Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surviving carfree babyhood

We recently got an interesting comment from Charlotte of Chic Cyclist, on the thread about how we gave up our car. Charlotte writes:
"some vestigial teenager in me clings to the 'option' of having a car somewhere, just in case. I'm going to have to read about how you handled the early months of H's life - my biggest concern is the time between a possible future baby's birth and the point where she can wear a bike helmet."
First of all, gold star to Charlotte for actually considering getting rid of the car. She's in the Boston area, so chances are she and her partner won't even miss it.

That said, she's right to anticipate that if kid(s) are on the horizon, getting through babyhood without the car can be tricky. But if you can do it, the rewards are many (not least of which is not being trapped in a minivan all day every day for the rest of your life).

On the practical front, the impact of parenting on biking and carfree living spans much more than the first year of babyhood that Charlotte anticipates. If you are pregnant, you may or may not feel comfortable biking while pregnant. Yes, yes, I know the Dutch do it, but Dutch roads have space for bicycles and Dutch drivers are probably a bit more deferential to bikers than those in Boston. So far, I have yet to meet a real life pregnant lady who has biked. I don't feel comfortable doing it, for a variety of reasons, so for now, I am T, bus and foot dependent.

Then comes biking with the kid. In the states, conventional wisdom says wait a year, and that felt reasonable to us. In reality, it took us about two years to come up with a bike setup we felt good about, but we could have started much much earlier if we'd gotten our act together. During that first year, you need to make sure that anywhere you need to get with your kid is accessible by foot or public transit, preferably by foot (it's not fun to be the one with the screaming baby on the bus, though see buschick for a mom who is serious about bus riding with a baby). Chances are, in a fairly large city, you'll be able to do this. Choose a doctor close by (there are plenty of them). Restrict to a local search for childcare. If you'll be working outside the home, you can still blast to work on your bike like the old days after you drop off the baby, though if you're anything like me, a new-found sense of mortality may lead you to become a bit more cautious. I certainly relaxed my insistence on all-weather biking once H was born.

And once you finally get the baby on the bike? I'm afraid all is not as blissful as you might hope. It is nice, yes, but you might not get the kind of toddler who wants to sit on a bike for miles at a time. You'll probably feel more cautious about winter biking. Rainy-day biking with a kid takes a lot of gear and preparation, and you may find yourself avoiding it more than you did in your pre-kid days. Once you start biking with your child, you'll also get a lot of flak, from random people on the road, but also from real life friends and family who are anywhere from "concerned" to absolutely livid that you would place your child at risk on a bike. I've written some about my take on the safety (or not) of biking with a kid, but all the thinking and soul searching in the world won't spare you the intrusive advice that you'd all be better off if you just bought the SUV and the giant carseat, and strapped your kid in 24/7.

So if it really is this hard, why do it? Why do the work of navigating pregnancy, babyhood and toddlerhood (perhaps several times) without a car? What, exactly, is the payoff? The payoff is a life in which your entire family is firmly integrated in your local neighborhood and your child isn't made to sit still, strapped in, as you drive endless mindless miles from one thing to the next. The neighbors you meet as you are out walking or regularly frequenting the local park (because it is so close, and you can't really drive to the nicer one a little farther away), become the friends that you call when your whole family is throwing up, but you are out of pedialyte and soda crackers. And if you are already a person who loves the freedom and independence of biking and minimal dependence on a car, isn't that something you want to share with your kid(s)? Life changes when kids come into the picture, but you don't have to leave what matters to you behind. Better to keep the things you love and are proud of, and include your children, even if it's a little inconvenient at first.


aubree said...

I had my baby in a trailer at about 5 months. We have a Burley Solo trailer that I strapped his car seat into with a strap. The base was super secure attached to the frame and then the seat just clicked in and out.

We even had a roll over when my wife took a corner too sharply and the trailer tipped. The kid didn't move an inch. We cried for about 10 seconds and then got over it. We were a bit shaken but he didn't have a hair out of place.

The car seat handle acts as a roll bar and then the cage of the trailer. We felt totally safe and he loves it.

At 11 months, he graduated to the back of the Xtraclycle in a Peapod and my toddler sits in a homemade seat attached to the FreeRadical frame.

You can check out some photos of the different set-ups here:
and then here:

aubree said...

here is a link to the other set-up"

SpeedyIma said...

