Health in Action: Madi Carlson of Family Ride

Northwest Community Saturday, May 31, 2014 Written by

Our Health in Action series profiles people in the community who are living Actively Northwest. Follow along each week as we profile new people who are committed to living active, healthy lives through fitness and food.

Bike commuting in the Northwest isn’t uncommon. But what is so impressive about Madi Carlson is that she does it with two kids (and all of the toys/ snacks that go along with them) in tow. Her blog, Family Ride, documents her cycling with her two sons.

We caught up with Madi between rides to get her family biking tips.

ANW: Why did you choose biking over other methods of transportation?

Madi: I’ve been an off-and-on bike commuter throughout my life, when biking was easier than other modes of transportation, and I’d always intended to bike with my first baby for fun. I have a history with biking: my mother was Dutch so I grew up visiting her homeland and seeing my cousins and others biking with kids. When you add to that a baby who really wasn’t a fan of the car and a move to Seattle with its good-and-getting-better-all-the-time bicycle infrastructure, it’s no wonder my casual riding gradually increased to my everywhere-and-anywhere habits of today.

Madi Carlson Family Ride
I should admit that in addition to loving the health, environmental and fun aspects of biking, I’m also cheap and lazy – and bike commuting really feeds into that. Being able to park my bike directly in front of my destination beats walking two blocks from a bus stop or car parking spot – especially when the kids’ legs and attention spans were shorter. Those two blocks provided a host of distractions like dandelions to behead and squirrels to chase. Avoiding those distractions easily negates any time saved by driving.

ANW: Why is getting the family involved in biking so important?

Madi: Almost all of my biking is with the kids. I transport them to school and activities or drag them along on household errands. If they weren’t part of my biking, it wouldn’t happen. It’s important to me to influence them to become everyday bicyclists as they grow up. Pollution is an easy concept for kids to understand and despite their awe at each and every huge truck next to us on the road or oversized yacht in the canal, they are much happier traveling by bike and helping keep our air clean.

At 7 and 4, we talk a lot about the rules of the road and trail, so they’re great at keeping to the right and chirping “On your left!” when passing joggers.

ANW: You have two young sons. How do you get them excited about riding bikes?

Madi: When the kids were very small, having adequate snacks along was really the most important thing. Very gradually building up the time we spent on the bike was also crucial. They’re happy to ride 75 minutes nonstop to Alki Beach now, but two years ago, it was necessary to make a stop en route to do a bit of running around to keep them from getting bored and ensure they’d want to get back on the bike the following day. More mundane errands, like a trip to the bank or vet, are best paired with a visit to a nearby park for playing if I sense impending mutiny.

Madi Carlson's sons biking
ANW: Are you ever concerned about safety when riding with your kids in a big city?

Madi: I have to say I feel a lot safer on a bike than in a car in the city. It’s one thing to know statistically it’s just as safe on a bike, but it truly feels safer to me. We’re lucky to live a couple blocks from the Burke-Gilman Trail in one direction and a Neighborhood Greenway in the other. In the car, we drive on busy arterials and are surrounded by distracted drivers on all sides, but on our bike, I spend most of the time on a multi-use trail, Neighborhood Greenway or similar low-traffic side street. I bike slowly enough that I can see everything around me.

In Seattle, it’s legal to bicycle on the sidewalk and while I wish we had the infrastructure that didn’t make it necessary, there are a couple four-lane uphill streets downtown on which I’ll take to the sidewalk for a couple blocks. I move slowly and give pedestrians the right of way and it works just fine.

ANW: What is your number one tip for someone who wants to try bike commuting with their family?

Madi: Try to find in-person support – there’s nothing like riding with friends! But failing that, there’s tons of online support for advice and virtual high fiving. Eugene, Portland and Seattle all have Kidical Mass family rides that are terrific practice for riding in streets with kids in a big, safe and fun group. Seattle is also lucky to have Familybike (full disclosure: I’m on the board) that runs family bike expos, hosts seminars, and has a rental fleet of family bikes. Our fair city also has Seattle Family Biking, a robust Facebook group where we share route and equipment advice, organize meetups, and celebrate family biking accomplishments. As for online buddies, I’ve also found Twitter to be a great source for finding family bikers all over the world.

ANW is featuring a series of weekly bike articles to celebrate National Bike Month in May. Check out what we’ve covered so far: