Living the Car-Free Life


Shambra Jennings' ride gets more than a few second glances outside the Monon Coffee Company in Broad Ripple. Her tricked-out Yuba,

tethered to a bike rack, musters admiring comments as she nurses an iced tea

and talks about what it's like to live car-free.

In a city that's becoming

increasingly bike-friendly, it's no surprise to see cordons of spoked vehicles chained to racks outside coffee shops,

restaurants and grocery stores. More and more Indianapolis residents are making

the bicycle their vehicle of choice.

But few have dumped their

autos for monogamous bike relationships. And even fewer are families with young

children. Shambra and her husband, James, have a

fleet of bicycles, but there's no room in the garage — or their lives

— for a car.

The family travels by

bike to and from work, the grocery, play dates, the park, band practice,

museums and even baseball games at Victory Field — year-round, 24/7, rain

or shine.

Steering clear of cars

Shambra and James have never been car people. When the two met about 10

years ago, they both lived directly on bus routes — back when bus fare

was 75 cents a trip. Both grew up in small Indiana towns (Shambra

in Center Point, James in Richmond) where cars were a necessity.

"We both moved to

the city hoping for a more community experience," recalls Shambra. "My husband and I have never been big fans of

the oil industry, so when we moved to the city, riding the bus was a big part

of it. Neither of us owned a car."

After the two married,

they continued their lives sans autos, until their twins, Claire and Paul, were

born. "We tried our best to stick with public transportation," says Shambra.

But with all the

accompanying infant paraphernalia — times two — it was too taxing,

she says, so they bought a used car.

The car may have made

things easier for the new parents, but Shambra

recalls, "It put our lives on a downward spiral. The car

was expensive to upkeep, it constantly needed work.

Gasoline was outrageous. It was surprising how our carefully budgeted life was

falling apart."

Cold turkey

Then, when the twins were

2 years old, the car was stolen. As the couple tried to find a car they could

afford, they drove a loaner from Shambra's sister.

And all the same negatives they'd suffered with their own car became constant

passengers in the borrowed vehicle, as well.

According to Shambra, "We found that we spent more time at stores

and in restaurants. There was fighting in the back seat. It affected our

health, too. We were buying more fast food, and gained weight. And it always

felt as if we had no time."

The couple made the

dramatic decision to kick the car habit cold turkey. They returned the vehicle to

Shambra's sister, and relied solely on their bicycles

— with the occasional bus trip — for transportation.

The Jennings' transition

to a no-car household hasn't always been a smooth ride. Meetings with teachers

sometimes require a taxi trip, and some destinations necessitate circuitous

routes because of road dangers.

But they've found that

the challenges that keep most of us from embracing the bike lifestyle —

traveling with children, carrying groceries, time overload, weather — are

easily surmountable and sometimes even preferred.

Bringing home the groceries

First, thanks to their

Yuba cargo bikes, it's no problem to strap both kids, now eight years old, on

the back carrier and pedal off to the market — with plenty of room to

carry home the groceries. "My bike will hold the kids and as many bags as

I used to fit into the trunk of our old car," Shambra


And James, who plays in

the band Carnosaur, can strap his amp on one side and

drums on the other and head off for practice on the city's Eastside.

Admittedly, it took them

a couple of iterations of bikes before they found the best for their lifestyle.

When the kids were smaller, they used a cart, then a tandem. James, described

by his wife as a gearhead, researched all the options

before the two settled on the Yubas as their optimal


"Cargo bikes are

relatively rare here [in Indy]," Shambra says. "They're

used a lot more in Europe and other areas of the U.S. where the bike movement

is strong."

They ordered the Yubas from California and turned to the Bike Line in Broad

Ripple to put them together. The Longtail model with

the back cargo area extends two feet longer than a standard bike and carries

500 pounds of cargo. The Jennings added a host of components, upping their

purchase from a just over $1,000 for the basic model to $3,000, to optimize

their utility.

But their decision to

live where they live — Rocky Ripple — has been a critical part of

their bike-style success.

Picking the right locale

"We made a conscious

choice to be in the center of the activities we need access to. We try to stay

local," she says. James works at Kincaid Meats at 56th and Illinois; they

shop at Kroger and Good Earth in Broad Ripple.

