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Here’s what happens when you ride a bike without worrying about being run over

What I’ve noticed about bicycle riding in the city is the city. This is especially true and vivid in parts of the city that have protected cycle tracks. I notice more of my city on my bike. The open architecture of the bicycle makes this possible. The safe infrastructure of a bike lane can make it quite real.

My friend Chris has an engineering mind. He says it’s an equation: Fewer perceived vehicle threats from fewer directions equals more time to feel happy and have the city strike you. In a good way. This formula is why I love pedalling my bike on the Oliverbahn in Edmonton. The Oliverbahn is a stretch of protected, treed, life-lined bicycle lane that runs along the north side of 102 Ave in Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood. There’s a lot of city to notice and consider on the way to and from Edmonton’s downtown core.

Here’s what I noticed today.

A neighbourhood that provides space for pedestrians, bicycle riders, bus passengers, motorists, and, with all the stately elm trees, birds.

Families awheel.

Homes for fans of Hobbiton.

Hobbits.

Two built for a bicycle built for two.

The cool Lord Simcoe apartment font on brick.

Trees with bark and bite.

Walkers who wave hello.

Automobile drivers who wave hello.

A boy who says “cool bike” to his mom about me and hears me say “cool bike” right back to him.

People on bikes.

The 1913 telephone exchange building by Alan Jeffers.

Signed but self-regulated intersections that reveal where we’re at with each other:

People on bikes:

A tipi above the hedgeline in the Christ Church yard:

At the end of the story, a wedding:

With a bicycle in the picture 💚
A version of this post originally appeared on Glenn’s blog. Check it out here.

7 ways to choose the right route for your bike commute

Sometimes, getting around on a bike requires some advance planning. Photos by Tom Babin.

Veteran hard-core commuter cyclists are good at many things. Telling you exactly how much mileage they’ve logged far this year, for example. Clip-clopping in their stiff-soled cycling shoes in places where that is totally inappropriate. And offering the simplest advice to anyone who has ever expressed interest in riding their bike more: “Just get out there and do it, man. You’ll figure it out.”

This is, actually, pretty great advice. Cycling needn’t be complicated, especially if you’re style of cycling tends toward the utility side, rather than the athletic side. You don’t really need any special gear or advice. Just give it a try.

OK, got it? Great. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll offer you some hard-won advice that took me years to figure out. Choosing the right route for that urban bike ride can be uber-important, especially if you live in a city with minimal safe routes for bikes.

Most of us have built up a mental map of our cities. Unfortunately, most of us have built that map while driving a car, which means our mental map doesn’t always include the things we need to know for a  bike ride. Does your mental map include information about the width of the shoulder on a busy route? Does your mental map include a tally of left-turns across multiple lanes of traffic? Then it might be time to adjust that mental map in a bikeward direction.

Before you get riding, stop and think about the route, especially if you’re still coming to grips with the fact that much of your ride will be beside fast-moving boxes of steel that can kill you. Here are a few things to ponder in that moment before you kick off:

There’s a hierarchy of bike infrastructure to take into account.

Traffic volume

In general, choose the roads that have the fewest number of moving vehicles. If you must venture on to a busy road, at least bookend that time with some quiet routes that offer some decompression time.

Road width

This may be counter-intuitive, but the narrow streets are often preferable. While a wide street feels like it should give you more room to avoid being flattened by a car, wide roads also encourage drivers to go fast. Narrow streets, particularly those full of parked cars in residential areas, are a car driver’s worst nightmare – conjuring those old driving-school images of children darting into the street after a ball. As a cyclist, this is a good thing. It means drivers may actually slow down. They may even pay you respect on the road. Maybe.



Off-road

Your car-driver mental map probably has blank areas for things like parks, schoolyards and wooded areas. Your bike map, however, needn’t be so. A shortcut through a park on a bike isn’t just efficient, it’s safe and fun.

Roads with sharrows

Sharrows are those roads that have designated to be shared by automobile drivers and cyclists (the word is an amalgam of “shared right-of-way), often marked with road paint or signage of a bike with a couple of arrows coming out of the sky. Lazy city planners love sharrows because it makes them feel like they are accommodating bikes without actually doing anything to accommodate bikes. Don’t be fooled: sharrows suck. Don’t think of a sharrow route as a safe route. It’s the same as any other road and, in fact, may be more dangerous.

