Creative Car-Sharing with Caitlin Macklin

Caitlin and the family she car-shares with, riding through the streets of Austin.

My friend Caitlin Macklin joins me for Episode 3 of Family Pedals. She is a parent, teacher, and active transportation enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. We discuss being flexible and creative when facing physical injuries, the car-sharing arrangement she created with another family down the street, and how she moved her schoolhouse to its new location via bicycle.

I would love to hear your feedback on the show! You can leave a comment here, find me on Instagram @familypedals, or send me an email at familypedals@gmail.com.

Thanks for listening!

 

Cycling in Suburbia with Chris Wharton

 

In episode two I interview Chris Wharton. Chris and his family live in Gilbert, Arizona–a suburb in the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area. A few years ago he sold their second car and began incorporating more utilitarian cycling into his everyday life. We touch on a variety of topics including:

  • How and why they became a one-car family
  • How he travels with his two kids by bike
  • How he has fostered a love of cycling in his children
  • The biggest challenges of being a one-car family in Phoenix
  • How he survives biking in extreme weather conditions
  • Recommendations for family’s considering incorporating more active transportation in their lives

Chris brings an interesting perspective as a professor at Arizona State University who studies behavior change, healthy defaults, and voluntary simplicity. If you want to read or hear more from him, you can follow his blog Practically Awesome or listen to the personal finance podcast Matrimoney he hosts with his wife, Kelsey.

Links to resources discussed in this episode:

I would love to hear your feedback on the show! You can leave a comment here, find me on Instagram @familypedals, or send me an email at familypedals@gmail.com. I would also appreciate if you could take the time to rate and review the show on iTunes; it really helps new shows like mine get in front of more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

Family Pedals Podcast

I have exciting news to share: I am launching a new podcast today! I wanted to create a show that would share stories of families who are living car-free or car-lite so we can learn from and be inspired by each other.

It has been such a fun–and challenging!–learning experience to create and produce an interview-style podcast. I will be releasing new episodes every other Tuesday (on opposite Tuesdays as Friendlier, the show I co-host with Abby Olena).

In the first episode, I interview my husband Neil Kopper. I thought it would be a good place to start so listeners can get to know more about our family, how and why we ended up selling our car eight years ago, and how we get around with two young children all year round. Here’s the most recent picture I have us from earlier in the summer:

Resources and links related to this episode:

I would love to hear your feedback on the show! You can leave a comment here, find me on Instagram @familypedals, or send me an email at familypedals@gmail.com. I would also appreciate if you could take the time to rate and review the show on iTunes; it really helps new shows like mine get in front of more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

Biking In Winter

 

I am in the middle of my second winter biking with two kids. Here’s my secret: it’s not actually that different from biking other times of the year. To provide some context for our experience, let me give you a picture of what we are facing:

We live in Southern Indiana, so while winter here is much colder than in Austin, it is still mild compared to many other parts of the world. We have gotten two snows, each only an inch or two deep. The worst stretch so far has been a couple of weeks where the highs were in the teens and the windchill was consistently in the single digits or negatives. It was cold enough then to freeze the cable to my derailleur on three separate occasions. While those more extreme temperatures do happen, it mostly hovers in the twenties and thirties with some days that warm up into the forties and fifties. I am writing this in the middle of January and our ride this morning the kids were in light jackets with the top down on the bucket bike. I try to keep that in mind when I think about biking in the winter: it is cold some days, but not every day.

The most common question is whether I worry about the kids being too cold. Honestly, I don’t (#buildscharacter). When the temperature plummets they are bundled just as they would be to play in the snow: boots, snowsuits, mittens, scarves, etc. There are always blankets in the bike to wrap around them for an extra layer of protection. Since they are enclosed under the canopy of the bucket bike, they are protected from the worst of the wind. I have no doubt that it is still cold in there; there is only so much you can do to combat “feels like -2” temperatures. With all of the layers, even little ones can go for a short ride. We rarely ride more than two miles one way, which translates to fifteen to twenty minutes door to door. If we were riding for hours, I might feel differently.

