Can you live with just a bike for transport? – Bike Magazine Australia

Words and Photos: @Urbanphaedrus

Being car free is not for everyone.  A decade ago, if someone had suggested that I would be car free, especially with two children, I would have laughed aloud. However, my wife and I came to realise that by keeping an open mind to the alternatives, it is possible to reduce your car dependence.

Many have asked, “How did you become car free?” In the era before we had children, we didn’t sit down to a broad ranging debate and at the end decide to sell the car. Instead, it was an evolution driven by a common desire to find a better way to live.

The first nudge to this state-of-being happened in the first apartment we shared together. It did not have a parking space! At first we broke all the visitor parking rules in the building. Then we did the car shuffle (and paid the mounting parking fines when we forgot to move the car). There was the excitement of finding a parking spot within 200 metres of our home – it was like winning the lottery.  Later, we found ourselves resenting that a machine was dictating how we were living our lives. We sold the car but were soon at a bit of a loss for transport options. Then we discovered a car share program in Surry Hills, which fulfilled our needs.

With the birth of our first child, we continued to use car share and found it quite liberating. We no longer had the stress, drama or cost of car ownership.

Furthermore, we found that our mind set changed. Transport options became our go-to instead of defaulting to the car. The appeal of walking, public transport or taxis grew. More complex trips fell to the car share program.

Of course, the arrival of our daughter brought complexities to this arrangement. We used a car share to take her home from hospital. Then the challenges started. How to transport a baby, car seat and stroller from home to the car alone?  And where were the tethering spots for a baby seat in different cars?  The lack of familiarity that comes from using different cars could have been a source of friction. For us, it worked to reduce our usage of car shares rather than drive us to buy one. The pram accumulated kilometres as we would walk our daughter to and from childcare, around the neighbourhood, on buses and trains.

With our second child’s arrival, the complexity of our family’s transport needs ratcheted up. Our daughter would be starting school. Our son would be in childcare. We were troubled by the impending dual drop offs. Walking was our default but two drop offs and getting to work on time was starting to freak us out.

Would we have to buy a car? Our new apartment had a car park but what to do with the car after childcare and school dropoffs? Pay for parking at the office? Or a more convoluted solution: Drive home and then take public transport or bicycle? We had already witnessed the extreme congestion around school and childcare. How would this be a reasonable alternative? It looked like a very stressful option!

I had been commuting to work by bicycle for a few years and was enjoying it. I often took our daughter to daycare with me. But how could I carry two kids on the bike? My wife Sarah was keen to cycle to work. But she was very nervous and not confident enough to cycle in Sydney traffic.  A car purchase seemed imminent.  

Not long after, I spotted a New York Times article about Mexican tricycles. I showed the article to Sarah and proposed fitting it with an electric motor.  Initially, she dismissed it. But it sparked something in her. A few weeks later, she showed me some pictures of a Danish cargo tricycle. She had done the research and found what she thought was the most stable tricycle on the market. With an electric assist, she believed it could be a solution to our ‘commuting with children’ quandary.

Importing the tricycle from Demark, and having it fitted with an electric motor, was not cheap.  Three wheels gave her extra stability and an electric motor, which extended her range, was invaluable.

Our key discovery from our journey is that it is not about making the hard decisions and then sticking to them. Rather it is about staying open to different options and being willing to considering various solutions. Doing so changed our lives materially and we have never looked back.