Where did we lose the trail? (Part 2)

I owe all of you in our adventuring community a big thanks for your encouraging comments from the original post ‘Where did we lose the trail?’.

I read over the comments many times and have benefited from the insight and perspective. It reminds me that this modern life can often be a puzzling balance of tasks, goals and spontaneous moments for all of us.

We are doing our best to aim our family in the direction that best suits us while quenching the inevitable and constant thirst for a new adventure.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and relevance… and for the record, I found a different job- which is also helping!

-Mark

Bikepool to school

Despite Mark’s and my lack of success finding bicycle-commute friendly employment in Fort Collins, the kids are riding their bikes more than ever. This is in part due to a “bikepool” or bicycle train that evolved in our neighborhood. What is a bike train? As defined by Safe Routes to School, it’s a variation on the walking school bus where a group of children and adult leaders ride together to school. Here is a great writeup by SRTS offering some general guidelines. We are by no means this official. Essentially, we parents take turns riding all the kids to and from school.Waiting for train to arrive one sunny (but cold) morning

Our train currently consists of two or three families, with a total of up to 7 children (including younger siblings that are sometimes along for the ride). The children either ride their own bikes, or with Mom/Dad on cargo bikes, tandems and/or trailers. The oldest children in our bike train are in the 3rd grade, our youngest is Clara, a kindergartener. All kids seem to understand and adhere to safe cycling practices (many years of parental nagging). Our older kids take turns leading the group, and the parent sweeps (a caboose, in SRTS speak). Our group is still relatively small, so one adult in the rear of the train seems sufficient–as long as you can trust your child leader to set a decent pace. In my limited experience, 3rd grade boys tend to like to speed ahead. Be prepared to shout instructions, it’s often necessary. :)

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The benefits of a bikepool are innumerable, and include:

  • companionship and community of riding with friends
  • daily exercise
  • fun
  • better night sleep
  • consistent practice of safe cycling methods
  • way better than driving in traffic (the worst of which is in the school parking lot)
  • easier than carpooling, no carseats, trying to figure if there are enough seats, etc.
  • sense of independence and self-reliance
  • creates pint-sized bike advocates (Clara now insists we should sell our car and bike everywhere)
Biking and friendship

Biking and friendship

Before the bikepool, I was riding the same stretch of road up to six times a day (morning drop off, kinder pickup, elementary pickup). When we lived with my parents, at 8 miles one way, that was 48 miles per day! Ok, I only did that once. But now that we live closer to the school, my life is easy! On mornings when it is the other mom’s turn to ride all the kids in, I get to enjoy a HOT cup of coffee!

I realize we’re very fortunate, but there were a few choices we made to stack the deck in our favor. They are:

Location, location, location. Our girls attend a charter school, so we could live anywhere within the district. So when choosing where to live, we deliberately moved to a neighborhood that was within reasonable biking distance and had a safe, facilitated route to the school. Our school is near a separated multi-use trail, so we chose a neighborhood also along the trail. Our typical route is a mix of residential streets and bike path, all the way to the school. A few neighborhoods were closer, but the route to school required crossing of a major arterial roadway.

A car free family at our school, we are trying to convince them to move to our neighborhood

A car free family at our school we are trying to convince to move to our neighborhood

Finding like-minded parents. The school our kids attend is progressive and we live in a Platinum bicycling community, so you’d think it be easy to find other bicycling parents. This is true, but there are still a number of factors that make this harder than you’d think. Distance. Time. Siblings going to different schools. Work schedules. After school activities. Fear. There is a lot stacked against this idea. In our case, there was one family in particular who we knew were really committed to riding–so in stalker-like fashion, we found out where they lived. Mom’s official title is Bike Ambassador and she’s heavily involved with SRTS, is an LCI, etc. Now they are our backdoor neighbors. We got lucky, but they chose this neighborhood for some of the same reasons we did. Once we moved to the hood, a bikepool evolved within a week. Come to find out, another family that we’d see riding from time to time also lived nearby. When Dad saw the train, he joined as well. Now our bikepool consists of three families. Not bad for winter commuting! Once the weather warms up, maybe a few more kids will join the ranks and we can turn the bikepool into an actual train.

