Bike-Powered Families [From BA 43-200]

Family of Cyclists.jpg

"Rain, sleet, snow, or heat, these families are out there pedaling mile after mile, and finding the rewards far outweigh the difficulties."

Over the course of a year, Boneshaker interviewed families across the country to find out what it’s like to raise kids by bike. The stories that came back were nothing short of incredible—and in a way, no different from any other family.

  • In Massachusetts, Vanessa Allen rides her two kids to the farmer’s market with a cargo tricycle she loves.

  • Sara Armstrong holds down the fort in Connecticut, with eight-year-old twins about to take the handlebars for themselves.

  • In upstate New York, Larry Clarkberg gets through the winter with some seriously innovative tinkering and invention.

  • Katie Proctor looks back on the first year of her son’s bike-powered life in Oregon, growing up in a custom Yuba Mundo cargo bike.

  • And in Montana, David Pulsipher and Co. put the family-friendly in human-powered transport, with a little help from a two-year-old on the harmonica.

Rain, sleet, snow, or heat, these families are out there pedaling mile after mile, and finding the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. Here’s your inspiration for bringing up the next generation of the BoneshakerArmy—by bike, what else?

Top takeaways (aka, distilled wisdom)

“Choose a low-volume, residential road over a busy road every day of the week. It will allow you to ride two/three abreast and change your positioning to talk to your child and make silly faces at each other.” David Pulsipher

“I wish someone had told me that you can’t expect to build something or buy something that’s going to take your kid through his teenage years. You need to focus on the resale value and plan on selling it. That’s what I’m seeing a lot of bloggers discover right now, and it can be heartbreaking, when you’ve put all this work and energy and love into a bike, and then you outgrow it.” Katie Proctor

“Get a cargo trike. I wish I had been able to get one when my first born was an infant, instead of when she was five.” Vanessa Allen

“I just wish someone had told me that family biking was an option when we had twins. We knew of trailers, but other than that we had no idea how to ride twins around except if both of us had bikes with kid seats. We knew NONE of the growing options out there for one parent riding two or more kids. I always say—the only regret I have about our cargo bikes is that we didn’t buy them years earlier.” Sara Armstrong

“Make sure your wife is on board with this.” Larry Clarkberg

Suburban Bike Mama Vanessa Allen Newton, Massachusetts

People in your family:

Vanessa Allen - 37 Ben Allen - 37 Gigi - 6 Toby - 4

Years cycling together:


Impressive Fact:

I trained for a triathlon by riding with my kids to the farmer’s market and school.

Heroes and Heroines:

The women at Let’s Go Ride a Bike, Lovely Bicycle, and a friend of mine who motivated me by simply stating that she rode her bike to meet a friend for dinner.

On the why of it:

My short answer to people who ask why we ride is, “It’s my Prozac.” The long answer to the Choir would be: for the fun of it, to be more in touch with the community and lessen my dependence on driving.

How it all began:

I saw a link to the Xtracycle with a picture of two kids on the back of the bike. I had always been intrigued by biking with kids but was told it was unsafe by my husband and my bikey friends. Xtra boasted of being stable even with weight, and I spent all summer researching it. Then I began to ride with a trailer.

In the years to come:

I’d like an electric motor for the cargo bike, to go uphill with two or more kids without sweating like a stuck pig. I wish there were cargo bikes that could be rented all over the US. On the government level, I’d like to see better bike lanes, and better infrastructure like bike lights or bike boxes at intersections, where bikes go first. Repaved bike paths, better paved roads. On the interpersonal level, I just want more people biking. I’d like to not be the exception to the rule. And more waving from cars.

A close call:

We almost got doored. But I was moving so slowly that I saw it before we got to it and I yelled “watch out!” and she closed the door. I think we would have done more damage to her door then her to us, though. We were slow, the kids were low and we are heavy and big.

I’m always saying:

“Please stop touching each other.”

“Do not hit your brother/sister’s helmet.” “Keep your hands in the box.”

“No I didn’t make it, it’s Danish.”

