We have a big family. Two adults and five children. That maxes out the seating in our seven passenger minivan. We can’t pick up friends or volunteer to drive another kid home. If our family grows any bigger, or if we are hosting a niece or nephew, or babysitting for friends, we don’t have a car that can carry us all.
As a result, we’ve been shopping around for a way to meet our big family transportation needs. We’ve been looking at old shuttle vans, Ford Transits, Chevy Expresses, actual shuttle buses, half buses and even old school buses. But it’s a potential purchase that I’m particularly unhappy about. I loathe the idea of driving a bigger vehicle (so much so, that I looked into importing a smaller-sized Japanese vehicle that could seat more folks in a smaller footprint with a much lower vehicle weight, and at a much lower cost – but that’s another story). And I practically want to launch a campaign against heavy super-sized and often unneeded SUVs and their threat to children and the people outside of them. The last thing I want to do is drive one myself!
Long rant short: I love children. I loathe extra-large vehicles for carrying them.
Then when the Alameda Bike Bus made headlines it got me thinking. That’s a whole lot of kids, way more than I’ll ever have, all riding along on one giant bike bus. Could that be the transportation solution for our big family?
I never thought biking could actually be the mobility solution to one of our big family’s real mobility problems: too many kids for our minivan. Perhaps that’s because the common image I have of family biking looks like one grown-up with one or two kids in child seats or a two-seater trailer. (Those trailers don’t come any bigger!) Perhaps that’s because I don’t see a lot of big families out biking. Or perhaps I am still so heavily influenced by car culture that I can’t see past it, even when the bike is sitting right in front of me.
I am the happy owner of a large electric cargo trike. I can seat at least four kids in my cargo box, or even five or six if they are small toddler-sized people willing to squish a bit. After that, when it comes to independent kid riders, I can take as many as I feel comfortable shepherding. There isn’t a strict maximum. With kids riding their own bikes, we don’t run out of seats. We don’t outgrow the bike bus.
Our first trip on the family bike bus took off today. I was babysitting two extra kiddos, putting the total at seven kids and one grown-up, which is too many for our seven-seat minivan. That would mean we would have to stay home (all day with seven children under age ten, no thank you!) or we could make our own bike bus ride to the park.
Thus, the Johnson Family Bike Bus went on its very first ride. Five kids in the cargo box with me at the pedals (thank you e-assist!), and two kids riding on their own. In the middle of January no less!
It was fabulous. Which is saying a lot, when one is spending the day with seven children. We needed the bike bus today. We needed to be able to go to the park and run around and yell. And our minivan couldn’t take us there. But with bikes, we could.
And for those with even bigger families, check out the Bunch Bike Preschool (or big family) model, which seats six little people in the cargo box. It will seat as many as a minivan, with a much smaller footprint and price tag, and it looks like so much more fun.
Normally, we bike because we want to. Today, we biked because we couldn’t drive. And now, I can see us doing a lot more of that, like bike pick-ups of friends and riding together for outings and playdates, because whoever can ride their bike can join us, no car seats required.
“Normally, we bike because we want to. Today, we biked because we couldn’t drive.”
I feel like we cyclists usually talk about why we cycle in terms of environmental ethics and/or because it’s healthier and just plain more fun.
But there are use cases out there, just like this one, where a bike is just clearly more suited to the task at hand. Car culture would have us assume that these situations are impossible. We as a community need to seek out more of these kinds of use cases and talk about them more loudly.
Good she lives in downtown Hillsboro. Nobody could manage something like that for more than a few blocks.
I beg to differ! Yes, it’s a good thing I live in a very bikeable place with a multitude of parks and interesting destinations. But we have ridden our little bike caravan as far as 2.5 miles out and back, for 5 miles round trip. That was a challenge for our youngest independent rider, but a reasonable challenge. If you missed the fact that I have an e-assist, then I understand your incredulity. It is challenging to carry that many kiddos without some electric help, but with the e-bike it’s easy! Nevertheless, I tried the 5 mile round trip on my manual box bike and simultaneously pulling a bike trailer: it was strenuous and not-fun, but still something I was able to do.
Obviously, the distance and difficulty depend on your weakest rider; it’s a good idea to practice and build up to the longer rides, and if you are biking with friends, choose a closer destination to make sure the unfamiliar riders can mange it.
I think destinations in a 1-2 mile range are actually a fun ride, if the terrain is flat and the bike infrastructure is good. My daughter, at age seven, was happy to manage that distance. (She’s eight now).
To be honest, I think it’s much easier to bike than to walk with that many kids. Using my box bike, I can put at least four little kids in the box–I don’t have to worry about any little ones wandering off or running into the street. I have total control and visibility of my most vulnerable and unpredictable little people. The bike ride is far easier and far less stressful. I have made the few block walk with a stroller and toddler legs and it’s an arduous few blocks with a three year old on foot.
I highly recommend the cargo bike ride, and I can attest that it’s definitely do-able for more than a few blocks.
This is so awesome! I’m impressed and inspired!