Want to change people’s minds about cycling? Start with the school drop-off and go from there.
I am the father of a child who’s almost three years old, and most mornings, I take him to his preschool by bicycle, just as I did with his older brother until he graduated to grade school and the bus.
Why do I do this? Is it because I love to ride bikes? Is it because I believe in their power to transform our cityscapes? Is it because I want my children to grow up taking for granted the idea that using bikes for transportation is a normal, practical, and healthy way to get around?
Sure. I mean all that sounds good, anyway.
But there’s an even more urgent reason that I’ve transported my most precious cargo by bicycle all these years, and it transcends everything I mentioned above. Here is that reason:
Getting anywhere near a school with a car is a monumental pain in the ass.
If you enjoy driving to the airport, going to the mall on Black Friday, or the abject futility of automotive clusterfucks in general, then by all means, driving a kid to school is for you. If, however, you’d rather undergo colonoscopy prep than sit in traffic with a bunch of self-absorbed parents all competing to see who can get their little darlings closest to the entrance, then you’ll do anything to avoid the soul-crushing indignity of this dehumanizing ritual. So while I’m a cyclist and therefore choose to circumnavigate the whole shitshow by bike, the truth of the matter is that if bicycles didn’t exist, I’d probably be up on the roof of my building in a wingsuit and a BabyBjörn.
But as self-serving as my choice may be, I do allow myself to feel smug about it, because I know that I’m helping to make the world—or at least my neighborhood—a far better place. Parents get a bad rap for being selfish, and it’s mostly unwarranted (if you don’t wanna hear babies crying on airplanes, then buy a Gulfsream), but the one area in which they do deserve it is their propensity for causing traffic jams by sticking their cars where they don’t belong. For years, I’ve been getting letters from both my kids’ schools imploring parents to stop double-parking and making life miserable for everyone within a one-mile radius, and I smile to myself as I throw it in the trash knowing I’m part of the solution and not the problem. In fact, I’m this close [indicates tiny distance with fingers] to getting a “One Less Asshole Double-Parked in Front of the School” sticker printed up for my bike.
Not all parents have a blithe disregard for the world outside their minivans. Some are just helpless victims of The Way You’re Supposed to Do Things, and they go through the motions despite themselves, like the Day-O scene in Beetlejuice. These are the parents who will ask questions about my cargo bike and talk about how they too would like to take their kids to school this way. But it never seems to happen. The only change I see as the years go by are more speed bumps to slow the enraged drivers who mash the accelerator as soon as there’s a lull in the parental motorcade. The irony of it all is that the roads are most dangerous in exactly the places where they should be the safest—all because of our insistence on driving kids to school.
Nevertheless, I certainly don’t blame these parents for driving to school. A century of automotive marketing and lobbying has duped families into believing that the car is the responsible choice. And even as the city adds bike lanes and (ostensibly) encourages people to commute by bicycle you never seem to hear anybody in an official capacity advocate for people using bikes to get kids to school. (Or for older kids to ride there themselves.) On a municipal level, we’re just getting comfortable enough to send the adults unto the breach, but the unspoken message seems to be that children should be spared the exposure.
This is a shame, because once you unlock the convenience of riding with kids you’re really onto something. Freeing yourself from the misery of the school drop-off is just the beginning. Then there’s getting to the playdate, and the weekend activity, and the park outing. Before you know it, you’re using the bike to run errands too, and suddenly that garden trough on wheels starts making a hell of a lot of sense.
“Do we really need two cars?” you may start asking yourself. “Do we even need one?”
As for the perception that transporting children by bicycle is somehow more dangerous than driving, 40,000 car-crash deaths per year suggest otherwise, and I have yet to see any numbers or hear any horror stories that lead me to believe carrying kids on bikes is any more dangerous than pushing them around in strollers. The truth is you’re never more engaged than when you’ve got a kid on your bike. Meanwhile, Forgotten Baby Syndrome is a thing, so there you go.
And here we are. We’re perfectly comfortable with the idea of cycling as a recreational activity involving thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and we’re increasingly comfortable with the idea of cycling as a form of urban commuting. But until the bike truly becomes part of the family, it will always remain on the fringes.
Maybe this is why people remain resistant: once the full convenience of the bicycle is unleashed on society, then the takeover will be complete.
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One of the greatest things about cycling is that you can spend as much or as little money as you want on it. In fact, once you’ve got the bike, it’s pretty much free to ride it, unless you’ve got an expensive Gran Fondo addiction or something.
