Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bike Free for Five Days

When we began bike commuting, we didn't have any specific intentions to become a carfree family. Instead, we wanted to remain a one-car family and figure out how to get two miles to work and school without using that car. However, as we began doing more errands by bike, we realized just what more we could do by bike. Investing in the second cargo bike, suddenly made us a truly carlite family as we could divide and conquer and still get the three boys where we needed to go using two wheels (or really four wheels, I guess--on two different bikes!).

Since February, it has been a rare day we did not ride somewhere. I don't mean to suggest that we never used our car-- we did-- but at the very least, one errand would be accomplished by cycling instead of driving. Suddenly, a whole week would pass and we would realize that the car sat dormant against the curb without being driven for a whole week. I've never tracked it, but it would be interesting to see the longest consecutive period of carfree days has been for us.

Most days, riding has been joyous. Lately, it has been a bit of a slog. Yesterday, we had the rain cover on and two squirmy, complaining boys and some darn tired legs. I don't think it helped that it was grey out and some more bad news greeted the local cycling community here. It just felt like it would have been so much easier to drive, but the truth is, since we began family bike commuting we've actually discovered that most times, it is easier to cycle. For instance, we spent all weekend here and there, but doing it all by bike. I took the two older guys downtown to see Tap Dogs and it is so wonderful to be able to pull up right in front of the theater, hop out, engage the internal lock, and walk in with no worries about lines (and cost) of dealing with the parking garages. Sunday mornings, it's become a fun ritual to cycle together to church and then head out to a local coffee shop for good lattes and yummy baked goods. We even braved the car traffic to visit a friend in the neighborhood where this was happening. I couldn't help but think that all the fans should be traveling there by bike.

But now, we head off for the Thanksgiving holiday and I realized this morning that we will be bike free for five days. How odd! With our big cargo bikes, we can't easily throw them on to the car and travel with them to Washington DC. (Major hats-off to the hardcore folks who still figure out the bike thing with kids while on vacation). And these five days are the longest we will be away from our bikes since we started this whole thing....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yeah, I do live in a city....

I read some crappy news about our favorite local bike shop on Thursday.

Then, on Friday, we woke up to rain. Discussing it with the boys, we decided to break out the bakfiets's stylin' red rain cover for the first time this school year. I set up the cover, got it all adjusted, and S and C climbed up and under. They were looking so darn cute, I had to go back in our apartment to get the camera to capture the moment (plus, gotta think ahead for that blog post, right?).

As I was lining the boys up, snapping away, a neighbor walked by, hesitated and said, "Uh, that is your car, right?" pointing to our desert sand-colored minivan (yes, that is the color Toyota named it). She proceeded to point out that one of the back windows streetside was all smashed up. UGH.

It seemed like a pure act of vandalism, or I guess the smashers weren't particularly interested in stealing three booster seats and a bunch of kids' books. I remained calm through it all. Even though I was bummed, we've been parking on the street for over two years and this was our first broken window/possible theft.

The boys, however, got very quiet and solemn and even a bit teary. It was as if they just couldn't believe anyone would ever do such a thing. "Oh well," I soothed, "These sorts of things can happen sometimes when you live in a city, but think of all the great things we get to experience here, too." Remember, these were the kids who spent four years in rural Maine and were outraged when we started locking our front door when we moved here.

And then we took off, pedaling to school. By the time we arrived, their moods had lifted significantly. And yeah, windows can get smashed anywhere. Aren't we lucky we get to bike commute to school together?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It's remarkable how much stir a bicycle helmet can make. No, I am not talking about the debate about whether folks should wear them or not. I wear one. I make my kids wear them. Do whatever you want, but don't argue with me about it or try to sway me to take off my helmet. 

Simply, the act of walking into a large conference room with a bicycle helmet strapped to my work bag prompted quite a number of comments. I was amazed. First, though, let me back up...

Last week, I spent two days at a conference.  It was a relief that this year the conference was held in a city not far from my own since last year I had to travel to Boston for a couple of days. Now, I like Boston, but at this time of year, I find it extremely difficult to be away from my job and my kids for multiple overnights. So while the idea of luxuriating by myself in a hotel room (a.k.a. going to the bathroom without anyone barging in) makes me salivate profusely, the truth is that getting away right now is more difficult than the pay-off seems to be.  Therefore, I appreciated that this year I could commute to the conference from home and even stop into the office if necessary.  

The question I batted around with my colleague, who was also attending, was just how we were going to get there.  It's a pretty convenient train ride to this other city so that seemed like the obvious choice, but there was some concern that we would have far less control over our schedules and there were logistical questions of getting to the train station from home and getting to the conference site on the other end.  While I do own a car, I did not offer to drive. Since we are a one-car family and I was leaving P with the juggle of getting three boys to different places and some prediction of bad weather, I thought it best to leave him with the four-wheeled beast just in case.  My colleague, ultimately deciding that she would like the convenience of deciding our own departure times and not be beholden to Metro North's schedule, offered to drive us both.  I was actually quite pleased thinking that this would be far-and-away the easiest thing for me. I wouldn't be the one driving AND I didn't need to figure out the logistics that would require multi-steps and some advanced planning of getting there not by car.