Hard core biking mama Bevin

Hard core biking mama Bevin

Self-organize. A few well-intentioned moms in our school tried to organize carpooling on behalf of parents, and it was a flop. Eventually, the group just provided all parents with a directory so they could organize on their own–which worked much better. We are currently the only bikepool, but multiple carpools were created as a result of the directory. This type of thing requires a lot of trust, something that many parents don’t have the stomach for. Maybe in idyllic Portland, or but not many other places in the real world. [Note: After I posted, Velo Mom pointed out this great example of a successful (and huge) bike train in Temecula, CA. What an inspiration!]

That’s all I can think of tonight. Please comment if you have questions… Find some buddies, and ride to school together. It’s a lot of fun. IMG_1618

 

The long overdue Islabike review

There are so many awesome pint-sized outdoor products for kids these days. If I spend more than a few minutes wandering the kids’ section at REI, it’s enough to make me drool. Snowsports, apparel, camping gear, outerwear, footwear, you name it. The adult version is just downsized for a kiddo. So why isn’t the same true for bicycles?

We’ve bought our share of relatively expensive kids bike products by Raleigh, Burly, Specialized, and Trek–but the story is always the same. Heavy, crappy components, cramped cockpits, giant mustache handlebar, unreasonably high stand over height etc. It’s miraculous that somehow children still love to ride despite such inferior bikes!

Eva is four in this picture. Note the chin-level handlebars.

Eva is four in this picture. Note the near chin-level handlebars.

Last fall I was in the market for a new 24″ wheel bike for Eva so she could hand down her 20″ Raleigh to Clara. I came across Elle’s Tiny Helmets blog about Islabike. High quality, lightweight children’s bicycles that we could actually get in the States? I had to know more.

A few delightful conversations with Tim Goodall of Islabike’s stateside headquarters in Portland later, and I bit the bullet on two Islabikes. A BEINN 24″ for Eva and a BEINN 20″ Large for Clara. We pushed the size boundaries for both girls, buying slightly larger bikes than Isla recommended. Emmett nearly got one too, but we decided to wait until he crashed with a little less frequency.

The bikes arrived in time for Christmas. Donning bows on the handlebars, the bikes were under the tree and a huge surprise Christmas morning. After listening to the girls complain all summer that they wished they could ride their own bikes on tour, Santa delivered big.

BEINN 24 and BEINN 20 large, equipped for adventure

BEINN 24 and BEINN 20 large, equipped for adventure

Pulling the bikes out of the box on the night of the 24th, Mark was immediately impressed. The components were superior, the bike was noticeably lighter, and the whole package–bike, rear rack, fenders, water bottle cage, bell and all was beautifully assembled and ready to ride. The Islabikes will accommodate any riding style, urban, mountain, cyclocross, and our favorite, tour! 

Eva is in the middle on her Islabike

Eva is in the middle on her Islabike

Being no expert on components, my gauge of quality was how easy these bikes handled on their very first ride. The shifting was effortless for both of my girls. That doesn’t sound like much to ask, but the grip shift on the Burly Piccolo trailer bike we took on tour was too difficult for the girls to operate without using both hands. Very safe indeed.

The Isla hand brakes were also well assembled. The action was softer and the brake levers were within a reachable distance for a child’s hand. Eva’s first bike with handbrakes, a Raleigh Rowdy, had an adult-sized reach. As shipped, she had to brake with her wrists on the handlebars. Mark rebuilt the brakes, and eventually replaced the handlebars to accommodate a more comfortable riding position. Instead of being cocked and ready to shred, I’m more interested in my daughter sitting up where she can see oncoming cars. The Islabike has a very natural and upright riding position.

Maybe it's the dress, but the riding position looks Dutch

Maybe it’s the dress, but the riding position looks Dutch

As you might expect, Islabikes are not the cheapest kids bikes, but they are comparable to most major brands. Tim of Islabike explained that they keep costs as low as possible. Instead of artificially inflating their prices and then discounting them during a sale, they keep the price constant. I’m not sure I trust a salesman, but it seemed about right. When we bought Eva’s Raleigh 20″ it was on sale, but the retail price was roughly the same cost as Clara’s Islabike. In terms of quality, ridability and equip-ability there is no comparison. These Islabikes are for recreation and transportation, so we justify the extra cost.

