Cycling In Their Genes
Learn what drives these families who get behind the wheel as little as possible
by Anna Andersen
Photographs by Hayden Spears
when it comes to cycling, there are four types of people: the No Way, No How people; the Interested but Concerned; the Enthused and Confident; and the Strong and Fearless. Most of us fall into one of the first two categories. We’re the ones Austin is targeting this month with fun, bike-related events, the ones the city’s setting up 40 fueling stations for on May 18, in the hopes that we’ll bike to work and then be inspired to bike some more. As we continue to weigh our interest against our concerns, it’s worth recognizing that the Enthused and Confident and the Strong and Fearless are not just a bunch of slick stretchy-pants people. Casually dressed moms and dads, like Katie Deolloz, Jessica Wilson, Martina Clifton, and Barrett Raven, cycle around Austin every day, with their teenagers, toddlers, and infants in tow.
Katie Smith Deolloz: The Bike Evangelist
As the founder of ATX Walks, a board member of Walk Austin, a member of Austin’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory councils, and the newly named executive director of Bike Austin, Katie Smith Deolloz practices what she preaches. In 2014, after repeatedly going to the library and checking out a book called “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car,” by Chris Balish, she visited Amsterdam, experienced the city’s exemplary bike culture, and decided it was finally time to stop being owned by the family car. Following a week-long trial period proposed by her husband, David, the couple sold their Honda CRV and haven’t looked back. Katie, David, and their two teenagers happily walk, take the bus, and get around on bike, or the “freedom machine,” as Katie calls it.
Was it difficult to get your kids on board with the decision to go carless?
No, my son is 14 and my daughter is 12, so they were young enough that it just became the new normal.
We got pushback from other people, though. They would ask us, “What about your kids?” And I’d say, “Well, this is exactly about my kids.” Statistically, kids are safer outside of motor vehicles. Also, I want to model for them that they don’t need to have a car-dependent lifestyle, that there’s a better way.
Now, I have kids who ride their bikes, and they can get from point A to B. They know how to use the bus system, and they know how to engage with people who look, sound, and smell different on the bus.
Does being carless affect the way you shop and eat?
Well, we don’t go through drive-throughs, that’s for sure.
I used Shipt for a while, but there’s something about picking your own fruits and veggies, that whole tactile experience, that I missed. So we ride a little more frequently to the grocery store. My bike has a giant basket in the front that holds up to 20 pounds, and I’ve got a back rack and panniers. I can also wear a backpack. I mean, I can really load up.
On the 20th consecutive day over 100 degrees, how do you keep at it?
You just do it. You plan accordingly with your sunblock. You know you’re going to be hot. It’s Texas. This is where we live. We’re lucky to live here. You just go for it. If you need to, take care of stuff in the cooler part of the day.
Do you consider Austin a relatively bike-friendly city?
It is. We are one of 10 cities in the States that was awarded a grant to double the number of people riding bikes in a three-year period. We are a year into that, so the data is not out, but we have been working steadily toward not just meeting but exceeding that goal. To that end, the City of Austin’s Active Transportation and Street Design Division is working on creating an all-ages and -abilities bicycle network, and they’re working on that every single day.
In Texas, where people buy more pickup trucks than in any other state, do you think it’s possible, culturally, for a city to ditch the diesel and move in the direction of Copenhagen, where biking is the preferred mode of transport?
Absolutely, because this is where they were 40 years ago. Change is possible.
Do you have any tips for families who might be interested in going carless and becoming full-time cyclists?
You can do it! And you’re not alone! How does it go? It used to be, the family that prays together stays together. Now it’s, the family that bikes together likes each other. It can be done.
Katie’s Safety Tips
1. BE PREDICTABLE.
Ride in a straight line and avoid the “door zone” by staying a few feet away from parked cars. Communicate clearly with hand signals while making turns and changing lanes.
2. WEAR CLEAR GLASSES.
Not only are you protecting your eyes from debris, but you’re also able to make eye contact with people driving cars and people attempting to walk across the street at a crosswalk. Biking friendly is important. Wear the clear glasses, make eye contact, and smile to remind people that they’re seeing another person.
