Earlier this month I made the trip east to help celebrate the wedding of my baby sister. The trip meant leaving the comforts of home, including our multi-modal lifestyle, and being thrown back into the suburban life we left behind when we decided to move to Vancouver. With our immediate families living in southern Ontario, we travel back east fairly regularly, each time almost immediately missing our humble bicycles and the variety of options we have at our disposal to get around the city.

Painted lanes and a wide walking path - but how do you get to the plaza?

This time around, I was determined to find some way to get around without having to get in a car. Thankfully my dad keeps a rugged mountain bike in his garage that he happily cleaned up for me to be able to ride. I made good use of my wheels, riding to the newly-built plaza just a five minute ride from my childhood home to run errands and get in a little active transportation in a car dependent city. While the route was far from pleasant when compared to what is available to us in Vancouver, I saw a glimmer of hope, being able to ride in painted bike lanes for part of the journey.

I was still a noticeable minority on the road, but it's nothing we're not used to. And I had a point to prove - that despite living in a city that has grown exponentially around the private automobile, there are other options. Through our work, we have strived to inspire others to explore other modes of transportation. Of course, the greatest compliment would be for our families to take up these options, and by making the trip myself, the hope was to show that they don't always have to default to car travel, and that going for a walk or ride could be an enjoyable experience.

So it was almost fortuitous that our travels coincided with the airing of the piece our family was featured in for CBC's The National. That evening, I sat with my sister and her friends in her downtown Kitchener apartment and watched as our happy little family travelled throughout Vancouver on bicycles. For our part, we helped provide the example of what a city looks like when they invest in active transportation - or more specifically - safe and accessible bike infrastructure. It was certainly a very proud moment for our family, and accolades and recognition were quick to come. 

Despite the title, this is a great piece on how Vancouver's investments have made lifestyles like ours possible.

In fact, our appearance became the talking point upon seeing my extended family at the wedding. Chris and I were certainly humbled by the compliments, and there were some key points during our many conversations that really stuck with us. On more than a few occasions, we had family members say that we had inspired them to go for a ride on their bikes, many after years of their bicycles collecting dust in their suburban garages. We had made it look so effortless that despite only having recreational trails, they had wanted to experience the joy we so regularly do travelling by two wheels.

Most notably, people told us we looked so happy. That happiness is certainly something we tend to take for granted, but it clearly becomes the inspiration needed to create change. After all, if riding around on our bicycles didn't make us feel great, then what would be the point? Writing, speaking, photography and filmmaking centred around two-wheeled travel has without a doubt made us the odd ones out in our families, but it has also make us the accidental examples of what a little change in the mode of travel can do.

For our families back east, no fault can be placed on them for depending primarily on the private automobile to get around. Living in dispersed cities provide little other options. Public transportation exists but becomes an unrealistic option with limited service, and bicycle travel is inaccessible due both to the sheer distance needed to travel, and the lack of safe infrastructure. 

The width already exists to add bike lanes to most suburban streets. This street rarely sees levels of traffic that necessitate four lanes.

If The National piece shows anything, though, it's that cities can change, and with it, the options on how people get around. In the 80's and 90's, Vancouver wasn't much different from where we grew up, with no bike lanes and a trend towards car dependence. It was with investment, both politically and financially, that the city began to change, making families like ours much more common. 

We tell our stories to help inspire people to see that there are alternatives. With hope, my stubborn insistence on being able to bike while visiting my childhood home, and our continued efforts to be the change we wish to see, will help not just our extended families but many others see how easy and joyous two-wheeled travel can be.

Posted
AuthorMelissa Bruntlett

Photo by Carel Stander

Everyone has someone in their lives that continually inspires them, proving that there really are selfless, compassionate people in the world who will work tirelessly to help change the world for the better. Over the years, we have met countless people who fit this description, but one individual truly tops our list time and again. Our young friend, Brenna Coupland, has been making her mark on the world around her for some time, spreading a message of community, caring and inspiration in many ways. We consider ourselves lucky to be counted as her friends.

