Biking our way to a slower family life

I recently took out my grandmother’s sewing machine, after 10 years of storing it under the bed. I was inspired by the Sew Many Bikes Pedalpalooza ride, which life has twice prevented me from attending, but I am keen to learn from anyway. In addition to the sewing machine, I also had a friend teach me a knit stitch, and on a recent evening I put on an old record (yes, on a turntable) — one that had been unopened in its package for decades — and I sat in a chair to listen and knit.

It struck me particularly (as I bemoaned my inability to join the summer’s Sew Many Bikes ride) that sewing and biking is a most fitting combination. Folks who sew are doing something slow in the face of fast fashion. They could more easily buy their garments, yet they are doing the slow work of making their own outfits, not unlike a person riding a bike, who could ride in a faster car, but who chooses the slower way. Something slow, something lovely, something that takes work. But is totally worth it, both in the achievement of the end, and also for the joy of the journey.

Yes, a Pedalpalooza bike ride got me thinking about an entirely slow life, and how much it might be preferred to a fast one. Slower things, like biking, books, old records, and sewing machines. 

“Maybe choosing to bike is only part of what we need. Maybe we have been trying to fit biking into a car-centric lifestyle. And what we need is a completely different framing.”

Amid the holiday rush, I find myself hesitating. I look at my bike, and now at my sewing machine, and my record player, and an entire library of un-read books and think: Do we have to start rushing from now to Christmas? And in any season, do we really want to schedule so many things that we always feel overwhelmed and crazy-busy? If I sign my kids up for another extracurricular, another team, another formal activity, will we feel stressed and reduce our family time to fast food dinners because our lives are too busy to cook, eat together, and enjoy our family life?

I’ve begun to wonder if this rushing-around lifestyle is due to a car-centric society. Would we always feel so stressed and rushed, would we pack our schedules so full of far-away activities, if we were bike-based instead of car-based?

Maybe we can make different choices, and live differently, even during this notoriously “busy time of year.” Maybe choosing to bike is only part of what we need. Maybe we have been trying to fit biking into a car-centric lifestyle. And what we need is a completely different framing, a completely different idea of “normal.” Something as different as sewing an outfit, instead of ordering one online. Something as different as biking, instead of driving. 

So before the “holiday rush” returns, we’re taking time to slow down and to make a deeper examination of what we value and how we actually, intentionally, want to live out our family life. I asked my older kids (ages 10 and 8) to think about how they want to live, and how we should spend our time together, before they grow up and move out. To my surprise, both of my older children considered carefully and then answered, each in their own way, that we should read more books, make more tea, and spend more cozy evenings at home. 

Indeed. 

I think that’s just the sort of change I need this holiday season. We don’t have to try to keep up with a car-driven lifestyle, or any lifestyle that we don’t actually want. Biking has taught us that we can be happier If we live more slowly, consciously, intentionally, and locally. For us, biking is our mode of travel on what has become a happy journey to a slower life.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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Phil
Phil
2 months ago

This is timely for me. After biking home from work today I’ll be repairing some jeans that have suffered a premature crotch blowout (most likely from the added stress of biking).

Resopmok
Resopmok
2 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Good luck! Crotch seams are pretty hard to fix, especially if material is also worn (it usually is). I really want better solutions from garment manufacturers for cyclists – pants and shorts that can withstand the constant rubbing of seat contact points at the crotch and sit bones. Until then, I buy cheap or used to make sure garments are fully worn until I take them to be recycled.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago
Reply to  Phil

One enthusiastic plug for SWRVE jeans! They have a diamond gusset in the crotch and a 4-way stretch Cordura/Denim blend that is very durable. Even on the somewhat abrasive Brooks Cambium saddle. My oldest pair is approaching 10 years and, while a bit worn and faded, are still intact and comfortable. They’re the only jeans I’ve bought over the last 10ish years.

Phil
Phil
2 months ago
Reply to  Ray

Thanks for the recommendation. These jeans are expensive 21 oz. denim and I really expected them to last longer (even on my Brooks Cambium).

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.
2 months ago

A lovely sentiment. Thanks for sharing this – the article itself felt like a cozy cup of tea 😉

Resopmok
Resopmok
2 months ago

Our rushing around lifestyle is not due to cars, as a cyclist very close to my heart has a tendency to overschedule and get caught up in the speed of life our society has set as well. And while the expected “speed of life” is not quite as fast as the speed of light, it often feels like it. Being mindful of what we schedule and why, truly choosing how we spend our time, is one of the hardest habits to learn and stick to. There is immense pressure from the outside – family, friends, work – to always do more, but the more we do, the less time it leaves us to connect to ourselves, to destress from all the doing, to enact real self care plans.
I’ve built my life with a lot of DIY as part of it – I do meal prep once a week (for hours) so that I have easy to reheat dinners. I clean and repair my own house and yard, use my muscles to get me where I want to go, create my own graphic organizers to make my schedule.. and it takes a lot of my time that I could spend socializing or working.. I don’t have kids to feed and raise, and I only work part-time, but I’m also stress-debt free most days, and I feel this has greatly improved the quality of my life. It’s not the way for everyone, but it’s my own way to rebel against the man.

Maggie Alberton
Maggie Alberton
2 months ago

As I read your posting, I was taking a break from knitting hats for under privileged elementary students in Portland,OR. I have reflected and found many of the thoughts you expressed are so true. What made my childhood a warm and loving time was sitting and knitting or figuring out how to make a skirt out of scraps from a sewing factory. It took time and love to be successful and my parents were never “rounding the corner on 2 wheels” in order to get me to an event. I rode my bicycle and learned to manage my time wisely. To sit and take in the unconditional love rather than having a new toy or object that took away time from the family unit was absolute paradise. Love was the panacea of all stress so stepping out of the “rat race” and giving of ones’ gifts and talents is a manifestation of that love that was learned many years ago. I implore folks to share the love within their souls.