3. DON’T BIKE ON THE SIDEWALK OPPOSITE THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC.
One of the most dangerous things a person can do is ride on a sidewalk going opposite the flow of traffic. That’s because people driving cars and coming out of driveways are not looking in your direction and they’re not anticipating someone moving at your rate of speed, even if you’re going slow for a person riding a bike.
4. BUT BIKE ON THE SIDEWALK IF YOU NEED TO.
For instance, if you’re on Oltorf, which is not a fun road, legally you have the right to take the right lane, but your chances of being struck increase considerably due to the design of that road. I typically ride on the sidewalk, in the same direction as trafc for a short piece, though I don’t like it.
5. OBEY TRAFFIC SIGNS.
When there’s a red light, don’t go through it. When there’s a stop sign, don’t blow through it. Not only is it safer for you, but you’re representing a larger community of people riding bikes and it also helps to break down the division between people on bikes and people in cars.
6. HAVE FUN!
Bicycles are freedom machines. Get out there and experience the joy that comes with riding on two wheels!
Jessica Wilson: The Forever Cyclist
Jessica Wilson didn’t expect she would ever need a car. Being half-British, she grew up thinking she would eventually move to Europe, and as a result, she put off getting a driver’s license until she was 25 years old. She relied on Capital Metro through college, but upon graduating and starting a full-time job, she needed a more efficient way to get around, and that’s when she started cycling. Jessica and her husband Doug have a three-year-old daughter are now a two-car family, but Jessica still cycles to work, at the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, and averages 50 miles per week on a bike.
Is your family on board with the bike-heavy lifestyle?
Cycling is just a part of who we are. The night I met my husband at a party, a dear friend texted me later to let me know that she’d seen him picking up the empty beer cans on the ground and putting them in a milk crate on the back of his bike before he rode home. Naturally, I had to ask him out, and I rode my bike to our first date. We rode our bikes home from our wedding, and I attached a veil to my helmet. My Christmas present to my husband when we became parents was a baby’s bike seat that fit on his handlebars and a baby bike helmet. Our daughter has never known anything else, and she loves making other cyclists smile by ringing the bell or waving and grinning at them.
On the 20th consecutive day over 100 degrees, it must be tempting to ditch the bike and get into your air-conditioned car. How do you keep at it?
The ride into work isn’t bad, but I do put a bandanna in the freezer and take some ice water for our daughter for the ride home. We’re lucky to have a neighborhood pool near her school and another one near our home, so we spend a lot of the summer in and around water.
Do you find that there are typically safe, bike-friendly routes to wherever you need to go?
Austin has a lot of bike infrastructure, and it’s one of the things that keeps us here, but there are definitely some unsafe roads. There are some places that I won’t cycle to now that I’m a mother, because I have a different comfort level with risk. But with enough planning I can find a safe way to get there most of the time. I did try to ride out to the airport once, and even though I took back roads and felt pretty accomplished when I arrived, I wouldn’t recommend that route to anyone. Some places are just better to get to with a combination of bicycling and using Capital Metro.
What do you love most about biking?
When you are on a bike, there’s no barrier around you and a lot more people say, “Good morning,” and smile at each other. It’s wonderful to start the work-day having already shared a positive experience with people, had some exercise, and enjoyed peace and quiet, which can be a challenge with young kiddos.
Martina Clifton: The Bike Tourist
Martina Clifton started bike commuting out of necessity at 15 years old, when she got her first job, working at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Her love for cycling blossomed from there. As an undergraduate at UT, she joined Texas 4000 and participated in the first annual bike tour to Anchorage, Alaska, a 70-day journey in which the group averaged 70 miles a day. The bike-ability of East Austin led her to buy a house in that part of town 10 years ago, and from there she commuted to her work at an architecture firm in West Austin through her twenties. Martina got her husband, Brent, a bike for his first birthday after they got married, and although he doesn’t share her history with cycling, she says he’s been a good sport in her cycling lifestyle, which now involves carting around their four-year-old and 16-month-old sons.
What’s it like to cycle now that you have kids?
I have a bike trailer that seats both my sons, and my four-year-old is just starting to ride his own bike. We can do most errands with the bike with the trailer, from grocery shopping to going to the bank.
Is there always a safe, bike-friendly route to wherever you want to go?
