A Biking Family Across Generations

by Chrystal Walsh

The truck camper was loaded up with their bicycles and a canoe. My grandparents traveled by air perhaps only three times in their lives, but from their Massachusetts home they knew the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida well. A dog-eared book of maps moved between their vehicle and home, and my grandmother documented their travels, tracking fuel prices, campground rates and favorite camp sites, and where and how far they biked or canoed. Sadly these log books were thrown away during my grandmother’s Alzheimers, but some photos remain with handwritten notes on the back showing the sites and people they visited. Their appreciation for adventure, nature, and exercise lives on in me, an occasional participant in their journeys.

My mother, my grandparent’s youngest daughter, became a paraplegic at age 19 from a car accident. Gender, generation, and handicap limitations definitely impacted my mom’s life story, and my dad, well that’s a whole other blog. But as a child, I helped my mom reach things on the grocery store shelves and was allowed to ride my bicycle solo into town to get basic necessities and a candy or Slush Puppie treat for myself. 

Outside of a cousin having to teach me how to ride a bike, my childhood bicycling experience was what I consider traditional. Riding to a friend’s house, bicycling to my first job at a local seafood restaurant, and occasionally riding a round trip 6 miles to my grandparent’s to swim in their in-ground pool. I wasn’t much of an athlete and after college and a move to the Bay Area of California, I would bicycle to the train station for work, until theft took its toll. Two bikes later I switched to walking.

Fast forward 20 years and I am married and balancing the needs of my children, aging relatives, and work. I had been living in Western Pennsylvania, in my husband’s hometown, with a long car commute for work in Pittsburgh. Exercise was at the bottom of my to-do list, but Covid changed everything. Daily walks became a part of our new family routine and soon we decided to try bicycling a 50-mile rail trail spread out over several weeks. We were hooked on cycling as a fun family activity!

My husband, in fact, has a deep bicycling history. He and his brother were BMX fans riding Redlines and Haros in the 80’s and 90’s. His parents often hosted groups of teen boys at their home on the homemade halfpipe and back in the day his Haro Team Master and Team Fuji were top of the line. Over his various jobs he has often commuted by bicycle in Marin County, Los Angeles, and Montreal - always buying a different used bike to ride from an SE Pixie and SE Fixie-Floval-Flyer to a 26” Eastern BMX bike. He now seeks fun bicycles for our children to ride and has encouraged us that we can ride far!

We moved back to my childhood home in August and a fundraising job opportunity popped up at MassBike. I initially thought “I’m not a cyclist” but the note that spandex wasn’t necessary reassured me. I welcomed the staff and board’s embrace of all levels of cycling. My short trips running errands and weekend rides with the family make me part of the bicycle movement.

The most significant piece of my current bicycle routine is accompanying my daughter to her elementary school. A hybrid schedule made cycling during the long winter months very achievable at just two days a week. The return to a five day schedule in spring is perfectly aligned with the warmer season.

We’re bucking trends because my daughter’s school is lacking a bike-rack and she has to leave her bicycle leaning against a tree. We have just one other student who occasionally bikes with us, but I hope that all those parents idling in cars to pick up their kids will consider their own commute. School routines are often built around car culture, and I’m still figuring out the best way to communicate with staff at pick-up with so much traffic. 

All-in-all we’re sticking with local bicycling and adding exercise, fresh air, and Massachusetts exploration into our lives. My grandparents would approve! (And I think they both would have loved using Strava on the East Coast Greenway.)

About Chrystal Walsh

Chrystal is MassBike's Development Coordinator. She remembers getting a shoelace wrapped around her bicycle crank as a child and still warns kids about that today. Currently, Chrystal runs errands by bicycle, accompanies her daughter on the school route, and rides rail trails with her family. Her nonprofit development career started in 1999 with Mother Jones magazine and she has worked in public broadcasting/media and health & human service organizations leading individual, corporate, and foundation giving. 


To contribute your own personal biking story to be published on the MassBike website, contact [email protected]  

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  • Charlie Philbrook
    This is great Chrystal!
  • Chrystal Walsh