THE FOG BANKED far below my eldest daughter and me. Through openings in the forest canopy, we looked out upon pillowy white clouds punctured by glassy skyscrapers and Cascade volcanoes, all reflecting the sun’s brilliant morning light. My daughter declared the scene an ocean, which meant that we were sailors riding the swells.
Our vessel was sturdy, made of steel, painted a mint ice cream green. The cabin, where she rode, was shaped like a box. I sat behind and steered. Our “ship” was inspired by a Dutch vessel, called the Bakfiets, but it was made by a local guy named Joe. My daughter had christened it Green Grass. It had wheels. We were biking to school.
While Portland, Oregon, has its own Cargo Bike Gang (a dedicated group of parents who commute by bicycle with their kids) parents riding with children are still in the minority. Which is why whenever my husband or I head out with our children we get lots of looks, but many more smiles.
We own two kid-carrying bikes, built uniquely for their purpose; both are about half again the length of a regular bicycle. On Green Grass, the precious cargo rides up front in an iron-framed canvas bucket that stretches three feet between the handle bars and the front wheel. On Blue Bird, the kids sit behind whoever’s peddling, on a long tail that extends over the rear wheel. Our bicycles look like bicycles, but also something more.
Together Blue Bird and Green Grass cost more than the Honda we sold, but without gas and insurance bills they’re one of the best investments we’ve ever made. Money aside, the bikes also pay dividends in an emotional and experiential fulfillment that I’m sure we’ll miss when our daughters are teenagers.
One summer evening as we cruised along the waterfront, our five-year-old commented on the hundred tiny puffs of white clouds against a wash of purple-blue sky. It looks like “a Jackson Pollock painting,” she said. If we’d been in the car, we would have missed that. If we’d been driving, we wouldn’t have had the opportunities to be slowed down by traffic: the Cooper’s hawk that flew past us like he was running a red light or the fuzzy wooly bear caterpillar undulating black and burnt umber across a crosswalk visible only to arthropods. On the bike, it’s easier to be friendly. “Hello, crow,” said my two-year-old just this morning, to the scruffy bird pecking at the detritus washed up along the curb. All I had to do was pedal.
Though we could get to school in about five minutes if we drove, my older daughter says the bicycle is faster. And it’s true that the roads are more often than not clogged during the rush hours—Portland has the ninth worst traffic in the nation—but that’s not what she means. People say they drive cars for the convenience, but from where we sit on the bike they seem trapped. Outside of the car time belongs to us.