Cycling with Children 2- Frequently Asked Questions
Thank you to guest blogger, Robert Johnson, for sharing his expertise on cycling with family! You can see his first blog post, Cycling with Children, here!
Robert's son, George, was featured in one of our Tour de Nash teasers!
8. Where am I going to put all my kids stuff?
a. If you have the kid on a child seat behind you, there is going to be room to wear a backpack between you and your child.
Much more comfortable would be fitting a front basket, or front rack with front pannier bags. A front basket is going to be available at your local bike shop for $30 or so. Ask them to fit it. A front rack and a pair of panniers are special touring equipment that go either side of your front wheel, at the height of the axle. These have great capacity and convenience, but will cost above $100 total, and probably cannot be fitted if you have front suspension.
b. If the child is on a seat in front of you, get a rear rack and pannier bag(s) to fit either side of it. These will hold a lot of stuff, and be useful all the time. Prices range from about $40 for the rack and $40 upwards for each pannier bag that attaches to it. Having only one pannier bag does not affect balance.
c. If the child(ren) are in a trailer, there will be plenty of room (and weight capacity) to carry stuff in the trailer with them.
9. My street is OK to cycle on, but the nearby main road is too busy, not just to cycle on but even to cross! How can I (and my child) ever get out of my neighborhood by bike?
This is a common problem once your child starts to want to cycle places outside the local park paths. Explore the intersections nearby, and choose your route so that you cross busy streets where there are lights and marked crosswalks. You are not in a hurry. It’s also OK to just get off and cross like a pedestrian, then walk back to the quiet streets before remounting your bike. This is not a competition. It’s OK to walk as much as you like while out cycling!
Train your child to never cross an intersection without you being by their side - practice on very quiet streets - they will learn once you have terminated the ride because of disobedience a couple of times. My five year old boy obeys all Stop Signs when we cycle on the road, and he stops at all intersections when we cycle on the sidewalk - all of them - and so do I. Model the behavior you wish to see, every time.
10. How can I get all this equipment to my local park/Greenway?
Car bike racks are widely available at bike shops and second hand. Get one that carries the maximum number of bikes you might want to carry. The kind that strap onto the trunk are the cheapest, but if you have a minivan check that they are authorized by the van manufacturer, otherwise it might damage the fairing on the rear door. Trailer hitch bike racks require the right size trailer hitch hole. Hinged trailer hitch ones are the most expensive, but are also the most convenient for accessing the rear of your vehicle while bikes are loaded onto it.
11. I’ve got two kids - How am I going to carry them both on my bike?
Provided they are old enough to hold their head up while wearing a helmet (around one year old) and short enough to sit comfortably (about six or seven years old) a trailer is the cheapest and most easily obtained method of carrying two children with your bike. It is possible to have one child on a rear child seat and another child on a front child seat attached to your bike (I rode like this for nearly two years) but you need to be a strong cyclist to hold up this much weight every time you stop! More exotic (but comfortable) solutions include tandem tag-alongs like the Trail-a-bike, the Weehoo iGo 2 recumbent trailer, and cargo bikes.
12. I’ve got three kids - How am I going to carry them all on my bike?
Yes, this was a real question I was recently asked. The answer is a cargo bike, and probably one with electric assist. We are now in a pretty esoteric world, which will have a price tag of around $3,500 to $4,500 for everything you will need.
You could get a double trailer for $70 from Craigslist and a rear child seat for your bike for another $40, but now you have some serious weight on your bike, so you definitely need a double leg kick-stand to enable you to get the child on and off the seat while the trailer is attached, say another $60. This will work provided your three kids are between one and about six years old. Older kids will find the trailer cramped. And you have some serious weight there when it comes to pulling away from Stop Signs.
13. What about all this weight? I’m not fit enough to pull all this!
Anyone can do it, honestly. As I said before, if your bicycle has gears, it can be easier to go up a hill with your child on board at 4 mph than it is to push a stroller uphill at 4 mph. The secret is gears.
Get a mountain bike - they are supplied with low gears specifically for going up hills, and these also work on the flat to make going along easier. If you are buying a bike specifically to haul kids, tell the bike shop, and insist on low gears - bigger than 32 teeth cogs on the back and smaller than 24 teeth chainring on the front would be great, but get as close to that as possible.
Many bike shop staff are racers who don’t understand the joys of going slowly, or the joy of carrying kids with them!
A trailer takes away any concerns about holding up the weight of the bike plus children, as all the weight is on the trailers wheels.
Finally, just cycle slowly! This is not a race! There is no minimum speed! Smell the roses! Take a break whenever you like - make sure your first trips are very short ones, round somewhere nice.
14. My spouse is all into this cycling thing, but whenever I mention they take our Darling Child along on one of the long Saturday morning rides, my partner says the bicycle is not suitable, and that the rides are not suitable either, whatever that means?
If someone in your family wears sleek lycra and has a carbon fiber racing bike that he/she has repeatedly refused to tell you the price of, they are probably correct. However, you need to tell them to embrace their parenthood, get a city bike, and start doing family rides with Nashville Slow Ride. Point out their status as a 21st C Nashvillian will be unassailable when they cycle to their favorite brunch cafe and asks for an energy bar and a banana - for the kid.
15. My child doesn’t do as they are told. Is it too dangerous to take them cycling on the road or sidewalk?
Yes, once they can cycle faster than you care to run.
The minimum level of control you need to have before you take your child cycling on or near the road is that they stop when you demand them to, and that they stop at whatever pre-determined places you have told them to, every time.
I started by trained my child to stop at every intersection when we are on the sidewalk, and to keep right and to obey all Stop Signs when we are on the road. I did this by deliberately taking him onto very quiet streets within walking distance of our house and then terminating the ride and walking him home every time he disobeyed me. Obviously this involved days of short trips and tears, followed by days of only allowing him to cycle in parks and along Greenways. Since I ride with my kids on my bik routes very carefully until you are confident they will obey instructions and continue to give them opportunities to practice doing as they are told on very quiet streets and sidewalks.