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Profiles in cargo biking: Pennsylvania mom Kelly Sangree

Happy holidays to all! I had an awesome conversation with a cargo biking mom for my first interview.

Featured rider profiles will shed light on the range of people who cargo bike around town part-time or are completely car free. Commuting, shopping, ferrying kids, & bikes as commercial vehicles are all part of the life of cargo bikers. Meeting these people will inspire you to begin a city biking lifestyle of your own. 

Let's get right to the good stuff. 

Meet Kelly Sangree

Who: Author, actor, wife, mom of three.
Location: Small city, Harrisburg,PA.
Cargo bike: Virtue Schoolbus.
Bike shop: Iron City bikes.
Riding Seasons: Three & as much winter as she can bare.

CBL: Why did you choose a cargo bike instead of adding a trailer to an existing bike?

Kelly: Well, that would have been the cheaper route! I actually had a trash-picked trailer when my 2nd child was a toddler, but I never really liked how far behind the kids were with those. I felt like I was always yelling "You OK back there?". That's also why I didn't pick a longtail or a Madsen - I wanted to see the kids while I was riding, though I could be persuaded into a longtail once my youngest is 3 or 4. I can pull over if my toddler drops something, I never have to worry if a car is getting too close behind the trailer - I know right where everyone is. Also, my youngest is not quite 2, the next one up is 9, and my oldest is 12. I might have another baby in the next few years, and I wanted something flexible, multipurpose, and would last as the kids grew. My 9 year old can still ride in the box when the roads are too busy for him to ride solo - I couldn't have him do that in a trailer. I did have a standard bike set up with a front baby seat and a trail-a-bike for a while, but that was really challenging when the toddler would fall asleep (he would end up with his head on my arm), and the trail-a-bike would throw off the handling when my 9 year old would get distracted. My 12 year old wants to borrow the bike for her summer face painting gigs. There's a lot to recommend about the Schoolbus.

CBL: Tell me how you acquired your Virtue Schoolbus?

Kelly: The story starts with a bet! My mother in law bet my husband $3500 that he couldn't quit smoking for a full year. Well, he did - and my cut was $1000 for putting up with him! So my goal was to find a cargo bike for $1000 or less. I live in Harrisburg, PA (the capitol city), which is a fairly small city, so I started searching the Internet. Virtue bikes were the only cargo bike at that price point, and the closest shop that carried them was Iron City Bikes in Pittsburgh, 3 1/2 hours away. We go out there once a summer to visit family and go to Kennywood Park, so we put a cargo platform on the back of our SUV, bought the bike, and hauled it home on the back of our car for 3 hours on the Turnpike!

CBL: Kudos to your husband! What were your concerns about buying  the Virtue given the reputation of quality issues with Chinese imports?

Kelly: Well I was really nervous about it. Everyone was saying that frame is going to fail. Then I started talking to other people about bikes in general, not even cargo bikes. They said, "There's a lot of frames made in Chine and I have yet to see one fail." So I was like, they might not be the prettiest, they might not be the lightest, but they are serviceable. I spoke with the guys at ICB (Iron City Bikes). Once I heard people who had actually dealt with it and not hearing other people who had heard from other people, then I felt much more comfortable purchasing it.

CBL: What have been the pros and cons of three wheels vs two?

Kelly: Oddly, stability has been both a pro and a con. At low speeds, a trike is wonderful. I can stop anywhere, cruise carefully, if the kids get wiggly it's not an issue. But at higher speed turns, or on not-quite-level roads, the 3 wheels feel a little tippy and weird. And it's really a cruiser bike - it's not made for speed. If I'm doing 6 - 8 mph I'm doing pretty well, and the terrain is pretty flat where we ride.

CBL: Tell me about typical trips you take with your Schoolbus.

Kelly: Mostly we head to the library, playgrounds, the midtown farmers market, and a local shopping center that has a grocery store, dollar store, and a few other places. All about 3 miles or less away. 

CBL: How many bags of groceries can you put in the Schoolbus?

Kelly: I'm not sure. It depends on how many kids are in there. I'll say this - I've gone shopping, library running, yard sale-ing, and trash picking with the bike, toddler in a seat up front, and I haven't "filled" it on any given run.

CBL: Do you currently have electric assist or is it in the Schoolbus' future?

Kelly: You've been reading my diary, haven't you?  :)  Every day I wish I had had the extra $600 when I bought the Schoolbus to get electric assist version! So I'm saving my nickels and I'm hoping to get a geared hub motor installed locally sometime this summer. If a bunch of people buy my book about frugality, I might be able to get it sooner rather than later. https://www.createspace.com/5073277  :)

CBL: How easy is it to start and stop on a trike?

Kelly: Not bad. The front brakes are drum brakes, so they really get it slowed down quickly, though if they're not adjusted evenly they cause the trike to pull to one side. Getting started is easy as long as I remember to downshift before I stop! It's geared really well for its size - everyone who tries it is surprised at how responsive it is to pedaling.

CBL: Where and how do you store your cargo bike?

Kelly: We have a big tool shed that's supposed to be my husband's workshop. Until he builds me a bike garage under the deck, my bike lives in the shed. There's some minor friction there, but nothing we can't handle. If we had a garage, it would be easier, but I'm not complaining.

CBL: How do the riding dynamics change when it is loaded?

Kelly: Hardly at all. Obviously it's a little more effort to pedal, and I have to be careful about stopping because I'm slowing down more weight, but it doesn't change much.

CBL: How steep is the learning curve?

Kelly: A very gentle curve. It's different from a two-wheeler, but not so bad that an average rider wouldn't have it down in 15 minutes or so. 

CBL: Are there any challenges / safety issue to be aware of when riding this cargo bike? 

Kelly: You really can't stand on the pedals to get momentum without causing tipping issues, but other than that it's not bad.

CBL: Are you a car free family or hope to be?

Kelly: I like to daydream about being car free. It's more along the lines of "let's split it up more, let's use less gas." It's a tool.

CBL: What would you say to other parents, particularly moms, about trying a cargo bike and cycling with kids?

Kelly: Find a bike at a local shop or borrow a bike and try it on a quiet street. Watch videos on Youtube. Think about the store you shop regularly. See if there are alternate routes to Costco or Target through a neighborhood. You may find yourself doing more shopping that way. 

The other part of riding a special bike like a bakfiets or a longtail is that people slow down a little and start going "What was that?" You're a little safer than on a regular bike with a seat or trailer. It's the novelty factory. 

Please give a round of applause to Kelly for a great interview with your comments. The conversation was a ton of fun. Thank you Kelly for sharing your time and being a great ambassador of cargo bikes and urban family cycling.

Are there any questions I didn't ask that you would have liked to see Kelly answer? 

If you'd like to share your cargo biking story please contact me! I'm happy to shine a light wherever cargo bikes are being used.