Jesse the Human Engine


Jesse and Angie Ross and their two daughters are a one-car family. In January, they traded their SUV for an SUB. The family rides bikes to the store, church and for family fun.

The Costco Haul: 2 kids; 6 lbs of apples; 4 lbs of strawberries; A case of beer; 2 gallons of milk; 3 bottles of juice; 2 dozen eggs; 3 lbs of bananas; 2 lbs of coffee; 1.5 ml bottle of wine; 3 3-lb tubs of cottage cheese; 5-lbs of ground meat; 2 large bottles of Hershey syrup; Box of Boca burgers; Rotisserie chicken. (Photo by Angie Ross)

The Costco Haul: 2 kids; 6 lbs of apples; 4 lbs of strawberries; A case of beer; 2 gallons of milk; 3 bottles of juice; 2 dozen eggs; 3 lbs of bananas; 2 lbs of coffee; 1.5 ml bottle of wine; 3 3-lb tubs of cottage cheese; 5-lbs of ground meat; 2 large bottles of Hershey syrup; Box of Boca burgers; Rotisserie chicken. (Photo by Angie Ross)

Jesse’s vehicle is a Madsen Bucket bike. I asked him how he chose the Madsen. “We were looking at the Xtracycle and the Yuba Mundo when we came across it on Google.” The price was good and the bucket holds a lot of stuff, plus has seats and seat belts for kids. He’s done some work on it and plans to do more mechanical tweaking, but he really likes it. He uses it to bring their two daughters home from daycare/preschool every day, and to haul mind-boggling loads from Costco and Home Depot.

Robert Seidler and I had the pleasure of joining Jesse for his commute home on Monday. We met him at Colonial High School, where he teaches. Getting to Colonial High was a challenge. It’s a poster child for the metro area’s lack of connectivity—isolated from anything resembling a useful grid in the southeastern corner of Colonial Dr. (SR50) and Semoran Blvd. (SR436).

Possibilities on display

Possibilities on display

The kind of teacher you never forget

Mr. Ross is teaching more than high school English. His Madsen sits on display in front of his classroom every day—a silent symbol of freedom and possibilities. His enthusiasm for utility cycling is infectious. It can’t help but make a positive impact on his students.

“I have such a great life!”

Jesse rides to work early in the morning, enjoying an exhilarating workout. He showers at school, parks his bike in his classroom and begins his workday happy and refreshed. Later in the morning, Angie drops one daughter off at her nearby school and the other at the high school’s daycare, which happens to be right outside Jesse’s classroom window.

parents in cars

After school, Jesse does a quick change into shorts and a T-shirt, picks up 2-year-old Vivi, and rides to  5-year-old Sofie’s school. We rode past the endless line of idling cars, went right into the walk-in entrance, picked up Sofie and then rode past the rest of the line (until we got to the parking lot where it was more prudent to queue up for the exit).

The girls are adorable and clearly love this form of transportation! As we rode away from the preschool, Sofie extolled the benefits of human transportation.


click for map

Click for map. (What the satellite doesn't show is that the whole area is under construction to turn that intersection into an interchange and widen Colonial to six lanes.)

I was most curious to see how Jesse solved the connectivity problem. Robert and I had quite an adventure getting there (a topic for its own post). I have a hard time getting out of the Home Depot on that corner with a car! To go north, as Jesse does, the connectivity issue could be solved with a traffic light at Tucker Ave. and SR50 (it’s nearly impossible to cross there without one, even in a car). You can see his solution here.

Jesse has discovered the power of gaps. He uses  an eastbound gap to cross to the median (which, at the moment, is a dirt construction zone). He then waits for a gap in the westbound lanes, turns left and controls the right lane for 450 feet and turns right onto a quiet street. (He uses 436 on his way to work and tried it with the girls, but they didn’t like it — it’s hot, loud and the cars kick up construction dirt.)

