The Southwick Family Instills a Love of Cycling

The Southwick Family commutes regularly.
The Southwick Family commutes regularly.

By Ashley Patterson

To the readers of the commuter column, I wish to introduce Ashley Patterson as the new co-writer. Ashley was the first bike commuter to be profiled in the July 2004 edition of Cycling Utah. She now comes back to profile others in our quest to highlight bike commuting.

Ashley was the owner of the Green Building Center when she was profiled in 2004. She is now the Outreach Coordinator in the Office of Sustainability at the University of Utah. She still commutes nearly everyday and like me, she is a member of a one car family. In addition she uses her bike for errands and for a bike touring vacation once or twice a year. In the seven years since being featured in Cycling Utah she has seen an increase in bike commuters, especially single-speeders. Ashley feels that Cycling Utah deserves a “bunch of credit” for the increase. She will now be putting her passion into the column to inspire others to bike commute and to give encouragement to those that are currently commuting.

-Lou Melini

What motivates us to get up and ride to work everyday? Why do some teens love to ride their bikes for transportation while others wouldn’t touch a bike with a ten foot pole? Megan Southwick believes that getting kids used to a bike from their earliest days is the key to instilling a love of cycling and bike commuting. When I asked her daughters, Kate, and Ruby Southwick, ages 5, and 6, respectively, what they like about cycling, they both answered a definitive “I don’t know.” Hmmm…stay tuned for another ten or twenty years to see if it was the fact that Megan hauled them in the bike trailer or on a child seat mounted on the rear of her bike pretty much since their births. The jury is still out on how it will work out over the long haul; however, it’s clear that the main reason they like riding their bikes is because it’s fun. That’s one of the best reasons to jump on a steed every day and ride to work, school or play and certainly one that will keep any of us doing it.

Over the short haul, though, it’s clear that the entire Southwick family are all enthusiastic bike commuters. Andy is a urologist at the University of Utah Hospital and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital and literally rides to work every day; rain, shine or snow, Andy leaves his house at 6:30 am for the 20 minute commute from their house at 15th and 15th to the University Hospital. He has rain gear and wears his ski clothes in the snow. When asked what motivates him to ride, he responds, “I ride for the exercise and the parking. Parking sucks at the U and I don’t like to drive.” He rides between the VA and the U of U hospital and says it is noticeably quicker to travel via bike than to drive. He rides an old hardtail mountain bike with a front shock and no fenders. “I wear rain gear that can get wet. I change into scrubs at the hospital and there is a shower if I need it.” When asked about riding in the snow, Andy scoffs at the suggestion that it’s intimidating. “Fresh tracks are stable. I leave at 6:30 in the morning and can usually get fresh tracks in the powder, and it’s not that slick.” Maybe all of us should go to work a little earlier on those snowy mornings to take advantage of the fresh tracks! While he admits his short, 20 minute commute isn’t a lot of exercise, he says, “It’s better than nothing and that’s the alternative for me with my job if I want to spend time with my family, which I do.” Wise words we should all take to heart. At the end of the day he more or less spins home down the hill, and while it’s not much, it’s enough to take the edge off his day. The bike offers a nice transition from an intense workspace to the chaos of home with two small children.

Megan and the girls are less regular than Andy with their commutes to school, but are a whole lot more entertaining. The typical vehicle is the Big Dummy, (also known to the girls as the Big Bummy), an Xtracycle that allows them to ride on the back. They both also have their own bikes, which they enjoy riding short distances. They don’t generally ride in inclement weather as Megan is keen on the idea of them enjoying themselves on a bike. “I feel like the kids and I are not necessarily “model bike commuters”, but we’re working toward teaching them that cycling to get places is what we consider normal.” They generally ride to the movies, out to breakfast, to get an ice cream cone, or down to the Sugarhouse Farmers’ Market as well as to school during nice weather. She points out that they are really proud when they see their friends driving to school while they are whipping along on the back of the Big Dummy. Ruby likes to try to race her car-entrapped friends on the bike and on her day to run the carpool, Megan will often load three kids on the Big Dummy. When they have a friend along, Kate and Ruby will put the friend in the middle to make her or him feel more secure.

Megan feels that riding a bike on short outings with the kids to go out to breakfast or another outing makes it feel more like an adventure to all of them. They get home after the outing and everyone feels great because they’ve gotten a little exercise on their bikes. However, she points out that it is important to be realistic about how long they can cope with being on the bike. Twenty or thirty minutes is okay; forty-five minutes is too long. But as they ride, the girls often remark, “We’re not polluting the air today, Mom!” which makes her realize how she’s getting across to them the personal accountability for pollution.

In addition, Megan wants to teach her daughters about the freedom associated with bicycling and that it isn’t necessary to drive a car to get places. With a bike, it’s possible to go virtually anywhere and she wants her daughters embracing the concept of bicycling as being akin to freedom and mobility. “We can go so much further afield than walking, so it expands our range without needing the car” she says.

So keep your eyes out for the Southwick family riding their own bikes to Sugarhouse or the VA Hospital or on the back of the Big Dummy. The whole gang can tell you about the fun of bike commuting.


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