Lugging the Kids, Without the Car

Photos: © Sara Armstrong

Two Parents, Three Kids, and They Rarely Need a Car. Here’s How They Do It.
“It’s doable,” is the way New Haven, Connecticut, mom Sara Armstrong describes her two-wheeled family transportation system. “I had a set of twins so I didn’t know how to ride with more than one child,” she says. “Trailers didn’t work for us in an urban area—they were too low, with poor visibility. Then, four years ago we discovered cargo bikes. Since then, the knowledge and access to family bikes has grown tremendously. We found the Dutch Bakfiets [kind of like a wheelbarrow], and one parent can take three boys. I could commute to school, then I realized I could ride other places. Music lessons. And how about grocery shopping? There are bike options that make all this possible.“

After becoming a one-car, one-cargo-bike family, the family made another change. “We found we were going in different directions depending on our schedules. Both my husband and I preferred to take the bike and we got into discussions about who would bike and who had to take the car. So we invested in a second cargo bike, a long-tail XtraCycle.” That’s a bike with an extended wheel base that looks like a skateboard that children sit on behind the pedaler.

“We’re in a transition, where my boys have their own bikes,” Armstrong says, adding, “It is heavy to haul two 10-year-olds on the back of a bike.” But she says her boys ride their bikes on the street only on weekends when there’s less traffic.

“We ride. That’s just how we get around. Bicycling has enriched my family’s life immensely. On the practical side, it has allowed us to remain a one-car family. On the unexpected-benefits side, bicycling has made us much more in touch, involved and aware community members. When out on our bikes, we notice so much more than we did when we were always in the car. We engage with more people, some of whom we likely would not have had much contact with if we were not bicycling throughout our city. We can stop easily when something catches our eye, investigate what suddenly interests us, and never need to worry about parking!”

Armstrong and her family are among a growing army of like-minded parents in at least a dozen communities around the U.S. who participate in Kidical Mass. The name is a take-off on Critical Mass, the gathering in hundreds of cities around the world on the last Friday of the month in which cyclists take over the streets for a leaderless, unscripted ride, usually blocking (or “corking”) intersections to hold cars at bay as they pass through—which is illegal but often tolerated by police—under the slogan, “We’re not blocking traffic—we are traffic!”

Kidical Mass cofounder Shane MacRhodes says he got involved when a friend with kids suggested a group ride. “I wanted to do something legal and more mellow” than Critical Mass, he says. He didn’t even have kids at the time, but was program manager of a Safe Routes to School program in Eugene, Oregon, a federally funded program to create the infrastructure to make it safe for kids to walk or bike to school. The first ride was in April 2008, before his own children were born. Now, he has three under age three, including twins.

“We have a Bakfiets and a Burley trailer and a couple of Xtracycles,” MacRhodes says. ”That’s the amazing thing about what’s going on right now. I’ve worked in the cargo bike world for 10 years but in the past few years it’s taken off,” not just for delivery of cargo, but for schlepping young kids around. For example, he says, “XtraCycle originally marketed to outdoors folks to carry kayaks [and other outdoor gear], but the people buying them ended up being moms and dads.”

The cargo-bike-for-kids movement has hit the big time with its own documentary by Liz Canning, Less Car More Go. She is also the mother of twins—one of the best double motivators for cargo biking.