As for me, the proper attire makes biking possible even on the coldest days. When the wind chill is in the single digits or below I wear polar fleece pants, extra socks, my coat, a scarf, two pairs of gloves (a liner and a windproof outer-cover), a balaclava, and an ear warmer in addition to my regular attire. The hardest thing to keep warm are my hands. The bigger challenge is not how to stay warm, but how to keep from getting too warm. When you start out you need a lot of layers, but once you start riding you warm up quickly. It is not unusual for me to show up at my destination slightly sweaty and feeling like I overdressed. As with any outdoor activity, as long as you have the right clothes, you’re fine.

The worst part of biking in the winter is without a doubt putting on all of gear. When I am bundling everyone up I dream about the ease of summer days when we could put helmets on and go. It feels like it adds an extra ten minutes on either end to put on all the extra layers. But if I am being objective, I know that even that is an exaggeration. All told, it realistically adds four or five minutes and much of that time would be necessary even if we were in a car–kids still need more layers no matter the mode of transportation.

There are circumstances in which I won’t ride, but it is usually ice, not the cold that keeps me inside. In those instances we either stay in for the day or walk to our destination. One advantage of living in a smaller town is that everything is relatively close, which makes walking an easy and viable alternative to cycling.

On the cold days where it feels like too much effort to get everyone geared up and on the bike I think of this Mr. Money Mustache article. Just like we biked through the heat of Austin summers, we bike through the winter here. I have shifted my mindset to think that it is normal–even enjoyable–to ride all year round. It may be cold, but it’s not that cold. Some days biking HP to preschool or taking the kids to the library is the only exercise I get. I don’t want to lose the opportunity to move my body and get outside because I am unwilling to take the time to put on the proper gear.

In sum, here my tips for biking as a family through the winter:

  • Keep the  kids protected from the wind, either a cargo bike with a canopy or a bicycle trailer.
  • Invest in the gear you need. Good gloves and a face mask are a must.
  • Change your mindset. Biking does not have to be a fair weather activity. Cycling in the winter lets you enjoy the outdoors when most people retreat inside. Bonus: you feel like a badass.

It may be cold, it may be gray, and it may require many layers of gear, but it is still both possible and fun to get around by bicycle all winter long.

Our bicycle fleet

How exactly do we make life with two children and no car work? With many, many bikes. Here’s what we’re riding these days:

Cargo bikes

Yuba Mundo
The Yuba was our first cargo bike purchase. It is a longtail bike, which means the section in the back where you normally put a rack is longer, hence the name. It has a wooden platform over the rack that is about twice as long as a traditional rack. This is Neil’s preferred cargo bike. He likes it because it rides so much like a regular bike, but with more capacity. I use this bike if I am going grocery shopping by myself, but do not regularly ride it with the kids.

Right now it is setup as pictured above with a seat on the back for HP and a seat on the front for E. We just ordered a set of monkey bars and a soft spot so HP can ride sitting on the back once he outgrows the seat. Then E will switch to the back seat when she outgrows the one in front.

On our anniversary last year Neil gave me a ride to the restaurant on this bike, because why not? It comes in handy to pick people up / drop them off at the bus station instead of having to walk or leave a bike locked up in public for days at a time. It is also good for towing other bikes (front wheel of bike being towed goes into the pannier and back wheel rolls on the ground).

Madsen
We bought our cargo bike last fall with the intention of finding something that could work through the winter. We pre-ordered the soft-top, but it only just arrived last month. Now we have a covered option to keep the kids protected from the elements. We considered getting a bakfiets, but went with the Madsen as it was more affordable, easier to ride out of the box, and has a larger capacity. It can seat four kids–two on each bench.

I prefer this bike for the kids over the Yuba and ride it almost every day. Neil (6’1”) finds it slightly awkward as he is at the top of the height range, but he has admitted that it would probably be fine if he spent a little more time making adjustments.