Bike lanes

Yes, of course you’ll choose routes that have been designated for bikes, right? These are the safe and direct routes, right? Aw, you’re so cute when you live in a fantasy world. Down here the real world, cities are full of badly planned, badly marked bike lanes that do little to improve safety. So get your city’s map of bike lanes, but use it to plan your route with a grain of salt. Create a hierarchy of bike lanes in your planning with the safest routes at the top of the priority list, like this:

  1. Bike lanes separated from traffic with a physical barrier, such as concrete or bollards. Parked cars also work as a good physical barrier, if cities are smart enough to build this way.
  2. Bike lanes with a buffer of some sort, such as a metre or two of space between the car lane.
  3. Painted bike lanes. Having a designated route is nice, but without a barrier between the lane and moving vehicles, painted lanes are bit like watching the latter Police Academy movies – better than nothing, but they just don’t measure up to the ones with Steve Guttenberg.
  4. Community bike routes: These residential roads that have been designated as bike routes go by many names, but they are all versions of the idea that calling a quiet road a bike route will somehow make it safer. This can be true. If the road is embraced by cyclists and becomes busy with bikes, car drivers tend to slow and the road will be safer. Sometimes cities even install traffic calming devices such as speed bumps or roundabouts. Great! But if this is just a regular road that’s been decorated with signs featuring bikes, don’t forget: this is just a regular road.

Busy roads

OK, you’ve exhausted all of your bike lanes, quiet roads and safe choices, but you are still forced to venture on to a road with all kinds of fast-moving cars. This is the sad reality for many of us. But there are a few things you can do to ease this pain. Minimize the number of left turns you must make. Keep your time short. And finally, as a last resort, do something I never thought I’d advise: Pick up the skills of a vehicular cyclist. This idea, that cyclists should ride in the same manner as automobiles, was the dominant idea in cycling in North America for much of the 20th century, but has now been thoroughly debunked. Why? Because it didn’t work. After 40 years of trying, we’ve realized that riding a bike like a car is really hard, and most of us are too scared to do it. Yet, vehicular cycling still has skills to teach us: Be visible, keep up your speed, ride with confidence, signal your intentions, be predictable. These skills take time to develop, but if you find yourself on busy roads, you will thank those grumpy old vehicular cyclists for showing us how it can work.

Just do it

If all of this seems like too much thinking for a simple bike ride, then take the advice of those wily veteran cyclists: “Just get out there and do it, man. You’ll figure it out.”

You can also follow Shifter on Facebook or Medium or our YouTube channel.

Follow Tom Babin on TwitterFacebook or Medium.

Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 

Proof you can haul pretty much anything on a bike

It started as a well-meaning attempt to offer some alternatives to backpacks. Backpacks are great, obviously, but sometimes when using a bicycle for getting around a city, a backpack can be a burden. A sweaty, heavy, burden.

With a front basket and a back rack, your bike is primed for hauling stuff. Photo by Tom Babin.

Things went a little awry, however, when Doug got involved. Doug is a guy in my neighbourhood who has seen the cargo-bike light. When he got wind of my attempts at offering advice on hauling stuff on a bike, he rolled in. A few days later, I was recording him helping his friend move a couch on that bike, thereby offering further evidence that there is very little that can’t be hauled on a bicycle in your day-to-day life.

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 

The health benefits of e-bikes should kill the idea that riding them is ‘cheating’

E-bikes are one of the fastest growing segments of the bike world. Photo courtesy of Bikeberry.com.

Ever since electric bikes were introduced and started gaining popularity, there has been an ongoing argument among traditional bicycle riders and those who prefer electric bikes about whether riding a motorized bicycle counts as an exercise and has health benefits as a traditional bike.

Some traditionalists claim that riding an electric bike is almost like “cheating” and has little or no health benefits.

Here are some facts about the important health benefits of electric bikes, which will hopefully rebuke this idea:

Riding an electric bike counts as an aerobic exercise

There are so many studies that have proven that regular exercise can significantly improve our well-being and health, as well as reduce the risk of serious illnesses which are usually associated with sedentary lives and unhealthy diets.

Chronic illnesses such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes type II, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and others are known to be the leading killers of the population of the U.S. The U.S. government has officially recommended getting about 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise with moderate intensity, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of intensive aerobic exercise, per week in order to reduce the risk of developing these life-threatening diseases.

Cycling is an excellent way to meet these recommendations. For the many people who struggle to ride for long distances or extended periods of time because of health or age-related issues or low fitness levels, electric bikes are a great alternative to get pedaling.

