BikePortland

Family Biking: ‘Bakfiets’ cargo bikes for special needs


2012 photo of a Portland mom who has realized the joy and utility of the bakfiets.

Looking at the front box of my bicycle, she saw solutions to all of her conundrums.

Sometimes I think of myself as a family biking ambassador. I love my front box cargo bike, and I love sharing the joy of it with others. For many Americans, a front box (a.k.a. box-bike or “bakfiets”) style of bicycle is an unknown wonder, which I guess makes me something akin to a bakfiets missionary. It’s most fun when I get to meet people who have never seen such a bike before.

Often while riding, I meet another person whose face lights up, as they encounter the bakfiets for the first time. They glow, as I am sure I did, as the image of us riding this beautiful vehicle sparks their own imagination for what they never knew was possible. It immediately speaks to them, captivates them, sets them dreaming. This bike can change their lives.

My favorite such encounter (thus far), was with a mother of two from Iowa, who had a toddler and an older boy with special needs. She approached me as soon as she saw me park my kid-full cargo bike at the playground. She was pushing her eldest around in a stroller, because he couldn’t manage long walks to the park, but he wouldn’t fit in a stroller for much longer. She had been thinking about biking options to help him get around, but he was too big for a trailer, and she worried about not being able to properly monitor him if he rode behind her.

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Looking at the front box of my bicycle, she saw solutions to all of her conundrums. Here was a way she could transport an older, bigger, heavier child, along with his younger sibling. Here was a way she could keep an eye on both children, relieving her fears about not being able to see them. Here was a way she could continue enjoying the outdoors, exercising, and visiting parks with her kids, using an active transportation device that could meet the special needs of her whole family–while being really fun at the same time. (I hope she finds such a box bike to meet her family’s needs, but we did bemoan together the fact that she is unlikely to find a used–and thus more budget-friendly–cargo bike in Iowa…)

I was particularly excited to meet this Mama, as I have been thinking that the bakfiets style of bicycle could be a fabulous mobility aid to families with a special-needs child. I recognize how difficult it can be to transport a bigger kid–a stroller only lasts for so long, and a wheelchair could feel like a dull ride after a while. I love the idea that the front box bike could be a mobility aid to families with special circumstances. Does anyone have this experience to share? Or perhaps another bike or bike adaptation has fulfilled your family’s special needs?

To all of the special-needs families out there: I would love to hear about your biking/mobility experiences and what has worked (or not worked) for you. Please feel free to share below or send your reflections (and photos!) to me via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com.

— Shannon Johnson, shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com
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