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Raising Confident, Independent Girls By Biking More And Driving Less

Last June, Phoebe Wolfe Lyons decided to participate in the Santa Barbara Triathlon — her first experience with such an event. No matter that she had never swum in the ocean before. No matter that she was only eight.

Luckily for Phoebe, her mother Mindy had been in several triathlons and knew that some amount of training was called for. “The first question that went through my mind was how to train an eight-year-old to swim a quarter mile in the ocean with no other experience,” Mindy says. “I told her we’d have to start training in order to get comfortable in the water and that we’d need to practice riding our bikes.”

As an intentional one-car family that prefers biking to driving, all of the Wolfe Lyons, including Mindy’s husband, Graham, and younger daughter, Harper, have had plenty of opportunities to hone their bike riding skills.

Fourteen years ago, Mindy and Graham, both attorneys, decided that they didn’t want to waste a significant portion of their day commuting in a car. They chose downtown Santa Barbara as home so that they could work close to where they live, and in the years since, they’ve continued to make conscious decisions to limit the amount of time they have to spend in their Ford Flex.

“Being mindful about what activities you choose to do is what it comes down to,” Mindy says. “If you choose to do a workout class in Goleta, you’ve got to drive to that. If you choose to join an ice hockey team in Ventura, you have to drive there. Do we let our lack of wanting to drive everywhere curb our activities? You bet. Do we feel like our kids are missing out? No. We lead full, happy lives.”

Most days, Mindy works from her home office, and Graham either walks or bikes to work. On his way home in the evening, he values the extra moments that these slower modes of transportation give him to decompress, reflect on his day, and mentally prepare to re-enter their active home with 6-year-old and 9-year-old daughters.

Like many young kids, Phoebe and Harper love hopping on their bikes, and Mindy and Graham have tried to cultivate that enthusiasm. “We’ve shown them pictures of people biking all around the world. We’re teaching them that anywhere you go, there’s likely to be a bike, and you can get anywhere you want. We’ve talked about adventurous people who have biked across countries, and they’re learning how to be confident and smart on a bike so that they can get from A to Z safely.”

Still, it isn’t always smooth pedaling. About once every three months, Mindy and Graham notice a need for a second car. Usually, an extra bike ride or two can solve the problem. However, when their car broke down recently and left Mindy stranded, Graham had to borrow a car from a friend to bring her home.

But for the Wolfe Lyons, the benefits of being a one-car family surpass the few inconveniences that arise. In addition to a deeper appreciation for generous friends, they believe they know their neighbors and neighborhood better because they’re not always getting in their car and driving away. They’re out in the world, not detached from it.

And there’s no question in Mindy’s mind that Phoebe’s experience and comfort on the bike helped out with the triathlon. “She did amazing, and at the end of the race, she felt so strong and accomplished. She’s learned that biking can be a part of being healthy and still fun.”

When they do need a car—for road trips or for Saturday soccer practices in Goleta—it’s waiting in the driveway, with less mileage and wear and tear on it than it would have otherwise.

After this many years, deciding whether to bike or drive is second nature for Mindy and her family. But that’s an attitude they’ve earned over the years, and she recognizes that. For those looking to make the #driveless commitment, Mindy has these words of advice:

“Start simply. Don’t just sell your car and jump on a bike. If you’re not comfortable on a bike, take a few training classes, and then try to be car-free for a day at a time. Think about how to arrange your day so that you don’t need a car. For example, make Tuesdays a no-car day and see what that would look like.”

Got daughters inspired by Phoebe’s grit? The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (SB Bike) is partnering with Girls Inc. for a Summer Triathlon Training Camp from June 16 through August 22, 2014. They also teach free classes to people of all ages every other month aimed at creating more confident cyclists in the region through their project, Bici Centro–a community DIY bicycle repair shop and education center. The next round of classes that include learning basic bike maintenance, bike handling skills, and participating in a group ride begin in early July. (Alternatively, you can contact the program’s Education Director to take or organize a private class with qualified cycling instructors at any time.)

The Wolfe Lyons know to take advantage of SB Bike’s classes, too. Most recently, Phoebe and Graham took on a project together at Bici Centro rebuilding a recycled bike so Phoebe could better learn the ins and outs of bike construction and maintenance. She also got to pick out new handle bar grips and break cables to customize her bike to her favorite color, lime green.

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