We first met Brenna shortly before the birth of our son, about six years ago. At the time, we were looking for a reliable babysitter for our then toddler little girl and soon-to-arrive baby boy. Who would have known that a chance meeting due to a flyer in our laundry room would lead to a wonderful, lasting friendship. Our children bonded instantly with her, and it didn’t take long before Brenna had become a permanent memory in their early childhood. But through speaking with Brenna about her ambitions, it was clear she was destined for more than just life as a yogi and childcare provider in Vancouver. The catalyst for change began with a bike trip from Vancouver to Winnipeg, sparking a passion for bike-touring. Within months, Brenna had grander plans, and over the subsequent years, she would cycle across the remaining Eastern Canadian provinces, along the West Coast of the United States, into South America, and throughout Africa.

Brenna with some of the youth she's been working with in Fisantekraal. Photo by Carrie Buckmaster

It was the trip in Africa that would forever change her, and provided the inspiration to combine her passion for cycling with her desire to make a positive impact on the world. About two years after her initial journey, Brenna returned to South Africa, where she has been working for nearly one year. There, she is providing inspiration to a whole new generation, offering bike mechanic programs to women and youth in Cape Town, and even taking part in local races with enthusiastic groups of young people. Her vision is quite simple: 

  • Help create a world where bicycles are universally accepted as legitimate, respected, responsible and enjoyable forms of transportation and recreation.
  • Ensure bicycles and the knowledge of bicycle maintenance and repair are accessible to all who wish to learn, regardless of gender, age, race, sexuality, financial situation or any other discriminatory factor.
  • Promote the message that bicycle power is used as a means to increase the efficiency, strength and health of communities and promotes a consciousness of environmental stewardship.

Brenna’s most recent initiative is the Cape Town Cycle of Giving, a fundraiser and donation campaign collecting used kids bicycles and hosting a 24 hour repair marathon with youth mechanics and adult volunteers. In February, fixed bicycles will be distributed to children in under-resourced - and under bicycle'd - communities like Fisantekraal and Kayamandi. Although the event will take place in Cape Town, people around the world can help by donating money and spreading the word about this fantastic program. You can find out more about Brenna’s story and make a donation by visiting her blog, Beeyond A Bike. As always, Brenna, we are inspired by your passion, strength and beautiful spirit, and we at Modacity wish you all the success you deserve for 2015!

Posted
AuthorMelissa Bruntlett
CategoriesTravel

Two years ago I got a little creative before Christmas and put together a new version of the classic The Night Before Christmas for Velo Family Diaries. It was such a fun story, we felt compelled to share it again with our Modacity audience, with a few tweaks now that our family has changed a little. Wishing you all the very best holiday season. Enjoy!

The Month Before Christmas: A Velo Family Holiday Story

‘Twas nearly time for Christmas, just two days at most,
Not a Bruntlett was biking, too much rain on the Coast.
The wet clothes were hung near the heaters to dry,
From the few times they risked riding, just to give it a try.

The children would bundle up for warmth as they rode behind,
While Mom and Dad dreamed of days when Mother Nature was kind.
They longed for July and August, and warm days by the beach,
And thought, “Well, at least it’s December, Spring is just out of reach”

When out of the window, there arose such a light,
The Bruntletts had squinted because it was so bright.
Away to the window they flew like a flash,
Ignoring the sound of Etienne’s castle going “crash”.

The sunlight sparkled in the puddles below,
And Chris exclaimed, “Let’s get out and go!”
For in Vancouver, they say, the rain falls a lot,
So, when you like to ride bikes, you take whatever you’ve got.

More rapid than bald eagles, to their bikes they ran,
Ready to enjoy as much sun as they can.

“Now Etienne! Now Coralie! Just get on your bikes!
It’s time to ride through town, and see some of our likes!
Out to English Bay, and a ride on the Seawall,
Now pedal on, pedal on, pedal on all!”

Off to the waterfront, with pedal-power they sped,
Stopping for coffee while the kids they were fed.
The salt water twinkling below, a light blue sky above,
Mom and Dad were reminded why it’s this city they love.

Even in the winter, when rain falls hard and fast,
There’s something about this place and the dreams that are cast.
Another year on two wheels has nearly come and gone,
And the Bruntletts have biked every day the sun shone.