They do make the job easier thanks to the motor and throttle which helps the cyclist along the way, especially when climbing hills or riding against a strong wind. But riding an e-bike still involves some pedaling, so when people use them for commuting, for running errands or for fun, they still get moderate amounts of aerobic exercise.

For people who usually lead sedentary lives, riding an e-bike three times per week for about 40 minutes can add up to two hours of moderate aerobic exercise, which is much more than they usually do.

The heart rate of new electric bike riders rises by an average of 75% of their maximum which equals the rate during an easy jog or brisk walk.

This type of exercise helps reduce body fat and reduce blood-sugar levels, plus it strengthens the heart and improves lung capacity.

Plus, e-bikes are fun, which encourages people to ride. For average non-athletes, riding an e-bike will definitely help improve your fitness level and your health.

For cyclists with problems related to mobility, age or simply fitness, electric bikes can help motivate bike rides. Photo courtesy of Bikeberry.com.

People with e-bikes ride more

Studies show that, mainly due to the fun involved in riding an e-bike, people who choose this type of cycling tend to ride much more than those who rely on regular bicycles.

More people are using them to cover longer distances on a daily basis, such as for commuting or for running errands, rather than using their cars. Electric bikes also save a lot of time and money as compared to driving through heavy traffic every day, paying for gas, parking, insurance, and car maintenance.

Plus, with electric bikes, people can carry heavy cargo, groceries and their children as well, which is another reason why the army of e-bikers is growing on a daily basis.

More miles means more pedaling, and more pedaling means more exercise and improved fitness levels.

Your bones, muscles, and joints will become stronger too

Since e-bikes are quite heftier than regular bicycles, pedaling, steering and balancing on them requires quite a bit more effort, which can strengthen bones, muscles and joints. This can significantly reduce the risk of osteoporosis-related injuries and fractures.

Riding an electric bike helps reduce stress and builds up confidence

Yes, your mental health can improve once you start riding an e-bike regularly. Many people who feel intimidated about riding a regular bike find their confidence levels will grow along with their strength as they ride an e-bike.

You may even become ready to get back to regular cycling once again. This is especially true for people with injuries, disabled people or those who are not fit enough to ride a bicycle for miles and miles.

Once your stress levels decrease, and your confidence in yourself increases, you will feel much readier to face new challenges!

E-bikes are proving to be valuable transportation tools for urbanites looking for practical transportation options. Photo contributed by Bikeberry.com.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are some serious health benefits of riding an e-bike, especially if you are not all that active and fit to begin with.

Riding an e-bike will help you lose any extra weight you are carrying, it will strengthen your bone structure as well as your muscles and joints. Also, regular riding will make your heart stronger and less prone to problems and illnesses. Your blood pressure and blood sugar levels will get back to normal, and so will your quality of life.

Hopefully, these pointers will help traditional cyclists understand the growing popularity of e-bikes, begin to appreciate their health benefits, and get over the idea that e-bikes are not “real” bikes. Besides, anything that gets more people to ride a bike makes the world a better place!

This sponsored content was created in partnership with BikeBerry.com.

How to ride your kids to school in a cargo bike

“I’d like to ride my bike more, but I’ve got to take the kids everywhere.”

That’s a pretty common sentiment among parents these days, and it’s easy to see why. Kids today are scheduled and busy and in need of transportation constantly.

Lindsay Bliek certainly understands it. She’s mom to two busy young girls. But Bliek has also realized that using her bike to get around makes a whole lot of sense.

I tagged along with Lindsay recently while she rolled her kids to school in a cargo bike, and she offered a little insight into how (and why) she (and her girls) love their bike.

Linday writes a great blog at This Mom Bikes (which you should read), and some of her work has been adapted here on Shifter. You can also follow her on Twitter.

That’s Lindsay Bliek and her kids on their bike in their Halloween costumes. Photo swiped from her awesome blog, thismombikes.net.

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 

Maybe children ride bikes less often today because their bikes make it hard

Sure those clouds look ominous on Stranger Things, but look at those dope bikes!

One of the things I love about watching Stranger things on Netflix is the scenes of the preteen heroes riding their bikes around their messed-up town. Yes, I’m a bike nerd.

