Biking Montreal: Evolution of a Risk-Adverse Mother

I enjoyed bike-riding in Madison where the streets were wide and the traffic in my neighborhood was sparse.  Riding my bike in Montreal, a compact city of four million, terrified me.  Yet here we are!

Biking

Everyone and their brother will claim that Montreal is an excellent city for bike-riding but those people tend to be 1) bike enthusiasts and 2) not wheeling around on this:

Biking

But true, there is plenty to like about biking in Montreal even if you are a risk-adverse parent-person.

I came to biking Montreal reluctantly; with the garage consuming the car there was no room for my bike so it remained disassembled until we got the street parking sticker.  Once the sticker arrived and the car went out on the street, I was out of excuses.  I first rode my bike because I knew my husband, a bike-enthusiast, expected me to.

“Fine.  Gawd.  I’ll do it.  At the risk of the lives of your children and their mother – but sure.  By all means.  Let’s go already.”

I believe I read about this approach from a pamphlet in our marriage counselor’s waiting room.

I finally rode my bike because I was probably running late to pick up Arlo from school one day.  I kept riding it because it would give us something to do after school that was outdoors but not at a playground of which oh-lord-I-have-had-my-fill.

There are several streets that have dedicated bike lanes near us and there is a large, bike-friendly park.  I was getting used to riding.  All the attention we got didn’t hurt my assimilation: “Vous etes fort! (You are strong!)”.  Ours is the only setup I’ve seen in Montreal.  People comment on us as we ride by and ask about us when we stop.  As a reluctant and perhaps even dispassionate bike-rider, I’ll say this:  Being able to mobilize your entire family using only the strength of your body is wildly satisfying.  I’m not a gear/gadget person but this aspect of biking resonates deeply with me.  The attention is a bonus.

My husband is a gear/gadget person (he commutes on bike) and though he doesn’t bike this kidmobile, he understands its length is cumbersome in the city.   Turning, swerving, parking, lane-changing — all of it is a challenge.  He is interested in outfitting us in one of these:

Biking Biking Biking

We’ll see what springtime brings, perhaps more bravery will sprout amongst the daffodils.

Now I bike Montreal because I have to.  We enrolled Arlo in a new school whose distance precludes us from walking in a reasonable timeframe and since I’ll do virtually ANYTHING to avoid driving/parking the car, I now bike at least twice a day.

Our route begins on a non-bike lane street, our own Rue St. Hubert, but it doesn’t phase me because it’s not heavily trafficked and fairly wide.  We turn on to the bike lane of Rue Rachel and start the climb.

As I heave and pant with every pedal I answer every pointed finger:

“Digger!”  “Dumptruck!”  “Yes Farrah, scooter!”  “Red scooter!”  “Oh! Black scooter!”  “Motorcycle!”  “Dog!”

I drive over a big bump.

“Shit!”

Arlo, “What Momma?  What happened?”

“Nothing.”

Heave, pant.

“MOMMA!  WHY DID YOU SAY THAT?

“Arlo!  Yes, yes, Farrah.  Digger.  That’s a…”

Heave, pant

“digger.”

{And I keep climbing and the requests come like rapid fire and I can’t breathe and all I want to say is “Stop!  Holy hell.  Let me get up this hill!  Do you know how hard this is, it’s such hard work carrying you both up this hill!”  But I can’t say that because all they will hear is “YOU blah HARD blah WORK“.  So I reconsider and reframe my reply.  Heave, pant.  And this, when people say parenthood is hard, this is what they mean.  It’s not packing the snacks and water bottle, buttoning the vest and playing games in order to get helmets on.  It’s not the extra 70 lbs to pull, it’s not the lack of sleep or food you forgot to eat.  It’s doing and saying the right thing so you don’t fuck up this beautiful memory.}

Biking

We get to school and kiss goodbye and then it’s all downhill for Farrah and I as we continue exploring our neighborhood on wheels.

“Digger!”

As the days go by I am less terrified but still scared.  I ride with a rear-view mirror that is not angled on the cars behind me but rather on my son in his trailer.  I need constant reassurance it hasn’t (silently) come unhinged and my firstborn is not laying prone in the middle of street 100 feet behind me.  Farrah Star sits in front, pressed against my chest and between my arms and despite her penchant for bashing my collarbones with her helmet, I like having her there.  There’s a nice she-goes/I-go feeling about riding that close.

Biking

(She does not approve this selfie.)

With bike-riding, even the way I grocery shop has changed.  There are no more pit stops for Pimms chocolate and diet coke milk and eggs, there’s just no room to park at these corner shops let alone space for groceries in Arlo’s seat.  Since I don’t need it after drop off, I think about leaving the trailer at Arlo’s school but that would require carrying another lock and bringing a messenger bag.  Please see above re: such hard work.

Soon Arlo will take a bus to school and we may stop this all together.  I think.  Right?  Yes.  Definitely.  The weather is going to change soon and then we’ll be stuck in the car along with every other family in school and there are maybe six parking spaces out front.  I think we have to do the bus.  Farrah and I will then have to start our day and explore in new way.

“Snowplow!”

Will I see you on the road in Montreal this autumn?  Do you ride your bike with your kids on the daily?  I would love to hear about your experience especially if you suffer from risk-aversion like me.

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13 thoughts on “Biking Montreal: Evolution of a Risk-Adverse Mother

  1. We don’t get out nearly often enough, and Montreal riding with kids is scary. Even without kids it takes getting used to. Knuckles of steel! We opted for a mec bike trailer for our 2 yr old. Love it!

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  2. Your kid-mobile is AWESOME. I want to try to ride it!! Maybe with kid dummies first. Our city in Kansas is not very bike-able. People ride their bikes around the neighborhood but I rarely see anyone ride them around town. I’m sure the urban part of Kansas City has more bike riders.

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