Just have to say that my design partner-in-crime, Sarah, who I think you've met, is still biking. She's due in early April. When we're out together, I have this urge to guide her by the elbow over snowy curb-cuts, until I remember that she biked to our appointment.

Also, my experience was that if you're nursing, baby on bus is vastly superior to baby in carseat. I had access to a car, but still did a lot on foot or public transit b/c it was less hassle. I nursed a lot on the bus, T, on park benches after whipping Speedy out of the running stroller, etc. If you're driving, and it's feeding time, you & the kid are S.O.L.

Anonymous said...

Good for you for being carfree with a little one. While we've been carfree for the past five years, our son is 10 so we had a car for the first 5 years of his life (of course we lived in a yurt 15 miles from the nearest town for several of those years so there weren't many simple alternative options).

I'd also like to put a plug in for the baby sling, particularly on transit. It keeps your kid very close, makes it convenient to nurse (so I'm told), and best of all is very easy to get around with. You're also much less likely to raise the ire of those on the bus when you try to bring your giant SUV stroller on the bus.

Dorea said...

Thanks for the great comments, and nice to hear of a real life pregnant biker.

With regard to bus and baby, yes, absolutely babywearing is the way to go (it's the way to go on foot too; I don't think we really used a stroller until about 18 months). People are much more likely to interact kindly with you when you have an adorable baby tucked up close at eye level, and it keeps the baby much happier. And yes, I could see the nursing thing working well on the bus. Alas, I was not nursing H as that was Angela's job, and a bottle on the bus is a bit harder to pull off smoothly.

But even though I preferred walking, I'd take the bus over a carseat any day. Any cartrip with H during babyhood was nearly 100% screaming.

Bus Chick said...


I love this post--especially the last paragraph. BTW, I haven't checked in in a while. Sounds like you guys are expecting another. Congrats!

Christa said...

Hi there, I love your inspiring website. I hope you don't mind that I've added a link to your site on my regional car-free guide. Cheers :)

Anonymous said...

it's $$$ but I just saw a shop selling a cargo bike in somerville in which you can hook up a carseat for an infant... makes me want to have more kids.

I'll be reading your site. I'm in the boston area and beginning a more biking life. ( trying) I wish I had the support of ppl like you 6 years ago when I was pregnant with my first and a non driver. I had so many people telling me I could not make it with out a car that I signed up up for driving lessons and learned to drive while 6 months pregnant and at age 30. I sort of wish I never did. It's been a slow road to feel comfortable behind the wheel. I get a lot of flack for it. But last spring when my car was down and I needed to not have it for several days I realized that I felt stranded without it and I was shocked and sad that I had truly become a driver. So I'm trying to back track a bit. anyhow- your blog is an inspiration!

Angela V-C said...

Hi Christa and Anon! Of course we don't mind links! You have a great site, so I'm happy to reciprocate. And I do think community is so important in going and _staying_ carfree. Without others around, you start to feel like a freak (so thanks for the comments!)

Anonymous said...

Great blog!

I'm a real life pregnant cycler. I'm now five months and still doing the daily 10k commute. Just at a rather slower pace. I'm over here in the other Cambridge... the one, thankfully, with lots of cyclists to give me safety in numbers.
Do you guys have any tips about the best buggie/stroller for public transit?

JM said...

Great blog! I was a real-live pregnant biker, too, though I did give up my 22-mile round-trip commute in winter (and admit that by the time spring came, I only rode it a few times, because I rode on very busy roads, which made me nervous by then). I did keep biking until the week I was due (on side roads, shorter trips). [I also ran until the day I went into labor, a week overdue, but running's a different story.]

We're not car-free but I'm trying to keep us car-light and love our bike trailer. I'm not sure how we'll get around efficiently with our toddler and our next baby (once it arrives) (before it can ride in a trailer), but I'll peruse your blog for tips.

Angela V-C said...

Hey JM! So nice to hear from another pregnant biker and car-light family. The transportation does get more complicated with two, especially during babyhood. We've got a bike setup that will work for two, but we'll be waiting until 10-12 months for that. Until the bike riding has decreased, which is sad! There are folks around that ride with younger infants though, and I think you'll be able to dig up links around the site for more info.

melanthius said...

"So far, I have yet to meet a real life pregnant lady who has biked."

My lovely wife Katie biked up until the day before she went in to labor. Some of her thoughts: