The Feasibility of Family Cycling

By Josh Cohen August 27, 2010

Tim King at the Fiets of Parenthood. Photo from flickr user bikejuju

People often say they need a car because of family obligations--dropping their kids off around town, going out to dinner, running errands. As a childless twentysomething, I'm certainly not going to criticize parents' use of cars to conveniently meet those obligations. But Seattle is home to more than a few parents who buck the trend and use bicycles to get around.

The John Stanford School recently played host to dozens of bike-riding families at Seattle's first Fiets of Parenthood event (it's pronounced "feats"). Organized by local family-cycling bloggers Tim and Anne King of Car Free Days and Julian Davies of Tot Cycle, the event featured fun rides, family races, helmet fittings and advice from a Cascade Bike Club representative, a cargo-bike converted to serve gelato, and nearly every configuration of child-carrying bike contraption in existence, including classic trailers, long-tail cargo bikes, front-loading cargo bikes, trail-a-bikes, and more.

Cargo bike at Fiets of Parenthood.

Tim says that although there are a lot of bike events in Seattle, few really emphasize family cycling. "We wanted a real participatory event where people could see the bikes, try them out, and also see that there's a support network for them to take their family cycling to the next level."

Tim and Anne have certainly done that with their own family cycling. For them, it's about "setting an example for our kids that there are alternatives to driving everywhere in the car that are healthy, alternatives that are more fun, and in many cases faster and more cost-effective." They use bikes for nearly all their trips around town with their two elementary-school-aged kids. Though they still own a minivan, it pretty much only gets used for trips out of town.

The Kings chose equipment that facilitates riding with young kids. They use long-tail cargo bikes---Tim rides a Surly Big Dummy, and Anne rides a mountain bike equipped with an XtraCycle attachment. The cargo bikes allow them to carry tons of groceries, supplies, and their kids (the Big Dummy holds up to 400 lbs, including rider weight). As you can see in the photo above, an extra set of handlebars gives passengers a secure place to ride.

"We over-prepare for everything," Tim said. "You have to really think about when [events] are going to end, have snacks ready, know your routes, know your limits."

People often ask if they've made sacrifices for their bike-based lifestyle. Tim says that they've had to change their approach to family activities, but they haven't had to sacrifice anything. "Yeah, we don't hop in the car to go to Edmonds for the day, or drive to Bellevue to see the new movie theater. But 80 percent of the stuff we want to do is within riding distance. And for the other 20 percent we can usually find a substitute that's just as good and doesn't require the extra hassle."

Tim says using bikes instead of driving is "freeing and empowering. Once you've made that commitment and once you've figured out your system, it works out for everyone."
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