A few cars caught up and passed us courteously in the left lane as we rode on Colonial. Another waited behind in the right lane, to make a right turn at the street just beyond where we turned. Jesse noted that drivers seem extra careful and considerate when the girls are in the bucket. Every one we encountered was patient and considerate. When we were waiting for the light at Old Cheney and 436, the driver of a minivan behind us leaned out and chatted with me for a moment about how cute the girls are and gave Jesse a big thumbs-up.

Robert Seidler runs video as Jesse fills water bottles on the Cady Way trail. Video footage will be used in several projects we are doing for FBA.

Robert Seidler runs video as Jesse fills water bottles on the Cady Way trail. Video footage will be used in several projects we are doing for FBA.

A community amenity

Jesse handles himself like a pro in traffic. He’s benefited from watching Dual Chase videos. But a wonderful feature of his commute is that most of it is on the Cady Way trail. In May, he and Angie bought a house in Winter Park near the trail. Imagine taking your kids for a ride on the trail on the way home from work!

Not just quality of life, an entirely different kind of life

Jesse never liked driving a car. It made him feel stressed out, impatient and bored — just trying to get there and being obstructed by all the other motorists just trying to get there. He’s discovered that biking to work not only increases his enjoyment of the journey, it actually saves him time!

“No matter what, I never got out of the house in less than an hour,” he says of when he used to drive to work. Then he had to sit in traffic in his car. Now he gets up, makes coffee, loads the bike, fills the travel mug and is out the door in 15 minutes. It takes him 25 minutes to get to work and 15 minutes to shower, shave and change. So, “in less time than it used to take me to get out the door, I’ve had my coffee, a good workout, a shower and I’m at work and feeling great!”

Jesse chats with Sofia about her day at school

Jesse chats with Sofie about her day at school

He’s getting quality time with his daughters from the moment he gets off work and he has the freedom and satisfaction of not being dependent on a car with all its associated stresses. That is a different kind of life.

“I am an Engine”

That’s the title of a beautiful poem he is writing for his daughters. He read a few verses of for Robert and me and hope he’ll share it with you here when it is finished.

Jesse is not just the engine of his vehicle, he’s an engine of the changing traffic culture.

30 replies
  1. rodney
    rodney says:

    I’m the ENGINE of my vehicle too! Kudos to Jesse for having such an open minded and macro point of view.

    I too, feel much relaxed after riding to/from work, of course the shower helps some. 😀

    Nice work on “getting around” the connectivity issue, especially for such an already (and soon to be more) congested area.

  2. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Does that bucket fill up with water when it rains? Is this a better solution than a trailor? They sound like they’ve thought all this out very carefully.

  3. Joe Ross
    Joe Ross says:

    Jesse is my brother, I used to worry about his safety tremendously and for obvious reasons. People don’t pay attention to bicyclists and even when they do, they get upset that they are taking up the road and their time. For a short period of time last year, I rode my bike to work. It was a fraction of the distance he travels everyday but I understand the safety issues. I would commute down central Florida parkway, crossover John Young and head west towards I-4. Nearly 80% of this ride was without sidewalks or bike paths. Drivers have no patience for bicyclists, I remember more than a few times which I was honked at or someone would yell something and rev their engine as they passed simply because I was riding home in the right hand side of the road. Some drivers completely disregarded me and flew passed me at nearly 20 miles over the speed limit. Quite frightening. Though I am not commuting on bike presently, this experience coupled with the courageousness of my brother, the engine- has given me a new respect for the bicycle commuter. It is so great on so many levels. It’s definitely great for the environment being one less carbon emitter on the road. It’s great exercise and it also helps in a sense that it creates a sort of domino effect, it inspires other drivers to do the same. Whether it’s motivated by physical fitness of environmental awareness, it’s a great thing and I am proud of Jesse and everyone else for that matter, for being a catalyst for change.

  4. Chad
    Chad says:

    I love how the bucket was filled up with kids and 70% booze. I was a little unsure if the seatbelts were there for the young ones or the wine? Joking of course. Great article. Jesse is an engine of virtue.