The kids’ bikes are more than just props. The bikes separate the kids from the adult world and give them the freedom to explore. It’s an old Spielbergian trope—think of the scenes in E.T. and The Goonies in which bikes are the vehicle to escape the destructiveness of the adult world. It wasn’t a coincidence that E.T.’s defining scene is a bike rising off the ground to escape the adults.

That ain’t no carbon-fiber full-suspension downhill bike Elliot rode in E.T.

These days, there’s a kind of sad nostalgia to these scenes in Stranger Things because they seem so far off the lives of kids today. It’s easy to glorify the past, but the decline in bicycle use among kids, especially riding to school, is well documented and severe: Our irrational fear of abduction, our (slightly more) rational fear of cars, the proliferation of automobiles, the abandonment of local schools (both by choice and by poor city planning), our automobile-centric lives.

But a more practical thought dawned on me while watching Stranger Things. Maybe the bikes we give kids to ride these days are part of the problem.

Look back at those bikes being used by those on-screen kids: Single-speed steel-frames. Banana-seats. Chopper handlebars. First-gen BMX.



Compare that to the kids bikes you see at bike shops today. Full-suspension mountain bikes. Carbon parts. Front and back derailleurs overloaded with gears. Specialty frames. It’s even worse at the local Wal-Mart: Horribly built mountain bikes with faux suspension systems and never-in-tune gears.

While the technology on these bikes has no doubt improved, something feels like it’s been lost in this transition. These are purpose-built machines, and as such, they aren’t always practical. They can’t take a beating like those old bikes. Sensitive derailleurs are constantly getting knocked out of whack. There’s no place to double a friend. They can’t carry stuff. The chainrings eat jean cuffs. They need regular tune-ups. Scratches ruin their resale value and infuriate parents hoping to recoup their costs.

Perhaps even worse is that bikes have changed from an implement of childhood to an implement of sports. Bikes can expand the limits of a kids’ world. They can offer freedom, self-reliance, exploration and risk, all things that kids are starved for these days. But when bikes are only used for sports or when it’s time to “go for a bike ride,” those other elements are lost.

Bicycle culture among kids has changed, so most pre-teens would probably rather be caught dead than ride one of those Stranger Things bikes. But if there’s a kid in your life, give some thought to a sturdy single speed with a chain guard and a rack for carrying stuff. It may not impress much alongside those expensive carbon-framed full-suspension mountain bikes at the school bike rack. But it will stand up to the weather, it won’t stop working if it gets dropped in the wrong spot, and parents won’t freak out if it gets a scratch. It may just become what it once was: the vehicle of childhood.

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 

How your commute can contribute to a long and healthy life

Montreal Biking in summer

You can turn your commute into a force for good in your life. Photo by Tom Babin.

You could drive a car to work every day. But then you’d be missing out on an opportunity to make your life both safer and healthier.

So says research from the team of Dr. Kay Teschke from the University of British Columbia, who looked at the relative safety of different modes of transportation. When it comes to fatality rates, which mode is safest? Here’s a hint: It’s not motorcycling. Check out the video for more.

And check out the research that inspired this video here and here. It’s fascinating stuff.

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 



An injury ended my bike-riding streak. Until others picked it up for me

The front tire wasn’t a front tire as much as an oversized windshield wiper clearing snow from the glass. The transformation was rapid, and complete: Now I was pedalling down a riverbank utility road, and now I was thinking how lovely it is when the brown city gets a fresh set of linens, and now my front tire was skidding across the ice hidden beneath the snow—and now I was clearly falling.

And now, sitting propped up on an emergency room stretcher, I was signing my name to a form without lifting the pen off the page before things went black under a veil of fentanyl and propofol.

The scan shows the dislocated shoulder bone back in place (it looks like a pork chop) and the chunk of bone that fractured off.

Frickity fracture

The fall happened on March 30. I was riding back home with a friend from a meeting of Coffee Outside. For more than three years a growing group of bicycle commuters in Edmonton have met on Friday mornings in all weathers and temperatures, usually in Faraone Park by the High Level Bridge, to say hello and talk about the things we have in common—the love of riding in the city, the obstacles that test that love, and coffee. Steffen and Chris bring tea, but they are outstanding fellows, so we don’t judge. Darren has retrofitted his cargo bike into a rolling coffee machine. We call him the handlebarista. Karly has the stories and timing of a standup comic. Everybody is remarkable. I always pedal off to work after Coffee Outside grateful that I’ve fallen in with a band of beauties who ride bicycles, in part, because bicycles are so easy to stop and so easily frame conversation.  Coffee Outside is a support group. It gets in you, even to the point that it was unthinkable on March 30, the statutory Good Friday holiday, to sleep in and miss spending time together.

