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The Trials and Tribulations of Being Car Free

Dsc_0590 When fellow urbanMama Olivia and I signed up for the Low-Car Diet Challenge, I was really enthused.  I didn't think it through entirely, but reducing the use of our family car has been in the back of my mind for a long time.  When the challenge started a few weeks ago, it didn't feel so bad.  I was already commuting by bike and bus to work.  My husband and I just needed to integrate the bike into our childcare drop-off and pick-up routine; and social activities.  When he was around for week one, it worked beautifully sharing the load between the two of us.

Snafu 1: Reality hit with week 2 when the weather turned rainy, the week was jammed with early morning work engagements, and a husband / father that was 5000 miles away for work.  Mentally, I had to change gears and really focus and plan how I would it make through the next two weeks without an extra set of legs (that are made for pedaling) around to share in the hauling.  The main blip was the rain.  Cole stayed nice and dry in the trailer, and Carter in his nice waterproof breathable rain coat and pants, while I was a soaking mess.  When I retold my sob story, most recommended "You should get fenders."  Ahem, I do have fenders, but they certainly don't keep your lower body dry. Solution 1: It's only rain!  After I stopped pouting, I wiped myself dry in the bathroom and changed.  When I heard others complain about the traffic and their miserable commute into work, I realized that the rain only delayed me only a few minutes and I made it to my meeting on time.

Snafu 2: The other major issue?  The Eastside is hilly, you don't notice it quite as much from the comforts of your car.  It also finally occurred to me that my commute distance had doubled and that I was biking 10 miles each day, most of it hauling children.  No wonder why my legs were aching, and I was a sweaty mess when I arrived to work!   Solution 2: I made sure I was out of the door by 7:30 am on day I had to moderate an 8:30 am session.  I wiped myself dry with a towel, put on some deodorant, pulled my hair back and changed into work clothes. I hung up my wet clothes in the bathroom and left them there to dry.  Who would want to steal my stinky clothes?

Snafu 3: To top the whole experience off so far in week 3, I got a flat tire after dropping kid number two off.  I left my pump in the trailer left at kid number 1's daycare, and the my back up bikes had flats as well.  Solution 3: I walked the bike to the local bike shop (they're awesome!) and worked from home.

Should I give up?  Should I be discouraged?  The good comes with the bad, and practice makes perfect.  The more I bike, the easier it seems.  It's been a few weeks, and I've found that I've developed a biking rhythm.  And those pre-pre-pregnancy shorts that I kept around from 4 years ago?  I can now slide into them.

What are your tips for biking more and driving less?  How did you go about venturing into more biking activities?  If you're a casual biker, what are some of your fears?  We want to hear from you!


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Corey Cartwright of Seven Corners is the best. (Full disclosure: also a good pal)

We talked other concerns in another thread on this subject which I can't seem to link now...

I would like to hear from any other uMamas out there who regularly commute by bike to the 'couve, because that would inspire me not to be such a whiner about that particular ride. I used to do that commute by bike pre-baby, but only on occasion, because it really isn't a pleasant trip. Not just because the path takes you along 99 and the freeway (truck exhaust fumes anyone?), but also because of things like the transient who threw a glass bottle at me once as I was riding thru the underpass right before the bridge. Good times.

I really like riding my bike to work alone downtown, but I am really afraid of riding with Sebastian (I've been hit by cars twice on my bike, over a decade-long car-free existence, so I'm skittish). Therefore, I have no advice or experience with kid hauling. I admire you for doing it! I would love to. Maybe someday....

I was getting ready to do a post on the perfect family bike configuration, but Jonathan of BikePortland beat me to it: http://bikeportland.org/2007/07/25/options-for-the-perfect-family-bike/

Not sure if you saw this post on Activistas (http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//activistas/2007/07/time-for-a-new-.html) but you should provide input to the Columbia Crossing Project. Sounds you have a vested interest especially if you will continue to Vancouver.

When I started working downtown again last November, I was really excited to bike commute. However, November isn't the best time for someone like me who is the casual bike rider. I started slowly, maybe once a week if it was nice. When Spring approached, I became a convert. Maybe you can try breaking up your bike commute by catching the train or bus part of the way. That way, it's a bit less daunting.

My family is talking about biking more and more. We currently live downtown and are able to utilize the Max and the Streetcar and the buses (and our feet!) quite a bit but we'd def. like to buy bikes for the family.

Neither one of us are regular bikers- so, to all of Portland biking families, what is the one thing you would tell a family just starting out? Any advice on bikes? Shops? Things to avoid? Things that are a must know?
Our kids are 6 and 1. Thanks for the input! Every bit of information makes me feel more and more comfortable about the idea of mounting a bike for the first time in a decade- and putting my kids on them to boot!

I really enjoy riding my bike around Portland. I traveled extensively around the United States and there are few metropolitan cities that are as bike friendly as Portland. Yes, there is a risk, but you must remember that there is a risk in everything you do-including drive a car. The more families are seen biking on the streets with their kids the more so people will become aware.

As for tips on commuter cycling. Definately, buy some rain gear. I did not have rain gear the first two years I lived in Portland as a commuter. It was fun, but very wet. Rain gear changed my cycling life. I get there looking refreshed and dry.

