Onward with the interview!
1. Tell me a little about your cycling experience/history:
I learned to bike as a kid, but just rode around the neighborhood for fun. My mother was from the Netherlands so she grew up on a bike, but we only rode together when we were back in the motherland visiting family. I biked off and on to middle school and high school, but sadly was convinced it wasn't cool and primarily walked (and then drove to high school once I got my driver license). My university--University of California at Santa Barbara--was incredibly bike-friendly so I
biked a lot in college, but after that went back to biking to various jobs only when it was much more convenient than driving or using public transit.
With my first kid, I waited until he was one and got the same front baby seat all my cousins in the Netherlands used--the Bobike Mini. I put it on an old too-big single speed beach cruiser with coaster brake and made do like that for a year. But at seven months pregnant with my second child, I upgraded the bike to an eight-speed city bike with hand brakes.
By the time the second baby arrived, I realized (back then through just one article I found online) that people ride with babies less than one year old. Once I deemed the baby had sufficient core strength
(ten weeks old, thanks to babywearing!), I put him in an infant car seat in a bike trailer and toted my toddler to various destinations on smooth roads and paths while the baby happily slept in the trailer.
After a couple years of that, we added the cargo bike: a Surly Big Dummy longtail. Initially it had a Yepp maxi seat at the back for the small kid and stoker bars (handlebars attached to my seat post) for
the big kid. Now I have Xtracycle Hooptie hand rails on it.
We also recently got a second-hand tandem bike to which I added a kidback (a second set of cranks and pedals up high to accommodate a little stoker). I put a Burley Piccolo trailer bike behind the tandem and we all three have pedals!
And they also have their own bikes--lightweight Islabikes--that they ride a lot of the time. I always take the Big Dummy when they're on their own bikes because one or both of them invariably gets tired or we get to too busy a road and I can carry both kids and bikes.
3. Where do you ride these days? Favourite place to bike to with the boys?
We ride everywhere! Except for school. We live two blocks from school so it takes much longer to get the bikes ready and helmets on than it takes to just walk over. We love trips to the beach, six miles away, and five miles to the Seattle Center for a great play structure, museums, and fountains. I'm looking forward to summer when the days are long and we have time to bike to beaches 15 miles away.
4. What were the hardest things about getting started riding with kids? Do you have any tips for other families?
Fortunately, we didn't have too hard a time of it. The most important thing for getting started is to make sure no one is hungry or overly tired (yourself included!) and allow plenty of time to deal with
distractions. The journey can be even more fun than the destination, so if we need to park for 15 minutes to throw rocks in a lake or peruse a Little Free Library, we always do that. Especially at the
beginning, by keeping family biking adventurous, the kids are always happy to get out and go. Now it's commonplace enough that we can treat it was mere transportation, but it's still fun to take advantage of the adventurous nature of biking, like parking and standing on the deck of the bike to pick plums or detouring to watch an exciting construction project.
When we've had struggles over certain important things, like not wanting to wear mittens on very cold days, I find creative silly solutions, like wearing a pair of my wool socks over their hands.
5. What would you change about biking in Seattle? What are you doing to make things better? What can other people do?
Seattle is busily growing its network of bike facilities that are comfortable for all users which is great, but currently that makes for a lot of unconnected pieces. Connecting the protected bike lanes,
multi-use trails, and neighborhood greenways would make such a difference in people being able to get around the city by bike! I send emails and attend meetings as I have time, but one of the biggest
things I can do as an individual is get out there on my bike and encourage others to do so, too. Bike infrastructure that appeals to people of all ages and abilities is crucial, but at the same time,
the more people out on bikes, the safer it is (see more about safety in numbers on CityLab) so I focus on that, too.
Other people can do the same: ride more and encourage friends to ride. Support Familybike Seattle so we (full disclosure: I'm on the board of directors) can introduce biking as a means of a sustainable lifestyle to more families of all income levels. Join the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group for their neighborhood to advocate for safe streets.
Editor's note: If you're in Greater Vancouver, I'd suggest joining HUB to support cycling advocacy & education.
6. What do you like about biking in Seattle?
This is definitely the most bike-friendly city in which I've lived. We live a few blocks from the Burke-Gilman Trail, a terrific Rails to Trails multi-use path. Some people use it for recreational riding, but it connects us to many different neighborhoods and takes us close to parks, libraries, and cafes. And our city is full of passionate advocates. Cascade Bicycle Club is the largest statewide bicycle
organization in the US and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has many volunteers advocating for safe streets for all ages and abilities.
7. What other rides & book events have you got coming up?
I lead group rides at least once a month--family-friendly rides called Kidical Mass and women-specific rides called Critical Lass. I'm a volunteer ride leader through Cascade Bicycle Club and upcoming rides will be listed on their Free Group Rides calendar. Upcoming book events are April 30th at the Burien Public Library, south of Seattle, and May 20th at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. I post all my book events at madicarlson.com.
Thanks for a great interview, Madi!
Remember, if you want to meet Madi & maybe even get a book signed, come to Tandem Bike Cafe between 2 & 5pm Saturday, March 26! RSVP & more details here. She'll also be joining us for the #YVRFamilyBiking Easter Bonnet Ride on Sunday morning. RSVP, route map, & more details here.
Follow Spokesmama here too: