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Posted by on Nov 9, 2009 in Uncategorized | 30 comments

Taking kids by bike: faster, less stressful, and a lot more fun!

Vivi sneaks a snack after a recent trip to Costco

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.”

An impromptu stop to watch a plane take off

An impromptu stop to watch a plane take off

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!

Family

30 Comments

  1. Wonderful post, Angie! I don’t have kids, but I would have assumed it would be more difficult to transport the kids by bike vs by car. But the way you explained it makes total sense.

  2. I’ve been reading every post Angie makes and loving every one of them. She’s clearly a talented writer, describing in her words something that brings a smile to my face. I’ve subscribed to her blog as well and it’s a great way to end a day.

    The shoe tossing and collection segment is absolutely wonderful.

    With Ida on the way, it’s time to erect the bucket tent to protect the young’uns from getting blown out by the winds!

  3. Your posts add a welcome added dimension to CommuteOrlando. Thanks!

    • X1000!

      Not only that, the Ross family adds a welcome dimension to Orlando cycling.

  4. Angie wrote:
    “Trailer seats generally don’t leave room for a helmet, thus pushing the child’s head forward for the duration of the ride.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Trailers are not designed for a child to wear a helmet, since most users don’t do stunt jumping while towing a child.

    My three children are old enough to ride by themselves (ages 13, 10, and 7). But my favored method when they were younger was a handlebar child seat. There is an example shown here:

    http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2009/08/bikes-for-fathers.html

    When the second child came along, I went to a Japanese-style two-child bike. I’ll have to see if I can find a photo of one.

    • The law requires children under 16 to wear a helmet. Seeing as most states have that law, the trailer manufacturers should probably consider that.

      • Don’t know if this is where you’re heading with your comment, but this mfgr. has thought about that.

        http://www.wicycle.com/child_premium_double_bicycle_trailer.php

        The helmet relief cushion compliments the spacious headroom in this particular offering.

        I haven’t had any trouble with my kiddo trailer, but then again, to each their own. Had to fold ours up when not in use cause our son gets in it and WANTS to ride…..NOW!

      • Keri wrote:
        “The [Florida] law requires children under 16 to wear a helmet.”

        Kevin’s comment:
        It is impossible for babies under a certain age to wear a helmet, and highly inappropriate for a child of any age to wear one while on a bicycle.

        Unless that child is a teenager doing racing or stunt jumping. Brings back memories of when I was a teenager. And did dumb and dangerous things. Like join the Army. An appropriate thing to mention today on Remembrance Day.

  5. What will they come up with next?!! While looking around for examples of child seats, I turned up an example of a handlebar child seat with a windscreen for the child. See:

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_E-Gmv1JFKtE/STpMTuJOEMI/AAAAAAAACPQ/mF9SisBXY-c/s1600-h/DSCF9461.JPG

    Nice. Wish I had one of these windscreens for my handlebar child seat when my kids were younger. Baby on the front handlebars, two-year old on the rear seat and we’re all ready to go!

  6. Yeah, dealing with helmets in a trailer is a pain. I had to put padding behind my son’s back in order to push him far enough forward to be comfortable while wearing a helmet. Now that he’s four, we switched to a kidback setup on the back of a tandem (since we already had the tandem bike anyway). But wouldn’t the trailer be a better setup in the rain? In my case we would walk to school/shopping instead of bike in the rare (in SoCal) event of rain.

    • Wow – thanks everyone for such positive comments!!

      Brian – that is a good point. With the Madsen (which is the bike in the pictures, Chandra), we’ve actually been able to just use an umbrella. If you don’t think riding the kids around in a bucket is enough of a spectacle, try adding a golf umbrella to the mix! ;p Madsen is purportedly working on a convertible rain cover, though we are also trying to come up with a better DIY solution in the meantime. As for the Radish – I’m not sure how to handle the rain yet.