Take a class on bike maintainance or ask someone who knows. Being able to change your own flat is glorious, because it's going to happen. It will definately give you a feeling of accomplishment. Also, give your bike a tune-up every so often. There are excellent bike classes at the Community Cycling Center and The Bicycle Transportation Alliance can give you tons of information: including free bike maps.

You should buy a bike map. You can find the big Portland bike map at Powells and Mirador. I'm sure other places, but those are the ones I know. Everyone needs to know the safest and best places to cycle. You just might be surprised at how many places are easily accessable by bike.

There are tons of options for transporting kids by bike. Investigate and be amazed. There's your standard Burley (local light: Eugene made) There are the European inspired Clever Cycles (I think this is the name)that are popping up all over Portland. If you haven't seen them: it's pretty much like having a big wheel burrow in the front of your bike-for your kids! One day I saw a woman with a kid seat on a Extra-Cycle. I really wish I could find her again, because I've wanted an extra-cycle for a while but I'm not sure how you add a little one to the equation. There are kid seats that attach to your bike rack which is excellent if you still want to have the option to take the bus. Other wise once you're out with other rigs and kids you either have to ditch the bike, find a friend to get you back by vehicle, or fix it fix it fix it.

If you want to be inspired by the amazing variation in bike options. You could easily take your bike on Amtrak and head to Eugene. They not only have an amazing river bike trail, but a bike musuem run by high schoolers! Cool. Look up C.A.T.

Also, The Community Cycling Center provides many terrific opportunities for low-income folks so people don't feel that cycling is out of their price range.

When choosing a bike: It's all about the person. Go into a bike shop. They will size you for a bike. Bikes are definately not one size fits all. The bike that works for your 5'5" friend may not work for you even if you're the same height. You want to get that inseam checked out and other excitement. There are tons of bikes to think about. It's good to know that there are some excellent bikes made in the United States: Trek, Marin.....or buy a used bike- recycling.

If you do buy a new bike....make it unique by adding stickers. Who wants to steal the bike with the pink dice and multitude of punk rock stickers? *smiles* Remember to write down your identification number incase it does get stolen. You of course will want a bike lock. Many of them come with a bike warranty incase your bike gets stolen....use it!

Of course you never want to forget lights and helmets. It's all about safety on a bike. The more lights the better, and refresh those batteries when they start to look dim. YOur clothing makes a difference too. Reflectors are lovely. I know someone who put a Kid on board sign on her trailer.

Other last thought tips: If you do have a bike trailer. Toss some grocery getter canvas bags in the back. You never know what you might pick up. Another is adding a blanket to the mix, because there's tons of terrific places to stop when you're on a bike, and it's nice to sit and enjoy. I often times carry a closeable container, silverware, and cup set so I have have food where ever I go. Great for picking up a to-go salad. My little one enjoys drinking water out of a camel back.....Although, he doesn't quite understand that once you bite through the mouth piece it no longer works the same.

So now that I've talked about everything I can possibly think of.....you should really just get out there and bike. I promise you'll figure it out. If someone who used to be scared of bikes can do it....why not you?

Just to bring up previous conversations on family biking -

On Bike Trailers

Family Bike Ride: The Gear

Beyond Bike-Trailers: The Tag-Along

We just moved to Portland a few weeks ago from an area with minimal public transportation (think: 2 bus routes covering over 50 miles--the buses only ran once an hour, and only between 7am and 6pm--WHAT?!), where having a car was not only nice, but necessary. When we were moving we decided to give our car away and rely on public transportation once we got here. (Of course, being able to see the New Seasons from our front yard helped us make that decision.) My two boys, almost 5 and 2 1/2, have been thrilled with the buses, the MAX (which they insist on calling the subway) and the fact that we can WALK to the grocery store. (Never mind that they have to fight about who gets to push the button to cross the street, and actually all the cars stop before they even get a chance to push it, but whatever...) They are as excited by public transport as they are by the escalators in the mall. Of course, being dependent on a car for so long, it was hard for us to go cold turkey, so we did join FlexCar (just in case), although we have yet to actually use it. Being from somewhere with such poor public transportation, Portland is such an easy place to be car-free--try it, love it, and feel better about cutting down on your pesky carbon footprint everyone's been talking about!

I am a new biker, and having bought my sweet new trek bike (goes fast, but has big dip in front so I can wear summer skirts and bike, too) am doing my best to try to reduce how often I pop into my car to go a few miles. That said, there are many times when trying to convince my often cranky 6 year old, who loves to bike, to get on his bike for an errand I need to make, or my 3 year old to ride in the burly and NOT get on his bike...my kids are at that "will of there own age", and they have never been easy going kids. And they are at the scary "dart into traffic unaware age". The stress of reminding kid one to stop or hoping that a car sees my burly really gets to me. The writer who mentioned that it was a risk, but there is a risk in everything you do in a car, may be right, but these kids are my life, and I do not want to see them squashed under a car. That same neighborhood errand, in a car, is lower risk due to speed and safety belts. I get a few looks from people as we bike on the sidewalks in busy areas, but that is just how it is going to be. We go slow. Anyway, I admire the original writer and commend her for her efforts to stay car-less, but I could never imagine that working for me. I think I better save for a Prius.

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