  5. Chris
    Chris says:

    That is very cool. The Madsen bikes are awesome! I wish I could open a shop that dealt in these bikes, utility bikes, accessories, etc.
    If I had seen these types of bikes, I would have bought one instead of my cruiser bike. So much more functional!

  6. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    This needs more exposure ….. wish the Sentinel or someone could pick up and put this in front of more people … what a great story!

    There are so many folks who live so close to Cady Way Trail and could take advantage of the trail. I use it every day on my commute to/from work. I also use it to get me to restaraunts in Baldwin Park and Oviedo. I use it to visit my Mom in Winter Park. While it gets lots of recreational use, I think Cady Way is a gem of trail that could be used so much more for utilitarian/commuter purposes ………

  7. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Articles such as this bring a smile to my face, because it’s more than a single generation gaining benefit. I don’t think anyone doubts that the children are enjoying the ride and the activity has to keep the family close as well.

    The little ones grow so fast that mom and dad will be building on the stable of transport over time, first into a trailer, or a tow-able bike, perhaps a tandem with a stoker kit attached.

    Adding to the family aspect is that an educator is providing a positive example to students. It’s tough enough for teachers today, and I think having his vehicle in the classroom says a lot.

    If dad can handle the giggle-factor and possibly a bit of a mess now and then, the girls need weapons:

    So much fun!

  8. Angie
    Angie says:

    Keri – thank you for such a great article!!

    We really do love the Madsen and the freedom it allows. In response to an earlier comment, we chose the Madsen over a trailer because most bike trailers are really uncomfortable for the kids. They lack a space for a helmet, so the kids have their heads pushed forward the entire ride. This does not make for happy children. There are a handful of trailers that have worked around this, but they are not all that far off from a Madsen in terms of price (particularly if you need to purchase a bike to pull it). Plus, it is very difficult to talk with the kids while they are in the trailer. Now we may switch to the trailer during winter, unless Madsen puts out the much anticipated rain cover they are working on. Oh, and the Madsen does have drainage holes so it doesn’t fill with water.

    I’d also like to emphasize how much we love the trail. Although I feel very strongly about raising awareness (and respect!!) for cyclists on traditional roadways, I would hate to do that at the expense of these kinds of trails. I have to say that, when riding with the kids, I far prefer the trail. It is lovely, quiet, and removes the threat of cars – it just makes for an easier family ride. We do use traditional roadways when needed, but I can’t wait for the day when work on connecting all the area trails can progress! To me, it’s like having a jet pack – you get to commute on your own alternate highway system. In fact, I am (impatiently) waiting for them to connect Cady Way to Little Econ so I can ditch the car for my commute and also ride the girls to school. I see both raising awareness of safe road cycling and increasing the connectivity of the trail system as necessary allies in improving the bikability of Central Florida.

    Fred~those bubble guns are too cute! May have to pick some up for their birthdays! The girls love the bike. The eldest loves to tell everyone about our bike that “can pull 600 lbs” and they really don’t like to travel by car these days. Their preference for the bike has been a good thing and encouraged us to stretch our imagination even more about reaching new destinations by bike instead of hopping in the car. And surprisingly, with the complexity of carseats, many times going by bike is just plain easier.

  9. Laura
    Laura says:

    what a great story!!! Go Jesse! Orange County recently completed a redevelopment plan for the area and there was MUCH talk about adding a north/south trail to connect from the area south of Colonial High School and over to Baldwin Park area (you can see this green corridor in the aerial running generally north/south). Here’s the link

    The project was in response to what was happening in the surrounding neighborhoods and commercial areas with the “improvements” being made to the intersection of SR50 & SR436. It’s quite conceptual in nature but there are some good ideas being put forward. I really hope the area is able to be reconnected. There is a pretty good grid system in place, believe it or not and opportunities for infill and redevelopment. Jesse kinda proves this.