Kids, Bikes, Dads David Pulsipher Bozeman, Montana

People in your family:

David - 32 Ashley - 29 George - 2

Years cycling together:


How it all began:

The first time we biked as a family, it was a short ride around our neighborhood with our son, who at the time was only six months old. Previous to that ride, any time we wanted to go somewhere it had to be in the car. That was an unspoken weight that was carried by our family. Getting in the car, the car seat, the gas, the parking, the stroller...all of that was eliminated when we could just get out and see our neighborhood by bike. We were smiling from ear to ear, and in the ultimate expression of our success, George fell asleep on the ride home. So amazing, I’ll never forget it. We realized that the more time we spent out of our car, the happier we were. When we would go to places by bike, out to dinner, the beach–we felt so smart. It took so much of the (unneeded) stress out of our family time, and we haven’t looked back since.

Taking it all on balance:

It is good to try to live a car-lite lifestyle, but if you are too heavy-handed or preachy about it, people won’t want to listen to you or follow your example. Being balanced means taking your bikes when it makes sense for you as a family, but not making the bike an issue in your family. It should continually be a positive thing, not a sore spot.

I think the best way to improve car-cyclist relations is to be a consistent and courteous bicyclist. I smile at people, indicate when I’m turning and obey the traffic laws. I don’t act like I’m better than or above the law. I think it really bugs cars when they feel like a bicyclist wants the same space as cars, but then don’t want to obey the same laws.

Also, I make a point to help people who are stranded in cars. I’ve probably helped five or six people push their cars out of traffic. Hundreds of people zoom by, only caring about being inconvenienced. I like the idea that I’m helping them get a good impression of bicyclists, that we are good people who care about others. I also secretly hope that they become more patient and understanding of bicyclists. Maybe the next time they see one, they’ll remember that a cyclist helped them.

Bozeman by bike is:

Disconnected. Major gaps in network leave us high and dry. It would be nicer if there were more separated, off-street bicycle facilities. Not just sidewalks, but bike paths.

Listen up, Guv:

I would like to see more progressive funding provided for bicycle facilities of all types—bike lanes, bike paths, bike boulevards, bike racks, wayfinding—and an increase in the commuter tax benefit to make it a real incentive for people to bike. I think it is currently about $240, but would like to see it up near $800 so people could really splurge on nice bike equipment.

Biking as a family in one word:


The Full Hands Family (aka “The Crumstrongs” or “Armlishes”) New Haven, Connecticut

People in your family:

Sara Armstrong - 41 Peter Crumlish - 42 Caleb Crumlish - 8 Sam Crumlish - 8 Finn Crumlish - 5

Years cycling together:

Since February 2009

Peak bike experience:

Picking up our Christmas tree: two cargo bikes, five of us, and one skeptical tree salesman, but we got the tree and all of us home by bike!

On cycling in New Haven:

Although it’s a university town with a growing bike riding population, there is little bicycling infrastructure in New Haven. Bike lanes are rare, and when they do exist, they’re not particularly thoughtful—often interrupted or along parking where one can easily be doored. The one street I will not ride on is Whalley Avenue, a main thoroughfare— it’s incredibly busy with impatient drivers. We did see new sharrows painted throughout town last summer, which is a great step, but so far, we have lacked a strong public campaign for educating both drivers and riders about the sharrows. We do have a great group of bike advocates, Elm City Cycling, who have been working really hard for bike-positive changes in New Haven.

Why we ride:

Peter and I met as Peace Corps volunteers and we have always been a no-car (in NYC) or one-car family (in rural Maine and New Haven). A year after we moved to New Haven, I got a job at a school two miles away from our then-apartment. My older sons, entering kindergarten, would attend with me. It seemed ridiculous to drive, but it was too far for the boys to walk so I started telling friends I wanted a pedicab because I didn’t know of other biking options for transporting two kids. In October, a friend told me about the Bakfiets, and I became a woman possessed, researching them on the internet, emailing anyone who would talk to me, etc. Two months or so later we bought one. Biking was practical for us. Yes, we liked not paying gas and car insurance, and the lessened impact on the environment, but the number one reason is that biking is extremely FUN. We love how we interact with our community in ways we never did in a car, the people we meet, the things we notice, etc. Plus, the parking just rocks.

