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How to get Mamas on the Saddle?

A recent Chicago Tribune article talks about transporation professionals targeting women when it comes to programming encouraging more cycling:

Women have been called the “the indicator species” in bike-friendly cities because when they pedal, there’s a trickledown effect, said Garrard, a senior lecturer in public health at Deakin University in Melbourne.

We urbanMamas are a bunch of bike-riding mamas, but we weren't always this bike.  At least, I wasn't.  It's been a journey and constant exploration of different bike configurations and different affordabilities to find the best way to transport our kids and our gear.  As a lot of you know, we have settled on the Xtracycle longtail as our family bike of choice.  We can haul up to 3 kids, plus all their gear, and all our gear -- all on one bike.  We love it so much that we now have two Xtracycles in our family.

There are many, many reasons why regular biking cannot work for some mamas.  It could be schedule, cost, cargo.  It could also be that a mama never learned to ride a bike.  It could be that one kid goes to school in one quadrant but the other goes to school in another quadrant and then work might be in an all-together different quadrant.  It could be that there really is not an extra few hundreds of dollars in the family budget to invest in a new bike set up.

Care to share?  What makes it hard/impossible for you as a mama to hop on that saddle?  If you are a biking mama, what makes it easy?


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Sleep. I'm a night owl....I have to be at work around 7 am and ready to teach high school by 7:45. It takes more than an hour to get to work by bike. Add on time to change and spruce up before prepping for class and I'm leaving the house at 5:30. I cannot fathom that.

This mama's job requires me to carry a lot of tools and sometimes large pieces so I usually have to drive a pickup truck. I love to walk if not forced to drive. I enjoy riding when in Sun River but would not want to on the streets of Portland.

I have the spread-out problem. My son goes to school in one neighborhood, my daughter goes to daycare in another, and I work in a third. Because my kids are 6.5 years apart, this situation isn't going to remedy for awhile. I'm hoping that once my daughter starts at our neighborhood elementary school and my son is taking the bus to middle school I'll have more freedom to bike to work, but right now it's not feasible. I really wish it was an option because driving makes me cranky and with all of the summer road construction I've been even crankier by the time I finally get to work.

We do a lot of riding in our neighborhood, to school, shopping, that kind of thing. It gets a little challenging when my youngest wants to ride his own bike instead of the Xtracycle because he's very slow, but I try to let him do this as much as possible. He is still little enough that I can put his bike in the saddle bag if needed, and we usually reach a good compromise about him riding part of the trip as opposed to all of it.

As for riding to work, I have about a 45 minute ride and don't mind doing it on occasion. We have a shower at work so it's very easy to ride, grab a shower, and then be ready to go. The problem I have is that I work an 11 hour shift, so I'm usually ready to get home afterwards in order to have some time before kiddos go to bed. Or I'm working a swing or graveyard shift and don't feel comfortable riding the Interstate Bridge route in the middle of the night. I'm getting ready to begin a regular day gig a couple of days a week and really want to ride for these. I'm targeting 50% to start.

My transportational biking is split into two specific types: with kids, and without. Without kids I can do the 13+ mile commute to gresham and back, but that has to be done after child care is in place, requiring my work schedule to be flexible (which fortunately, it is). With kids, I have a much smaller radius. I try to keep it under 2 miles and without any large hills, because hauling 3 boys around is tough! But there are times when I have to drive to something within 2 miles, and the traffic is horrendous, and the parking is impossible, and I wait cycle after cycle at a traffic light where no one is going anywhere, and I wish I was on my bike. And this is all with the not-so-rainy weather. When it gets cold and rainy, it's difficult for the little ones to be passengers. They don't warm up with the pedaling, so it can be miserable for them.

There are oh-so-many barriers that I truly have to make the extra effort, and have the special situation that I do to make it all work. Otherwise I'd be sitting back behind the wheel much more frequently...