Riding to school

Riding to school

Mark and I pride ourselves on owning quality, useful bicycles–and Islabike is the tot equivalent. We’ve equipped the girls’ Islabikes with fenders, racks, lights, kickstands and bells and these bikes are the go-to school commuting machine. For their birthdays, we purchased panniers for each of the bikes. A standard rear pannier like the Ortlieb Backroller Classic fits perfectly on Eva’s 24-inch BEINN. Clara’s 20-inch Islabike has a smaller rack, so she inherited our Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers. Both girls are really proud to have such bomber-looking rigs. They are hoping to ride on their own two wheels for our next self-supported tour. I can’t wait for them carry some of their own clothes and equipment. Not only are they moving under their own power, but they can carry what they need on their bike. What a wonderful feeling of independence and self-sufficiency. 

Eva and Clara sporting panniers on their Islabikes

Eva and Clara sporting panniers on their Islabikes

If you are considering a new bicycle for your child, I strongly recommend you research Islabike. Most local bike shops will not have anything that even remotely compares. The childrens bicycle market is ripe for improvement. Have a product? We’d love to hear about it! 

Where did we lose the trail?

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Mark here, husband, father and contributor of thefamilyride.com.

I have to apologize for the lack of recent content on my part. It has been too long since I have contributed to this site but I admit that I have been struggling to relate to ‘family adventure by bicycle’ as a philosophy in recent months.

There was a time when I was truly absorbed by all the possibility and excitement that is traveling by bike, and sharing that with my closest and most cherished loved ones. When I created this website over a year ago I thought I was irreversibly captured by the sense of freedom and human potential to be experienced on a bicycle. I have hopes that those feelings will be restored.

I am admitting to having lost sight of these precious values regarding this wonderful form of pass time many of us share. Somewhere during these past six to seven months I have allowed ordinary life pressures to quell my thirst for adventure to a point where I struggle to even glance in the general direction of my bicycles in the corner our tiny rented garage. I pass by them each morning in the dark before I climb into our SUV, where my commute across a couple of towns to an industrial park will guarantee me some compensation for adhering bits of fiberglass to each other and then sanding them.

This is all ordinary, acceptable behavior that my community understands and encourages… and yet I am unhappy. Why?

I can surf the radio stations for an inspiring song, as I do not enjoy hearing the news while I drive- after all, CNN makes sure I am more than current on missing airliners and murderous olympians while I eat my lunch at work.

Life is an automobile is life in captivity for me. In recent years I have been spoiled in a sort of compromise in the car: when I found myself riding in one it most often meant I was en route to an outdoor adventure.

This has reversed, which brings me to my additional challenge- my new auto destinations, two of them to be exact (if you exclude the gas station each week). One is an employment situation with no meaningful long term benefits and the other is a busy, routine weary household that is wondering where the ‘happy’ me has fled to. This is quite possibly the hardest of the two- a house filled with the very same people that I shared an incredible experience with, and how they toil with their over-scheduled, under-financed, domesticated day to day life.

We no longer understand one another in the ways we did last summer, instead we are weary at the end of each day as a result of our strangely localized household lives and are compelled to ‘zone out’ most evenings in some form until bed time.

Are the things that offer us stability and security really just holding us hostage from a life thoroughly and boldly lived? Are all the well-intentioned people around us really prisoners sharing the same cell? Are we all being tricked into believing that this is how human beings were intended to enjoy life? I’m not buying it. There is more to this game than chasing down invisible schedules and living safely perched from the earth that we crave.

This Sunday I will go out to the garage and look at one of those bicycles with honesty. This apathetic and weary man longs for it to take him away, to take his family away- from all this safe and secure emptiness and be adventurous again. Perhaps it will take a very long ride indeed- to clear my lungs, my mind and my soul of the gunk that I have allowed in.