Our House: Becoming a bike family…by necessity

Brad Pearson is one of those guys who loves to bike around with his kids. And it’s a good thing, too, because after a seizure, he’s not allowed to drive a car. Here’s what he’s learned.

Be careful what you wish for, because it may come true.

I had always wanted to give up the car and ride a bike more for my trips around town. Like everyone else, I kept coming up with the same excuses: the extra time it would take, the sweat, the problem of locking up your bike when you got there, the fact that the helmet will mess up my hair…A ton of reasons kept getting in the way.


About three months ago, I got my first ride in an ambulance after a grand mal seizure in the middle of the night. Sadly, due to the post-seizure haze, I did not get to remember this new experience. I suddenly found myself forced to bike everywhere. In Virginia, after a seizure a person is restricted from driving until they are incident-free for six months. If you’re caught breaking this rule, your license could be revoked permanently. Worse, you could end up with the lifetime guilt of injuring another person or family if a seizure occurs while driving.

So, suddenly, here I was with no choice but to be car-free.

I have a lot of things going for me in this respect. I am an artist who works in a shed 20 feet from the back door, or twenty minutes away (by bike) at the Visual Arts Center on Main Street. I was in a financial position to add a nice cargo bike to my small fleet I already had, giving me the option to haul more than a backpack’s worth of groceries at a time. My wife can still drive me and the kids around when she is not at work across town, and for the occasional mid-week doctor’s visit or suburban errand that is too far to easily bike to, I can call my mother-in-law.

I had originally chosen to live in the city to be closer to things and to live within short distances of my daily life’s trips, and we as a family are also truly blessed to live on a great block in Northside. I think almost every neighbor within a 10-house radius has offered to take me where I need to go (after inquiring why I woke them up with my ambulance in the middle of the night). On those few evenings we’ve had one of the dreaded summer thunderstorms with which those of us in the South are all too familiar, I have been very grateful to have students who like me well enough to offer up rides. What if we had been living 20 miles outside of town on 20 acres in Hanover? It would be nearly impossible to get around safely by bike. And, luckily, as all of this is happening, a biking revolution is gaining momentum in Richmond.

Even with all this in my favor, biking can get interesting in this city. Plotting safe routes on which to take an entire family on bikes, getting children to appointments on time, and dealing with the dreaded missed school bus on the day when your kid’s decision to sleep a little later magically coincides with the day the bus shows up early. Not to mention the risk of bike theft once you make it to your destination, which comes with a much higher anxiety factor when the bike in question is not a frivolous extra but a necessity to your daily transportation. The most challenging aspect is that a route that is safe for me and my forty years of biking experience may not be even remotely safe for my 12 and 15 year olds. And let’s not forget the unexpected downpour that can leave you looking like a drowned rat.

Everywhere I look, I see excitement building over a week of bike racing in September. In contrast, I hear an awful lot of grumbling about the “sharrows”–a misunderstood attempt to create a bicycling infrastructure. One of my favorites is the bike lane on Brooklyn Park Boulevard, which is basically a bike lane from nowhere to nowhere. When you’ve even seen police cars driving in the newly painted bike safety zone, you must wonder where the benefit lies. Several times, I have smiled as I discovered a newly painted bike lane and altered my route to use it, only to change my expression as the comfort and safety of a protected zone dumped me in the middle of a treacherous intersection like a peaceful canoe trip ending at Niagara Falls.

Ultimately, though, the sharrows do help to create routes where drivers can expect and prepare to encounter bikes, even if I personally do not consider the majority of those routes to be kid friendly.

I am encouraged by both Northside’s and Lakeside’s recent efforts to install bike racks and to create an atmosphere that both welcomes and encourages customers who arrive by bike. I am hoping that Broad Street and Carytown soon adopt this same philosophy to promote themselves as biking destinations.

If more of us adopt even a lifestyle that partially includes biking, we could expect plenty of benefits:

  • A healthier population.
  • Cleaner air and less of a need to devote valuable land to parking.
  • Tighter development and less urban sprawl as developers and city officials realize there is value in compact, well designed communities.
  • More of Richmond’s money will stay in Richmond (and not migrate to the counties), supporting our neighboring community as we shop locally instead of hopping in a car every time we need something and heading for the West End sprawl.
  • More interaction of our citizens, since they will not be hurtling past one another in steel cages.

As an artist who makes the majority of his sales online, I read and use a lot of social media for my business and news. I see a lot of complaints about bikes getting in the way of your trip to the big box store. I also hear assumptions that the bikes are “hogging the road” because they have no respect for cars (which according to the complainers, are the only vehicles that belong on a road).

So let me make a few corrections to the cars behind me as I furiously pedal to get to work on time:

  • Don’t assume I am a modern hippy who is trying to save the planet with a few bike trips, (although this one is kind of true).
  • Don’t assume that bikers are just out for fun, some of us have no choice but to brave the roads with you and your two-ton death machines.
  • A lot of us more “mature” bikers sit around just like car drivers and complain about reckless VCU students racing through stop lights, not using hand signals, failing to properly light their bicycles at night or wear appropriately visible attire, and generally giving the rest of us a bad name.

Next time you hit the road in your automobile and sigh when you see a cyclist up ahead, I hope you’ll give your sigh some more thought. If you still come out sighing, try and focus on thanking me and the kids for leaving one more parking space available for you at your destination!

— ∮∮∮ —

Did you see today’s TIP!? You can get a poster that reminds your car-driving brethren to share the dang road!

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Brad Pearson

Brad Pearson is a work from home Dad who makes art glass marbles for a living. So if you have lost yours, he has you covered.

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