"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

In which I drive a hybrid Ford for a weekend

Most of you know my family is fully car-free (we finally got rid of our three-years-lying-fallow car last month). And at least one of you expressed shock to hear I was test-driving a Ford Escape hybrid this past weekend. Was the world coming to an end? No, the people in Ford's social media group are working to create buzz about their hybrids by offering 'em to mama bloggers for test drives, and I was an eager participant. So was my husband, who, though he was weaned from his mother's chauffeur services on his 10-speed, and actually spent some time in the early '90s as a bike messenger, is a bit of a car addict.

One of the reasons I was eager to forgo our car was his nasty habit of driving to Trader Joe's... three blocks away. But when we found out he'd be going to Iraq this summer; changing our financial situation from just north of "desperate" to a few ticks shy of "flush," he began to sneak this phrase into conversation: "I've been thinking when I come back, we could use some of my money to get a hybrid..." Or this one: "If I get that job as a cop I could drive to work in a hybrid..."

"No!" I'd say, firmly. "No cars!" I love the money we save, $200-300 per month just in gas, insurance and tags; I love that we have to think carefully about all our bike trips, keeping us closer to home; I love my conscience, clean as the air around me as I bike. I've made a significant reduction in my workload so I can spend more time with the kids, in the garden, cooking food; we don't have room in that budget for even the barest car expense. I don't want that to change.

But. I'm all for a test drive. Just to see. Thursday morning, some nice people from Ford delivered us the sparkliest Escape Hybrid you've ever seen. I immediately hopped in with Truman and Monroe to pick up some film on the way to preschool (an impossible task on the bike; my fave film store is Citizen's Photo, about 4 miles from home). They leave us with a rundown on our car... $33,725 including "destination and delivery" for the model in our driveway. But "THIS VEHICLE NOT FOR SALE," said the page. At least there's that...

The kids, and let's be honest, the parents too, loved this car. On Friday afternoon, after the obligatory neighborhood joyriding, we set out on a three-day "camping" trip, sleeping in tents on my parents' and a friends' properties in rural Oregon. As we buckled up, boys freaking out with joy over spending hours upon hours in close physical contact with a car! with a motor! and windows! and lights! and oh, the navigation system!!!, my husband joked, "I'm going to leave you for this car!" While he was uttering that disloyal phrase, I had started to feel guilty for cheating on my bike, which we'd locked up in the basement.

The hybrid technology worked beautifully; the battery took over on the many downhills in the Pacific Coast range on the way to and from grandma's house, at stoplights, and whenever the car idled. We had one major snafu due to the children's love for turning on every light, pushing every button; I left my laptop plugged into the (awesome) power outlet to charge for a few hours (we lost track of time in the warm sun) and, it seems, the brights had also been left on. While we played in the stream on whose banks we were camping, the battery went blooey, and had to be given a jump by our nice hosts. Thankfully, no outside assistance or embarrassing calls to Ford were required.

It was a bargain; we'd been told to deliver the car back with at least a quarter tank, and we never had to stop at a gas station despite over 200 miles of driving. Our grand total expenses, other than groceries we would have bought anyway: $3 for marshmallows and $1.75 for coffee at a Dutch Bros. drive through (oh drive through coffee, how I've missed you). And it's fun driving such a lovely, shiny, leather-clad car; I could hearken back to the days when my departed SUV was new. Our culture gives big points for one's ability to spend lots of money on a shiny, well-made car, and today we can even get cred for the low-emissions technology.

And that's when I remembered the admiring glances I get as serious bikers, clad in spandex and bright-colored jerseys, pass me on my mamabikeorama with two or three boys and panniers full of produce. Though this is partly due to my pretty bike, it's also more admiration for what I'm doing, not what I'm spending, and this is where I'd rather score societal cool points.

Todd asked if the hybrid would pencil out as more economical than bikes for a big family. I wrinkled my nose and thought for a while and came up with no, unless: your children are all older than six but younger than 18 and you ride Tri-Met enough to be paying for monthly passes. We only ride a few trips a month, less in the summer; until July we don't have to pay fares for any of the children. (Also, you'd have to ignore the car payment in that calculation, which is, at $600 or $700 a month, more than I can ever imagine spending on bikes -- our most spendy year ever was last year, and we spent less than $2,000, or about three months' car payments.)

If you don't think you can go car-free, and you can't bear the thought of a tiny Fusion or another mini hybrid? The Escape Hybrid is a nice choice. And if we rent a car for a weekend excursion again, I'll be sure to ask for an Escape Hybrid, and I'll be sure and bring gifts home to my mamabikeorama to assuage my guilt.



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It's funny being in another chair on this, Sarah. At 43, we've still never owned a car, and have a bike shop. Wife has never even had a driver's license. But we have only one child, going on seven. For us, no car is, was, and hopefully always will be a no-brainer, and easy. But our business partners (for example) have four kids under ten. And they haven't sold the ancient Volvo wagon, because Zipcar doesn't have six seaters, and the bus is expensive for that many and punishingly slow, awkward and limiting for, you know, getting stuff. They've borne plenty of snarky indignities ( http://www.portlandground.com/archives/2006/07/family_in_irvington_out_f_1.php ; http://www.fark.com/cgi/comments.pl?IDLink=2200554 ) looking for alternatives. I don't see a case for selling the Volvo unless they really never intend to travel together beyond 5 miles more than once or twice a year. Not that there'd be anything wrong with that.

You're probably right that a new hybrid minivan will only ever be a luxury compared to, say, a used clunker of some kind, and there's a strong argument to be made that buying used is favorable from an ecological point of view, especially if your use would be limited and thoughtful.

You know, of course, that before long your three children will all be over six and under eighteen. Can't quite pack them all on a bike; can't quite leave some alone all the time; can't quite trust their judgment, temperament and strength to ride their own bikes with you. I guess I hope that you don't suffer too much guilt at that point, because "capitulation" frequently goes further than it must, particularly if "scoring societal cool points" is the driver!

Plus, we want to sell you more bikes as your bike needs evolve beyond mamabikeoramama's sweet spots.


I am a Mama of one little girl, I have a bike only, but sometimes
rent a zipcar, I have been wanting a car lately, as the summer allure to the mountains and coast call me.
But I hope I always remember that New Seasons is a really great
bike ride away!
No Guilt just awareness.

and new seasons really fulfills the outdoorsy-ness in all of us.

sorry. had to.

Usually I am a fan of your articles, but this one really rubbed me the wrong way. I'm sure it wasn't your intention, but you came across as smug and self-righteous. More importantly, I find your rationale to be car-free flawed. You might be able to ride your bike to Trader Joe's but you are buying, for the most part, food not produced locally. It is travelling great distances in big trucks to get to your store. I might drive my car to New Season's but, for the most part, I buy local produce that hasn't had to travel great distances to reach my store. Does that score me any societal cool points?

@c. - what is the point of your comment?

I think c. is pointing out the unintentionally humorous connection (or lack thereof) made by the previous poster (Jennifer) when she seemed to substitute/equate a car trip to the mountains or the coast with a bike ride to New Seasons. I thought it was funny.

tc: sorry I'm self-righteous. I edited myself rigorously to try and limit that. trust me that my thought process was far more agonized and deep than my obviously insufficiently-nuanced post. I found myself proudly getting in and out of a sparkly car, and then thinking to myself, 'what am I doing? these aren't my values.' I'm conflicted but really *am* smug about my leg muscles from so much biking. so there you have it.

I could go into a long defense of my grocery habits but I think most of you already know the story. while we *do* buy a very small percentage of our food from Trader Joe's (I cop to organic tortilla chips and good prices on beer), I hardly think that riding our bike instead of our car -- wherever we shop -- is the wrong choice (and honestly, I walk to Trader Joe's if I go. I need them. they sell melatonin). if that was the rational for biking you got from my piece, I'm sorry, that wasn't my intention.

I think that, in everything we do, we should give each other more praise and admiration for making/growing/doing/riding/walking/creating/fixing/finding/solving than we do for making great buying decisions (along with the attendant proof that we've worked extremely long hours to earn this).

I'll happily give you societal cool points for buying from New Seasons, and urge you to try biking once in a while.

and Todd: you do have some points about not handing a plate of guilt to parents who choose to drive. I'm certainly not going to shoot daggers out my eyes at the Mullens (also, I love them!) or anyone else driving a large number of kids around in an old Subaru, or an old minivan, or what-have-you. (I may admit to daggers at families of four who drive brand-new Suburbans, but promise not to tell them, they're only metaphorical daggers.)

but I think carting three kids, even when they get to be older, around on bikes is realistic. at least for us (we're all pretty sturdy, the northern european genes have been working in our favor). Everett is already doing all his biking solo at age six, though we could stand to buy a little more raingear. we solve the problem of "how to haul stuff" typically by not buying many haulables (the aforementioned financial situation helps--can't afford 'em anyway). someone mentioned to me that homeowners really need a car; well, we've bought most of our home depot-style goods from a local hardware store, and if we need any building materials, we borrow or rent a pickup truck. (and there is a lumber store in our neighborhood; we've hauled 2x4s via wagon or xtracycle.)

in addition, we've made lots of decisions, both systemic (where to send the kids to school) and daily (whether to go to a birthday party, whether to visit the zoo) based on transportation. no, we can't consider sending the boys to Access. if we want to go on an outing in Sauvie's Island or St. John's, it's all we can do for the whole day.

but I really value the side effects: what someone called 'slow parenting'. it's definitely a lifestyle shift. but given our kids and their "special" needs, it's a really good lifestyle shift for them.

this lifestyle may be one that requires lots of upfront planning (or, in our case, a series of minor misfortunes recast as happy accidents) but I think it's worth it. as I know you do :)

northern european genes? not sure what that has to do with anything with choosing to bike or not?

//I think that, in everything we do, we should give each other more praise and admiration for making/growing/doing/riding/walking/creating/fixing/finding/solving than we do for making great buying decisions (along with the attendant proof that we've worked extremely long hours to earn this).//

excellent point, sarah. we don't pat each other on the back often enough, so every once in a while i think that doing a self-pat is okay.

folks, no need to feel defensive about driving your car. if you are feeling defensive, you might just be missing the point of the post.

oh yeah. way to do your part by buying local produce, tc davis. ***pat-pat***

Have to point out....the older kids were not properly "strapped in." The seatbelts were across their necks. A BIG safety no, no!

Hello !
I am Zak Mathiew visiting this website for the first time and want to continue the discussion.



Toyota Camry

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