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Family biking profile: For the Kurtens, the right bikes helped them go carfree

Posted by on January 22nd, 2019 at 6:34 am

One of the Kurten kids and one of the trusty family vehicles.
(Photos: Jonathan Kurten)

This week we’ll share a profile of the Kurten family.

Portlanders Jonathan and Tracy Kurten have been able to replace tricky transit trips and car trips with joyful bike trips — thanks in part to their useful new bikes.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I’ve been hearing lot of excited buzz in the family biking community about the relatively new Tern Bicycles GSD. They’re one of the few cargo bikes that fits riders short and tall, and they’re very compact. The GSD’s 20-inch wheels give it the same overall length of a regular bike; but it’s long enough to hold two kids in the back. Also, they fold! And they have a zippy mid-drive electric assist which makes them good car-replacements.

Learn more about how these bikes have helped the Kurten family go carfree below…

Tell us about yourself and your family.

We’re Jonathan and Tracy Kurten, our kiddos are Julian and Judah. I moved from South Africa with my family in 2000 at which time we lived in South Dakota. Tracy and I met during high school and moved around the midwest for a few years. After a short time living back in South Africa, we decided to return to the US and intended to relocate to the west coast. We immediately fell in love with the valley and we’ve been living in the area for the last 7 years.

A typical family outing.

Tell me about your bike.

We recently traded in our hybrid bikes for 2 Tern GSDs. The kids still each have a manual bike they ride from time to time, but they much prefer to cruise on the back of the GSDs. One GSD is set up with a clubhouse where both boys can ride and pannier bags for any kind of cargo. The other is equipped with sidekick bars and a seat pad for our older boy, when we’re traveling as a family and split the kids up.

Jonathan’s bike is outfitted to carry both children.

Is there something you wish you had known before you took your first pedal stroke as a family biker that would have made things easier?

We’re pretty lucky in Portland to have a bike shop around every corner. Even so, it’s a true bummer to get a flat in the middle of running errands or heading to an appointment. We’ve learned to keep spare tubes and gear on hand, just in case! This is especially true if your bike has less common sized tires like our bikes do.

Julian and Judah love riding on their parents’ GSDs.

Tell us about a typical trip you take on your bike.

I typically bike to work each day, weather permitting, to my office in Old Town. My route includes crossing the Broadway Bridge. We’re fairly close to the grocery store, meaning we mostly walk there, but typically make a trip with our bikes once a week to load up with larger items. Both of our boys are involved in soccer, which can mean trips to many different parks around Portland. This was a point of headache at times, timing the bus and walk time needed to arrive at the set time. Having our GSDs has allowed us the ability to pack the necessary equipment and kids and travel on our own time schedule, allowing us ease with both timing and effort.

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Tell us about an especially memorable ride in Portland.

We have some family that live in the southern neighborhoods of Portland and have typically only been able to reach them via car or by a long transit trip. Once we had the e-bikes we were able to bike all the way down to them via the Springwater Corridor. We didn’t even know this part of the city existed! We’ve talked at length at how excited we are to discover more nooks and crannies that one can really only discover by bike. Biking in the winter doesn’t always sound appealing, but we happened across many neighborhoods and streets with holiday light displays, which felt much more magical at a bike’s pace, and bundled up.

Tracy’s bike is outfitted to carry one kid, quite comfortably.

If there was one piece of bike infrastructure (street, intersection, bike rack, etc) you use regularly that you could change to improve your life, what would it be?

More protected bike lanes! As a lone rider I typically feel pretty safe, but biking with my kids can be quite the stressful ordeal. The changes made over the last year to Rosa Parks are great. I hope the cities continue to make changes like these, giving cyclist and pedestrians priority over parked vehicles.

Seeing the city in a whole new way thanks to biking.

Have you biked in other cities and how did it compare?

While we’ve always biked in towns and cities where we’ve lived, Portland has been the first city where I’ve felt comfortable enough to go carfree. Transit and micromobility options are vibrant enough here that this is becoming and more and more reachable as a possibility for residents.

What about rain/snow/wind/extreme heat? Do you bike in less-than-ideal conditions?

Rain, yes. Snow, cautiously maybe? Wind, sure. Extreme heat, effortlessly with an e-bike.

What’s your best piece of advice to pass along to BikePortland readers?

Challenge yourself to make biking your primary mode of transportation. You just might find it easier than you thought and you’ll almost certainly find that you start to see your city in a whole new way.

Do you have a social media presence you’d like to share?

Feel free to follow me @JoKurten on Twitter.


Thank you for sharing your story Jonathan and Tracy.

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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9watts
Subscriber

Fantastic piece. Thank you. I’d love to see more profiles of carfree households!

(One in seven on average in closer in Multnomah Co., and I think one in two in a few census tracts sprinkled through the region.)

ugh
Guest
ugh

‘Biking’ on $10,000+ worth of electric mopeds. Outside the weight issues, its clear that those things are a bio-mechanical disaster, so I get that they must be motor driven to function.

For the average family, a used motorcycle would be vastly more practical and way more awesome. For me, I will stick to human powered conveyances.

9watts
Subscriber

I want to compliment the photographer on the elegant color matching in the first photo: railing, girl, bike, car, rocks… Slick.

Isaac Hanson
Guest
Isaac Hanson

Great profile. This family has made carfree look easy. Those two kids will know and love their city better than their peers, and they will have a great sense of adventure sparked in them.

It seems the electric equipment provided the additional “boost” that made the carfree lifestyle possible for this family. I wonder if other families will agree.

A popular personal finance blog proposes that if you can do a grocery trip on bike, you can do any trip by bike: (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/20/mmm-challenge-try-getting-your-groceries-with-a-bike-trailer/).

The mom is right to want more protected bike lanes. Separate high-speed traffic from the low-speed traffic. With a scarce resource (public roadways), engineering authorities should prioritize active transit over parked vehicles.

Thank you! Looking forward to the next profile.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

My acceptance of EBikes is situational. I can’t help but scoff at the healthy person who burns electrons to ride a one person bike from NW 23rd to the Pearl District , but this use of E Cargo bikes to live a car-free life with a family and kids gets my two thumbs up. Anything that takes another climate killing death machine off the streets is a good thing in my book.

William Henderson
Guest
William Henderson

More and more often I hear stories like this of electric bikes enabling people and families. These stories are nearly always met with someone making a condescending comment about how it electric bikes are not real bikes. These comments never seem to come from a place of personal experience, but rather from a place of judgement and a smug sense of superiority – in other words, the exact type of stereotyped behavior that people biking are often accused of.

If you want more people biking more and this is how you respond, you are doing it wrong.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

9watts
I want to compliment the photographer on the elegant color matching in the first photo: railing, girl, bike, car, rocks… Slick.Recommended 1

Everything at 18% gray.

Pat Lowell
Guest
Pat Lowell

Leaving aside the environmental stuff, this made me sad: “The kids still each have a manual bike they ride from time to time, but they much prefer to cruise on the back of the GSDs.”

Columbo
Guest
Columbo

These stories sound great if you ignore all the details: the family lives in an inner neighborhood near grocery stores, bike shops, etc. The work commute takes the father to Old Town, which is about as centrally located as one can get. The family has $10k to drop on fancy e-bikes rather than a financed minivan.

I just see privilege. So many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, scraping by. Are they the ones going “car free”? No, of course not. It’s the families that live comfortably, with an emergency fund and a safety net and room for error.