Kristy Westendorp, a 32-year-old photographer and stay-at-home mother, lives in Victoria with her partner and their two children, Foster, 5, and Henrietta, 3
We basically traded in our car for our cargo bike last fall. It’s got the box in front, so the kids can hear me when I’m talking to them. It’s also got electric assist and a rain cover, which is really important on the island.
We can walk to the grocery store, although more often we cycle. We live really close to all that stuff. We don’t do daycare and we don’t do school. But we do have swimming lessons and art lessons that we travel to.
It makes sense for so many different reasons. Economically, I am a photographer but first and foremost I am a mom who is home with her kids. We are essentially a single-income family. I know how much people spend on cars. Gas prices were going higher and higher, and [switching to cycling] cut out a major expense.
It also builds physical activity into our everyday life without us having to think about it. We’re not wasting hours at a gym on an exercise bike. Of course we’re concerned about environmental issues, especially having kids, as well as our quality of life. But I just didn’t want to sit in a car all day trying to get somewhere.
Even when we are travelling for an hour to go somewhere, we take our time with it. If my kids need something, we stop and meet the need. I didn’t want my kids growing up stuck in traffic.
I’m happier when I’m on a bike than when I’m in a car. It costs less money. It’s better for me. It’s better for the environment. It’s better for the city I live in. It promotes human interaction instead of people honking their horns at each other. All of those things combined just made it a no-brainer for us.
We overconsume mobility when we have a vehicle. We drive places we don’t have to.
Not owning a car doesn’t mean you don’t have access to a car if you need one. But if you add up how much you’re spending on your car for a year so that if you maybe want to take a road trip twice a year, you could easily rent a car or join a car-share program.
The only thing is that my partner’s work is downtown. I would prefer to live where we work but right now it’s too expensive to live downtown. He rides most days. This year we got a bus pass for most of the winter.
Strangers are impressed and baffled by it. People give us more props than we probably deserve because they think it’s this grand sacrifice.
It’s not hard. It’s just what we do. We enjoy it. It’s not something we’re suffering through because we’re these diehard environmentalists who just couldn’t possibly own a car. I’m happy on my bike.
The only thing that irritates me is when people think it’s a risky thing that I bike with my kids. Everything else I’m fine with. When people say I’m brave or that it’s risky, I think: Do you know how many children are injured or killed every year in motor-vehicle accidents? If biking is unsafe in any way, it’s an infrastructure issue; it’s not an issue with cycling.
Daniel Thompson, a 37-year-old legal assistant, lives in Ottawa with his wife and their three-year-old son, William
My wife and I both hate the bills that come with owning a car. It’s not an ideological decision. If the time comes that a car makes sense, then we’ll get a car, but it hasn’t happened yet. And it seems like things just get better and better.
But saving money isn’t our primary motivation. To me, it’s just the joy of cycling. There was a time when I was “Biker Dan.” It was a part of my identity. I didn’t want to stop biking when I became a parent. Once I found out cargo bikes were an option, I was overjoyed. It’s been really interesting how it’s folded into our parenting, our lifestyle.
It’s practical. I do big loads of groceries in it. I admit I’ll bring home a case of beer or two in the cargo bike. On date nights, my wife sits in the front.
My commute from home to daycare to work is about 35 minutes if I want to go as fast as possible. But in practice what’s happened is I’ve stopped thinking of my commute as just getting there.
I ride the bike down to 0 C. The rest of the time I’ll take the bus. It’s not my favourite, but busing a few months of the year and having glorious cycling for the rest has been a good mix.
The cargo bike is a very friendly ride. I compare it to a canoe. It’s predictable. I’ll give a test ride to anyone.
My son loves it. He asks for it. If it’s a rainy day, sometimes I’ll give him the choice: “Do you want to go on the bus today or do you want to go on the bike?” And usually he wants to go on the bike.
With a cargo bike you can stop anywhere and you can go anywhere, so you can go on spontaneous adventures.
Usually on Saturday morning I’ll load my son on the bike or even bring one of his friends along and we’ll just go out and see what we can find.
What sealed it for me was a couple of months ago I used the word “adventure” – talking about what we did as going on adventures – and as I was putting my son to bed, just before he drifted off, he grabbed my hand and said, “Daddy, I like going on adventures with you.” That was pretty rewarding.
I’ve been going on bike adventures my whole life and I didn’t want to stop doing that once I was a parent. Quite the contrary, now I get to share that with my son.
My wife and I don’t hesitate to rent a car if we need one. But by the time we finish paying for parking and dealing with traffic jams and the car-seat logistics and everything, owning one doesn’t really seem like the way to go.
Katie Didyk, a 38-year-old marketing and outreach co-ordinator, lives in Toronto with her partner and their two-year-old son, Arden
I own a car, so people will say, “Why are you taking your bike?” It’s not that I don’t have the means to get around in other ways. I choose this method of transportation.
I have quite a beater. It’s a mountain bike with city tires. It’s got a [child’s] bike seat on the back and a basket on it as well. I might switch to the bike trailer when Arden gets older.
Anything that’s happening in the city, I’m on my bike with Arden. Anything that’s outside the city, we take a car.
My family is in Oakville, Ont., my brother and my mom. They think I’m nuts. It’s because they don’t have a reference because they don’t cycle. They actually haven’t been out commuting and seeing just how safe it actually is. I’ve gained the confidence after cycling for 10 years here in the city. I know the safer routes and take all the precautions.
It’s a very simplified way of life, much simpler than our suburban friends who are in cars and driving and parking from place to place.
I’m right downtown in the CityPlace condos. My daycare is just down the street. It’s about a five-minute bike ride.
When Arden was born, there was no doubt in my mind that he would become part of my biking experience.
Growing up in the suburbs, my earliest memories are of being outside exploring and the freedom of being outdoors. Living in the dense downtown core, it can be so difficult to provide those same kind of memories and outdoor activity. So when we’re biking together, I really feel like I’m giving that back to him.
And when we’re biking together, I really feel that he experiences this world in a new and different way than when we’re in the stroller or in the car. We’re able to stop when we want to stop, to explore what we want to explore and we can easily go from the waterfront up to Trinity Bellwoods Park in a faster way than I could in any other means of transportation. So I feel like we’re spending much more quality time together and we get to see so much more of the city.
My commute has become a highlight of my day. And it’s a highlight for Arden and me, picking him up and dropping him off at daycare. How many people can really say that?
When you have a kid and you’re trying to do things around the city with your child, it is just so much more convenient than having to pay for the parking or figure out where to put your stroller.
As parents, we have really overcompensated for our kids and we’ve made life more complicated with a lot of the things that we’re doing. This is one way to simplify.
And while we haven’t reached a critical mass, if more of us are out there people will see we need better infrastructure for [cyclists] out on bikes with their kids.
I hope that when Arden is older, it’s considered part of our culture.
As told to Dave McGinn
Let it roll: For a roundup of the best cargo bikes, visit tgam.ca/familybikes.