by Richard Briones-Coleman
Some say it's not possible. But it is. I commute 33 miles a day with two tots in tow. Tot A, Benjamin, is four years old; Tot B, Abram Gabriel, is fifteen months old.
Others say I am insane. But I insist I am not insane!!!
Simply put: I reject car culture and am dragging my tots along for the ride.
Tot B is a big ball of happy fat, the sort of baby that makes people stop and stare and say, jokingly (as if this were the first time I'd heard this), "holy moley, why don't you feed that kid, you trying to starve him? Haw haw haw." Tots A and B, plus their goods, my goods, and the trailer, weigh in at about 100 pounds. Impressive sounding, but not so hard to pull, really, once we're moving.
My bike has a "kiddie" trailer made by Schwinn that attaches to the bike frame; "motorcycle" style hand warmers that attach to the handlebars; a set of waterproof plastic bucket panniers; a powerful lighting system. People feel compelled to comment when they see our caravan approaching.
"That's quite a load you've got there."We barrel down the road; we have a lot of mass, we rattle, we rock, we roll. We got a mighty convoy.
"You've got your hands full."
"That's a heckuva rig."
Our bicycle commute route starts on dirt roads by our home in the Village of Corrales, New Mexico; winds down to a new bike path that crosses the Rio Grande toward the glowing Sandia Mountains; and flows through the valley. This bike path, which runs alongside the flood control channel and goes only about a mile in traffic, takes me to the doorstep of the day care center at the University of New Mexico where Tots A and B spend their days. The vast New Mexico sky creates the blue dome that covers us through the ride. Then, two more miles across downtown Albuquerque to my office where I am a Public Defender. Many of my clients are charged with DWI and other traffic-related offenses. After cursing bad drivers on the way to my office, I shower, suit up, and go fight to get them off for crimes, some committed in their cars.
Commuting solo is undoubtedly satisfying. To propel myself, under my own power, for a purpose, to get to work, is a wonderful thing, on so many levels: the environment, health, money, the sensory and educational nature of the experience, the spiritual nature of riding, the fun of it. But commuting by bike with tots is a richer experience with another layer of satisfaction. We are all in the trip together. A small seafaring vessel venturing out before sunrise. I feel fatherhood when I am towing my tots with my own strength.
Commuting with tots by bike, you can just stop and get out if opportunity presents itself. We never seemed to do that in a car. But on a bike, you're just "out there" anyway. My boy likes to stop to throw rocks in the Rio Grande. Those spontaneous moments are beautiful. There are a more of them on a bike than in a car. In fact, I can remember no moment of fun, ever, while commuting in a car. And most of the time I've spent commuting on a bike has been fun. Even in the cold and rain. Especially in the cold and rain.
Perhaps I am patterning behavior for my tots to follow: to be fit; to be conscious of environmental concerns; not to be afraid to go a different way from everyone else they know. Or--equally possible--I may be ingraining hatred of cycling. From my tot's perspective, I must seem odd; do they see anything but a sweaty butt?
On the other hand, parents mindlessly torture their children by imprisoning them in the back seat on absurdly inappropriately long car trips, and most kids don't grow up with a hatred of cars. When my older son is in a car, and he sees a cyclist, he shouts, "Look! A biker!" I read in his voice, at least for now, kinship and pride. We see the same bike commuters on our route each morning. "Hi." "Hey." A short wave. Brothers on wheels.
Some say it's too much cycling, it takes too much time, that I'm wearing myself down. But it hasn't killed me so far, so it's probably making me stronger. I have heard that in ancient Greece, they way you trained for the bull lifting event was to get yourself a calf, and carry it on your shoulders every day. As the calf grew, you got stronger, so by the time it was bull lifting time, you were ready. Similarly, my kids are getting heavier so slowly that it's scarcely perceptible. My children make me strong.
Some say it's unsafe. I don't think that the route I travel is any less safe by bike than by car. Commuting with a kiddie trailer gives me much more respect from cars than I receive when I ride solo. Cars actually act respectfully toward cyclists when the bike has a kiddie trailer and is on the street. I never get buzzed. Cars slow down if necessary to pass safely. I bring the trailer with me even when I don't have my tots within! Virtually all drivers, even drivers who feel it might be satisfying to crunch a cyclist, simply cannot bring themselves to crush little kids. I am not unaware of risk. Hell, I represent very, very bad drivers for a living. But driving a car is not without significant risks too. The cage is not as protective as it seems.
I love having my two tots as cargo. I get pleasure out of carrying any kind of cargo on a bike, but especially kids as cargo. I am moved and fascinated by pictures from "poor" countries, with cargo bikes piled high with stuff and people, pedaling forward. I'm currently in the market for a pedicab for all of our future travel, for when Tots A and B outgrow their kiddie trailer. We may come to be known as "The Flintstones." That is my dream.