Lynn Despatie didn’t think a bicycle could be a primary mode of transportation until she became a mother. She shares the story of how cycling became her main way of getting around.
When I was studying at the University of Waterloo, one of my classmates was from British Columbia and was a very strong cycling advocate. At that time (2009), I had a very car-centric view. I thought it was impossible to use a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation. I came from Sudbury, where we had a lot of snow in the winter, big distances between travel points and big trucks to carry all our stuff. Even so, I had brought a mountain bike with me and my classmate brought me on a 10km ride to St. Jacobs Market. I thought I was going to die. I was sweating, hot, and the drivers were not friendly. Still, my classmate talked about how amazing it was to travel by bicycle. I wasn’t sold yet.
Fast forward a few years to 2013. I was at home with a newborn baby. Driving was stressing me out because she cried a lot in her car seat when we were in the car. I dreaded driving. I was craving a different way to travel that would be more fun and would get me moving. As a new mom, I had no time to go to the gym. I started researching different types of bicycle seats for the back of my bicycle and options for trailers. I saw photos of the Netherlands and families on their bakfiets. It amazed me… but they were expensive. My husband and I settled on a Costco trailer that we promptly hooked up to the back of his bicycle. It was too heavy for me to pull but at least we were able to go out cycling as a family.
Two years later, I had another baby. With two kids in the bicycle trailer, even my husband found it difficult to cycle. It didn’t help that we lived at the top of a hill. I started dreaming about the bakfiets again. My husband didn’t think it was practical to spend a lot of money on bicycle. I started mapping out my route to work, the route to the grocery store, the route to daycare and school. I realized that I rarely travel further than 10km from my house. I finally convinced Ken when I said we could sell my car and I would rely on the bicycle, walking to work, and riding public transit as much as possible. I’d obviously still use our truck, but it wouldn’t be my primary mode of transportation. We drove down to a bicycle shop in Burlington that carried a few bakfiet models and I test drove what they had. Once I tried the pedal assist, I was sold. We put a deposit down and it was supposed to arrive a few weeks later. My husband thought I was crazy!
In the summer of 2016, my husband drove down to Burlington again but this time came back with my beautiful shiny pedal assist bakfiet! I’ve never looked back and don’t miss having my own vehicle at all. Even Ken has warmed up to it and takes it on the occasional ride.
A bakfiet is a brand of cargo bike from the Netherlands and the term translates to “box bike”. It has a wooden box between the front wheel and the handlebars. I joke that it’s my “van”. I’ve carried absolutely everything in it – from a case of beer, two bags of soil and flowers, a full box of groceries, and my two kids are also usually loaded in there too. I once went to a conference and filled up my box with two pull-up banners and all my handouts.
One of the biggest advantages for my bicycle in particular (step-through and pedal assist) is that I dress for wherever I’m going. I don’t wear cycling clothes. I hop on, cycle to where I’m going, and hope off. That was really important for me. I don’t have time to shower and get changed after every ride. The pedal assist makes hills easy enough that I don’t sweat, and the step-through accommodates pencil skirts, heels, and any dress!
From the month of May to usually the end of September, I ride my bicycle. In the spring, fall and winter, my husband usually does school drop off and pickups because it’s in the opposite direction of my work. In the summer months the kids attend day camps that are on my way to work. I usually do all the drop offs and pickups at that time of year. I often do groceries with my bicycle. I use it to go to work. In the winter, I walk or take the city bus.
There are two things that make my rides slightly less pleasant. I get yelled at usually at least once per week while riding in Sudbury. I’ve been given the finger. I’ve been yelled terrible names. And this is just for riding my bicycle. I’d like more awareness of cycling. Once the City puts in place all the infrastructure they’ve planned, I think it will help address this hostility a bit. They’re making room for cyclists in the infrastructure. The second thing is the weather. I’m well equipped to handle rain, wind, and sun, but nothing prepares you for a total downpour. My mascara never survives it.
I think general awareness that vehicles have to share the road would help a lot. I think if folks knew how much bicycles are used in other parts of the world, they wouldn’t think it was so odd.