A Baby on a Bike
Using a conservative estimate, I have driven at least 220,000 miles in LA traffic. Assuming that I averaged 30mph (Yeah, right), I have spent approximately 7,333 hours in driving purgatory. That is 183 full time (40 hour) work weeks stuck in traffic. I have thus far lost at least 3.52 YEARS of productivity inhaling the exhaust of the car in front of me while listening to CD's from the nineties that still sound new to me. Until I did the math this very minute, I had no idea the 10 Freeway et al had claimed that much of my life.
I wrote that paragraph while riding the EXPO Line. Please tell me again how public transit or biking takes too much of your time...
Now that the stork had dropped another baby in our laps, it looked like I was going to have to sacrifice more of my life to the freeway Gods. As the husband of a physician/scientist/germaphobe, public transit is off limits until The Party Crasher receives his first year of immunizations. Biking him around town on our Workcycles FR8 is off the table until the baby's neck can support the weight of his head, which won't be until he's approximately one-year-old. Consequently, I could either spend twelve months yelling at my lazy infant to work his trapezius harder or I could call in the cavalry...
The Little Dictator sitting on the Urban Arrow bench seat while the Party Crasher sleeps in a Maxi Cosi car seat. The Maxi Cosi securely mounts onto the bike via the manufacturers special adapter.
The Urban Arrow
The Urban Arrow is an electric-assisted bakfiets which is Dutch for "box bike." The bike also has a custom made accessory available for mounting Maxi Cosi car seats which even includes shock absorbers. There is a bench seat with seat belts for two kids with the option of adding a second bench seat to carry up to four kids in the box. If you want to carry a fifth child, you can mount a child seat on the rear rack. The bike has four levels of electric assist which can whisk you along up to 19mph with very little effort.
I am deeply conflicted about this purchase. There are a whole host of reasons why riding a bike is great for your family. One of the best reasons is the amount of money you save. As someone who experienced financial insecurity as a child, I am a big booster of parents making conservative financial choices that increase the security and resilience of their families. Through the magic of compound interest, swapping a car for a bike and investing the savings in a 529 Vanguard Index Fund for eighteen years could very likely mean your child's college education is covered.
The entry cost for a one-child family to put their kid on a bike they already own is less than fifty bucks. The rear-mounted child bike seat that I attach to our Workcycles cost me $35 on Craigslist and a helmet can be had for another $10. However, once you add a second child, things become a bit more complicated. The frugal method is to acquire a pre-owned bike trailer off of Craigslist for as little as $100. A father at my son's preschool pedals his twins from Echo Park to the top of a hill in Silver Lake utilizing just an old, steel road bike and a kid trailer, so it can be done.
I, on the other hand, do not find trailers very practical for the streets and sidewalks on which I ride. Trailers are too ungainly for the poorly maintained sidewalks abutting major arterials in my neighborhood and I avoid riding in traffic unless it's a calm, residential street or a well-designed bike lane. Also, for me, at least 50% of the awesomeness of riding a bike with my eldest kid is experiencing the ride with him. With a trailer, the kids are too separated from me for my taste. Therefore, if I was going to ride with two kids, one of whom was too young to sit on a bike seat, the only option left was a bakfiets (Dutch for "box bike").
All well-made bakfeitsen (plural for box bike) are pricy. For a brand new one, they start at around three thousand dollars. On Craigslist, they still cost about $2000. Yet, when you put that figure in context, it's less than the cost of insuring a car for two years without including depreciation, gasoline, maintenance, registration, parking, opportunity cost, etc. However, if you are foolish enough to expand your family to two children and live near the top of a steep hill (like me), you will most likely require electric assist. Adding "go juice" to a cargo bike raises their cost to the four to six thousand dollar range which is prohibitively expensive for most families unless they can give up a car.
Alas, my work still requires a car on occasion. Therefore, the purchase of an Urban Arrow was a shockingly expensive splurge that will be depreciating instead of appreciating. In short, I couldn't go back to my old life sitting in traffic. I threw money at the problem. I'm uncomfortable with it. How much do I owe you for the therapy session?
Now put yourself in my long-suffering wife's shoes: You have shuttled back and forth to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for almost three months. Your preemie finally gets released from the hospital. Your husband wants to pedal the baby through LA traffic... Yes, we're still married. In civilized parts of the world parents do bike their baby home from the hospital in a bakfiets. I do not live in a civilized part of the world. I live in Los Angeles. In LA, there are very few protected bike lanes completely separated from cars and the sidewalks could be mistaken for the San Andreas fault, so I never even considered biking my child home from the hospital. I figured we would wait a couple months and see how he's doing.
As the baby approached the two months home from the hospital mark, I began agitating for his inaugural bike ride. My VERY SKEPTICAL wife fought a rear-guard action by insisting that we consult our Pediatrician first. At the baby's two month (adjusted age) check up, our world-class physician declared, "As far as I'm concerned you have a healthy baby. I don't see any reason not to put him on the bike." The heavens parted and the angels sang...
When I informed my wife of our doctor's proclamation, she asked that I get it in writing...
I think she was joking. My long-suffering spouse finally relented to a short bike ride on the sidewalk to Echo Park Lake. Big Bro, on the other hand, was SUPER stoked for his first bike ride with baby brother:
Prior to launch, I had the same nervous anticipation I felt when I first placed our eldest child on a bike three years ago. My only concern, besides the cost of divorce attorneys, was how much the baby's head would bob around on the bumps. If I felt it was too rough for him, we would simply turn home and wait for him to get a little older. As we cautiously pedaled down our pockmarked, residential street, the baby bounced less than when I'm pushing him in his stroller. I let go of my concerns and started pedaling my two boys to the park. Following all those stationary months in the NICU, then the additional two months of inactivity driving everywhere, our bike ride to the lake felt like some imaginary warden in my brain had unlocked the prison doors. I knew that I had been burying all the stress of the events of the previous five months because our family needed to put our heads down and place one foot in front of the other until we were on the other side of the crisis. The bike ride felt like our official return to normalcy.
The Party Crasher fell asleep.
An Urban Arrow can be ordered locally from a great bike shop that recently opened in Echo Park: Banker Supply
1571 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
The corner of Echo Park Ave and Sunset Blvd
*I receive no compensation for the referral - just trying to support local small businesses.
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