And now for a word — or 850 — from Sharrow: Why be a cycling mom

Note from Eugene Bicyclist: On the off chance you’ve been wondering where the hell I’ve been, look: I’ve been busy … driving around in my new GMC Yukon and laying on the couch with a Double Big Gulp of Mountain Dew. So Sharrow has taken matters into her own hands, offering a guest post today in efforts to keep the blog fresh as I cried out, “What’s the point of it all!?” and plunged into an existential bicycle crisis. And a fine post it is, too, on such very matters:

The girls and I rode to Vanilla Jill’s on Coburg Road on the first real sunny day of spring. We started dressed in layers, and by the time we sat down to eat outside, we’d peeled down to our T-shirts, our forearms warm and pale on the tabletop. The battery-operated Easter chicken Eugene Bicyclist’s mom had mailed the girls was at the table with us, clucking and laying plastic eggs and getting its polka-dotted fur all yogurt-y.

It was the kind of afternoon that fills me with gratitude for the sun on our foreheads, for afternoons off with my two chattery girls, for the bike Eugene Bicyclist put together for us, for the car-driving humanity on Coburg Road, for the LTD bus finally roaring out of the way in the bike lane in front of us. It was funny, even, when the 3-year-old, who rides in back now, kept pulling down the back of my pants and exclaiming “POOP. THERE’S POOP IN THERE” and the 5-year-old started singing, “I see London, I see France …”

On the way back, a youngish guy in a watermelon helmet on a Bike Friday pulled up next to us at a stoplight and asked the girls if they were having fun and if they loved biking. They regarded him and nodded, which is about as much as you can hope for with them and inquisitive strangers.

Before he rode off ahead of us, he turned to me and said, “Thank you. Thanks for doing this. For riding with them.” I’m never quick with answers when I’m caught off guard; I can’t get my tongue to work right, and I think, there in the traffic, my reply to watermelon head was something really complicated like, “Yeah … it’s wonderful.”

But later I thought it was kind of silly, really, to thank me for riding my nice bike with my nice kids in the sunshine to go get some frozen yogurt and kombucha.

“Are you kidding me?” I wanted to say to Watermelon Head. I don’t think I know a parent who wouldn’t have had her feet on my pedals given the chance on such an afternoon. I think most people I know would rather, if they could, ride to as many places as they could — if work wasn’t so far away from home and the kids didn’t have to be dropped off in 10-minute increments, if they had better gear for the whole family, if they didn’t have three meetings that day.

Not that I’m an apologist for car culture. (You ought to see me take Lincoln hill with the Xtracycle loaded down with groceries on a rainy day, high on eco-ego-adrenaline, going all Al Gore in my head about people who drive to the gym).

No, it’s the back-patting we do that icks me out a little bit. Maybe because I do it all the time. I’m constantly keeping a ledger in my head, hearing a little voice — yeah, she’s a cousin to the good food/bad food police — who tells me what lousy modeling it is to drive my kids to preschool a mile away, how ridiculous it is to strap them into their car seats for a trip to Kiva when we could bike or walk there so easily.

It is, I think, the politicization of biking that my dear Eugene Bicyclist resents. That we don’t always bike because it’s fun and healthy. Sometimes we do it for the cranky little editorialist in our heads. Sometimes we do it for the gray-haired woman in the Prius who gave us a thumb’s up one time in the rain when our panniers were bulging with groceries and there was a 12-pack of toilet paper bungied to the back of the bike. When that happened, I thought, “Are we in a commercial for something?” And maybe we were.

I drove the girls to a birthday party once in the middle of a rainstorm — not a particularly torrential one, but not a timid one either. It was windy, too, and that damp-cold that it gets here only in the spring, maybe to punish us for trying to wear our spring clothes too early. So, I thought we were absolved from Cranky Voice.

But then another Mama showed up at the party with her kid on their bikes, drenched even in their raingear, having walked the last quarter of a mile because they’d gotten a flat tire and didn’t have anything with them to repair it.

And you know what? I felt a little ping of covetousness for their experience. They were muddy and wet-haired and red-cheeked and smiling. They unpeeled their layers and were warm underneath. They tore into their pizza and cupcakes, happy and alive in a way that you can be only after braving the elements. And that’s the thing, I think — the truest thing about all of this.

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10 thoughts on “And now for a word — or 850 — from Sharrow: Why be a cycling mom

  1. This is great. If all we are doing by riding bikes is obeying the green angel on our shoulders, that’s all we will get out of it. A multitude of reasons exist beyond that.
    Nice one Sharrow, way to raise the handlebar. Hope Eugene Bicyclist can still ride drop bars by the time he’s done binging on soda ;)

  2. There are a lot of good reasons to ride a bike. And by doing it, you are being a good example, even if that feels/sounds smug. There is an astonishingly large segment of the population that has been brainwashed to think that propelling yourself somewhere, either by walking or riding a bike, is a) next to impossible, b) extremely dangerous, and c) a bit on the edge of crazy/eccentric. I get sincere “Be very careful!” warnings from well-meaning co-workers every time I leave from work on foot or bike. So whether you want them or not, I think you get some points just for doing it, for showing it can be done, and for showing your kids that real people ride bikes. And especially for having fun doing it!

  3. Thanks, Joseph’s Dad and Luke! And, good points, Mrs. Random. This reminds me of that time a couple years ago when Bob Dylan got taken in by the cops because he was walking around in a neighborhood in New Jersey during a rainstorm—just walking around blowing off steam before a concert. Whoever reported him apparently said there was an “eccentric-looking old man” in his or her yard.

  4. Oh, yeah, and, speaking of people who are rad and who other people might consider eccentric, the Mama from my last two paragraphs reminded me today that she was pregnant at the time.

  5. My two kids get to school on the back of our Xtracycle nearly every day too. Before that, in a bike trailer. The other day, someone was admiring the XC and asked if my kids complained about riding in the rain. I responded, after thinking about it for a second, that they have *never* complained about riding in the rain, even on the occasions when they had inadequate raingear.

    One of the great things about having kids in Eugene and using bikes (or feet) to get around is getting them used to the idea that being a little wet is no big deal.* They really don’t even seem to notice it. It’s just water. It will dry.

    * These are the people you see later, as grownups, walking around in a downpour in shorts, flip-flops (or Birkenstocks with wool socks), and sunglasses. I’m raising future eccentric-looking old people!

  6. Great piece. I love seeing you loading up the family. And Jonesy, you may be right about raising future eccentrics: We got by with one car, cycling and walking for years. Two of my grown kids don’t have licenses.And they none of them seem to mind the rain too much.

  7. Watching pmarshall’s kids walk and bike to school with their musical instruments in all kinds of weather was a big check on the yes side of our pro-con list when we angsted over having kids so many years ago. And, yeah, they still walk and bike everywhere. Eugene kids are the BEST!

  8. Wanted to drop a remark and let you know your Rss feed is not working today. I tried including it to my Bing reader account and got nothing.

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