Family life on two wheels
Meet Richella. She and her husband, Todd, live car free and get around Sydney with their children, Quiola (3 years old) and Idris (17 months old) on bicycles built for three. Richella has two children’s seats mounted on the back of her long-framed bike, while Todd carries them up front in his cargo bike.
Richella prefers cycling to driving or taking public transport for most trips. She stays fit without needing to make extra time for the gym, and doesn’t have to worry about parking a car or waiting for a bus or train. It’s also quicker – and a lot less stessful – than sitting in traffic.
The fact that it’s good for the environment is also a big motivation for the family’s almost car-free lifestyle. “I had thought that by now everyone would be embracing more sustainable transport,” she says. “But we’re still so reliant on cars. Todd and I ride because we want to minimise our emissions as much as we can.”
While Sydney still lags far behind truly cycling-friendly cities like Amsterdam, Richella has noticed improvement in its cycling infrastructure – and the number of people on bikes – over the past five years. Seeing children on the back of a bike, though, is still something of a rarity. Some people still perceive it to be dangerous, and occasionally give Richella a hard time.
“It’s no more dangerous than walking, really” says Richella. “I think the danger is from people who drive big cars and are just oblivious to others around them, and they are a risk to pedestrians as well. You just have to keep an eye out, and ride safely.”
How do you get the groceries? And what if it’s raining?
Richella and Todd do a big shop for heavy things (milk, juice and dry goods) online once every 2 or 3 weeks. Todd picks up an organic veggie box from the food co-op once a week, which he takes home in his bike (the kids seat folds down and he has lots of storage space). Anything else they need – bread, meat and odd things they’ve run out of – they just pick up and put in the panniers or a back pack.
As for the rain: the kids both have a decent set of Scandinavian waterproofs with bib and brace trousers, rain jackets, and welly boots. Richella will pack a change of clothes if it's looking really wet. Todd has recently made a rain cover for his bike, and says that there are lots of blogs online showing how folk around the world have made their cargo bikes weatherproof for passengers.
What do you do when you need a car?
Bikes are their first choice for everyday transportation, but there are still some occasions when the family needs to use a car. If they’re getting out of town for the weekend, for example, or going to IKEA, they’ll drive. They usually borrow a car from friends of family, or hire one. With two car seats to carry, she would love to be able to borrow cars from the streets around her house rather than having to walk a long way to the nearest car share vehicle.
“Australians tend to take it as given that they must have a car, and don’t necessarily think about the alternatives,” she says. “Some of our friends have a second car, so that they can both drive to work. I think being able to use your neighbours’ cars when you need one will help people to let go of the idea that they need to own a car, and get them thinking about alternatives for their day-to-day transport.”
Going car-free with kids: seven things you need to know
- If you’ve never ridden with kids before, it takes a bit of getting used to – but the rewards are worth it. You’ll have fun, save money, stay fit and give your kids a great example of using active, green transport.
- It pays to plan your route. If you’re nervous about cycling through heavy traffic with your kids, take some time to plan a route that uses quieter roads, off-road bike paths or on-road separated bike lanes. Some useful route-planning sites include www.ridethecity.com and www.opencyclemap.org.
- Take the path of least resistance, particularly if you live in a hilly area like Sydney! A fully loaded bike can be heavy. That’s great for your leg muscles, but if you don’t want to have to get off and push, try to follow the ridgelines. You may end up riding a bit further, but it will be a lot easier.
- There are a lot of different options for carrying kids on bikes. Talk to your local bike shop, ask people you know who carry kids on their bikes (or if you don’t know any, find them in the street) and look online to work out what suits you best. Trailers, seats mounted on the back of the bike or in front, tag-alongs and cargo bikes all come in a range of styles and prices. Check out www.cyclesprog.co.uk for an excellent starting point for your research.
- Think about how you’ll carry all of the kid-stuff, as well as any groceries or library books or sticks that they just won’t leave at the park. Many trailers have room for cargo, or you could look at a set-up that allows you to carry both child seats and panniers.
- If your child doesn’t walk yet (or doesn’t walk very far), you can either take a baby-carrier like an Ergobaby with you for when you reach your destination, or get a trailer that converts to a pram.
- There will probably still be some occasions when you want to use a car. You will need to have car seats that are easy to move in and out of different cars, and explore your options for borrowing or renting cars in your local area. Neighbour-to-neighbour car share service Car Next Door lets you search for cars with car seats that other families in your suburb are renting out. Search the fleet map using the filters to find car share vehicles with car seats.