On how it all began:

The friend who told me about the Bakfiets was Andrea Lani, a Mainer who is SUPER committed to living an eco-friendly life with her three boys (think no dryer, twins, and cloth diapers in a Maine winter!). Then I found blogs and family bike riders on the web: Julian from “Totcycle,” Travis Wittwer (then from “Wheel American Family”), Anne from “CarFreeDays,” Matt at “Tacoma Bike Ranch,” etc. We also had a wonderful serendipitous meeting with Elly Blue, from, who was home visiting her folks in the New Haven area. Elly is a graduate of the school where I work but we didn’t know that at the time. My boys became intrigued with her folding bike when we were hanging in the same coffee shop in January 2009 and when I went over, I noticed a “Clever Cycles” sticker on her Brompton. Clever Cycles was the place where I had researched buying our Bakfiets so I definitely took this as a sign and ordered our cargo bike just days later.

On the hard stuff:

Even though all three of my boys can ride two- wheelers and my twins very proficiently, the reality, which is so discouraging, is that they honestly cannot ride themselves to school (we now live about 4 miles away). This is not because they cannot handle the distance, but simply because there is no safe route for them, and I absolutely don’t foresee a safe route for them becoming available in the next few years. This means we will need to find alternatives to biking to school daily. At what point will I have to stop riding them on a cargo bike because they are simply too big? Can I ride two 10-or-11-year-old boys on the back of bike?

It is also extremely hard when people judge us negatively for riding with our boys on bikes. It’s one thing when people say they could never bike commute; it’s another thing when they say, “How could you put your boys in such danger by bike commuting?”

Often, all I can hear is, “You are a sucky parent!” when others make such comments, but then I think, “We wouldn’t be in danger if folks were taking their driving more seriously.”

On the word balance:

My little guy moving along on his balance bike, lifting his feet up and cruising! This past summer, he got on a two-wheeler and knew he could balance thanks to his balance bike. Magical!

On the change to come:

Mostly I would like governmental folks to believe, really believe, that biking is a valid form of transportation that needs to be nurtured in a community. I would love to see better infrastructure, and certainly more education for drivers—and cyclists—about sharing the road. In New Haven, I would like to see the police actually enforce laws that protect cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. Out of all the places I’ve lived, New Haven has the scariest drivers in my view—tons of red light running, way too much cell phone usage/ texting, etc. On an interpersonal level, I would love to see drivers be less impatient. I always try to nod and give a thanks or peace sign when cars wait for us to turn, even when we have the right of way. I also explain to people that we are not anti-car, that we actually do own a car and drive sometimes, too.

Kids on bikes:

The guys definitely see bikes as a valid form of transportation. They’ve become so used to taking a bike wherever we go that they put on their shoes and then their bike helmets, and if for some reason we need to take the car, they act surprised! They also love to wave to gawkers from the bike. They used to love taking the Bakfiets so they could read while we ride (I don’t let them read on the back of the Xtra or Mundo). They sing and point out interesting things they spot along the way. They notice when other cyclists aren’t obeying the law. I also learned that yes, I am a total mom because they sometimes fight and jostle for space when they ride together on the longtails, and I swear I have said, “If you don’t stop fighting, I am pulling this bike over!”

A Most Civilized Conveyance Katie Proctor Portland, Oregon

People in your family:

Katie and Dave Proctor, and Jasper - 7 months

Years cycling together:

7 months

On biking through pregnancy:

I started prenatal care with the midwife practice when I was about five months pregnant and she told me, “Okay, eventually you’re going to get uncomfortable on a bike.” At that point, you should stop. I was biking right up to the day before I went into labor. I rode to an appointment and back, out to lunch and back, and then I went into labor. And it was true: when I was in labor I was really too uncomfortable to ride. We took a cab.

On finding or building the right bike:

There are no commercial options for infant bike carriers, and at the same time there’s so much fear around kids these days, especially infants. Everyone will cite the American Pediatric Association’s statement that children under one year should not be on a bike—yet I can’t find any data to back that up. If it were really a problem, there’d be a rash of brain injuries in the Netherlands or Japan that we don’t have here— but I don’t think there are.

Just because commercial seats don’t offer it, doesn’t mean you can’t make something yourself. Xtracycles and Madsens and box bikes are great for bigger kids, and you can hack a Madsen or box bike for a baby. We got the Yuba because it is the stiffest longtail out there, and to design our plywood boxes, we went out and got cardboard bike boxes and drew up designs and cut them out and taped them together on our living room floor to make a pattern. When that worked, we built them up.