When we lived in Portland I walked and biked a lot and loved it. With the right gear, there seemed to be very few limiting factors. Now that we live in AZ, the major reason I don't bike more is safety. I live near one of the busiest intersections in town, one road being a highway of sorts. My boys and I occasionally cross it to get to the shopping center on foot, but it's nerve wracking, to say the least. There is a very easy way to ride to one boy's school on side streets and we do it often throughout the school year, but not the other boy's, and I would never feel comfortable biking with him on such a major road with commuters driving 50+ MPH in the next lane. Even though that school is only a mile or two from my house... In many ways, Tucson is very bike friendly--I see cyclists all over town and some sections have better bike lanes than others--but I don't see nearly as many families biking with kids as I did in Portland. I miss that.

Biggest obstacle for me is safety and the fact that my return trip home is all straight uphill - I'm in decent shape but hauling two kids up the hill at the end of the day is not pleasurable. Would love an xtracycle but man, these things are expensive so there is the where to lock up the bike trailer during the day challenge. Agree with the poster that mentioned the rain - cold, crabby kids with mom going slowly up a big hill = not really workable. We do bike around the neighborhood for local errands, especially now that my son is riding on his own but the group commute to and from work/school just has never come together for us.

My situation is unusual in that we bike mostly because it's our best transportation option. My husband has been bike-commuting for years, and we've been car-free for over a decade, but our 4-person family has finally turned to biking as our primary transportation only just this year. I've been resisting it, because I do not really like bikes or biking. I could not care less about the gear, I'm afraid of getting hit by a car, I don't like riding on high-traffic streets or on bike lanes, and I'm lazy. In order for me to convert, we had to get ourselves into a situation where I finally had to concede that biking is obviously the best option for most trips.

This is why we finally made the shift:
1) Location and infrastructure. We now finally live in a home with grocery store, library, school, daycare, and other useful destinations all within a 1.5 mile radius. The city's investment in greenways means that we can get to all our everyday destinations on low-traffic streets, with safe crossings of all the relevant arterials. So biking has become the fastest, most convenient way for us to get most places we need to go. Rain and cold aren't that big a deal, because we'd usually get wetter and colder waiting for the bus or walking. Even if we had a car, I think we'd probably bike for most of our under-3-mile trips - it's just as fast most of the time, and there are so many benefits (cheaper, healthier, etc.) that it would seem silly to drive. The kids and I do take the bus for most trips longer than 5 miles or so, and any trips involving going downtown or lots of unpleasant arterial crossings, but because of our housing and activity choices, those trips are pretty rare.
2) Timing. The older kid graduated to riding her bike on the street, my husband and I had serviceable used bikes already, and all we needed, gear-wise, was a trailer for the toddler.
3)Biking is clearly good for my kids. Biking makes my older daughter feel independent and capable - she is very proud to be riding for transportation (you should see her swaggering up to the bike rack at school), and takes her driving responsibility really seriously. She'll be able to get around independently much earlier than she would if we were trapped somewhere where we needed a car to get around. She also gets exercise, and she experiences her community much more intimately than she would from the back seat of a car. I think that's all good.

So now I'm a biking mama almost in spite of myself. It took a series of long-term-planning decisions by my family, the city's commitment to building a greenway network, and my kid's passionate love for her sparkly pink bike, but I finally got here, and I'm glad I did.

We bike some, but we've also more recently been scooting a lot. We have xtracycles (bought when selling one car) but my kids are too big for me to haul both comfortably in the last year. They are also in that awkward stage where I don't always feel great about them riding on the road depending on where we are going. My friend gave them scooters (all leg-powered, no motors!) for Christmas and they have been the BEST! We can go almost two miles from home and back before anyone gets grumpy, can all jump on the bus if needed and just fold them up into our laps. I think the easy compatibility with bus/MAX makes it a good means of transport for us. Little legs get cranky with just plain walking but go forever on their scooters. I can keep up with them fast fast walking, but am hoping to get my own scooter too sometime soon!

This is very timely for me as I've been, finally, cycling to work at least a few days a week this summer. I don't have to transport kids, and I usually take the bus, so my bike is the same or perhaps even faster. I like it too.