With easy access to the

Canal Towpath and the Monon Trail, they're able to

travel Downtown and as far as Fountain Square for

family outings. They can schedule play dates at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

or Broad Ripple Park.

The Jennings make exceptions, however, when safety demands. Claire and

Paul ride a bus to school, and because the route to their school near Kessler

and Michigan Road presents all sorts of traffic hazards, Shambra

takes the bus to parent-teacher meetings. They keep an emergency cash stash at

home for taxis for the occasional pickup of a sick kid or a bike breakdown.

Shambra stresses that although they've happily adapted to their

two-wheel lifestyle, it's not necessarily a ride in the park. "You can't

do this with a family without looking ahead and planning your travels. Proper

gear is also critical."

But she insists that it

doesn't require expensive or high-tech: "Keep it practical. Accessories

are accessories and necessities are necessities."

For the Jennings,

necessities include reflective vests, lights, good headgear, and items as basic

as water bottles and rain ponchos. Nice to have are rain-resistant pants and

jackets, goggles to protect against precipitation, reinforced shoes that make

for easier pedaling, and various saddle, trunk and handle-bar bags.

Raising bike-wise children

Proper gear and good

planning are important components of safe cycling. Dangers include everything

from blind intersections and shoulder-less streets to road-raging drivers.

Years ago, James was even shot at.

"There are drivers

who do believe that cyclists should not be on the road," Shambra says. "When I have my children with me, people

are clearly more cautious with me and I'm grateful for that. But there have

been many situations when I or my husband have been

alone without kids, and people aren't as cautious.

"Some locations are

worse than others," she adds.


such as the intersection at Kessler and Westfield. "For some reason, that

intersection is incredibly notorious for drivers to just turn pell-mell without

any regard. My bike has been hit, my trailer has been hit, and I've been in

near collisions at that intersection more than any other place in Indianapolis."

Teaching their kids to be

good bike citizens is a priority. Although both children have their own bikes,

to date, Claire and Paul never ride alone outside their immediate


"Paul is already

begging us, 'Can I please go to Kroger by myself?' Not gonna

happen," Shambra says. "But we've been told

that tandems and now the Yuba are one of the best ways to teach a child the

rules. They see you making the hand signals, they see you wearing the helmet, they see you riding on the side of the road. The kids make

hand signals along with us, they're involved in it as

much as possible. I'm excited for the day that I can say, 'Yes, you can ride

your own bike to Broad Ripple alongside me.' But it's not today."

As the kids get older,

the Jennings recognize that the city's bike scene is

maturing, too.

"We've been growing

alongside the family bike movement in Indy," Shambra

says. "We're starting to see more carts and tandems. You can pick up any

major bike magazine, and there is almost always some article about our city. We

give a lot of props to [Indianapolis mayor Greg] Ballard. We've been on a

couple of sponsored bike rides, and he's always there."

A case for the bicycle


barriers to car-less living for most people are viewed as benefits by Shambra and James. Take

weather: "It's nice to be touched by the rain rather than running away

from it. And if you're working as hard as you can carrying 125 pounds of cargo,

it can even be refreshing."

Or physical demands: "I

don't have a gym membership because I don't need one. Going to the grocery

store is a workout for me."

Or time. Sure, travel for

outings to the Children's Museum, Victory Field, and other city landmarks may

take longer, but it brings a broader dimension to quality family time. "When

we're on our bikes, we're talking about the things we see, we're talking about

what we're doing, we're talking about everything that's around us. We're

actually communicating with each other. It may take 30 minutes to get there

versus 15 minutes, but the ride is half the fun. It's part of the adventure."

And then there's the

environmental component. "I don't even know how much gas costs right now,"

Shambra says. "It's just not on my radar. Our

infrastructure is set up for cars. But when someone decides to pursue this

lifestyle, they're deciding it's what's better for their children, better for

their community, and better for the environment.

"It's not just apersonaldecision. It's going to

improve quality of life, but also quality of life for entire community over

time. I can't think of anything more inspiring than not being a slave to the

oil industry, which is causing havoc all over the planet."


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