March 30 was also Day 278.

I had pedalled a bicycle for 278 consecutive days, a streak stretching back to the end of June last year when I had decided, for no reason other than the calendar exists, to try to ride a bike each day for 365 days in a row. Okay, there were three other reasons. First, I wanted to demonstrate that bicycle riding in Edmonton wasn’t just a May-to-September proposition. Second, for myself, I wanted to see each day as kind of non-renewable resource. Under the slowing influence of Coffee Outside or not, I was feeling the days whipping by. Whipping by like the sound of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards through the spokes in my green bike’s back wheel growing up in the northeast end alleys. So the idea, back on June 26, 2017, was to write each day a thought about bicycle riding, and to add a photo or a still from my handlebar camera.

Keeping some kind of record, yes

Of course, recording the days in graphite and paper and pixel didn’t make the days go by any slower. But there is a consolation in being able to recall a fragment of July 3 or November 26 or  February 9,  in remembering what time has torn apart. It’s like standing in front of a tombstone of my days and at least knowing I was alive and aware and grateful for specific things and people on July 3 and November 26 and February 9.

July 3: Holiday Monday. I pedalled to the Sugar Bowl to meet Spell and Fitz. I wanted to show them the downtown bike network, and to laugh. Missions accomplished. “I can pedal [the two minutes] over the High Level Bridge, but then let’s stop for a drink at Cracker Jacks!” Spell said of the new wave dance club closed for decades. 

Spell, left, and Fitz, behind, on the Edmonton network

November 26:  I stopped on the snowy footpath in Laurier Park to watch the chickadees.

Handout



February 9: “Take my bike,” Pekka said as we walked along the Moscow River. It was a happy group I was part of during the World Winter Bike Congress. We had spent a couple of hours together listening to Pecha Kuchas in a bar under the Krymsky Most. Pekka pointed. “Ride across the bridge and then look out at the view. We’ll wait here until you get back.”

Pekka shoulders bike, Moscow


I stagger at sight, Moscow


This was the streak kept alive on work commutes and weekend errands. It kept going during time away spent in hideouts from Banff to Prague. The streak maintained its unbrokenness on days with rain and sun and snow and wind and dark. But it broke for good on March 30 along with a piece of my left shoulder. And a piece of my heart. I was sad. That’s the truth. I loved the watching the notebooks fill up with fragments of days I would never be able to recall without pickling them in words and images. I loved piling up the Atoma booklets and squaring them and putting them back on the shelf. I had managed to put time in space.

I announced the end.

It’s over…

The idea to include a call to action in the Twitter post was Darren’s. He was the friend riding with me the morning of the fall. He said people would pick up the streak. Darren has a lot of good ideas. You can see one of his good ideas in the Go Pro video of my fall. His good idea was to take the less icy path down the hill and not fall.

(When I play the video back and see that shiny scene and hear myself laughing like a boy and knowing now that in exactly 16 seconds I will be in agony in the snow, I hear Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream pretty much nail it.

And ere a man hath power to say “Behold!”
The jaws of darkness do devour it up.
So quick bright things come to confusion.)

The reaction to the Breaking News post took a little more of my heart with it. Friends started sending pics of their bike rides, or, in the case of the first pic sent, of reasonable facsimiles. Stacey’s pic counts because she is moving outdoors in winter and because she has agreed to ride the bicycle network with me.

Thanks, Stacey!

After that, pics came from Lana, Kory, Janet Joy, Darren, David, Karly, Tom, Chris, Doug, Shelagh, Varina, Ben, Andy, Eric, Isla, Kent, Tyler, Eden, Carson, Robby, Kyle, Kory, Claire, Dave, another David, Theresa, Abby, Eric, Nick and tell me, please, if I have neglected a friend in the honour roll. Pics came from neigbhourhoods in Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Maryland, and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. More than a few came from the Oliverbahn, the stretch of protected bicycle lane that runs like an artery through Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood.

Greetings from the Oliverbahn.

I am a very fortunate recovering bicycle crasher. After the fall, I received everything I needed when I needed it. A friend with good ideas who got me to safety, and my bike to safety, too. My wife who got me to the hospital and stayed by my side and brought me a hamburger and lobbied for more painkillers. Healthcare workers who have seen way worse but knew I hadn’t felt any worse. People who have sent me messages or books or just asked how it’s going. People who gave me Percocet.  And my friends who have stopped in their rides and in their days over the last month to keep the streak alive in a bigger way.

