If you do a Google search for blogs about cargo bikes, you can find quite a few people who are carrying impressive amounts of stuff (and kids) on bikes of varying shapes and sizes, and blogging about their experiences. It’s kind of inspiring, but it also feels a little fringe. Who are these eccentric folks and why would I want to join them?
That’s how I used to feel before we moved to Denmark for a year. We wondered if we could live without a car in Copenhagen, so we travelled everywhere on bikes. Occasionally, we used Copenhagen’s exceptional public transit system. In the end, biking became our favorite aspect of our year in Denmark. And not only us, but all our friends and family who visited us were similarly impressed.
It’s not easy to describe how compelling the bike-centric culture is if you haven’t been there. However, this video will give you a hint. As you watch, notice how many obese people you see. Think about all the roads and parking lots the Danes would need to build if these cyclists were driving their cars instead…
Even though the video shows what is happening in Copenhagen, it doesn’t makes a case for why this is a good thing. There are lots of benefits, but I’ll list my favorites:
- It’s good for the environment and our children and their children. You’ve heard that before.
- It’s good for society. Even if the Danes are famously reserved, they see more of each other on their bikes than Americans do in our isolating metal and leather cages. It feels less anonymous, more personal. If someone does something annoying on their bike, at least you can see a real person and perhaps feel some sympathy, as opposed to cursing some anonymous jerk behind tinted glass. If you still feel annoyed, you can crank harder on your pedals. It’s amazing how quickly your burning thighs and heaving chest bring things back into proper perspective!
- It’s good for freedom. When you’re in a car, you are at the mercy of circumstance. You can easily find yourself boxed into a traffic jam with no way out. On a bike, you have more options. It’s empowering to find ways around obstacles that have drivers banging their steering wheels in frustration (without breaking any laws, of course).
- And it’s good for you! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Danes seem more fit, on average, than Americans. But the benefit isn’t limited to physical fitness. Biking is a less stressful and more predictable way to commute than many other options that can haphazardly tax your independence and self-reliance.
After seeing how well bikes are working in Denmark, I wanted to bring some of these advantages home to Seattle. Unfortunately, there are some challenges:
- Hills! Denmark is amazingly flat. Our hills burn out your legs and make you sweat when you don’t have time for a shower. However, electric motors that provide assistance are becoming increasingly attractive. I’ll describe my electric motor in more detail on this blog.
- Infrastructure. Copenhagen’s bike lanes are light-years ahead of ours. As long as biking is seen as life-threatening, it won’t be a viable transportation alternative the way it is in Copenhagen. I am becoming more active in local politics to incorporate bikes in transportation plans.
- Weather. It’s not fun to bike in the rain. Or is it? The Danes have a great saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” I wouldn’t make a habit of riding in torrential downpours, but with good rain gear, riding in Seattle’s heavy mist is actually envigorating. (We’ll see if I still feel that way after I’ve made it through our winter…)
Now I’ll return to the question of what distinguishes my blog from all these other cargo bike blogs. I think it’s partly because I’m not so interested in pushing the envelope. I don’t expect to use my bike to transport heavy construction materials. I want to do all the mundane errands that keep us hopping into our cars – buying groceries, going to the fitness club, getting kids to various activities. These are things that the Danes are doing on their bikes.
Americans tend to think of bikers as fanatics in spandex and toe clips. I’m just an average suburban dad who would like to help expand our transportation options.