The Serendipity of Cycling with Children

I have found so many unexpected benefits to cycling in tandem with my son --and have had so many questions about how to get started cycling with kids-- that I thought it deserved it's own article

I think that starting when when my son was young has been a real key to our success, although we only recently gave up the car, my son has never known a time when we didn't have and use bikes. When he was an infant I towed him to the park in a bike trailer, and he has had bike of his own from a young age.

When we as we made the shift to being full time bike commuters I tried to make the trips we took by bike fun and manageable, aiming for routes and destinations that were interesting and appealing to him. With the Trail-A-Bike, knowing that we can komokazi down hills at speeds he would never be able to do on his own is reason enough for my son to want to join me on rides, and he loves the attention we get (you would think we were freakin Super Heroes for all the heads we turn)

One important element, at least with my son, has been packing layers for him. Like most kids, he figures that if he is comfortable standing on the front porch, then thats good enough. He doesn't take into account that we create out own wind chill factor, or that it might rain or get warmers or colder.

Prior to their first birthday, infants should ride in trailers, the child seats that attach to your bike frame [] more neck and muscle strength than infants have. Trailers can be used with kids up to about age 6, many models come with attachments that allow you to also use them as push strollers, and many offer sufficient space to carry a bag of groceries.

Although I know a number of families who have used and enjoyed the plastic baby seats that attach to an adults bike frame, I never used one. I used a trailer from the time my son was born until he outgrew it at almost a decade later, when we switched to a Trail-A-Bike. I still use the trailer to haul cargo. The baby seats may offer advantages, but they also have a very short useful life, and cant be converted for other uses.

These magnificent inventions may take a day or two for you child to adjust to and feel comfortable on. My son panicked the first time he tried one, we had to start with me walking the bike as slowly as I could manage while he screamed that he was going to crash and die. The movement and overall feel of a Trail-A-Bike is different than a solo kids bike, and of course there is the small matter of no steering or breaks (from the child's perspective). Gradually my son warmed to it, and now loves how fast can go on it. One would never guess that the kid bellowing “Peddle Lady!” and “DONT put on the breaks, I wanna go FAST” is the same kid that was sure he was going to die as I walked along side the bike.

Riding in tandem is a great way for me role teach The Boy bicycle safety. Without the distractions of navigating his end of the bike, he has a front row view of how I negotiate traffic, handle tricky intersections, use hand signals, etc. of course this means I have to use good sense and appropriate hand gestures.

Perhaps the best benefit of cycling as a family has been that my son has grown up outside the dominant paradigm, unlike so many kids (and adults for that matter) he does not worship cars, nor does he share the widely held belief that they are necessary. He has been compiling a list of all the places we can go by bike, and proudly proclaims that "bikes are the cars of the future"

Cycling as a family has been, and continues to be, a wonderful experience for my son and I. I feel like it has really enhanced my relationship with my son, as a Child and Family studies major, I know that boys tend to open up during recreational and sports activities, and I have experienced this numerous times while biking with my son. Cycling together has facilitated conversations and provided opportunities for bonding that I don't think we would have had any other way.


wisteria said...

Move over feed and chicken trucks. I am off to find a tandem. I have two children 9 and 6. Could you double tandem? Or do I need to pull the 6yo in a buggy in back of the tandem?
Thank you for this post.

griffin said...

Bike Friday offers a "Tripple" ( three seater), so that would be one option, ans I do know one mom who used a Trail-A-Bike, to which she attaches a trailer for her smaller child, so I have seen that work as well. (though not all trailers will work with a Trail-A-Bike)
My son, who just this weekend turned 11, is very small (and light) for his age, the Trail-A-Bike is good for kids up to 85 pounds, so in not very long I will have to come up with something else. If your 9 year old is anywhere close to 85 pounds you might consider a tandem with Trail-A-Bike, or a Tripple

Happy riding!