Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'll take this as a New Year's Sign

Ever since I landed my new job in July, I have been trying to figure out my commute. The school is only 1.86 miles away from our apartment and given that we have prided ourselves on being a one-car, OK, a one minivan-family, I was brainstorming ways to get to school without using the minivan. This summer worked out well when it was just me going to school--I simply put on my running shoes, charged my iPod, and walked. I often packed a different pair of pants along with work-appropriate shoes, and would change in my office after wiping down the sweat.

When school started however, I knew that the walk would just be too long for the boys. I am also realistic that they just could not ride their bikes yet. While they've become quite proficient on their two-wheelers and love going on New Haven's bike path, the commute to school is just too urban, crossing far too many busy streets, to make it doable for them (and surely instead of a healthy way for me to get to school, I would be filled with incredible stress and angst the whole way). A friend who lives on the Jersey Shore sent me this eBay link-- she had been considering buying a pedicab/rickshaw. The price was right, but when she brought the listing to her local bike shop, the owner totally balked, thinking that putting it together would be a nightmare. I suddenly seized on this pedicab idea though, surfing the web, trying to see who on the East Coast builds such contraptions. Mostly, I found that these are used for commercial reasons in cities bigger than New Haven: New York, Miami, Chicago. I tracked down a few cool sites selling these big tricycle carriers, but like this one, they were all overseas. I guess we Americans were far more focused on making bigger and bigger SUVs with names like Yukon and Escalade than cool cargo bikes, and we all know how this turned out for us.

Anyhoo, September rolled around and school began and so did the car commute with the boys. I did love that P commuted with F by bike to preschool and P was using his bike to run errands around town, head to his Sunday internship, etc. but I was still unhappy that we were driving. I noticed the families in our school community who came by bike. Mostly, the kids were older and their route different than ours, but still I greatly admire the moms and dads that strapped on their helmets, accompanying their kids by pedaling in what I see as a great life lesson-- one of those even bigger than school can teach. There is a family from our neighborhood that commutes by bike. Dad is a downtown lawyer, and he clips up his suit pants as he has the family toddler in a kid front seat on his bike and the first grader on one of these back attachable thingamagigs that I totally admire but don't work when you have twins. I flirted with the idea of a back trailer, but I really am uncomfortable with having the boys sit so low behind me on the streets we need to travel to get to school so nixxed that as well.

In October, I enjoyed a weekend getaway with my friend Andrea from Maine who is not only a momma of three boys including a set of twins, but also is the person who walks the talk of environmental responsibility more than anyone else I know. In our conversations around life with three boys and work and school commutes, I explained my ongoing pursuit to figure out a no-car solution. "Get a Bakfiets," Andrea responded.

"A what?" came my response. Andrea went on to explain these Dutch cargo bikes and I had her write down this strange word on a slip of paper so I could investigate it when I got home. Back with the Internet, I suddenly became a woman possessed as I looked up these most wonderful bikes. They are far from inexpensive, but I figure with gas prices surely on the way up again and if it helps us avoid a second car (and insurance)-- it will be well worth the cost. I found cool mama bloggers willing to answer my questions about their Bakfietsen, including Jessica in San Francisco who then led me to Lex in not-too-far-from-me Northampton. I loved learning that Lex was also a momma of three boys, yes--including a set of twins, and she offered me a test drive on her Bakfiets next time I am in Northampton. I have yet to get there, but her bike testimony definitely sealed the deal for me. I was going to take the Bakfiet Plunge and began contacting dealers. Our local bike shop didn't know of any East Coast dealers nor could I find any via the web on this side of the country. The closest I could find was a Seattle-based company's brand-new shop in Chicago, but the shipping cost would be the same as the price from the Portland company I contacted and where Lex and Jessica got theirs. Side note: Of course, I realize that it is insane about cost and fuel needed to ship one of puppies from the Pacific Northwest (via the Netherlands?!!), but I don't think I am quite ready to kick in my entrepreneurial skills and open my own local Bakfietsen dealership on this coast.

So now this conversation has now turned from not what? but to when?. Since I really settled on the idea in November about purchasing the Bakfiets, the weather was just turning in New Haven. I wondered the smartest time to buy-- not really about cost but more about practical things about when I could use it and where I could store it once winter weather really was upon us. I live in a rented apartment and we have no garage. I hated the idea of my brand-new cargo bike sitting forlornly out in the snow and our side of the porch just won't be able to accommodate such a wonderful beast along with our other bikes and scooters. I decided that February would be right--I guessed it would take time to ship and when it arrived, the weather would just begin to encourage a bike commute.

And then yesterday-- the sign of confirmation! Sitting in a downtown coffee shop, my three boys became entranced with a stranger with a bright green fold up bike. As I cleaned up coffee cups and crumbs, the guys surrounded this kind woman as she, upon-request, unfolded and folded her bike a couple of times and answered the many questions of my interested sons. As soon as I walked over to the four, I immediately noticed the www.clevercycles.com stencil on her cool bike-- the Portland, OR company I had decided to purchase my Bakfiets. Elly, the cool woman with the cool bike, handed me her card and posted this about us yesterday. So check out Elly's (from BikePortland.org) blog.

And I will let you know about our big 2009 purchase....

5 comments:

Andrea said...

Yay you!! I'm so excited you're actually getting one (and I still want to know how you steer that big box on the front). Spring sounds like the perfect time to start Bakfeiting...I think you will inspire me to fix my gears and bike to work more than ONCE next summer!

wheelsonthebus said...

the french people in london loved those things...

Elly said...

Hey Sara, it was great to meet you and your boys! It is so exciting to see New Haven slowly but surely becoming bikey. Can't wait to hear about your bakfiets adventures -- and see photos -- so glad you're working with the folks at Clever Cycles -- they are great, and totally committed.

Elly

Here's a link to my post + the adorable pic you took:

http://bikeportland.org/2008/12/30/new-haven-brompton-love-and-signs-of-the-dutch-bike-invasion/

Terra said...

Oh my gosh, those looks fantastic! leave it to the Dutch to create something so cool...i'm wondering about craigslist, ebay, etc or hiring a metalworker to make you one?

Anonymous said...

Have you seen these bikes? http://www.metrofiets.com They are made in Portland, Oregon from US Steel by folks in the USA