Ariel Mendez hoisted his 2-year-old daughter into a safety seat while his two grade-school-age sons scrambled into their favorite seats for the pending trip across town.
The Mendez family was not piling into their Chevy Suburban, which sat parked on the street in front of their Bend home; they were pulling on helmets and readying an 8-foot-long electric cargo bike they have cruised around town on since earlier this year.
“I just like the idea of doing trips without the car, especially when the weather is good,” the father of three said. “A cargo bike is the perfect car replacement. The kids love it, and, of course, it’s great for parking.”
The Mendezes are one of an estimated 200 Bend families who have adopted family-biking as a practical and fun way to drop kids off at school, run errands and otherwise elevate the heart rate while performing the endless tasks that domesticity demands.
Bend is in the beginning stages of movement most prominent in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 1 in 4 families with two or more children have a cargo bike. Family-biking is so prevalent in Portland, the city hosts several rides dedicated to family-biking.
Their reasons for ditching the car and using the bike are multifaceted; its better for the environment, a way to fit in more physical activity while raising a family and a new opportunity to bond with your children.
The kids seem to enjoy the ride, too.
They all wear helmets. Lief, 8, situated himself on the cushioned cargo box affixed between the front wheel and the handlebars. Enakai, 5, shared the box with his brother. Their father, wearing a yellow safety vest, double-checked the straps that secured his daughter Kora into the seat right behind his saddle.
As the family prepared to pull out of the driveway, a familiar SUV rolled up. Will Warne greeted Mendez before teasing him about his cargo bike’s electric motor.
“He’s kind of cheating,” said Warne, 47, who carts his 3- and 7-year-old children to school on a motorless Trek Transport nearly every day between April and November. He also does all his grocery shopping and most of his errand-running with the bike.
Mendez, 37, cranked the cargo bike’s throttle and zipped across the busy street, quickly attaining a cruising speed between 20-25 mph. Along the way his children’s helmeted heads bobbled about as they took in their surroundings. At the footbridge connecting Harmon and Drake parks, Mendez dismounted the cargo bike, while his passengers remained seated. “This is the kids’ favorite part of the ride,” he said.
Leif chimed in: “We used to see baby geese! First they grew a little, then they grew a little more, and now they’re all grown,” he said. “We’ve seen them their whole lives.”
A classy ride
At the Growing Tree Children’s Center, which Enakai attended in preparation for his kindergarten enrollment at Bear Creek Elementary this fall, a woman walking out the front door did a double-take at the bike. “That’s a taxi!” she said, beaming at its passengers.
“It’s a limo,” Mendez said. Actually, he corrected himself, “It’s more like a sports car for all the attention it gets. And it’s good for you,” he said with a grin.
Leif, the eldest, said he hadn’t considered when he should ask to ride his bicycle to school by himself. “Maybe when I’m 12,” he said. “I just really like riding in the cargo bike with my family.”
Jonathan Maus, the publisher and editor of advocacy website BikePortland.org, said no official entity tracks family-biking.
“But you can see (its growing popularity), especially when conditions are made very safe … the streets are literally flooded with (family-biking),” Maus wrote in an email.
He and his wife began riding with their children when they moved to Portland in 2004. He said family-biking took off when Portland’s Clever Cycles opened — he said they were the first retailer in the country to sell the Dutch bakfiets (cargo bikes), the type of bike the Mendezes ride.
“My wife would carry our several-month-old daughter in one of those body-wrap things while she rode,” said Maus, now a father of three. As their family grew, their child-carrying evolved from a traditional child seat on the rear rack to one on a front rack. Eventually, they attached a one-wheeled extension that attaches to the bicycle’s rear. “With three kids, we’ve used almost every family-biking contraption ever made.”
In Bend, there are two shops that sell electric cargo bikes. At Pedego Bend Electric Bikes, manager Ryan Bogucz said the shop has sold 7 to 10 Pedego Stretch bikes that feature the passenger cushion upgrade this year. Capable of covering 60 miles with a single wall-mounted charge, the Stretch model resembles a normal bike. The battery, about the size of a flattened shoe box, is attached to the seat tube. A rear platform featuring a back rest juts horizontally across the rear wheel; it can be fitted with a passenger cushion or cargo walls, depending on the user’s needs. Pedego Stretch bikes cost around $3,500.
“It’s been a hot bike from the start,” Bogucz said. “A lot of people replaced motorless cargo bikes with these. The range you can cover with a 300-pound load increases tenfold.”
Mendez rides a Danish-made Larry vs Harry-brand Bullitt Clockwork, which he purchased with an electric motor upgrade for almost $5,000 at Bend Electric Bikes in February. “That’s the biggest obstacle,” Mendez said of the price tag.
The shop, which opened eight years ago, has seen a gradual up-tick in sales among its six different electric cargo bike models. It sells between 30 to 35 electric cargo bikes per year, said owner Sterling McCord. Ranging in price from $2,000 to $6,000, some models feature a throttle, while others, like the Juiced ODK-V3, features pedal assistance, which requires the rider to rotate the cranks to receive motorized help. Sales manager Courtney Van Fossman estimates 200 to 300 Bendites use electric cargo bikes, many for family-biking.
“I tell folks to get ready — It’s a life-changer,” said Van Fossman, who doesn’t own a car. She’s family-biked since her two children were infants eight years ago. “You start coming up with ideas: ‘What can I do with my bike?’”
Parking made easy
Mendez first took to alternative transportation while he earned his PhD in political science at Stanford University; he found an adult-sized Razor scooter to be an efficient and fun way to wheel around campus. Now, he has his cargo bike.
“Any time I’m in the car, I’m like, ‘Huh. This is actually a pretty good route,” he said. “I could have done this on the bike.’”
When a recent concert at Les Schwab Amphitheatre made finding a parking spot for a car all but impossible, Mendez was able to effortlessly park his cargo bike on the sidewalk near the field.
When Mendez rides up to Bear Creek Elementary to drop off both his sons, he eeks past the long line of cars that wind through the parking lot. There he and several other family-biking parents wave their kids off before rolling away to work or to run errands. Mendez hopes car-driving parents stuck in the school’s parking lot don’t consider him a line-cutter.
Mendez would prefer to be more inconspicuous, but he can’t kick the pressure of feeling like a family-biking ambassador. He recounted how a friend and local bicycle advocate Lucas Freeman helped him put things in perspective:
“… You’re not Jackie Robinson knocking down civil rights barriers; you’re an ordinary biker.’” Mendez recalled. “I felt relieved by that.”
Eric Power, the owner of Bend Velo and father of a 9-year-old, said for family-biking, he prefers the bakfiets design which features a wheelbarrow-like box between the rider and the front wheel. This arrangement, Power said, is ideal.
“From a parental and experiential viewpoint, if you can have your child in front of you, it’s a whole new ballgame. I used to equate it to an amusement ride; you’re looking at the same thing they’re looking at, and you’re looking at them looking at it. It’s this total riding and conversational interaction where you’re talking about what you’re seeing. That’s the best, that’s every parent’s dream.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org