But I'm still fumbling over basics--I'd rather wear the clothes I'll be wearing to work because I don't want to pack clothes and change at work. But sometimes I dress up a bit more than I'd like to wear on my bike. I don't wear much make-up, but I do wear a little, and I can't really put it on before I bike. I could deal with these things, but it takes extra time to figure it out, and I haven't sat down and done that yet.

Is it just me? Or do those little saddles really hurt?

Also, the car thing. There's no way for me to get almost anywhere from my house on a low traffic street. And everytime I see a bike lane, I think how insane it is that anyone thinks a strip of paint could stop a car.

Daisy: When I had a job that needed dressing up & makeup, I split my outfits-- part I'd wear on the bike (sundress, light blouse & skirt, etc) and part I'd carry in my bag-- usually a light blazer, but sometimes a second shirt. When I got to work, my cool-down ritual was to change clothes & put on makeup in the bathroom, while I guzzled water and stretched. This was in a sweltering DC summer and with a hilly 8-mile commute, so there was some sweating involved, but keeping work clothes summery (and appropriately modest with stuff I could carry) I managed the heat ok. And putting on makeup in the bathroom was a nice way to mark the transition from bikey-me to work-me in the mornings.

Anon: This blog post from Lovely Bicycle, about women-specific saddle discomfort and what you can do about it, is amazing: http://lovelybike.blogspot.com/2011/04/on-female-anatomy-and-bicycle-saddles.html For me, the first week in the saddle after a long time away always hurts, and after that I'm fine. If your saddle hurts every time you ride, you should try something different!

When my son was about 1, I bought a bike seat for him, strapped him in, and headed down my driveway. Within seconds, he leaned to one side (he was a heavy little guy) and I felt like I was going to crash. I stopped, took him off and returned the seat. I know that it can just take some getting used to and I just needed to really get going, but I couldn't risk it. Now the kids are 4 and 2.5 and I'd love to try biking with them. Any suggestions for a bike configuration that would feel more stable?

I love to bike on my own, but I take the kids to school in the morning: a 3-year old straight uphill from our house and the other kid down past our house, then I have to get across town. By the time we get out the door in the morning we're always running late as it is, and I just can't seem to figure out leaving early enough to drive up the hill, then come home and switch to bikes for the other commutes. There's no way that I can bike both kids up that hill in the morning and get to work at any decent time, and not completely disgustingly sweaty. It's the packing everything up to change at work (no shower there), and lunch, and getting the kids lunches ready and getting them dressed and me dressed.... It's so much faster to just dress for work with no bike clothes and run out the door.
Once in awhile my husband is able to do the morning kid shuffle, and it's wonderful being able to just sail off from home by myself on my bike. But to be honest, I don't mind driving. I like to listen to the radio, I like being able to do the grocery shopping on the way home, I like that when I get a call that Kid 1 has a fever and has to be picked up from daycare I can be there in 15 minutes instead of an hour. I was a bike and bus only commuter until about 6 years ago, and I'm still savoring the convenience of the car.

We have a front-mount bike seat that we started putting our son in at 8 mos (when he was sitting strongly). He is now 18 mos and *loves* his bike... And wearing his helmet, which he play wears around the house even! We actually moved to inner SE this past winter so that bike commuting would be more feasible for our growing family. I wanted to live in a community that I could easily commute to the grocery store, school, activities, etc. by bike or walking. It meant living in a smaller house for more money per month, but it has been worth it for our family and I'm so happy we made this significant lifestyle change.

For the poster who inquired about tips for getting better stabilized - one method to get used to a change in balance and weight, is to put 2 gallons of milk into your carrier to "practice" riding around with your new precious cargo. It sounds silly but those extra 16 lbs really do help emulate what having a extra passenger feels like! The second tip is you will most likely need to change your stance and make adjustments to your seat height and possibly your handlebars/stem. I find a more upright riding position to be more comfortable and easier to balance extra weight. For assistance with bike fit, there are several kid specific bike shops who can help you with making the changes you might need, such as Clever Cycles and Joe Bike. Third tip is to consider a center stand instead of a side kickstand. This really helped me with stabilizing the bike for loading/unloading.

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