Monday, 3 September 2012

Looking back on my summer on two wheels

Looking back to the end of June when I decided to start writing this blog, I would never have thought that by the start of the new school year, I would have reached so many people from all over the world who would read my posts about our adventures as a family who rides bikes. The idea that started as a journal about my summer with my kids quickly grew into something more. Velo Family Diaries has become my place to share our successes, challenges and joys with other people and families in a similar situation to me, or those curious about this kind of lifestyle and maybe needing a push to try it. Either way, I want to say thank you for following me on this journey!

It's certainly has been an adventure, and I feel very privileged to have been able to share it with some new friends and my fantastic family. I've also been able to learn a thing or two about my city, my family and myself, lessons that will stick with me as we continue our bike journey. I'd like to share a few of those with you as I reflect on my summer on two wheels.

Coralie and Diane on our 2nd Velo Family Ride
The first is about the resilience and understated ability of children. When the summer started, I knew my daughter, Coralie, was capable of riding some longer distances, but I also knew having her ride every day was going to be a challenge. Well, did she ever meet that challenge and then some. Every day for nearly two weeks my little girl kept up with me and cycled at least 15 kms in the warm sun with little to no complaint. Maybe knowing she had no choice but to ride helped, but she amazed me each time. But she wasn't the only child to surprise me. It seems this summer was also when Etienne found his energy to stay awake for longer trip on the trail-a-bike, fully taking in the environment around him. I also experienced some other kids exceeding expectations, including our new friend Diane, who rode in our two family rides further than anyone expected, as well as Coralie's friend, Karli, who could have ridden all day on the trail-a-bike, pedalling the whole time.

From stuck in a trailer to long rides on the trail-a-bike.
Etienne has grown a lot this summer.
On the whole, I found that kids are capable than much more than we give them credit for. If you give them the chance, they will find the energy to get themselves to their destination, just as we do. They are also extremely observant. Coralie now knows the way to nearly every one of our usual destinations, and Etienne can tell when we're getting close just by the landmarks he sees along the way. Keep in mind, these kids are 6 and 3.5 years old, and they are already learning how to navigate their city. I'm pretty confident that this has come about simply because we do travel on our bikes, so they have to be aware of what's around them instead of just sitting back and letting the world pass them by in the back seat of a car. It makes me pretty darned proud of my little riders.

I love riding places with the kids when I
know there's a buffer between us and the cars
Riding around the city with two kids has really made me appreciate how a safe infrastructure is imperative to making cycling for accessible to families with children. Back at the beginning of the summer I wrote about how the separated lanes in the downtown core are a great thing that should be expanded throughout the city. Last week during our stay in Portland we used many of their painted bikes lanes, most of which are in what is known as the "door zone" (the space directly next to parked cars where an open car door can be extremely hazardous to a passerby on a bike). Having experienced watching my children riding alongside cars going upwards of 65kms/hr past them, I am reaffirmed in my belief that there needs to be a separation between the cars and people on bikes of any age. While drivers in Portland seem much more aware of the cyclists on the road due to the sheer number of them sharing the road, creating a barrier between them in any city would 
increase the safety of riding on two wheels. This would encourage more women and young families to ride, as women are far less likely to ride if they feel unsafe. Here's an excerpt from an article on Scientific American titled How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road:

In a study conducted last year, [a study] examined the effect of different types of bike facilities on cycling. The project, which used GPS positioning to record individual cycling trips in Portland, compared the shortest route with the path cyclists actually took to their destination. Women were less likely than men to try on-street bike lanes and more likely to go out of their way to use “bike boulevards,” quiet residential streets with special traffic-calming features for bicycles. “Women diverted from the shortest routes more often,”...

It really is time we as a society start taking this issue seriously, instead of fighting about the loss of a driving lane or on street parking. Done properly, separated lanes can have minimal impact on traffic flow, as has already been evidenced with the small increase in travel times in downtown Vancouver. This mom wants safe, direct routes to get my children around the city and to run my errands while still being able to ride on two wheels, and I know I'm not alone.

Our summer of riding has been epic and
thoroughly enjoyable!
My biggest take away this summer has actually been a personal one. Sharing my stories was initially about showing people what can be done on two wheels when you have a family. And while this has been my focus, my writing has had a bit of an unintended side effect. My confidence has grown so much this summer, I've actually surprised myself! Hearing from many readers that they love reading about our adventure, I no longer worry about our choice of lifestyle being a challenge to overcome, or that we may be selling our kids short by limiting ourselves to travel by public transit, walking or on on our bikes. We are all having a very personal experience every time we leave our home, and watching my kids grow and develop this summer has made me a very proud Mama. 

Riding most places this summer has also made me love riding my bike even more, if that's possible. I will admit that I set a private challenge to ride as many places as possible this summer so I would always have something to write about. In meeting the challenge, I actually prefer riding places now! I love feeling the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and watching my gorgeous city pass me by. I guess my new challenge will be to do it with the winter rain splashing against me...but that's for posts to come.
For love of bikes and each other
Overall, it has been a summer of self discovery, a journey of bringing our little family closer together, and appreciating every adventure we get to share while my kids are still young enough to want to spend time with us. I don't know if I've managed to change anyone's opinion about getting out of their car and onto a bike, but I do know that my daughter's story has helped push some kids we've met to start riding on their own, and that, quite frankly, is what's most important. 

As for where my little blog goes from here, as the weather turns cooler and the rainy weather returns to Vancouver, it's still a mystery. I will continue to share our stories and adventures. We will ride with Coralie nearly every day to school, and I know a little boy who may be getting ready to start pedalling on his own over the next few months. Life doesn't end when the warm summer changes to crisp, cool fall, so neither will our riding. Thank you to all those that have followed us so far. I feel privileged to have reached to many, and hope that you keep coming back to find out how our little Velo Family is doing! Merci beaucoup!
I have loved my summer on two wheels!


  1. Hearing about how well E has taken to the trail-a-bike has made me hopeful we'll be able to get Sprout on one around the time he reaches the weight limit of our iBert seat.

    Keep on writing! I'll keep reading... :)

    1. Thanks Lisa! If I've learned one thing this summer it's that kids can do pretty much anything, if you just let them try. Good luck!

  2. We like to spend our summer weekends touring the Gulf Islands by bike and camping along the way.