On what’s next:

I’d like to work as a consultant, helping families figure out what they need and what will work best for them, showing them their options. I wish someone had told me that you can’t expect to build something or buy something that’s going to take your infant through riding on his own. You need to focus on the resale value and plan on selling it. That’s what I’m seeing a lot of bloggers discover right now, and it can be heartbreaking, when you’ve put all this work and energy and love into a bike, and then you outgrow it.

On the Biking Families Blogosphere:

Because so much family biking is hacked together and improvised, blogs can be the best places to find out what’s going on and get inspired for how you can make things work.

On slowing down:

I’m amazed at how much we’re able to do without a car. Yesterday we were out from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm, at a bike race on Mt. Tabor, and just doing stuff. I met one of the founders of Xtracycle before the race, and before that we went out to Jasper’s nursery school at 45th and SE Belmont, which is a trek. I like the enforced slowness of it. We have full days, but we’re not doing twenty things in one day. We can’t pretend we can do it all. As he gets bigger, it will be tempting to do the Little League and band practice and all of that. I think it’s positive to go slower, even if it can be frustrating in the moment. And Jasper sees the sky more than most babies. He sees the sky instead of the roof of a car, and I like that.

Bike Forth Larry Clarkberg Ithaca, New York

People in your family:

Larry Clarkberg - 46 Marin Clarkberg - 43 Jasper Clarkberg - 14 Thea Clarkberg - 10

Years cycling together:


The why of it:

Riding has always been the norm for me and driving is a strange kind of behavior that I’m reluctant to engage in. So when people ask me why we ride I ask them, “Why do you drive?” I bike because it’s normal to bike. I drive only when I can’t bike or walk. I don’t ride for environmental reasons. I am suspicious of people who think they know how to save the world, so I try not to be one of those people myself. I’m glad if global warming gives me another reason to bike, but I just like to bike.

From my blog post about a year ago: “Why do I have to do this? Is it because I want everyone else to stop driving too? Setting a good example and all that, right? I won’t stop anyone from joining me, but actually I am doing this for very personal reasons that most other people don’t share. I’m doing this because I am a bicyclist. If you are not a bicyclist then you won’t understand my feelings about cars. Over the last 35 years I have been honked at, cussed at, crowded out, and physically assaulted by motorists. I have endured a transportation system that makes very little accommodation for my needs, where the norm is a smug assumption by motorists that I am a nuisance rather than a fellow human traveler. Why should I continue to be a part of a system that is so biased against me? I refuse to cooperate with our transportation system as it is...”

The how of it:

Actually we still haven’t made a decision not to drive as a family. A few months ago I told my wife I wanted to let my driver’s license expire. I thought it would be fun to burn it publicly like people burned their draft cards back in the day. She threatened to divorce me.

In Ithaca the main impediments to biking are the hills and the winter. We’ve solved the hill problem with the electric motor. (It amazes me that other Ithacans haven’t made this discovery.) I’m still working on the winter problem. My bike wears snow tires from December to March. I wear electrically-heated gloves if the temperature is in the teens.

In the next few years:

I would like it to be the norm for bicyclists to feel comfortable riding in the street while cars patiently follow, without drivers feeling that the bicyclists are somehow “in the way.”

I would like to see local governments discourage driving and encourage lightweight, slow, small vehicles (including bikes), using increasingly visible methods to:

  • reduce parking

  • increase gas tax

  • increase car registration fees

  • increase the number of bike lanes

  • enforce current speed limits, perhaps with electronic limits built into vehicles (as my electric bike has

  • reduce speed limits to 20mph within residential areas

  • make bike-only arteries

  • make NEV-only (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles only) neighborhoods

What I’ve learned from my kids while riding:

Thea tells me about the latest gossip at her school.

To do list:

Bikes with solar panels.

A hearty thank you to Joe Biel at Microcosm Publishing, for the generous donation of bike-positive stickers and patches to the bike-powered families who participated in our profile piece. Three cheers for independent publishing, radical child-rearing, and bike love. 

Evan P. Schneider