Top tips for riding with your little ones
By Justin Smirk @cargobikedad
If given the option to cycle with your kids daily, would you take it? What would it take to make you swap the car for a bicycle? A recent Melbourne study found that the average distance per car trip is less than 9km. Consequently, there must be ample opportunity in the average household to use a bicycle for some trips.
We accept that everyone is different and there is no “average” household. It is very easy to get stuck in a routine - even when it may not be the best option - but by having a positive mindset it is possible to invoke change. An alterative is to do something drastic like selling the car. Our family is unusual so we don’t advocate such an extreme move but we do suggest that by thinking outside of the box it is possible to discover a different approach.
The perception of riding with children is that it is far too dangerous. I have a lot of empathy with that view, since shepherding our son through traffic onto the separated cycleways in the city is a very real stress for me. Consequently, we reduce the perceived risk from what can be an incredible hostile environment by careful route selection.
To do this you have to adopt a change in mindset. You have to think as a person on a bike, not as a driver or even a bunch cyclist going for a ride with your friends. And don’t rely on Google Maps (even on the cycling setting). While it can be a guide, we have found it better to supplement it with local knowledge of back streets, cycle ways, parks and even footpaths which can offer quiet and safe alternatives. When it comes to kids’ bike seats there are many options and my trusty hybrid has had quite a few on the back over the years. I never did warm to the child upfront version; they never felt right for me, but I have had many friends who swear by them. So do you homework and then go with what feels right for you.
Another argument against riding with kids is the perceived need for a special bike. If you only own a carbon race bike, maybe that’s true. But if you have an everyday bike then I doubt it. My preference is for stability over style so I have used a hybrid commuter for many years - the “granny gears” are very handy for the hills. If you only have a road bike and want to use it, please do.
Tag-a-longs can be great option if you would like your child to get a bit of exercise at the same time. My wife and I have successfully used them and found them to be great for getting your child used to balancing and pedalling but just don’t expect too much from the back. Remember that Dr. Seuss book with “Mike” who helps when the hills get high? It’s all a fallacy.
Why else ride with kids besides it being fun and convenient? Training for hills! The extra weight is a great load bearing exercise and when you’re on your own without your child, you will notice the difference.
When it comes to rain and kids, it is less of a deal for them than us. There are rain covers for many kids’ seats (think hooded rain cape fitted to the seat) but raincoats, pants and gumboots are great options. But at the end of the day if it all feels too much on cold wet mornings then it is OK to use an alternative. Even just riding with kids when you can makes a huge difference.
Our objective is not to save the planet or even reduce traffic. Our objective is to create a healthy, fun and easy lifestyle for our family. An added bonus is that kids come alive on bikes - some of my best conversations with my children have happened on rides. It is such a great opportunity we have to encourage as many parents as we can to try.
TOP TIPS FOR RIDING WITH KIDS
* Plan your route to avoid traffic hot spots
* Make sure your bike is appropriately geared
* Do your homework on the best child seats