While I hunkered down at work and skipped the first day of the conference, a newcomer's session, my colleague headed south in her car.  Unfortunately, right before she reached the conference site, she ended up in a slight accident that thankfully caused no injuries, but did some damage to her car.  She did not feel comfortable driving it until it was fixed so that evening by phone, we plotted a Plan B.  Yes, we would take the train.  How would we get to the station? Well, I couldn't ask my husband to wake up three kids at 5:20 AM and drive us there (nor could we leave three little sleeping boys home alone).  Yes, we could call a cab. Or simply-- we could ride our bikes.  

We arranged for a meeting time and place and the next morning.   Far earlier than normal, I strapped on my bike helmet, loaded my Xtra with my laptop and work bag, dropped my travel coffee mug into its brand new holder on my handle bars, added some good lights to my bike, and pedaled off.  I must admit that I was cursing myself a bit here.  Because we were taking the train, we needed to leave earlier than I thought we would had we been driving. And because I was riding to the train station on a bike on a day where some bad weather was predicted, I had to think a bit more about what I would wear and bring with me to accommodate the time and weather. The weather turned out to be brisk, not horrible, and thanks to Daylight's Savings Time (ugh, I hate it in the evening), it was fairly light out.  The streets were mostly quiet but it was interesting to see who was out and about at that time of the morning.   Not too long into my ride, I met up with my colleague on her bike, and off to the train station we went.  

Two sights particularly grabbed me on those two morning commutes to the train station.  The first was a large group of construction workers streaming out of a huge, multi-leveled parking garage on their way to work, building a huge, multi-leveled parking garage a few blocks away.   The second sight caused me far more delight: a gentleman wearing a jaunty beret, riding a tandem bike alone with an accordian strapped to his back.  I so wished I had a camera to capture him, pedaling along. I couldn't help but wonder who he was and where he was going. Who normally rode that bike with him? And just what was the deal with the accordian?  I wondered if I would have really seen him, I mean really seen him, if I were traveling by car. 

The ride to the train station turned out far easier than either of us expected. We found open bike parking and locked our bikes together. We then unclipped our lights, threw them into our bags, and strapped our helmets to our bags' shoulder straps.  We bought our tickets with little fuss, waited a bit at our assigned platform, jumped on the train, and made it to our destination city likely more quickly than we would have in a car (bad traffic).   We were able to walk from that station to the conference site quite easily, and there we began our workday, sitting at a round table for the next many hours in a room with ugly chandeliers and no windows.  

Oh, and the thing that caught me so by surprise-- the number of other attendees who stopped us during the two days of the conference to ask, "Were you the ones who came in with the bike helmets?"  While there were a number of people who came from out-of-state and were staying at the conference site, there were plenty of Connecticut-conference-goers as well.  Folks seemed pretty darned surprised that 1). we took the train and 2). we rode our bikes to the train station.  Wow, we do live in a car-centric place.

I guess to be a bit circumspect about the experience-- we really did sort of surprise ourselves as well. We really had planned on driving -- thinking it would be easier-- but due my colleague's mishap, we figured out that biking, training, and walking worked quite well.  I swear that every time I am out on my bike, getting somewhere I haven't cycled to before or realizing that I can get all my errands done perfectly easily by bike with some adjustments or ferrying my kids to where they need to go on two wheels and not four, I learn how much my family is capable of living a car-lite life.   I realize that not all people live or work in places where they could ride their bikes to school or work, BUT the truth is that many of us do live and work in places that we might be able to bike to--- if we even thought that it could be an option....

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I am not a chic cyclist. I don't say this to be self-deprecating. It's just a fact, and the truth is that while I so enjoy seeing blogs of stylish women cyclists, I don't really aspire to fit into this category. I have never been particularly good at being 'girly' and tend to always choose comfort over style in clothes. I am, however, someone who loves shoes (clunky, non-heeled ones), and cool eyeglasses, oh, and scarfs, and chunky necklaces. I like my accessories.

Last week I couldn't help but be delighted to come across this Yehuda Moon cartoon:

Yes, some days the commute has felt like a slog lately. No, we are not buying a new bike right now. However, we fully embrace the "add a new accessory to your rig" philosophy so check this out....

Mmmmmm, coffee. Can't say which I love more: my coffee or our bikes.

ROBOTS!!! I had so much fun choosing the design to change from the polka dots to these robots. We use these great wall decals that can be cleanly removed when we are ready to redecorate our cargo box. I did the change-over on Halloween Eve under the cover of darkness once the boys headed to bed so they got a cool Halloween morn surprise.

Yes, I do like my accessories....