toronto family bike

A Toronto family sold their car and now they do all their travel by bike

Robin Richardson is a mother of three living in Toronto, and she and her husband recently decided to ditch their massive SUV and become a cycling family year-round. 

Roughly 11 years ago, Richardson told her husband she was pregnant with their third child, and it was at that moment that they realized they would need a bigger car. 

So, as many families with young children do, they purchased an all-wheel drive SUV — complete with space for three car seats across the back seat and cargo space for all the extra stuff that comes with having three children. 

"Having grown up in California, I was very nervous about driving in snowy and icy conditions," Richardson told blogTO, adding that she had only been in Ontario for five years at that point. "An all-wheel drive SUV felt like a more rugged, safer choice."

But she said she always found driving in Toronto stressful thanks to the layout of the city, the endless traffic and the constant struggle to find parking.

Still, their family drove around in that car for four years despite the stresses, until one day when Richardson's husband signed up for a charity bike ride and began cycling to work. 

Upon observing how much happier he seemed on days when he would ride, Richardson decided she and the kids would start cycling to school, to do errands, to buy groceries — but only on nice, warm days.

And this wasn't actually her first time using a bike as one of her main modes of transportation.

"Years ago, pre-kids, I bike commuted in Seattle. I loved being independent of traffic and parking concerns, and it helped me wake up for the day at work and de-stress on the ride home," she said. 

"But when my kids were born, I stopped riding, unable to see how I could manage to carry them around by bicycle. Eventually, when they all were old enough to ride, I began to see that we could get exercise and save stress by riding instead of driving." 

Still, in her early days of cycling in Toronto, Richardson said she'd store the bikes away as soon as the temperatures dipped below freezing, returning to her giant SUV that made her stressed, lazy and cranky.

"I felt really sad about giving up riding for the winter, because it brings me such joy the rest of the year," she said. "I was also very tired of hiding inside all winter, just waiting for it to be over. I wanted to continue to do my favourite activity in the winter. "

And, as she continued to learn about climate change and the effects it's having on the world her children will inherit, Richardson said she felt the need to do everything in her power to help curb her family's carbon footprint.

"I am also desperately worried about climate change and the chaotic world they are going to grow up to inhabit," she said. "I felt strongly that we needed to do what we could to mitigate global warming, and ditching the SUV for bikes was the easiest way for us to lighten our footprint."

So, last winter, Richardson and her husband decided to ditch the SUV entirely and replace it with cargo bikes.

Sure, it took some time to get comfortable on the winter roads and there was a learning curve, but she said as soon as she decided this was what she wanted to do, the question changed from "If" to "How?"

"How will I stay steady on icy roads? Studded tires. How will I be seen in the dark evenings of winter? A lighted helmet, bike lights, and little LED's on my spokes so that cars can see me from the side," she said of the many challenges faced and conquered during her first winter riding. 

"How will I stay warm? Layers, a scarf over my mouth and nose, and a balaclava under my helmet."

Last winter fortunately wasn't too bad despite a few heavy snowfalls that made life difficult at times, Richardson said. She added that she learned to start taking major roads in the winter because they're the ones that tend to get plowed, and her e-bike's acceleration helped her confidence on bigger streets.

"And when the going got really dicey, I just hopped up on the sidewalk and walked until I could get to a safer spot to ride," she said.

Richardson said she encourages other families to give it a try, adding that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. 

Families can easily start to introduce cycling into their daily routines now and then while still holding onto their car, but be careful, Richardon said, because "bike riding is habit-forming."

As for Richardson's kids, she said they enjoy cycling for the most part and appreciate the freedom that going places under their own steam affords them.

Once in a while, though, she said they would rather take the car and don't feel like cycling, which is when the e-cargo bikes come in extra handy — as she and her husband can each carry a kid on their bikes when they're tired.

"They are proud that they can get places on their own power, and wonder why their friends don't want to try it. My husband and I have explored neighbourhoods that we might not have visited, just because we were looking for new places to ride. And we've met friends through The Bike Brigade who we probably wouldn't have crossed paths with otherwise," Richardson said.

"Our city feels more tangible and more like home because we travel through it in the open air, not in a glass and metal box."

Lead photo by

Robin Richardson

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