The Powerful Effect Of A Single Bicycle On A Family’s Dynamic

This post is written by Steven F. who got his first Bike Friday in November 2016 and immediately loved it. However, it was the effect his bike had on his family that made his story truly worth sharing. 

I bought my Bike Friday Pocket Llama two days after I dropped my son off at the University of Oregon for his freshman year. My then 10 year old daughter and I chose a purple frame with green cables.

I cried.
When I said goodbye to my firstborn.

Two months later, the bike arrived and a new adventure began. I felt like a kid again, even if I wondered what people were thinking about my folding bike. I rode for exercise, errands, and to work.

I’d bought the bike primarily to have something compact for air and long distance car travel. But what I have found now in a little over a year is that the bike is fun, easy to handle, and has increased my excitement about riding anywhere.

I did notice, though, that with 8-speeds the bike was a little shaky on down hills and I had to work harder up hills. So last fall, right after I dropped my son off for his sophomore year, I upgraded my Pocket Llama to 27 speeds.

I could not believe the difference. I pedaled around as if I were champion bike racer. I found any reason to ride somewhere. I visited my wife at the library to check out more books; I flipped on my lights and rode to a crafts store at 8:30 PM because my daughter needed supplies for a middle school project; I went to Whole Foods and stuffed my panniers with a week’s worth of groceries. A neighbor asked me about the bike.

“I’ve seen you riding it around so fast,” he said, “that I thought it was an electric bike. Where can I get one?”

My son thought it looked, um, interesting; my wife may have used the word ‘clown’ to describe the bike, or me. My daughter, interestingly, the one who’d been mortified by the electric bike I’d made her ride with me on a specially designed seat in back, loved it.

“The colors are so cool,” she said one day. After she road-tested one at Bike Friday, she said, “I want one.”

Then last summer came and I told her I was planning to bike to school a few days a week. With her. She was now going to be in the middle school where I teach social studies.
“I am not biking on the roads,” she said, being extra cautious. “You can’t make me.”

My daughter and son know how I feel about doing our part to help the environment, reduce, reuse, recycle, and impact, even in a micro-manner, climate change. I pack their lunches with reusable stainless steel containers and food grade plastic wraps from Kids Konserve; we recycle the daily newspaper, all cans, bottles, and mail; we use our own bags at the grocery store.

So biking to school, when possible, is an act, a statement of support that makes me feel as if we are making a difference. But my daughter, active in gymnastics and dance, about to embark on the brave new world of middle school, would not budge. “You can’t make me,” she repeated.
And then I violated one of the major principles of Parenting 101. I bribed her. “Maya,” I said, “if you agree to bike with me to school I will let you get your iPhone now instead of next year.”

Her eyes widened. She pursed her lips. “OK,” she said, “but only on the days I don’t have zero period,” which is when she gets to school at 7 AM for band or chorus. “Done,” I said. We shook hands or pinky swore. Over the summer she got the phone, a rose gold 5SE. A week before school began, she and I took a test ride on the sidewalks all the way to the campus. She actually felt elated. “I know I said I was scared,” she said, “but riding my bike is really fun, Dad. I
want to ride everywhere. We can even have a car-free day.” I nearly fainted.

Two months later, the luster had worn off. Although there is a near continuous sidewalk from our home to the school a mile away, drivers are often rude and plow right through cross-walks. I would yell, they’d flip me off, and my daughter would become more and more frightened. About two weeks ago, in late November, a paved pedestrian path opened up right near our home. Though it goes in the opposite direction, making our ride closer to two miles one way, it is entirely car free until the train stop. And then the road is virtually uninhabited by automobiles because it’s early in the morning.

From the road, we slip behind the duck pond onto a gravel path, over a bridge, and straight to a cross-walk manned by a real crossing guard. My daughter’s anxiety level is basically non-existent. I cram her binder and clarinet into my front panniers, and I told her I’d tie her backpack down with bungee cords on the back rack once school resumes in January. We ride twice a week with one of her classmates.

And my daughter still thinks the bike and I are cool, which is one of the best and unintended reasons for owning a Bike Friday.

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4 thoughts on “The Powerful Effect Of A Single Bicycle On A Family’s Dynamic

  1. John Fleckner

    Great story. Cycling is a lifetime gift. Maybe a Bike Friday as a graduation gift? (I just passed our BF tandem down to teenage grandkids — and bought a new one.)

  2. Jim Louwsma

    I love this story! Biking is a great part of life. I am in my 7th decade and have been biking all my life. I have really enjoyed biking with my children and now my grandchildren. It is a key part of our lifestyle. Recently, I ordered a Pocket Llama, which is being built (I hope) as I write. In May, a friend, who also ordered a Pocket Llama, and I will head to Holland and Switzerland for an extended bike trip. Can’t wait!

    1. Jac Thomas Post author

      So glad to hear you’re embarking on this adventure! Please keep us updated on your trip, it sounds like an amazing experience.

  3. Dr. Christopher von Hake

    The story is both inspiring and sad. Too bad there are not more respectful car drivers. I always swing wide and slow down for cyclists and give them a thumbs up. As a cyclist, I have been yelled at, cursed at, had beer or beer cans thrown on or at me, and been told that “bicycles do not belong on the roads”. If only American drivers would be more tolerant like Europeans.


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