How this family of four transports themselves and $900 of Costco groceries — all on one bike
A Toronto professor, frustrated by car traffic on his drive to Costco, comes up with alternative transportation that’s cheaper and more fun.
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It began as a quixotic quest.
Derek Rayside, dedicated motorist and Queens Quay condo dweller, was exasperated by the stop-and-go-traffic on what should have been a breezy trip to Costco in south Etobicoke.
The supposed 15-minute journey could take triple that time.
He believed there had to be a better, more pleasant, way to make the monthly shopping expedition with his wife and two young children. This was three years ago during a massive Queens Quay makeover that made driving even worse but brought separated bike lanes.
So, in a moment of inspiration bordering on the Seussian, Rayside made it his mission to get his family — all four of them — on a single bike. Oh, and, at the same time, transport groceries that could total $900.
“Going to Costco to do your shopping is like the ultimate task in family transportation,” says the 42-year-old. “If we can shop at Costco by bike, we can do everything else by bike too.”
Rayside is the associate director of software engineering at the University of Waterloo so he’s accustomed to tricky problem solving.
He put his puzzler to work.
He made two shopping test rides to Costco on a single bike with his son Colin, now 7, in a child’s seat. The 13.5-kilometre trip was probably the longest he had ever made on two wheels. Rayside doesn’t consider himself a cyclist; he’s more of a “not good” hockey player.
While the cargo pushed his limits physically, Rayside discovered that the trip along the Martin Goodman Trail, north on Park Lawn Rd., across Manitoba St., north again on Royal York Rd. and then west on Queen Elizabeth Blvd., was very safe.
“We knew it was within the realm of the feasible, we just needed better technology,” he says.
Rayside contacted Ronald Onderwater, who has been making triple tandem bikes in Amsterdam for about a decade. Rayside asked him to modify the design, mainly adding an extension to the middle seat so his wife, Stephanie Xie, could ride there.
The base bike cost about $4,500, but Rayside said it replaces a family car, a 2000 Toyota which he was able to ditch in 2016.
“It costs dramatically less to operate,” he says. “It costs less to buy, less to park. Everything costs less.”
The Onderwater XL Triple Tandem arrived two years ago, but it required more tinkering for Rayside to achieve his goal.
The rise up and over the Gardiner Expressway on Royal York, insignificant to a single bike, was like a mountain for a cyclist moving about 275 kilograms. The bike itself, made of steel, Rayside says, is “extremely heavy.” He guesses it weighs around 50 kilograms.
“With two children, two adults plus groceries, any little bump is a hill,” he said.
So he worked with bike technicians in Vancouver, Oakville and at Toronto’s Biseagal to develop and install an electric assist on the bike. Rayside used the best parts he could get so that motor, equal to one horsepower, cost about $3,000. So with taxes, upgrades on the some accessories and a $500 trailer, it is a $10,000 investment.
Now the family does virtually everything downtown by bike including riding to hockey camp at Moss Park Arena — with sticks strapped to the chain guard — or getting the kids to Kung Fu classes in Chinatown.
Previous to the addition of the electric assist — running strictly on the pedal power of three people — the bike’s average speed was 14 km/h. Now it can motor along at about 20 km/h.
Though, Rayside says, “the guys in Lycra still go faster than us.”
On a recent Sunday, the family cut a striking image as they made their way to and from the Etobicoke store. Colin sat up front followed by Xie, who is 5-foot-4, then the lanky 6-foot-4 Rayside with Charlotte, 3, in a baby seat behind him. Rayside pilots the bike, doing the shifting, braking and steering.
The day’s groceries totalled $611.32 — down from the previous month’s $900 — with all of it fitting in the trailer except for two Lego advent calendars.
If the family made the ride non-stop it would take about 45 to 50 minutes, same as a car on a slow day. But, says Rayside, the family cycling adventure is much more fun, with stops to play, as they pedal along the waterfront or through quiet neighbourhoods.
Rayside is a passionate supporter of bike lanes and cycling because of both the health benefits for riders and economic advantages for a city. He believes the only way to reduce traffic congestion is to provide people with alternatives to driving.
Though he calls Toronto’s improvements for the cycling community “slow baby steps” he believes it is possible for families to use pedal power for most errands and outings.
Xie, a stem cell biologist, had never previously cycled — that’s why Rayside thought it safer for them both to be on the same bike — but she has come to love it.
“As a scientist, I’m often in places where there really are no windows, sitting in front of a computer,” she says. “So it’s really nice on the weekend to get out and about, get the fresh air and do what we need to do without ever getting into a car.”
Rayside uses his tandem all year. He has access to a car but only drives it about once a month for distant trips. For work, he takes a Greyhound bus to the University of Waterloo — two hours each way — while Xie, a researcher at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center, walks or takes transit.
Rayside said his unusual ride draws stares and when stopped, strangers often approach to ask him about it or take a photo.
“The bike brings a smile to everyone’s face,” says Rayside. “It’s a great way to connect with everyone in the city.”
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