NW Kids: H.O.B.-High-Occupancy Bicycle

A glimpse at family bike commuting in the Northwest

By Amy Whitley

Photo at right: Car-free family bikers Madi Carlson and her two sons. Photo courtesy of Madi Carlson

When Seattle mom Madi Carlson heads out the door to take her two young sons to preschool, Brandt and Rijder hop into bike seats, not car seats. The Carlsons are a bike-commuting family, heading everywhere—from swimming lessons to the grocery store—by bicycle.

Madi and her husband Dan made the change to a car-lite lifestyle nearly two years ago, and maintain that the benefits of commuting by bike far outweigh the inconveniences. (They still maintain a car they use once a month or so). Madi describes the time on their bikes as one of the best parts of their day.

“There’s just something about arriving by bike that turns any trip into an astounding journey,” she explains, a sentiment that goes double when she’s utilizing the kid-carrying bike. “We generally have to rush to get out the door, but once we’re on the bike and moving, everything slows down and the fun begins.”

The Carlsons greet regular commute buddies en route, and Madi keeps the kids occupied “in the backseat” by drawing their attention to points of interest along the way, whether it’s the construction progress on a new office building, the delicious aroma emitting from the Theo Chocolate Factory, or the boats in the ship canal as they cross the Fremont Bridge.

Winter weather is not an obstacle. Proper rain gear is a must in Seattle, and Madi’s experimented with pulling oven mitts over the boys’ mittens on particularly cold mornings.

With the right equipment, hauling cargo becomes a breeze as well. The Carlsons utilize a Surly Big Dummy Longtail cargo bike, tricked out with baskets under the kids’ seats to bring home groceries and other cargo. (Local bike shops are a great resource when determining what type of bikes and gear are needed.) The Carlsons have even managed to ride to the train station for a three-day trip on their family bike with kid seats. (Note: the cargo bike isn’t currently allowed on Amtrak – something cyclists are challenging.)

Getting started in a car-free (or reduced driving) lifestyle isn’t as intimidating as many car-commuters might think. Biking communities such as Kidical Mass abound in Northwest cities, run in conjunction with local bike shops. In the Seattle area, cyclists will want to check out Totcycle and Bike Works for family-friendly rides and assistance.

The Carlsons attest that nearly any bike can be turned into a family bike with some additions (on-bike seats, trailer, or trailer bike), though it’s advisable to test-ride bikes in the community you’ll be riding in before making a big purchase.

In the meantime, Madi says, “Just get out there and ride!”

(Learn more about family bike commuting at the Carlson’s website: familyride.wordpress.com)

Amy Whitley is a freelance travel writer, lover of the outdoors, and editor of family travel website Pit Stops for Kids. She makes her home with her husband and three kids in Southern Oregon.

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