Today is gray and drizzly and a little on the cool side. I could easily pick up the car keys and take our climate-controlled minivan to make the 6-mile round trip preschool drop-off run. It's the “normal” thing to do. But I looked at my 5- and 2-year-old kids and asked them, “Would you like to take the van or the bike to school today?” I know what their answer will be; unless there's a tornado warning or white-out blizzard conditions, they would rather ride the bike. Sure enough, they begin to bounce and sing, “Bike! Bike! Bike!” They are my motivation when I can't find my own.
I am fortunate enough to have three bikes that will carry all three of us, plus extras like groceries or books: A tandem with a baby seat on the rear, a Japanese bicycle with a seat built into the front handlebars and one behind the rider, and a trike that looks something like a cross between a Good Humor bike and a pedicab.
I put on my rain jacket, get the trike out of the shed (since it was the best one for this kind of weather), set the kids up in their rain canopy cover and set out. Within the first two blocks any hesitation I had about riding today felt silly. How could I deprive myself of feeling the fresh air, the raindrops on my skin, and the pleasure of moving my legs? My blue mood lifts and I remember how free bike riding makes me feel.
Cuddled together in the front compartment, I hear my kids chattering about Pokemon, squirrels, decorative items in front yards, and how all the trees got their leaves in the space of two weeks. Sometimes I join the conversation, sometimes I just listen and enjoy my combination workout/preschool ride. They adore being outside and less separated from the weather and nature as they would be riding inside a car.
They (“they” being road designers) say that women, and especially women who ride with their children, are something of an indicator of how bike-friendly a city is. If a woman feels comfortable enough to ride, that area is usually perceived to be a safe bike path. I try not to be offended by the perception that we are fragile little flowers and nervous about cycling mishaps – after all, many of us are not only mothers, but professional women who need to be presentable and still be able to run errands all over town.
It takes a lot to break through the mindset that you can't get things done without a car, especially in the U.S. where so many places are spread out and separated by narrow, shoulder-less roads. Here at the edge of Harrisburg, though, I am less than 5 miles from nearly anything I could need. By riding, I not only get the benefit of of exercise and fresh air, I get to really know my neighborhood – my city. I stop in shops that I'd never bother to look into if I had to find and pay for parking.
When I arrive at my destination, I have a glow and a sense of well-being that I never get while driving – riding my bike is one of the most positive things I can do for my mental health. And, no, I don't usually arrive covered in sweat. Riding a bike takes between a third to a fifth of the energy that walking does – I can go five times farther and still arrive refreshed and cool.
And so we ride.
Kelly Sangree is a wife and mother of four who lives at the edge of Harrisburg, PA. She enjoys riding with her family and encouraging other families to ride together through Recycle Bicycle Harrisburg. Watch for her and her odd bikes as you ride through the city!