  10. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    1. Well, there’s a little velcro strip that lines a piece of wood holding up the chain. That wore down and I affixed a piece of leather there instead. I greased it with some bearing grease.

    2. I rode it quite roughly for the first couple of weeks or months. I was going over a big bump (hauling both kids) and the front wheel messed up (it was the hub). I took the hub apart, bent the pieces back how they should have been, and reassembled.

    3. I changed out the saddle. My local bike shop gave me one they had sitting around for seven dollars. But I’m going to take it back and get a big tan cushy one I saw there.

    4. I had to bend away the chain guard a little bit. Be careful with this because if you are in too much of a hurry it doesn’t look as nice. Like mine.

    5. I recovered the seats with indoor/outdoor fabric that is tan and has hibiscuses in turquoise. We live in Florida, and this is my oldest daughter’s favorite flower.

    6. I replaced the Velcro that holds on the rear children’s seat using Liquid Nails.

    Besides that, it’s all pretty standard (cateye, lights, etc.)

    I was planning on getting a double chainring. But I decided against that. It would go faster on arterial roads, but I’ve gotten it up to 24mph, and I don’t really want to go any faster than that with this bike. Here’s why: I didn’t get this bike to rush around, and I’m not worried about going fast in traffic with cars. Half the time I have my kids with me, so I try to keep it at 15mph or under then. I’m content with the speed I’m going, both literally and figuratively.

  11. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    A couple of thoughts for you Jesse:

    “Big cushy” saddles tend to get hot, which often ends up creating more discomfort than a lack of cushioning. The key with saddle comfort is having the cushioning in just the right spots and minimizing contact where it’s not wanted.

    I agree with not bothering with the second chain ring. It also means adding another shifter, cable and derailleur for virtually no improvement in performance. On my Xtracycle I rarely use the big ring, and I’m generally not carrying the loads you are. If you were in a hillier area I’d say go for it, but to add a _smaller_ ring for climbing.

  12. Amy
    Amy says:

    How did you mount the rear blinkie to the bucket? Did you have to drill holes for the mount? Great article! (living 1 car+Madsen in San Jose, CA! 🙂 )

    • Jesse
      Jesse says:

      I already changed saddles–took the one from my road bike, which is NOT big and cushy 🙂

      The blinky for the back was my wife’s hack. I’ll have to let her reply…I don’t really know HOW she did it. 🙂 But I know she did it w/o drilling holes.

  13. Angie
    Angie says:

    Hey Amy! Great to “meet” another Madsen owner! 🙂 If you lift up the back seat (the one over the rear tire) there is already a hole there. We just used heavy-duty string and ran it through the existing hole to tie the rear light on – hope that makes sense!

    • Brynnen
      Brynnen says:

      Whoa, I’ll have to check for that hole–great find! So far I’ve just put my blinkie on the wire attaching the fender to the bike. It seems too low to be effective.

      I love my Madsen here in Seattle. It’s super hilly where I live so I’ve put an electric assist from on the bike to that I can make it up the hills with 3 or 4 kids in the back.

      I really need that rain cover about now! 🙂 I actually had to use the car several times last week in the pouring rain; the first time in the 5 weeks of pretty good weather since I got the Madsen…

    • Jesse
      Jesse says:

      Hey, Angie~

      I didn’t tell you this, but I had to wedge some felt eraser material underneath the rear blinky light so it didn’t bounce up and down on the fender. Just an FYI for everyone!

      • Amy
        Amy says:

        Ah Ha! Very crafty. 🙂 I had some black plastic coated copper wire that worked great. Also, just ended up using E6000 to glue a little felt patch to top of the light itself (it’s a clip-on style from Planet Bike) Should work. Thanks!

  14. BAW
    BAW says:

    I’d suggest replacing the derailleurs in the back with an internal hub gear (a Shimano 7- or 8-speed, or a Rolhoff, or even a NuVinci CVT) and putting a Schlumpf up front. Get a generator lighting system so you don’t have the batteries going out at the Most Inconvenient Moment. As for the seat–go for an Easy Seat; it doesn’t have the horn, which tends to pinch and squeeze a part of a man’s body that does not need to be pinched or squeezed.

