POSTED: 18 JANUARY 2006 - 7:00am HST

Zero Emission Machines on human power

article on 17 January 2007 in The Portland Playground

With an SUV in the background, the Mullins get ready for a trip.

Dean and Rachel Mullin are towing a Burley trailer with their 2nd youngest child in back. Rachel is carrying her baby in a sling. Their two older children are pedaling in front. And when the hills get steep, Dean activiates the small electrical assist motor that he installed. Children don't always want to pedal!

It's not their only car, but they like to take it out together on the weekends. For example, this weekend they drove down to the river, 25 blocks away.

Dean says it's a great vehicle, but now about 10 years old and no longer manufactured. He expects that the next generation of this kind of vehicle will be closer to 200 pounds than the 300 pounds that this one weighs.

If you'd like to ask Dean about life with a four person Human Powered Vehicle in the garage he can be reached at
Their Zem is human powered, but Dean installed a small electric assist motor because children don't always want to pedal uphill.

The Mullins routinely travel with four children, one in the trailer, one in a sling, and two pedaling (when they feel like it) in the front.

Dean says his motto is "Burn fat, not oil."

As the oil begins to run out will you find yourself driving your family around in an electric assisted Human Powered Vehicle

This picture above and below have been getting lots of national attention, and an incredible amount of completely undeserved snark. So if you see the beauty in it, more power to you. This is directed to the other folks.

First, this is not "child labor." The kids are loving it. It's a family outing. And as already noted, there is an electric assist motor for when the children behave like children and choose not to pedal.

Second, Rachel and Dean are not doing this with two athletic adult friends. Nope. They are hauling their entire family of four children, two of whom can't pedal, and two of whom do so only sometimes, along with a 300 pound vehicle and a burley trailer. How about a little respect for athletic parenting? That's where the jokes about child labor have it exactly backwards, and that's why an electric assist motor is a good thing to have.

Third, when I consider all the overweight donut eating 'Mericans driving their lard asses around in planet-destroying SUVs I get just a little peeved when folks (and there are apparently a lot of you) make fun of the appearance of a family that is actually getting exercise, having fun together (family values anyone?) and doing something for the planet.

Fourth, a vehicle like this may very well be in your future and could be a lot of fun. This family is having a great time together. This family has found a unique transportation solution that some (not all) families might enjoy trying themselves.
Why is it that people mock something that is different?

"First they mock you, then they fight you... then they show up in the human powered vehicle show room."

I'm proud to live in Portland where people are actually thinking about the planet and changing the way they live.

As for the rest of you, go read for a week if you are up to the challenge, and then come back and laugh at the Mullin family and their vehicle if you still can do so.

see also:
Island Breath: Kauai Pathway Conference
Island Breath: Kealia Bike Monument
Island Breath: Kauai Bike Network

Island Breath: Bike Path - Ahukini to Lydgate Route