Sure, it’s a silly streak. But it got meaningful when it wasn’t just silly me. It got real when I watched take shape the third reason for the streak. And that was in realizing this: we fall alone, and we get back up together.

Ride across the bridge and then look out at the view, Pekka said.

We’ll wait here until you get back.

This post originally appeared on Glenn’s blog. 

If this Russian oil town can become a bike haven, what’s your city’s problem?

Three years ago, you probably had never heard of Almetyevsk, the central Russian city of 150,00 that was founded in 1953 to serve the petroleum industry. I know I hadn’t. But since then, Almetyevsk has become a kind of legend in the bike world by transforming itself into the best bike city in Russia, and one that is probably a hell of a lot more bike-friendly than your city.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск

Photos by Copenhagenize showing the transformation of Almetyevsk into a bicycle haven.

Two years ago, the city had basically no bike infrastructure. Today, it has a bike network of 83 kilometres long (with plans for more), much of it separated from cars, cleared of snow in winter, and filled with bike-friendly amenities like footrests and angled garbage bins. And much of it was planned and built within a matter of months, and paid for by Tataneft, the oil company that is the driver of the city’s economy.

It’s a remarkable story that has as much to do with the visoinary young mayor who drove the idea as the unique circumstances around it.

That mayor is Ayrat Khayrullin, a charismatic young politician who sold the idea to Tataneft based on the health benefits of cycling, and then harnessed the force of his personality to push the idea through decades of planning inertia.

Almetyevsk Mayor Ayrat Khayrullin, speaking about the transformation of his city. Photo by Andrey Burkov.

“I wouldn’t say we have a lot of traffic congestion in Alymtask, but our goal was not congestion,” Khayrullin said during the Winter Cycling Congress in Moscow earlier this year, through a translator. “Tataneft thought that ‘We want all of our employees to be happy and healthy.’ ”

Khayrullin speaks as if reared in Amsterdam. He rattles off statistics about modal share and lane widths and buffer zones like a lifelong urbanist, some of it no doubt picked up from the mantra of Copenhagenize’s Mikael Colville-Andersen, who consulted on the project. “We want a five-year-old to be able to ride safely across the city, and their parents to not be afraid,” Khayrullin said.



It’s an inspiring story for those who have lived through the glacial pace of bike-lane development elsewhere, but the conditions in Almetyevsk are unique, to say the least. Not only was funding provided by an oil giant, Russian cities aren’t quite renowned for their consultations with citizens.

Still, the mayor is already touting health benefits, including reductions in asthma, neurological disorders and mortality (although, to be fair, it feels early for such pronouncements, so take them with a grain of salt). He hopes that seven per cent of people will use bikes to get to work by 2020, a massive increase from the start of the project when that number was essentially zero.

It’s easy to think that such a feat can never be duplicated in a western city, and that may be right. But looked at another way, if an industrial Russian oil town sees the benefits in cycling, what are we waiting for?

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 

Yes, cargo bikes can be expensive, but they can also save you money

Cargo bikes can save a family money by reducing dependence on cars. Photo by thismombikes.net

“How much does one of those cost?”

As a committed rider of an electric-assist cargo bike that I use for all kinds of things, not least of which is pedaling my two kids to school every day, that’s a question I am often asked. And I get it. Cargo bikes are not cheap. As new parents initially looking at getting a bakfiets/long john-style cargo bike years ago, we scoffed at the price, especially considering that, after our first kid was born, we thought we might never be able to afford one. With a baby, a new mortgage, my husband taking a job in the public sector that came with a pay cut, and our decision that I would be a full-time mom, our financial situation had little room for extras.

But buying a cargo bike changed our life in all kinds of positive ways. So here’s how we managed to do it. For more details about our budget, check out the original version of this post at my blogThis Mom Bikes.

You need a budget

I need a budget, you need a budget. But, what we all really need is You Need a Budget.

YNAB (“why-nab”) and their philosophy of budgeting transformed us (the company isn’t paying me to say this, I just believe in the system). The system made sense and we made it work, prioritizing non-negotiables like mortgage payments, saving for a new roof, appliances, and purchasing decent food. There wasn’t much left (if anything!) for other categories; our booze budget was even a paltry $25/month for a long, long time, we had no personal spending money whatsoever for years. This opened up a dialogue on what we wanted to focus on in life: family, food, and bikes. It also motivated us to create space for these priorities.

