When Richard Briggs was in his early 20s, he offered to buy his father’s Ford Fairmont which his father had decided to get rid of. But his father refused to sell it to his son, Briggs recalls, “Because you don’t need a car.”
A decade later, when his father offered to sell Richard his used Jetta, it was Richard’s turn to refuse. In the intervening years, he had concluded that he really didn’t need to own a motorized vehicle. And to this day, neither he nor his wife Carole Sauve have ever owned a gasoline-powered vehicle.
This, even though they are raising two kids and live in Ottawa, a city where winter temperatures can dip as low as -25 C.
The ConnecTour team met Richard and Carole recently when we were hosted by them in their Ottawa’s Centre-Ville home.
Instead of cars, the family relies heavily on Richard’s garage-full of eclectic bicycles. Those two- and three-wheeled human-powered machines range from fairly conventional all-purpose bikes to tricycle recumbents, and a variety of Frankenbikes, with frames stretched into freakish designs.
(It was on one such “tall bike” that Richard took a tumble three years ago and broke his pelvis, an injury that required surgery.)
“Carol has told me not to ride a tall bike again,” he says with a chuckle.
Other bicycles in the collection include cargo bikes, a “hammer head”, chopper bikes – with unnaturally long front forks that look like the motorcycles of the same design – and one of his prized possessions – an authentic rickshaw that came back with the family from India after Carole returned from a diplomatic mission she served there.
Carole works for Immigration Canada, and has had a number of overseas assignments, including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Cuba.
Out of all his bikes, Richard seems to favour the custom-made three-wheel recumbent which can be expanded into a tandem to accommodate two riders. Briggs has gotten innovative with that machine, adding bars so that it can carry a canoe or even lumber.
He also attaches a home-made 4×8-foot trailer to it, and has towed a Hammond organ through a parade.
It might not surprise you to learn that Richard is a passionate environmentalist. He has run as a candidate for the Green Party twice: federally in 1997 and provincially in 1999. Both attempts at public office were unsuccessful.
But, with a degree in electrical engineering, he’s also a confirmed electronics nerd, who fits many of his bikes with hub-based generators and flashing headlights and taillights. He day job is with Red Hat, a large multinational, open-source software company.
Briggs is undeterred by Ottawa’s winters. He said he learned he could ride on snow after a trip to Australia in 1993, where he got a job rounding up sheep riding through sandy terrain on a motorcycle.
“In Canada, I found I had a transferrable skill,” he says. “If could ride in Australia, I could ride in snow.”
Riding with Briggs is an unforgettable — and at times, unnerving — experience. He often allows his trike to drift out in the traffic lane, almost daring cars to run him down. Remarkably, they always see him and give him the space he demands.
His choices are out of the Canadian norm – and I have to say that as much as admire his choices, I’m not sold on a car-free future. But if nothing else, the Briggs/Sauve family has shown what can be done with a little determination.