In the summer of 2016, I was visiting Brooklyn for work. Walking down Fulton Mall during morning rush hour, I saw a man pedaling through traffic with his school-aged daughter perched on the back of his bike, her feet resting on running boards.
I had never seen such a thing and couldn’t get it out of my head. I did some research online, searching terms like “bike transport kids running boards” and encountering the proper name: cargo bike. When I found myself back in NYC a few months later, I stopped by 718 Cyclery, talked to Joe, and ordered a Yuba Boda Boda.
That bike changed my life. Let me count the ways:
My bike before the Boda Boda was an old hand-me-down Trek hybrid that I neither took care of nor rode much. At most maybe a 3 mile commute a few times per month in the summer.
At that point I wasn’t exercising, period. I was busy with two small kids and a job. Running was boring and too hard and I wasn’t going to spend precious time driving to a gym to exercise.
Now exercise is baked into my routine. I don’t ride recreationally – still don’t have time – but in the course of running my errands I stay active. Most of my trips are within my bikeable radius, and with the ability to carry things and people, I can almost always opt for the bike. Going to the store, ferrying my kids to a playdate or school, commuting: I’m multitasking, exercising and having fun as I go. Increased thigh muscle definition was not something I was planning on, but I’ll take it!
In fact, riding two hours a week in the course of regular life has gotten me to a base layer of fitness where I can and want to do other exercise. I now get restless if I’m away from the bike, and because of my improved fitness, I can run fast and far enough for it to be interesting. I credit the bike for my current twice-a-week runs.
In 2015, my doctor suggested at my annual check-up that I start exercising. A year later, I rode five miles each way to the appointment – just another errand.
Bonding with my kids
Others have written this, and it’s true: the conversation with kids is so much better on a bike than in a car. We talk about what we’re passing by and, if we want, we can stop and engage. We stop for deer, construction sites, friends walking by, a vulture eating roadkill, osage oranges, free junk by the side of the curb that looks interesting.
Riding a cargo bike has brought me closer to my kids. And it models cycling, too. My son was 1 when I got the Boda Boda and he began riding (and napping) on the back immediately. Having grown up on the back of my bike, he was eager to master his balance bike, and at age 3 was riding a mile at a time on a 12″ pedal bike. He won’t be able to drive for another 12 years, but he can already bike like dad.
Seeing my community
In route selection, cyclists prioritize shorter distance over a higher road speed limit, so they use a more varied set of roads than cars. Riding my cargo bike everywhere, I take paths and streets that I never knew about before. I’ve learned street names, found shortcuts, and admired buildings and houses and little free libraries that I never would have known about otherwise. Topography becomes real, as even a small gradient is noticeable. I didn’t realize how hilly the west side of Ann Arbor is until I started riding.
Cargo biking has given me the thrill of finding out what I’m capable of. At first, it was biking my daughter back from school, 2.5 miles. Then my first big ride: I had to return a suitcase to Macy’s, 6 miles away. It was a beautiful day. Could I accomplish that errand via bike? Yes! I hadn’t biked that far in years. Going to the mall had never felt euphoric before.
Each time I conquered a new challenge (schlepping 2 kids, braving the rain or snow, moving a keg, an ambitious trip to Costco) I got a confidence boost.
There’s also a mentally-empowering aspect that comes from questioning the status quo as I try new things by bike. Taking a vacuum cleaner to the repair shop on a bike? Biking a big sign alongside crowds of football fans to raise awareness of gerrymandering reform in Michigan? They’re more fun than driving. In environmental terms, leaving the car at home makes a small, immediate difference for the world. And each new errand via bike has the potential larger impact of demonstrating what can be done without cars.
I didn’t expect all of the attention that comes when you do things on a bike that people thought you could only do with a car. But it makes sense: novelty is eye-catching. This is why people notice a Ferrari. My Boda Boda was about 1% the cost of a Ferrari, but gets a similar level of attention (I can’t say for sure, having never driven a sports car).
I find the attention amusing. Strangers ask questions about the bike and my neighbors and friends will often honk and wave, recognizing my ride. Or tell me they saw my bike locked outside the grocery store and knew we’d be inside. I hope someday cargo bikes are common enough that I blend into the crowd, but until then I’ll keep answering the most frequent questions like a D-list celebrity:
- No, I didn’t build it.
- You can get one from the store in Ypsilanti.
- Thank you, it is a fun ride!
Fast-forward two years and I’ve put 1,000+ miles on the Boda Boda, then upgraded to an electric-assist Spicy Curry* and put 1,000+ miles on that, too. Biking with kids and cargo is an integral part of my life and a major source of happiness for me and my family. Thank you, anonymous guy in Brooklyn, for showing me the possibility!
* in the spirit of this post, the pictures above are early photos of my Boda Boda, as the bike was changing my life. Excuse the makeshift cargo hauling setups – I gradually figured it out. A better commercial for cargo bikes would feature pictures of the Spicy Curry … that will be its own post.