Similarly, when the holidays roll around, you don’t need to spend a fortune to delight the cyclist in your life with a gift. Forget the $2,000 carbon wheelset. Here are a few gifts you can buy with the tiny balance sitting in that Paypal account you forgot you had.
Socks ($15 to $20)
Ordinarily, when it comes to uninspired gifts, nothing underwhelms like a pair of socks. It’s the present that says, “You exist, and you have feet.” Cyclists, however, get genuinely excited about socks: they’re our “pieces of flair,” and sock choice is really the only way we get to express ourselves stylistically (unless you count really bad calf tattoos), especially if we’re on a team and all have to dress the same.
Of course you can’t just get your favorite cyclist a pack of regular old tube socks and call it good; this is cycling, so they have to be special socks—and by special I mean more expensive. Still, even a really sweet pair of cycling socks only costs about as much as two cups of coffee…well, okay, that special coffee that cyclists drink, but even so you’re getting off pretty easy here.
Inner Tubes ($5 to $10)
Hey, not all gifts have to be dazzling: sometimes you’re just looking for a cheap, practical little stocking stuffer. To that end, why not give the gift of butyl? See, when you’re a cyclist you can never have too many inner tubes, and while it may seem a bit cold and impersonal to give them as gifts, just remember you’re talking about people who get excited about socks for chrissakes.
Plus, in a way an inner tube is an even more meaningful gift, since when was the last time a sock saved you from being stranded 90 miles from home? (That was a rhetorical question, though please feel free to address your epic “How My Left Sock Saved My Life” pitch to Outside’s features department.)
Just make sure you get the right size and valve type, and that your gift recipient doesn’t ride tubeless. Or, if they do ride tubeless, you can always buy them a bottle of sealant instead, which is seasonally appropriate as it’s exactly the same color and consistency of egg nog. (Warning: do not attempt to drink sealant—or egg nog for that matter.)
A Tool Roll ($35 and Up)
Looking for a more personal gift? Something special, perhaps even handmade? An elegant yet practical item that they’ll carry with them at all times and think of you whenever they use it? Well, if you were shopping for a normal person you might get them a wallet or a handbag. However, this is bikes we’re talking about, so the nearest equivalent is a really fine tool roll.
Sure, a saddlebag will let you carry the basics, but with a tool roll you can practically carry enough stuff to rebuild your entire bicycle, and you can do so stylishly and unobtrusively. Plus, they’re far classier: tool rolls are to saddle bags as crystal tumblers are to Dixie cups.
The Gift of Smugness ($25 and Up)
This may blow your mind, but lots of people work really hard to make cycling better for the rest of us, and despite what you may have heard they’re not all underwritten by George Soros. Does your mountain biker support IMBA? Is your bike commuter a member of the local advocacy group? If not, make a modest donation on their behalf, or buy an item that benefits them. Bikes Not Bombs, World Bicycle Relief, Star Track, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association…there are all sorts of two-wheeled organizations dong all kinds of good work who need your support.
(Note: this is an especially thoughtful gift if the person you’re shopping for is a roadie, since when left to their own devices, roadies won’t do anything to help anybody.)
A Skateboard ($100 and Up. This is by far the most expensive gift on the list, but it’s worth it.)
Hey, we’re all adults here, so let’s be honest: sometimes you’ve got ulterior motives over the holidays, and giving a gift is less about pleasing someone than it is about teaching them a much-needed lesson. Is there a middle-aged person in your family who’s spending too much time on the bike? Was mommy late to the school play because she flatted on the group ride? Did hubs postpone your anniversary celebration because it fell on the same weekend as the Filthy Nebraska 350-Mile Gravel Grinder? Are you sick of suffering through your wife’s ride reports at dinner?
Well, now you can recoup all the time the bike has stolen from you by giving the gift of a skateboard! Yes, no fit person over 40 can resist the allure of a skateboard, nor can they stand on one without sustaining an injury just bad enough to keep them off the bike for awhile and force them to appreciate you! Just find a reissue deck from the halcyon days of their youth, sit back, and let physics and nostalgia do the rest: “Whoa, a Rob Roskopp! I used to have one just like this! You know, I used to be pretty good…”[Stands on skateboard, immediately breaks coccyx.]You’ll be enjoying that romantic anniversary dinner in no time—though your partner may be sitting on a doughnut.