A friend recently shared a cute Yehuda Moon cartoon with me in which the driver of an SUV pulls up to a bakfiets cargobike and laments not walking her child to school, but blames the weather and all of the school gear. The tiny bike passenger responds, “Just because ya’ can doesn’t mean ya’ should!” As the matriarch of a bike-commuting family, I love this cartoon. But in a way, I think it almost affirms a common misconception–that driving with kids and gear is easier and that biking is only a choice made because it’s the “right” thing to do. We’ve discovered many surprising things along our journey to becoming a one-car family, but one of the most surprising realizations is that it is often easier to travel by bike with the kids than by car.
An End to Marathon Mornings
Take, for example, my morning commute to work. A typical morning used to include me rushing to get myself and the girls dressed, straining my back leaning in the car to buckle my two-year-old into her five-point harness carseat, waiting for my oldest to buckle herself in, getting back out of the car upon discovering her door wasn’t shut correctly, and then racing to school. After driving around in the parking lot of my five-year-old’s school for several minutes looking for a spot, I would finally find a parking spot (furthest from the entrance, of course). I would park, pop the trunk, get out and unfold the stroller, unbuckle my two-year-old, strap her in the stroller, help my eldest get out of the car with all her gear, and schlep across the parking lot trying to hold onto both kids while balancing in work heels. Once on the sidewalk, we would begin the walk to my daughter’s classroom–more than a tenth of a mile. My little one would fight the stroller and my oldest walked at a snail’s pace as I tried to drag her along. Once I had finally dropped the oldest off, I would shuffle back to the car, unstrap the little one and then promptly wrestle her into the carseat–and trust me, two-year-olds are stronger than they look! Stroller back in the car, we would drive the .5 mile over to her school. Rinse and repeat with the parking, unbuckling, etc. Once it was all said and done, I’d driven about 5 miles, walked about .5 miles, and it had taken me 45+ exasperating, stress-filled minutes to complete this small journey. By the time I pulled into my office parking lot, I felt as if I had already survived an entire day–but my work day was only beginning! This is no way to start a morning.
Now that I bike, it takes me 30 minutes from my front door to my daughter’s classroom. I’m able to ride right up to the entrance and my daughter stays on the bike as I walk her up to the classroom–no more pleading with her to walk faster. Due to the seating set-up of my bike, my husband now takes my littlest one to school; however, there is no doubt it would still be far easier to hop back on the bike and ride her over to her school. I arrive at work feeling relaxed and ready to take on my day thanks to the endorphins generated by the physical nature of my morning commute. Without even touching on the fact that biking is less stressful than driving, the reality is that shorter distances are usually easier by bike. Any parent that has had to run errands with kids in tow knows how frustrating it is to buckle, drive, stop, unbuckle, buckle, drive, stop, unbuckle, ad nauseum. This is especially true in Florida, the land of giant strip malls, where two stores in the same plaza can easily be a .5 mile apart. With the bike, we just snap on the helmets, belt the kids in the bike, and ride up to the front door.
No More Sherpa Stroller
We’ve found that biking to major events is also much easier than driving. We recently met up with some friends at a community event; we had ridden and the friends had driven. Due to the large nature of the event, our friends had been forced to park nearly a mile away. We live quite close to each other and our friends might have been able to make it home quicker than us since we clearly can’t ride at the speed they can drive. However, the time added by their long walk back to the car with two kids meant we each made it home in about the same amount of time. Another benefit of biking is that you are almost always able to park right at the event. Not only does this mean no long walk to the entrance, it also means you don’t have to haul all the baby stuff along with you. Hauling all of the items you might need in case of a potential kid meltdown gets tiresome fast, though the alternative is just as bad. I’ve been out many a time with friends when, rather than go all the way back to the car for the forgotten diapers/wipes/sippy cup, they just left in frustration. When traveling by bike, it’s nearly always possible to leave the stuff in the bike and go grab it as needed.
The Magic of the Red Shoe
My two-year-old has been known to throw things, particularly shoes, out of the bike. When we discovered that out of her three regular pairs, we only had one set, we knew the shoes were gone forever. Imagine our surprise when my husband found one of the shoes on the bike trail nearly a week after it had gone missing! Even more amazing was the day, another week later, when I was riding my daughter to school and she noticed the last missing single shoe on the trail! I did a quick stop, grabbed the shoe, and went on with our ride. Two things about this amaze me. One, the ability to recover something tossed by a toddler seems only possible by bike. Secondly, the ability to easily stop and pick something up just does not happen in a car. If your child were to toss something out the car window, you would have to find somewhere to pull over and park and then risk your life by running into the street to collect it. The potential for stopping by bike is almost as wonderful as riding. On a recent ride to a downtown festival, we heard a plane gearing up for take-off. The airport was right next to the trail, so we stopped and took a moment to watch the plane take off. I honestly can’t think of a time when we were driving and we felt able to simply stop, get out, and notice something. In fact, a regular response in the car was, ” I can’t look right now, honey–I’m driving.”
A Final Thought on Biking with Kids
I’m personally not a big fan of bicycle trailers for several reasons, the most important being that I don’t think they are usually all that comfortable for the kids. Uncomfortable kids do not make for fun bike rides. Trailer seats generally don’t leave room for a helmet, thus pushing the child’s head forward for the duration of the ride. Can you blame them for throwing a fit 15 minutes into the ride? Additionally, the trailers are so far back that it makes it difficult to converse with your child–this ability to talk about what you are seeing is one of the most wonderful parts of biking with your kids, in my opinion. Finally, the trailers are usually difficult to attach, meaning you are far less likely to spontaneously go out for a ride together. If you plan on biking regularly with your kids, I would consider investing in a utility bike. Because my husband and I each commute to work by bike with the kids, we have both a Madsen kg271 Bucket Bike and an Xtracyle Radish and are very happy with each bike. These investments, far less expensive than a second car, have allowed us to dramatically reduce our car usage and we easily live off of one car (not to mention we no longer need to keep a gym membership!). The time and energy we save by running errands by bike has completely changed our quality of life; this kind of life improvement is truly priceless. I find both bikes to be easier to handle than a trailer and I feel more secure when riding in the road with the children. Furthermore, you’ll be amazed at the versatility of what you can haul with these bikes. That being said, I think being out in trailer is certainly better than not being out at all. Get out and ride–you’ll be amazed at how easy it is!