In my twenties, I was more comfortable with not having shoulders and being aggressive in traffic. Now that I’m biking with my little son, who is less predictable on his own bike or with the bike trailer, I find the need to be more cautious and stick to bike lanes. I appreciate all the bike lanes around us. We’re close to the one on Pedernales, and that can take us straight down to the Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail. We’re also close to the Boggy Creek Trail. I feel like we have good options.
What do you love most about your bike-heavy lifestyle?
When I commuted to work, I grew to love the rhythm and sanity it brought to working in an office. It was the happy part of the day. These days, it keeps me sane and close to nature. It also keeps my life going at a sustainable rate. When you’re biking, you can only commit to so many things, so it slows you down and keeps you within a radius. I believe in that, for the sake of relationships.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen or discovered while biking around?
I’m kind of a scavenger, and you see plenty of things when you’re biking that you don’t see driving. Most recently, I happened to see three Razors, those kids scooters, in somebody’s bulk collection pile, so I scored three Razors, and I gave them to friends. I also love foraging with my kids, and you’ll notice when things are in season when you’re cycling. So you’ll be like, “Oh, the wild mustang grapes are in. Let’s stop and pick them.” Or, “The pecans are falling. Let’s stop and pick up some pecans.” You see those kinds of things when you’re cycling.
Barrett Raven: The Weird Cyclist
Barrett Raven found both his wife, Kristen, and his love for cycling while working at Dominican Joe on South Congress and Riverside. He credits Kristen, who rode her bike to work, and some of their other coworkers who were heavy into the biking community with turning him onto the idea of cycling. After sitting in class at UT all day, he liked that he could beat traffic, get outside, and sweat a little before going back inside to work. The fact that people at the time thought it was weird to bike, he says, only served to fuel his passion. Today Barrett and Kristen live in the Heritage neighborhood in Central Austin with their three kids, ages three, five, and seven, and they continue to bond over cycling, whether they’re going on bike tours, riding with the kids behind them in a trailer, or watching professional cycling together.
What’s it like to cycle with three kids?
When we started having kids, we thought about the Netherlands, where people bike around with their four kids. Don’t call CPS on me, but I’m pretty sure we started putting our kids in the trailer when they were eight months old, just as soon as they could hold themselves up. Now one of our boys is seven, and he doesn’t like riding in the trailer because he can ride his own bike, so we’re limited to traveling on bike as far as he can go.
Is there always a safe, bike-friendly route to take wherever you need to go?
It’s more complicated than we would like, but the longer you ride your bike in Austin the more safe corridors you find into any part of town. It’s really been about figuring it out through biking and asking friends what routes they take. We’re fortunate because we live in Central Austin, but I really do wish there were more protected bike lanes, especially for our friends in areas like Anderson Mill.
What kinds of things do you see differently on a bike than in a car?
Riding our bikes, especially through the Shoal Creek Trail and downtown, we’ve seen a lot of homeless people, which has led to some important conversations. One of our kids will be like, “Hey, Dad, why is that guy sleeping right there? It’s cold or it’s hot out here.” So it’s been a good way to talk to our kids about homelessness and poverty, as they sometimes see it real up close and personal.
Can you tell me about any unexpected benefits of cycling?
We experience these small victories all the time when we’ve made it home after biking somewhere. We bike to church, 9.5 miles round-trip, so our seven-year-old is doing that every Sunday, and it’s this victory when we get home. You know, it’s cool to go to the library, but it’s even cooler to go to the library by bike, and then you get home and rejoice. We made it!
It’s also cool to develop these fun friendships with people on the routes we ride. I don’t know these people’s names, I don’t know their stories, but we get to say hi to them all the time. For instance, we get to say hi to a couple on our way to church every Sunday, and they get to see our little circus riding through town every week.
May is Bike Month
in Austin. That means, all month long, Bike Austin will be putting on fun events to encourage us to give cycling a go. In addition to reducing downtown congestion and enjoying the health benefits associated with exercising, those who choose to bike to work on May 18 will be able to stop at one of 40 fueling stations set up around the city offering everything from free tacos to kombucha. And later that evening, to give us a chance to celebrate that we were able to bike to work, there’s a Bike From Work Afterparty. Head to bikeaustin.org to learn more.
Bike Austin advocates for better bicycle infrastructure in Austin and works to increase the number of people who cycle as a form of transport, exercise, and recreation.