Coralie, growing fast, riding in front of her folks,
While Etienne rides his Lil' Dutchi, spinning his spokes.
Quite a bike family they’ve become, these ambitious four,
Even travelling to other cities and biking some more!

As Christmas draws near, they think of family back East,
And know one day they’ll join them again for that Christmas feast.
But for now, in the winter sun, Melissa and Chris ride with their tykes,
Shouting, “Merry Christmas to all, now we’re off on our bikes!”

Posted
AuthorMelissa Bruntlett
CategoriesFun

Over the past few years, Saturday mornings have been all about swimming for the Bruntlett family. We are lucky enough to have a community pool within a few blocks of our East Vancouver apartment, but in the Autumn months, scheduled annual maintenance forces us to change our routine up a little bit. So from September until December, we opt to relocate the kids' swimming classes to the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, a much larger facility on the west end of the downtown peninsula, which is just over seven kilometres from our front door. While we could certainly find a pool closer to home, the trip affords us a lovely, scenic bike ride as a family, along the fully-separated Central Valley Greenway, and then onto the seawall on the north side of False Creek. It's a yearly tradition we've very much grown to cherish, transforming a simple trip most parents dread into the furthest thing from a chore. 

Fast forward to this past Saturday morning, when I decided to document our journey on film, and share it on social media for the world to experience. Our good friend (and Director of Photography on the Cycle Chic Films) Christoph Prevost was kind enough to lend me his GoPro camera for a couple of weeks, so we strapped it to the front of our new TrioBike Cargo, and made our regular, 45-minute journey from East Vancouver to the West End. The trip itself was typically uneventful, as Melissa and I pedalled along, chatting about our plans for the weekend, some upcoming Christmas-related activities, and the kids hovering around doing their best to keep up. When I got home, I quickly cut the timelapse footage to music, and then posted it on YouTube, anxious to share what has become a thoroughly enjoyable part of our weekly routine.

The following (Sunday) morning, we rolled out of bed, and - since the sun was gracing us with its presence - collectively decided to take a similar ride, this time along the seawall on the south side of False Creek, all the way to Granville Island. During the month of December, the Kids Market there features the most amazing Santa Claus, and we've made a habit of stopping in during the run-up to the holidays to sing some carols, take a photograph, and (of course) let the kids tell him what they would like for Christmas! It was during that ride that I quickly snapped and shared a photo of Etienne on Instagram, remarking that his (rather stylish) wardrobe selection made his Cycle Chic father proud. Shortly thereafter, we received a comment from Marni Duffy, one of our loyal social media followers, a cargo bike riding mother of three from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

"Loved watching him free and independent in the new Modacity video! Your infrastructure is jealousy-inducing!"

Marni's comment caused me to pause, reflect, and my mind was immediately drawn to a Bikeyface illustration I saw circulating last Christmas. For those of you who aren't familiar with Bikeyface, it is a concise, poignant, and (often tragically) hilarious look at the state of cycling in North America, written and illustrated by Bekka Wright in Somerville, MA. Bekka regularly manages to capture the sad reality of riding a bike for transportation in a car-dominated society, and this particular drawing was no different. "A Place to Ride" explores the fact many children receive shiny new bikes as a Christmas gift, but depressingly, precious few live in cities with streets that are safe enough on which to use them.

It is apt moments like this that remind us pedalling 14 kilometres around the city with our kids is something we very much take for granted, but a luxury that many of our counterparts do not enjoy. Vancouver city officials deserve full credit for building a network of bike infrastructure that caters to riders of all ages and abilities, and families like ours make use of it every day of the week. It's one of the reasons the words and imagery we present about our multi-modal lifestyle has garnered interest from around the world, as cities in the Americas, Australasia, and even some European countries watch on in envy.

So this holiday season, let's focus less on gifts of bicycles (they are the easiest, and - ironically - least relevant part of this equation), and shift our focus towards giving our children the gift of a healthy and safe place to ride them. Our society has spent the past generation building bicycle infrastructure that doesn't work for the most vulnerable of its users, and we will likely spend the next generation (if not longer) correcting that critical mistake. It's a fact often ignored in the (heated) bike lane debate, but perhaps the most compelling for building a minimum grid of safe, sensible, separated bike lanes. Giving our kids the freedom to roam their city without limits is - without a doubt - the greatest gift we can give them. But, even our beloved Vancouver is a long way from making that a reality, as most arterial roads remain unsafe for even adults to ride on. That is what motivates us to keep doing what we're doing. Not for our own benefit, but for that of our children.