      But you make a good point. I think there are some good uses for a trailer–I would imagine snow would be another example. However, I still personally don’t think it is the vehicle of choice for riding with kids.

      • OK, good, glad the umbrella is working out. I’d hate to be cooped up in a trailer in a warm rain! Sounds like you’ve got a workable solution!

  7. angie,
    great post! what kinda bike is that?
    peace :)

  8. It seems odd that helmet laws would apply inside trailers. After all, the trailer itself is one giant helmet, and there are seat/shoulder straps.

    But trailer helmet laws seem to be the norm lately, apparently to get kids in the helmet habit. In California, I think that change is fairly recent. I don’t recall needing or using trailer helmets in the 90′s.

    The newer Burley trailers have a redesigned seatback that has room for helmets.

  9. Angie,

    Great and encouraging post! My wife and I plan to have children in the near future, and I would love to change to a more bike-friendly lifestyle. We’ve dabbled in it a bit already, without kids, and I have couple questions for you as I’m curious how you deal with these situations:

    1.) Work: Does your work have protected bicycle parking? Or do you just lock to a bike rack?

    2.) Events via bike: What about going to a movie or a sports event? Do you bike there, find a bike rack, lock up your big utility bike, and enjoy the event? Any worries/experience regarding theft?

    3.) Do you leave any other items with your bike when you lock it at your destination? Any worries about things in the bike being stolen?

    4.) Do you live very near to a bike path that is separate from a street? I am comfortable riding on traffic-filled streets (thought I try to choose quiter streets if possible), but would feel less-so if I had children on my bike. I accept that I am more vulnerable to injury by car when I’m on a bike, but I struggle with the idea of making that decision for my young children as well.

    • Hi David! Those are all really great questions – thanks for asking them!

      1. Neither my husband or I have appropriate bike parking, so we both bring our bikes inside. My husband is a teacher, so the kids get a kick out of it. I work in an office building and the only bike rack is in the parking lot and won’t fit my bike so I take it up the service elevator and bring it in my office.

      2 & 3. We have two kids – what is this thing you call “going to the movies??” ;p When we go to events (or the grocery store), we lock our bikes together and to a rack. They’re pretty heavy when hooked together, so we don’t worry too much about that. We do leave a lot of stuff in the bike (helmets, diapers, etc.) but of course take out our valuables. So far, we haven’t been somewhere that we felt a lot of worry about the bikes and/or stuff being stolen. I think taking off with two huge cargo bikes is about as easy as stealing a car, so I worry proportionately.

      4. We do live near a bike path. We just bought our first house and that was a “must” on the list of requirements and I am SO glad we stuck to our guns on that. We try to plan routes that keep us on the trail. However, Orlando is notorious for sprawl so it is impossible to avoid the roads–both of our morning commutes including riding in the road with the girls. When we ride (with kids or without) we take the full lane. Trust me, I understand your concern acutely. We will ride farther if it means safer roads and increased trail riding. However, we have found that people generally pass us very safely and respect us on the road. As a family biking convoy, we’re pretty hard to miss. Parenting is a scary journey and you’ll find yourself questioning every decision down to finding the best shoes for their little feet. But even in our car-dominant city, we have felt safe riding and the benefits enjoyed by the whole family have been incredible.

      Good luck!!

  10. Great post Angie and welcome to Commute Orlando. I think the biggest takeaway from this post is that biking over short distances is far easier than going by car, especially if kids are in tow. While most people I know simply drop their kids off at schools and/or don’t bother with the stoller at all if they escort or have to sign their child in, I think your example illustrates how biking could be an easier way.

    My kids are now 17 & 20 and we’re wrangling with transportation options for them (it would’ve been SO much easier if we had started when they were a lot younger). They already do most of their close trips by walking or biking. We haven’t quite fully embraced the bike everywhere paradigm, but we’re getting there. I also have to fully admit that a large reason why we are driving less as a family has to do with where we live. We have easy access to transit and quite a few quiet neighborhood streets. We’re also very close to retail, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

    I do envy your access to the Cady Way Trail though. I know that we often criticize separated bike facilities but your situation illustrates how trails in urban areas can really add to the quality of life and ease of getting around.

