Family Biking: How one year of riding together has changed our lives

Posted by on April 26th, 2022 at 10:35 am

A mom and four kids in a bicycle in front of a store.

How it started.

A mom with her head in her hands standing over a cargo bike with a baby seat in it.

How it’s going.

Is it just a bike? Or is it a life change? Because when I bought that bike in the photos above, it changed my life.

So it seems appropriate to celebrate the month this bike came into our lives: This April marks our one year biking anniversary!

Yes, last April 2021, I bought my one-of-a-kind, home-made-in-Portland by Tom Labonty, front-box cargo bike on Craigslist for $550, the cheapest I could find, and about the maximum I could convince my husband to spend on my new interest. He didn’t think it would go anywhere. He bet it would collect dust in the overstuffed garage. He — we are both happy to say — was wrong.

I became more comfortable in my Mom-body… and it helped me avoid another bout of prenatal depression

My bike has taken us so many places in the last year, and helped us achieve so much more than mere transport.

By riding a bike, we’ve engaged more deeply with our local community. We’ve confronted homelessness and the needs of our house-less neighbors, while weighing our own desire for clean and safe parks and paths. I’ve developed a growing appreciation for the activists and good citizens who have gone before us, getting us bike lanes and traffic signals, and I am paying more attention to what such folks are working on today. I hope we can join them, and leave something better for family bikers of the future. This engagement has inspired us to think more seriously as a family about what we are contributing to our community. In that vein, we’ve discovered the good work of our local bike-shop-nonprofit, WashCo Bikes, in getting refurbished bikes to kids and folks in need.

We are also contributing more, shopping more, and doing more locally: on the bike, we have visited more places around town and found new favorite destinations, including a sweet downtown park and board game shop. We spend more time outside and less time driving. I also became more comfortable in my Mom-body, and less worried about weight gain, thanks to the women of All Bodies on Bikes. And like the moms of Motherload, I found great joy and healing on the bicycle. I even think it helped me avoid another bout of prenatal depression, which was a source of serious suffering during my previous pregnancy.

This time, I was pregnant and riding a bike. Perhaps that made the difference.

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For parents of young children especially, and those with mental health issues, finding a way to be happy — and to do something healthy and happy — with your children life-changing. So much of parenting is a sacrifice; it requires so much time changing diapers, cleaning messes, making lunches, doing laundry. It’s damn hard to have “me-time” with a crying baby in one arm and a toddler clinging to your leg. Get everybody on a bike? Everyone gets to be happy, at the same time, together.

Which is why I was so excited to get back on the bike, baby and kiddos in tow. I’ve been off the bike for four months — the final weeks of my pregnancy, and the first few months of my new baby’s life. I had thought April, the one year anniversary of my life-changing bike purchase, would be the perfect time to get back and start riding again. What better way to celebrate than to mark the occasion with baby’s first ride? Maybe we could even follow it up with a glass of champagne and a new set of panniers.

That was the hope. That was the plan.

That didn’t happen.

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Instead of champagne, we had frustration and tears!

The short explanation: we didn’t manage to set up the biking-with-baby arrangement that I wanted, and all the various options required parts that were out-of-stock locally, along with renewed family debates about the safest way to ride with an infant (which can make many a parent burst into tears). So after waiting months, it became clear I would have to keep waiting thanks to the challenges posed by our newest addition. (See future posts for an explanation of our biking-with-baby challenges and remedies.) Thus, on a lovely sunny Saturday, when I wanted to be out riding, I was home crying.

It wasn’t the “anniversary” party I had in mind, but do not despair! This is too important to give up on.

Thankfully my husband is fully on board. Not because he cares about biking, but because he cares about me. And he’s seen what a positive difference biking has made in my life, and our whole family’s life. Like other determined biking parents, we’re going to find a way. It’s just going to take a little longer, and that’s OK. Hubby even dried my tears with the promise to buy me a brand new “fancy” bike, if that’s what it takes! (Oh, wow: now I am torn between my first LaBonty love, and those pricey and previously out-of-reach Dutch-made gems! A girl can look anyway!)

We’ll save that bottle of champagne. It will still taste fabulous, and that first ride with baby will be even more worthy of celebration.

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Chasing Backon
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Chasing Backon

Kids seem to love cargo bikes. I have the theory it’s the correct speed for them to experience the world. If you do spend the fancy money, get a bullitt. Nothing else compares. We have been carting kids around on ours since 2014 and it’s still a joy for everybody

J_R
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J_R

Cargo bikes were not around when our kids were small. We started with a trailer when they were still in car seats. They began riding the tandem with a child stoker kit at 2 1/2 years. I recommend a tandem because they are participating not just getting a ride.