear our kids talking to us (and that they couldn't hear us). That was a deal breaker. A rear-mounted seat ended up being what worked for us. Lesson learned. Of course, the kids have outgrown the seats and we had to move on to another solution. And so on...

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  73. Look... Every family unit has its own unique dynamic, and when children are involved this is particularly so. Even without the whole car vs bike thing playing into it, what is realistic and workable for one family may not be for another. Seems kind of pointless to say "Well, because we can/can't do this with our kids, means that the same must be true for everyone." That goes for both sides of the argument of course.

    And I very much agree with "What you think will be the ideal solution often does not work after you try it, and you have to start all over again." Again, not just when it comes to kids.

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  74. How is my comment presumptuous? We often spend the day doing errands, and end up stopping at even more than five stores in one outing.

    Of course, I don't know what errands your family does, or why you choose to spend entire days doing these errands, so I will not challenge your personal claims. What I mean is that many people choose to do things, believing that they need to do them. Very often this involves buying things. I'm surprised to hear that you have so many errands to do, in part because of the contrast with my own life.

    Not all families decide to ship their young ones off to full-time, 5-day a week programs. My wife opted to be a stay-home mom, so that our kids could experience a warm, nurturing home environment for as long as possible before entering school full-time.

    You have read too much into my comment. I didn't say that my three-year-old (last year) was in school full-time. Implications about bad parenting -- intentional or not -- aside, the vehicle I use to transport them would make essentially no difference to me, convenience-wise, whether I had them home full-time or not. And by the time I have another child (if I do) younger than school-age, the oldest would be in school (assuming societal norms) "full-time".

    I don't give people a hard time for not cycling for transportation. I do challenge assumptions about how difficult it would be, however, based on my own experience. It has been much easier than I expected (and obviously I was at least somewhat optimistic compared to most).

    I don't know what it's will be like in the coming years, but I do know that it would be foolish to go out and buy a minivan based on assumptions.

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  75. Fascinating conversation and I really appreciate the differing viewpoints.

    Mom of three kiddos. Family bicyclist.

    Before I was given examples (not in my town but via the web), I honestly would NOT have known how to ride with multiple kids and likely would have looked longingly at your gorgeous bike and perhaps felt the same as the toddler mama. Especially since my older two are twins, I honestly didn't know you COULD ride with two besides using a trailer and I did not feel comfortable riding in my city with a trailer. It was only the discovery of cargo bikes that did it for me. And at first, riding was just to solve one issue--how to get to school two miles away without hogging our one car.

    It wasn't until we started doing that did we figure out that we could do other things: go to music lessons, go grocery shopping, pick up that birthday gift, etc. Family bicycling for transportation happened somewhat gradually, and a little by accident. Now we are hooked AND committed. We also know the secrets that it often doesn't take us longer to get around town as we are especially helped by quick parking, and all those seemingly-onerous parent errands can actually be FUN when done by bike.

    Family bicycling grows when other parents see it can be done. Without guilt, without lectures-- watching other parents ride by with kids on their bikes plants a seed in some other parents' heads that maybe, too, they could give it a shot.

    Now we are still hauling our kiddos on our bikes (9/9/nearly 6) because New Haven doesn't have infrastructure that allows my very proficient cyclist sons to ride for transport (only weekend recreation) so soon we ARE facing that dilemma-- what happens when we absolutely cannot haul them on our bikes, but they still aren't able to ride the streets on their own bikes?

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  76. sarah:

    what happens when we absolutely cannot haul them on our bikes, but they still aren't able to ride the streets on their own bikes?

    That's about where we are, too (except only two kids, ages 6 and 5). Our kids can ride bikes (barely) but there's no way they'll be riding as transportation for at least another 5-6 years. Until then, this is how we get around. The kids get a workout, rather than passively get carried around:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5154737435/

    And when we have a lot of shopping to do, we reconfigure the bike train:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5850750613/

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  77. Very often this involves buying things. I'm surprised to hear that you have so many errands to do, in part because of the contrast with my own life.

    Implications about consumerism aside, I will agree that it's our conscious decision to combine our errands with day-long family outings including stops at parks and playgrounds. See this pic:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5850750613/

    We might stop at two or three grocery stores, the hardware store, the toy store, the post office, the drug store, etc, all on the same trip. They're all relatively close to each other and accessible by bike, but it still means lots of reiterative configuring of helmets, outerwear, etc, especially in cold or inclement weather.

    I should add, in defense of my wife being hesitant to cart both kids around on bike herself, that we have some serious hills to deal with where we live (Velouria can attest to this!). For one adult to captain our bike train up one of the hills necessary to get to our house, it can be a bit too much, especially if it involves lugging the added weight of groceries.

    So when you challenge the assumptions about how difficult it is transporting children by bike, keep this in mind :).

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  78. For the record, I can spend/waste half a day doing errands without buying a thing. But then "errands" is one of those weird loaded words, like "commuting." What qualifies as an errand?