  15. BAW
    BAW says:

    The nice thing about being a bicycle commuter in Orlando is that it is as flat as a pancake and most of the year the weather is nice. And, as Jesse is a schoolteacher, when the weather is the most stinking hot, he’s off work.

  16. Wendy
    Wendy says:
    Jesse & Angie,
    Hey guys. It was lovely seeing you today in Central Park. 🙂 I forgot exactly what your blog is titled and found this article instead. The link above is of a t shirt I thought you might like, especially on sale for $10! You both rock and I am very proud of what you are doing for this crazy earth.

  17. BAW
    BAW says:

    May I ask why you chose the Madsen over a Dutch bakfiest or one of the American knockoffs like the Organic Engines Long Juan, the Human Powered Machines Long Haul, the CETMA Cargo, or the Metrofiets? My problem with them is that their gears and braking are inadaquate for hilly areas like where I live (West Virginia–called the Mountain State for good reason), but you live in flat-as-a-pancake Florida.

  18. Angie
    Angie says:

    The biggest reason we opted for the Madsen was price. The cost of the bakfiets was way out of our reach and not an option, especially since this was our first venture into family cycling. At the time, the Madsen was the cheapest and the only one that didn’t require DIY mods to carry kids. Xtracycle now carries the PeaPod kids seat, but it wasn’t out at the time.

    It’s true that most of what we ride is pretty flat, so the gears and brakes weren’t as much of an issue for us. We’re very happy with the choice, though I know it isn’t necessarily the best bike for every situation.

  19. Marya
    Marya says:

    Hi all –

    We have the Madsen too and I just wanted to chime in and say that we love it! We live in Portland, OR. We ride it everywhere – more places than we ever thought we would, frankly…and we have lots of fun dressing the bike up for holidays too! We added one of those wicker removable baskets for up front (tied a screaming ghoul to the front of it for Halloween and big scary spiders, along w/ stringing the whole bike up w/ battery-operated orange lights and other creepy things!) and we also added a cup holder on the handlebar, a bell, a rear-view mirror, and the bike shop added a pipe looking thing which sticks out the back of the bucket and on there is a flashing rear light. They also added a bracket for one of those tall bright orange safety flags so we feel extra safe! I also had the tires upgraded to some heavy duty Shwalbes as well as upgraded the breaks and yes the seat. Well worth the money cause the bike’s been used and abused but keeps serving us well. That’s 3 boys riding in the back!! Another fun thing to do: buy a couple of those cheap portable ipod speakers (mine are from my old Discman!) and play tunes from the basket in front! The only thing our minivan of a bike is missing is the DVD player in the rear. But I don’t think so…

    My only gripe is that they – sigh – still haven’t put the rain shield on the market. I cant BELIEVE they haven’t done it yet (what’s wrong w/ them? It would bring in so much money and sell their bikes even better – especially in the Northwest which is a huge bike and cargo bike region!). We’d ride the bike a LOT more during bad parts of the year (and here in Portland, that’s a lot of missed days!) if they’d hurry up and sell that thing. I’m verging on feeling offended, actually!

    Lastly I just wanted to say that in our neck of the woods there are some pretty hilly areas (though not like San Francisco) and the bike does surprisingly well with those. On occasion I have to get out and walk/push but very, very rarely (on two different occasions only, and they were very steep). The 8 speeds seem perfect to me.

    This was a great article, and very inspiring, thanks! 🙂

  20. Eric
    Eric says:

    I think I saw Jesse last week.
    Some terrier outside of the Publix at Baldwin Park was giving him what for.

    Jesse seemed non-plussed, but I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to say hello, which would have only “entertained” the dog even more.

    Not that many Madsen’s around. I’m pretty sure it was him.

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