We are a bit of a spectacle riding around town in this, but we have a lot of fun. The kids like sitting next to each other and they are up high enough to see everything around them. The main downside is its speed: it is slow–very, very slow. I am used to it and just consider it part of my exercise regimen, but I am always shocked at how much faster I can ride when I am traveling on Electra (see below) without kids.

Neil’s bikes

Fairdale Weekender
Neil bought this commuter bike in Austin after he ran his road bike into the ground. The link above is to the newer version of what he has. This is the bike he takes to work every day and uses when he is traveling alone.

Trek
Neil scored this bike at a neighborhood clean-up “free” section. He wanted a second bike that he could ride in the winter when there is salt on the roads to help keep his Fairdale better condition. He just got it this spring, so no report yet on how to performs.

My bikes

Electra Ticino
I bought this bike in 2013, specifically because it worked well with the Yepp Mini seat. (You can read more about why I love the Yepp Mini here.) The geometry of American bikes is surprisingly ill-suited to front seats, and it was a challenge to find one where my knees did not hit the seat when I pedaled. It is a basic commuter bike. I used to have a road bike, but I sold it back in Austin when I realized that I like riding in an upright position. For me, comfort wins over speed any day.

Bowery Lane Breukelen
I bought this bike from a garage sale this spring to have as a spare bike. I definitely don’t need this one, but it’s nice to have another bike in a smaller size for when guests come to visit. Bonus: we got it for a steal of a price.

Kids’ bikes

Strider
We got this for HP on his second birthday. For the first year and a half he had it he was supremely uninterested in riding it. Instead, he liked to wheel it around the yard and park it various places. Early this spring something clicked and he wanted to ride it to the park and all over the neighborhood. Two months later, he graduated to a pedal bike (see below).

 

Specialized Hotrock
Neil bought this bike off of Craigslist last summer. Switching from the Strider to the pedal bike was a relatively seamless process. Mastering the Strider taught him how to steer and balance, so all he had to do was add pedaling. Bonus: we became friends with the people who sold us this bike and Neil and HP went bike camping with them in the fall.

The extras

Yepp Mini
Love, love, love using this seat. HP used this seat until he outgrew it at 2.5. I cannot recommend having the child in the front enough, whether it is this one or a different brand.

Yepp Maxi
We switched to this seat when HP outgrew the Mini. I do not like riding with him in this seat on my Electra as I find it too unstable with his weight so high over the rack. We primarily use this seat on the Yuba, where stability is not an issue. Now that we have the Madsen, I almost never use this seat. Neil will use it when he picks up HP from preschool or when they go on an errand together.

Burley trailer
Some friends rehabed this bike trailer for us when HP was born. We used it for groceries every week for almost two years until we got the Yuba. HP rode in it if it was raining or cold when we were in Austin. Since we didn’t have the cover for the Madsen this past winter, the kids rode in the trailer regularly in the cold temps.

Personally, I do not love using a trailer. I find it more physically taxing to ride pulling the weight rather than having it integrated into the frame, the kids can’t see out as well, and I can’t talk to them or hear them as easily. That said, it is a great option if you are looking to get into riding with your kids. There are so many used ones available on Craigslist that there is a low cost of entry to start cycling as a family.

Bikes we’d love to own someday

A tandem
No real purpose other than leisure, but wouldn’t it be fun?

Brompton
We could take it as a carry-on when we travel then ride out of the airport! Though then Neil and I would both need one and we’d have to traveling without the kids. It is unlikely to be worth the cost to us anytime soon, but fun to dream about.

Cargo bike trailer
I know we have two cargo bikes, but neither one is great at hauling things like lumber, a canoe, or appliances. If we had this, there is nothing we couldn’t move by bike! Maybe Neil and I will splurge on this as a Christmas present to ourselves this year.

Our system is ever-evolving, but for now, these are the bikes that make car-free living both possible and fun.