This Barbie is riding a cargobike.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably seen my Cargobike Barbie photo – there’s a bit of a story to how that came about and why it is an important symbol to me.

I often find myself reflecting on the influences in my life. There were so many people that influenced me to drive less and ride more but, going further back, there were influences that made me into a driver.

One of the influences was toys, Barbie specifically. My sister and I had acquired a collection of Barbie toys from a girl who lived down the road and had grown out of them. Among them was a couple of Barbie Corvettes. Mine was a beautiful metallic purple one and I loved it (maybe this is where my love of shiny things comes from too). I remember telling my mum that I would own a Corvette when I could drive and I couldn’t wait to drive. To my mum’s credit, she suggested a Honda would be more affordable and fuel efficient.

Of course, that wasn’t the only influence. I spent a lot of time with my dad and he was a car guy – Chev/GM to be specific. He loved getting new vehicles and I swear at one point in my life he’d had more automobiles than I was years old. I didn’t realize it at the time but he educated me in car identification. He was always pointing out his favourite classic cars (Corvettes included) to me and little ways that you could tell one year from another. I don’t remember all of it but I learned enough that I have surprised my husband by accurately naming and dating classic random cars.

Car dependency was also a natural part of my growing up but I won’t get into that here other than to say it wasn’t uncommon for my parents to have a round-trip 40-60 km commute.

One of the first vehicles I ever drove was my dad’s SUV and my dream shifted from having a sports car to an SUV. Another influence was my Auntys. I remember when a couple of them got SUVs and how proud they were of their new vehicles – it reinforced my desire to have my own SUV one day.

My first cars were hand-me-downs from my parents (an old station wagon that leaked and didn’t lock and then a little S-10 pick-up truck – now that was a handy and fuel-efficient little truck). Once I had a well-paying job I got an SUV because, based on what had been modelled for me, that was what you do when you can “afford” it. We had also just moved out of the city to a neighbourhood with very few amenities close by further necessitating more driving but because I had grown up without giving a second thought to car dependence, the problems with that didn’t cross my mind until we lived there for a while.

Riding a bike had always been a part of my life. I rode to school and friends’ houses as a child. I used it to get around during my university days when the expense of car ownership was out of the question and, even after owning a car, I’d still use it to ride to work sometimes or for leisurely weekend rides. That was when I started to realize how bike-unfriendly it was where I lived and I started connecting with more people who got around by bike.

From that point on I had different influences in my life and I began to learn the problems with driving an SUV all the time (especially as a single-occupant vehicle). This didn’t align with my values for the kind of person I wanted to be, so I began my transition to a car-light lifestyle. It took a while, partly because I had so much invested in that SUV (it was hard to let it go knowing how much money I’d be losing) and partly because where I lived was a very car-dependent area. Mine was a gradual transition. The e-bike was a huge barrier remover, enabling me to ride more and getting the cargobike was when I felt I could do most everything by bike and finally free myself from my SUV.

This is why it’s important to me to be a different, positive, influence for the littles in my life. I want them to know there are options and that it’s possible to live a car-light or car-free life – before they lock themselves into a lifestyle that can be difficult to get out of.

Of course, they see me riding my bike pretty much every time we are together but when the holidays rolled around I couldn’t help but notice how car-centric children’s toys are – not to mention be disturbed by how the brand marketing starts at such a young age.

My niece was getting into Barbies a couple of years ago and she asked for a house for Christmas. I looked at the Barbie branded one online and it looked like cheap plastic that would just end up in the landfill in a couple of years. So I was thrilled to find a beautiful used wooden doll house (that I brought home by cargobike). A friend found some used dolls and furniture for sale – included with the lot was a Jeep. I wanted to get away from car-marketing in toys, for obvious reasons, so I donated the Jeep and found a used (close enough to Barbie-sized) ice cream trike for sale. I redecorated it so that it wasn’t so obviously an ice cream bike but a cargotrike for transportation. I even set a dog up front, just like how I could often be seen travelling at the time. The gift turned out exactly as I had envisioned it and it meant a lot to me given my experience with influential toys – which is why I used that image on my social profiles. It felt like my own little protest against car culture.

Every year now I make an effort to find bikes for the toys/toy sets that I give them. I was staying up there a few months ago and they were playing with a Playmobil camping set and everyone was using their bikes to get around. I couldn’t help but smile to hear it.

Who knows how they’ll get around as they grow up. Obviously, I’ll love them no matter how they choose to get around. I can only control what I do and as long as I feel like I’m being a positive role model in their lives, then I feel I’ve done my Aunty job right.

What, or who, were your transportation influence(r)s?

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