Tips and tricks for riding with kids

Riding with kids slows you down, and that’s not a bad thing. Beyond creating future bike riders, ingraining street skills, and engaging in physical activity, biking with kids is fun. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Come prepared

Ride early in the day with rested, fed kids. Biking is just like taking the bus/car/plane/train. If you ride the bus with a diaper bag containing an extra set of clothing, three times the amount of snacks you could possibly need, an emergency picture book, and a stuffed animal or two, bring that along on your bike ride.

Practice makes perfect

Bikes are such efficient vehicles so it’s wonderful to be able to head straight out the driveway and bike to your destination, but if you prefer a bit of contained practice, walk or drive your bikes to a nearby park or schoolyard before you hit the road or trail.

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Where to ride

You can ride with kids anywhere. Low-traffic multi-use trails and bike paths are fun to ride with kids, but per the motto of Kidical Mass, “Kids are Traffic Too” and often our destinations of choice aren’t reachable by trails alone. Quiet streets are great, as are protected bike lanes on bigger streets.

Check your local laws for legality of riding on sidewalks. Some cities allow all bicyclists on sidewalks in all parts of the city, some allow just children, and some don’t allow anyone to bike on the sidewalk. Know that the safe feeling of sidewalks is a little misleading. If you need to use a bit of sidewalk to get between quiet streets or to access the trail, travel at walking speed and be extra cautious at intersections and crossing driveways.

Back or front

Kids attached to your bike via bike seats, trailer bikes, trailers, or upon cargo bikes are fully in your control, but free-rolling kids are another matter. Sandwiching kids between two adults is the best of both worlds—a conductor to lead the way and demonstrate looking for and pointing out hazards, signaling, and navigating; while the caboose can keep a watchful eye and yell helpful reminders. But one adult with one or more kids may prefer to start out behind them to monitor biking behavior. Once everyone is more familiar with biking, ride up front and trust your ducklings to follow behind. Check local rules for riding two abreast and do so when there’s room.

Repeat repeat repeat

You’re probably used the sound of your own voice, and used to listening to yourself say the same thing over and over. Reinforcing ideas might leave you hoarse at times, but it’s a terrific way to cement safe riding habits. “Remember to leave an invisible bike between you and parked cars” and my favorite, “It’s not a race!” Eventually “Look left, right, left” will become ingrained thanks to your many reminders.

Bike like you parent

Do you like to redirect attention to nip a sibling fight in the bud? It works on the bike, too! I keep up a steady chatter to keep my kids engaged in the ride and not in exchanging blows. It also works for keeping minds off drizzle in the face or despair over an awesome stick left behind at the park. Pointing out trail-side cats, gaggles of baby geese, reading the names of tugboats, it all helps keep the ride engaging. Playful parenting fans might turn their bikes into space ships in search of a new planet. Or if you’re all about incentives (aka bribes), the promise of ice cream at the end of the trek can dispel many a tantrum.

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Have a backup plan

If you babywear, always bring a baby carrier with you in case you need to do some walking. Knowing how to fix a flat is great, but if fixing a flat with kids in tow doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, knowing nearby bike shops is always good. Or be prepared to lock up and walk or bus, and return for your bike later. Don’t ride your bike with a flat, but the weight of a kid on a bike while you wheel it somewhere is A-OK. If your tot has suddenly decided there is no way she’s keeping her helmet on, dismount your bike and wheel it along while you work on getting things back on track.

Give yourself extra time

Sometimes you’ll arrive at your destination earlier than expected, but often things take longer than the estimate. Usually this is simply the amount of time your non-stop pedaling will take, but leave yourselves time to stop and smell the roses, stomp the dandelions, visit a Little Free Library, and watch an ant trail. Arriving at your destination is important, but so is cultivating a sense of adventure biking while for transportation with kids.

Keep it short and sweet

Set yourselves up for success with a very short ride to a fun stop…like somewhere with ice cream or a playground. And always a potty.

Madi Carlson is the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She runs Seattle’s Kidical Mass, a monthly ride for families, and is the author of “Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living” (Mountaineers Books), an easy-to-navigate manual for bike commuting–including commuting with kids. Find more or her writing here.

 

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