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
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
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
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
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
"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."