Time is money

As a full-time parent that could not be more true.

While I wish that I could claim at least $35k per year as wages paid for childcare costs on my husband’s taxes for some of my time, fact of the matter is I can’t make money looking after my kids, but I can save money.

Biking with my kids is one way that I save money. Lots and lots of it. I have the time to use active transportation to get around and each kilometre that I walk or bike saves me $0.54: I self-propel myself (and my kids) on average 20 km per weekday, which translates to over $10/day, at least $50/week, or $200+/mth.

$200+ per month is a lot of money. It is for our single-income family, at least. My husband also rides to work almost every work day of the year, which saves us another $100+/month. None of these figures include the cost of parking.

That’s at least $3,600 per year for our family.

In one year that can buy you a very nice longtail plus accessories or even some bakfiets.

In two years that almost fully pays for a brand new electric assist super fancy Larry vs Harry eBullitt and it definitely buys you an amazing e-assist longtail.

These facts and figures do not even begin to address the money that we are saving the government in health care costs, alone, since cycle commuting has repeatedly been shown to provide huge benefits to physical health.


The money makes sense, but…

Fine, saving $3 600/year in family transportation costs is a lovely number on paper, but it is not cash in your hand so you still have to get ahead financially before you can buy the bike and really get ahead.

How do you reap those benefits if you are still stuck spending $0.54 per kilometre in your car? Maybe you:

  • Have some savings you can tap into now that you see the numbers, it is a financially prudent decision, after all (not to mention good for your overall health and the environment).
  • Are feeling brave enough to tap into retirement savings and take a hit there because you deem this to be a worthwhile move.
  • Have a progressive employer that offers a health-spending account that you can use for active living costs, such as a gym membership or a cargo bike.
  • Could start a program at your place of work that helps to support active transportation. For example, one reader wrote in to say her employer pays her $5 each day she comes to work without a single-occupancy vehicle as this encourages alternative modes of transportation.
  • Could sell one of your two cars! Or even go car free.
  • Could qualify for a financing option from your local bike shop.
  • Are living paycheque-to-paycheque. This is pretty much where we were at so the way we saved was through budgeting, YNAB-style.

Slowly, but surely, things started to add up. Then I finally got a kijiji alert that there was a used cargo bike for sale in town for just over $1,000 and we had pretty much saved that amount. So, with a little bit of “rolling with the punches” and “borrowing” from our other longterm savings categories, we made the move and bought our first cargo bike. This has allowed us to save even more money by not using the car: the ultimate positive feedback loop!

A few years later we bought our second using the same principles.

Then our third. Which we added an e-assist to this past fall, enabling year-round cargo biking nirvana for us.

In between we sold our first longtail and bought another version that is lighter and easier for multi-modal use. And, now, we are ready to sell our second because we have found what works best for our family.

Cargo Bike

There are many different styles of cargo bike, and many can haul enough stuff to easily replace a car. Photo by Tom Babin.

Government and employment incentives

This transition would be so much easier for many families if the government would subsidize bicycles and/or e-bikes like they do electric cars.

Paris has got it right. Other cities, too.

Many employers offer perks like a gym membership, free parking, or transit passes. It would be wonderful if more employers were flexible in realizing that helping their employees invest in their health and city in other less ‘traditional’ ways would be amazing, i.e. a credit towards bike maintenance or purchase.

My privilege

I fully acknowledge that we are fortunate and while I really do believe in this style of budgeting even though it felt restrictive and socially isolating for us at first, I know that there are others in worse financial shape. Hopefully you are in a fortunate enough position that a little math on paper helps you make the paradigm shift to a car-light lifestyle!

Our annual car costs

In the spirit of full disclosure: We still own a car.  A giant Honda Odyssey, in fact, which serves its purpose very well when we use it to get to the mountains for skiing, biking, or to visit family and friends, near and far. In 2017, it cost us about $3,000 to run (insurance, gas, maintenance), plus annual depreciation. The other aspect of our car budget is saving for the next one ($1,000/yr), saving for our next set of tires, and saving for bigger repairs down the road (our current car is fairly young but our last was ancient and required a lot of work so we learned our lesson).

This is an abridged version of a post that originally appeared on This Mom Bikes.Check out the original here.

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