    • Rob,

      It has been said that the majority of accidents happen within 25 miles of home. Have you thought about moving, just to be safe?

      To operate a any vehicle safely, one must have the proper training and skill set, something a majority of cyclists and motorists on our road and streets do not have.

      When I moved to FL, I was given a home study driver’s manual and was not required to test any further past a vision test. I simply relinquished my old DL, signed the line, and became another one of the menaces on FL roads.

      Do you honestly trust such minimally trained motor vehicle operators with the safety of your children?

      Hello Mr. Pot, Meet Mr. Kettle!

    • Ever seen the human carnage of a car crash where all were occupants of cars?

      I’ll take my awareness, skill and understanding of traffic dynamics over your steel cage and false sense of security any day.

      Orlando is the worst city in the US for pedestrian safety. Would you accuse people of being bad parents for trying to use a crosswalk with their kids? No, probably not. It’s far safer to be a competent bicyclist in Orlando than to be a pedestrian, but nobody would criticize a family for walking with their kids.

      Some of us work to make the roadway environment safer for all people, regardless of mode. Some just throw stones. Clearly, we know which one Rob Anderson is.

      • not to mention there are a LOT of people in Central Florida who don’t have the means to own a car, yet they still have children (and why should a family be required to bear the burden of owning a vehicle?). There have also been cases where these families have been trying to cross a street and they’ve been hit and children have died. Is it the parents’ fault b/c the driver was distracted or didn’t yield? Not to mention the hundreds (thousands?) of close calls that NEVER get reported because there are no injuries.

        Even this week after Orlando was listed as the worst place for pedestrians, law enforcement got it wrong when they ticketed peds for crossing at ‘undesignated’ crosswalks. About the only place where it’s illegal to cross mid block is in the heart of downtown Orlando. There are precious few places where there are two signalized intersections adjacent to each other.

        I almost would like to contact the people ticketed wrongly. They probably have no idea what they did may have been perfectly legal.

  11. yo–have two kids they grew up in bike trailers in the 80s and 90s. Grew up on the ST MARKS bike trail too it was our backyard. Now 26 and 20 neither have cars both have high function lives. Boyzilla 20–nicname due to his wildside while young, now does ride a motorcycle using the skills he earned on a bicycle. He has superior car driving skills due to his bicycle years and motorcycle years. No obesity or inactivity associated with either of them and no attitudes even toward stupid ignorant morons who use their cars for every inch they travel. You get back what you put in to this life and the bike give an awful lot back.

  12. FYI, Rob Anderson is a well-known anti-cyclist in San Francisco.

    • Yup. As I was falling asleep last night, I remembered why that name rang a bell.

  13. Here’s a nice photo of someone transporting their child on a bike. This is how I carried my children on my bike when they were this age. See:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/larsdaniel/4103512657/

    There was such an intimacy chatting with my four-year-old as we rode along like this. Memories…

  14. I framed that Yehuda Moon cartoon last week!

    Family biking blogs showed me that it was possible to be a family bike commuter. I had twins first ( a third a few years later) & it seemed ‘impossible’ to ride on a bike with my boys. One kid– I could figure out the single bike seat, but two???? It took me six years, a two-mile commute to a new job, & a friend who follows alternative transportation to discover cargo bikes. I could not be more THRILLED with our two: a Bakfiets & an Xtracycle Radish– both which have radically changed our lifestyle. I live in a city where I was not comfortable using a trailer (it sits low & behind me) but our Bakfiets has the cargo box in front.

    There are a lot of naysayers out there about cycling with kids as one’s major transportation but there are families out their doing it day-in-and-day-out. It’s inspiring. Every day, my guys strap on their helmets as part of their morning routine. It’s just what we do now & we love it.

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