We've had a fascination with the Dutch Bakfiets ("bike with the box") for awhile, yet it seemed more like a European fantasy than a practical, affordable mode of transport. But in progressive, bike-friendly Portland, Oregon they're gaining in popularity and we were very excited to read about one family who took the Bakfiets plunge. Because we're the curious (sometimes just plain nosy) types, we wrote to ask them a few questions.
Melissa writes the engaging blog, All Buttoned Up about sewing, motherhood and life in Portland. She graciously agreed to share her family's motivation for making biking a family affair and their experience so far in taking it out on the road.
Can you tell us a little bit about your family? There are four of us-- myself (Melissa), Paul, and our sons Sam (4) and August, who we adopted last fall and will be a year old in October. For the last eight years we've lived in a residential neighborhood in North Portland.
Have you been thinking about getting a Bakfiets for awhile or was the demise of the family truck and/or crazy gas prices the impetus?
We were trying to figure out ways of family biking that eliminated all the excuses for NOT doing it-- the baby is too little for the trailer, it's raining, they won't stop whining, sheer laziness, etc. Paul already bike commutes to work and I drive a '98 Toyota Corolla which is relatively fuel efficient. We toyed with the idea of a bak (even renting one for the weekend), then decided to wait until next summer when both boys were a little older and we could get an Xtracycle setup for the family, since the price of a Bakfiets seemed out of our reach. Then one night this summer our parked truck was totaled by a drunk driver. Instead of replacing the truck, we took the insurance money straight to Clever Cycles and put our name on the wait list. Not having to pay for car insurance, gas, or parking, sweetened the deal considerably.
How's the ride? Is the bike hard to maneuver? It's very easy to drive and switching gears is really easy. The box keeps the center of gravity low to the ground and the steering is super sensitive. That part took a little getting used to for me, but I'm a klutz and I'm guessing most people wouldn't have a problem. You don't push yourself forward when you start off either (another funny bit that gets me into trouble sometimes), you just hop on and start pedalling. Two kids can fit on the back bench, and we've got August's Britax carseat fastened securely to the floor up front. There is loads of technical info out there but I'm the wrong person to ask about that.
Are these becoming popular in Portland or do you feel like pioneers? Thanks to bike shops like Clever Cycles and Portland's increasingly diverse bike culture, Bakfietsen and the like are popping up all over the place. We still own the Corolla and use it for longer trips, but we're hoping to replace most of our in-town needs with the bak. There is a cover that we'll buy when the weather gets a little unpredictable and I'm researching all kinds of ways to make it cooler for the kids. I wouldn't say that hopping on a bike is easier than getting in a car, but I do think it's worth the effort if you can manage it. We have a whole bunch of great role models riding around Portland transporting their families on Xtracycles, Bakfietsen, tandem bikes, and bike trailers-- some of whom have replaced their cars completely. I feel like we're just starting out.
Anything else you'd like to add?
We both feel really lucky that we're able to make this work for our family. I know that living in the city affords us the luxury of making this choice and we don't want to ever take that for granted. Honestly, moving our family farther away from the car is something I didn't want to regret not doing while we were still able to. This choice had as much to do with getting greener as it did with giving our children a different perspective and hopefully some good memories. We'll have to see about the latter, though. Augie is just about in kicking range of Sam's knees and things could get tricky on the long hauls.
Thank you, Melissa! Portland has been steering the way and setting the example for promoting bike culture and we hope more communities and more families catch on!
Readers, would you like to see the Bakfiets really in action? Check out this fun video of a Mamas Bakfiets race in Amsterdam this spring which includes a race, obstacle course and "jousting."