    I would not wish a daily commute up Somervillain's hill upon anyone, with or without children. Makes me shudder just to remember cycling up that thing; it is the type of hill people use for interval training. At least now S-villain has lightweight bikes with gears. He used to do it on a DL-1. Shudder.

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  79. I keep thinking about this blog posting. I'm sure a lot of commentary has happened that I haven't fully read, but I do want to say I find your experiences inspirational.

    Here is an example of what I mean by 'inspirational'. Before you wrote about pacelines, I did not know that such a thing existed. I've been riding as transportation for 4 years, I gave up my car. I started distance riding last year. I've learned SO much from reading your blog. You are serving as an inspiration to me and a way for me to see 'next steps'. Thank you.

    There was a time when I thought biking in the city (SF) was too dangerous and that surely I would die if I rode down Market St. I needed people to serve as inspiration/example so that I could find my way to the point at which I felt like I could do it also.

    Of course I'm reading into this experience that you wrote about with this woman, and of course there is no way to really know what was in her head. But I want to infer that there is an opportunity here to help someone if they are willing.

    Many people have helped me get where I am, and I feel like the way I can say thank you the people who have come before is to help someone else if they are willing.

    As someone who used to drive everywhere and couldn't 'see' not owning a car, I found my way to bikes and now I'm obsessed.

    So my question is, do you ever ask people that you meet like this to read your blog? I don't know, maybe you will find that lame, but I think it's worth directing someone here if they are interested. :)

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  80. Another thing to consider is that walkable/bikeable communities are perceived as unaffordable in many cities. When I tell coworkers I bike 3 miles to work, the tell me they cannot afford to live that close. Frankly, I got my place for a steal. If I hadn't, I would not be able to afford to bike to work either!

    Too bad you cannot use lower commuting costs to qualify for a bigger mortgage.

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  81. Another thing to consider is that walkable/bikeable communities are perceived as unaffordable in many cities. When I tell coworkers I bike 3 miles to work, the tell me they cannot afford to live that close. Frankly, I got my place for a steal. If I hadn't, I would not be able to afford to bike to work either!

    Just because you got your place for a steal does not mean that others can. I slummed it for 10 years renting a student-quality apartment while raising a family so that I could live in a bikeable/walkable city and be 2.5 miles from work, and I just bought a very modest fixer-upper house for the same price that would have gotten me a very nice house with considerable land out in the country. I can understand why others might not put the same value on bikability/walkability as people like you or me, and I try not to judge others on those differences in values.

    Too bad you cannot use lower commuting costs to qualify for a bigger mortgage.

    I like this idea!

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  82. Love the bike train, SV.

    My 4-year-old rides for transport on a limited basis. We stick to trails and quiet streets and are in constant 2-way communication. Often she rides in the downhill direction and gets a ride back up on the family bike. She has no interest to ride in circles at the park anymore but tell her we're riding to a destination and she begs to ride her own bike.

    Our kid hauling set-up doesn't have any sort of seat belts and the kids hold on fine. Even though neither has ever fallen off they seem to understand that falling off would be undesirable. They hang on good even when they're goofing around.

    here's a pic of our Big Dummy set-up: https://picasaweb.google.com/54canoe/SeattleDummy?authkey=Gv1sRgCKCguvmC--bpwgE

    Weather permitting, we incorporate necessary errands with fun stops... parks, beach, pool, berry picking, gelato shop, whatever. Every time we leave the yard on bikes it's an adventure for the whole family. Going in the car sometimes has a utilitarian advantage but it's never more fun.

    In poor weather (never too bad in Seattle) our bike trips are a bit more like business trips, but still more fun than the car.

    As for the initial post... Even in a bikey burg like Seattle I get similar comments from time-to-time. I interpret them (and the experience you described, Velouria) as that the person views bike transportation as so far removed from their world that anyone who does it must be some sort of miscreant. "People who are well adjusted, productive, and respectable members of society drive cars. They don't ride bikes." They don't know what to make of it.

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  83. Great discussion! Recently a sweet old lady neighbor rolled down her car window to call out to my friend and I, "I'm glad someone has time to play!"

    We gaped at her then burst out laughing because we had just finished a sizable chunk of work that involved visiting several addresses across our town - Biking was by far our most efficient way to combine duty with some needed exercise.

    I have to say, though, that biking with a family is harder than biking solo. I bike many of my errands. I carry paint, groceries, etc., in panniers or baskets.

    But I also rely on a teenage driver to pick up her younger brother and get him to practices so I can take my bike for the day.

    We do bike as a family - but for fun more often than for practical transport

    When they were younger I biked my day's errands more often. Then I could carry them in trailers or on tag-alongs. I don't mind heavy loads and my own killer hill to get home each time I ride, but I do mind dealing with the resistance - and there are some loads that aren't easily bikable with bigger kids with all their gear plus their friends.

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  84. As much as I love cycling, I would not ride with a child in NYC traffic. There are too many nuts on the road here for a risk like that.

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