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Riding With the Schwanks

Temecula resident carries his three kids around town in a "bucket bike"

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
Issue 28, Volume 15.
Paul Gallaher
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A few weeks ago, I joined Temecula resident Zak Schwank for a couple bicycle rides around town. My legs nearly gave out on the steep hills as I struggled to keep up. I wouldn't have been too embarrassed if Zak hadn't been towing some extra weight: his three kids.

Last year, Zak and his wife, Jennifer, decided to sell one of their cars and focus on getting around by bike, a challenge with young children. After some research, they purchased a Madsen cargo bike, which would allow Zak to transport all three kids, including 8-month-old Owen, to and from school, soccer practice, grocery stores, doctor offices and more. Zak, who cares for the kids full time, estimates he now rides 80 miles per week on the "bucket bike" while Jennifer teaches at a local elementary school.

"There're people who think we're insane," says Zak of family and friends. Others are very supportive and many are surprised because they hadn't considered the possibility of getting around motor-less.

As far as reactions from drivers, Zak says some people don't understand that he is legally allowed to ride in the street. He's been yelled and honked at. Some motorists freeze up and block traffic when they see him.

"I'm just trying to get somewhere, just like everybody else," he says.

The Schwanks plan to continue their cycling lifestyle well into the future. As the kids grow, Zak says he will experiment with tandem bikes and other solutions. Eventually they will be able to ride on their own. Emily, 7, already pedals her own bike on shorter rides and Jack, 4, can last a couple miles on his single-speed two-wheeler.

Zak posts regularly about cycling on his Twitter page. You can connect with him at



Comment Profile ImageMel
Comment #1 | Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011 at 9:50 pm
Minimalism rocks....stud!
Comment Profile ImageSara
Comment #2 | Thursday, Jul 14, 2011 at 8:36 am
Love this! We are a three-kid cargo biking family, as well, here in New Haven, CT. Thanks, Paul, for featuring this story and thanks, Zak, for sharing yours.

By the way, Zak, we have the Dinosaur-on-a-Bike t-shirt also (& many other tees from darkcycleclothing from Etsy).

Comment Profile ImageRobin Orner
Comment #3 | Thursday, Jul 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm
Go Zac Go! Great story Gallaher!
Comment Profile ImageTNowack
Comment #4 | Friday, Jul 15, 2011 at 7:15 am
Comment Profile ImageJulie
Comment #5 | Friday, Jul 15, 2011 at 7:55 am
Coolest dad ever!
Comment Profile ImageZak
Comment #6 | Friday, Jul 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm
Thanks all!!!! And thanks for hanging with us Paul.

Sara, That is my favorite shirt! Cargo biking families rule! ;)
Comment Profile ImageRick Peoples
Comment #7 | Wednesday, Jul 20, 2011 at 9:05 am
Very cool Zak. I still have a Polaroid of my oldest son asleep in a bike seat while I'm pedaling. (Some guy driving by thought it was so cool he shot photos out the window and then stopped me to give me a print). Steven's 30 now and pedaling his son around in a trailer. I will post your video over at Bicycle Temecula. Madsen would love to have it too, no doubt.
Comment Profile Image:0)
Comment #8 | Wednesday, Jul 20, 2011 at 10:28 am
Love it!! What a great example for your kids!! But be careful out there, my son just got his lerners permit!! haha!!
Comment Profile Imageobserver
Comment #9 | Saturday, Jul 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm
Why isn't DAD wearing a helmet too?
Comment Profile ImageZak
Comment #10 | Sunday, Jul 31, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Thanks Rick! I bet you cherish that photo. :)

@ ~ :0) I'll keep an eye out for your son.

@ observer ~ The helmet debate is a big one. Some believe that a helmet is a must and others believe it is your personal choice. I think there is a time and place for a helmet. Riding under 10mph with my kids is not one of them for me. I do wear a helmet if I am racing or mountain biking. Other than that I typically don't wear a helmet. Unfortunately we have been lead to believe that riding a bike is inherently dangerous. That certainly isn't the case. I wonder how we got to that point? Driving a car is certainly dangerous, yet we don't wear helmets…we don't even make our kids wear them in a car. I could go on and on, but ultimately I think that personal choice should prevail in the great helmet debate.
Comment Profile ImagePaul Gallaher
Comment #11 | Monday, Aug 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm
@ observer: Zak didn't mention this, but I joined him for several rides and he wore a helmet every time. The one exception was the ride that ended up in the video. By accident, his daughter's helmet was left at home when he went to pick her up from school. He gave her his own helmet to wear instead, which is why he appears helmetless.
Comment Profile ImageZak
Comment #12 | Tuesday, Aug 2, 2011 at 7:33 am
Paul is right. I did wear my helmet on the rides we went on. We forgot my daughter's helmet once on our way to pick her up. I really wanted this piece to show, and I think it does, how easy it is to ride around town with your kids. With or without a helmet it is still easy and safe.
Comment Profile
Comment #13 | Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm
Kudos to you and your family! What kind of electric assist do you have on the Madsen? Also, where did you get the electrified Madsen?

Comment Profile ImageZak
Comment #14 | Sunday, Dec 18, 2011 at 9:48 pm
Thanks! We have a BionX on the Madsen. Had to add it after we bought the bike. They don't sell an electric version of the Madsen. Fairly easy install. Gotta love cargo bikes! :)

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