Posted
AuthorChris Bruntlett
CategoriesMobility

This Christmas season I made my New Year's resolution a little early. We talk so often about how grateful we are to live in such a vibrant and connected neighbourhood, but once the holiday shopping season begins, like many, we default into old patterns of shopping online at multi-national chains, or taking the easier route and heading to the mall for a one stop shop. So I decided this year, I would break that habit, and begin to practice what I preach - and do the majority of my Christmas shopping for family and friends at local businesses, and support the thriving community where we live.

With a tight budget and busy schedules, it has certainly been a bit of a challenge, but I've remained resolute. My first day of shopping local took me on a walk down Commercial Drive, a hub of small, locally-owned businesses, on a very wet day in late November. To my surprise, aside from some wet feet, the task was much easier than I would have thought. I managed to knock off most of my list for Chris, as well as purchasing all the stocking stuffers for our children, an admittedly easy job at the amazing Dilly Dally Kids, which has everything I could possibly need for my five- and eight-year-old. When the shop first opened, I was so excited to have this little gem in our 'hood, and we are always hard-pressed to not stop in and have a peek at the latest stock. So I was more than thrilled to be able to spend a portion of our Christmas budget to help support this great small business. I ended shopping day one feeling so inspired, having not only nearly completed my shopping, but also supporting several local business in my neighbourhood.

For shopping day two, it was only fitting that I took the kids during a recent PD Day for a ride to pick up their present for Daddy by bicycle. We took a ride out to Granville Island on a sunny, albeit cold day, and spent some time searching for the perfect gift, and something they thought up all on their own. Once again, we found what we were looking for at a local business, and our #ShopByBike trip was a success, complete with some playtime at the park, and homemade hot chocolate when we got home. Since then, I've had a few more shopping days, and for each one, I've managed to keep the money as local as possible. 

The idea of shopping local isn't a new one, and many people succeed at it every day. It was important to me this season for a few reasons - being a small business owner myself, I know the struggles of making ends meet, but there was a larger reason for my choice. Too often we hear about shops, cafes and restaurants the surrounding community greatly values that suddenly shut their doors. Sometimes there are other motivating factors, but more often than not, it's because they just couldn't sustain themselves financially. Our family has come to truly value many of the local, mom-and-pop shops on The Drive, that if any of them were to close, it would be a great loss. But unless we frequent these shops regularly, then how can we get upset? After all, they need our support as much as we need them.

There are also some things local shops offer that no multinational ever could. Many local merchants make a point of carrying unique items that you can't find in larger stores, often from local manufacturers. So for me, that means my gift purchases are as unique as the people I am buying for. Then there's the interactions with the shop owners that could never be replicated at a big box store. From the friendly conversation with the owner while paying for my items, to the amazing level of service they provide, the experience of shopping local is unparalleled because the owners and staff truly appreciate you spending time and money supporting them. We recently wrote in Vancouver is Awesome about purchasing our Christmas tree at the local garden centre, Figaro's Garden, and the excellent service we received. That experience only added to the memories of the adventure of buying our tree by cargo bike, and is one we wouldn't have had had we opted for a tree from Superstore or IKEA.

After years of doing so myself, I completely understand how easy, convenient and sometimes necessary online and mall shopping can be. However, I am glad to have risen to the challenge this year, as I'm left with not only a sense of accomplishment, but the feeling that I have purchased some truly meaningful gifts for my husband and our children, which is a sentiment I'd be unlikely to feel as strongly otherwise. I have memories of smiling shop owners as excited about my purchases as I am, of searching through a tightly packed shop with my kids on the hunt for the perfect gift for their Dad, and the satisfaction of knowing almost each and every dollar we've spent has stayed in our community. The spirit of giving holds a new meaning, knowing that in a community where I feel I get so much in terms of happiness and quality of life, I was able to give back, even just a little, and help retain the vibrancy of the place we call home.

Posted
AuthorMelissa Bruntlett
CategoriesLifestyle