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Catherine Ledner LA Rollers

Photo: Catherine Ledner

Bicycle Built for a Crowd

The Nelson family’s favorite set of wheels is almost as big as a small sedan—and it comes with disc brakes, seat belts, individual gearshifts, a driver’s seat, and a whole lot of natural air-conditioning. It’s a Zem, or Zero Emission Machine, an eccentric four-seater bicycle that’s the talk of their South Central block. The contraption may not be suited for distance travel, but for this athletic and environmentally minded troupe—Nicolas, a writing instructor, homemaker Kathryn, and their children, Nathaniel, 12, Armando, 9, and Joy Marie, 4—the Zem is not just a novelty. Says Nicolas, "It’s a rational family decision."

Ahem, What’s a Zem? "We saw it in a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog in the 1990’s and loved it until we saw the price: $12,000! But when the Swiss manufacturer went out of business, someone bought the inventory and began selling the bikes online for around $4,800. We thought that was a better deal. We wanted a family bike, and the Zem is the best one we’ve ever seen."

Faster than Your Average Jogger "Everyone pedals at their own pace, and you can rest when you need to. Unlike other tandem bikes, the Zem doesn’t require that you pedal in sync. These bikes typically get up to 10 miles per hour, but the more people on the bike, the faster it goes. Once, we had four big guys pedaling and hit 30 miles an hour! Seat belts are really important—they keep you in your chair when the driver hits the brakes."

Favorite Destinations "We bike to chapel every Friday, and we like taking the Zem to the beach. We pack a picnic—it fits on the back shelf—and we’ll stop at a park on the way. But we can also load the Zem into our Ford pickup and take it on excursions. We love going to Playa del Ray and hitting the coastal bike path."

Doing Our Bit "We are unabashed advocates for pedal transportation; it’s just better for the environment. People always ask us where we got the Zem—especially with the price of gas, we get serious questions from people who want to buy one. When we’re out riding, people always shout, ’Can I get a lift?’ But mostly, people drive by slowly and stare, or they just get a silly grin on their faces. You can’t get more fun than this."


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