by Orin Zyvan
Most all of us have enjoyed a feeling of vitality while riding a bike. For myself, hearing my almost one-year-old chattering with delight from the bike trailer, or my three-year-old yell “watch me dad” as she shoots off on her strider bike, never fails to bring a smile to my face. The thrill of moving along quickly and so connected to the environment is wonderful, and doing it with family and friends is even better.
For years, starting in college, I rode a bike as often as possible for commuting, errand running, or just going out. As discussed in David Lehman’s blog post at the beginning of this month, biking is quite rewarding from both a physical and psychological standpoint, not to mention its environmental benefits. We have been a one car family for years, with one or both of us riding our bikes should we need transportation. With our first child, three years ago, riding our bikes became more challenging; however, it is almost always worth it when we do. As such, I am continually trying to find ways to take more family trips by bike. Perhaps I can share some insights, encouragement, and lifestyle changes which might help bring more families out of the car and to pedal-powered transportation.
Have fun! The first, and perhaps most important, is to give family riding a try. Take the time to appreciate you and your child’s excitement and joy as you ride. How is the experience different when arriving at your destination by bike as compared to a car? My kids are rarely excited to go by car, but more often than not, my girls are ready and excited to get in the bike trailer for a trip. My three-year-old is giddy when we are heading off to pick up a friend in our double trailer. Listening to their chatter as they sit next to each other always brings a smile to my face!
Get prepared. Secondly, a significant component for us is to ensure biking is as effortless as possible. Making it easy to ride, especially with children, greatly increases my motivation to choose it over the car. This largely comes down to equipment and routine. A significant first step is deciding on how your children will ride with you. For small ones, this can be a trailer (my preferred method) or front/rear seat. As they grow, you can move to a trailer bike for longer stints, or perhaps ride their own bike once their skills allow. Get some bike lights, panniers, fenders, and a high visibility jacket for cooler weather, and you will head out more often!
Be reasonable. Every trip isn’t the best time to use a bike. It might seem obvious, but stack the odds in your favor and start with easy, fun, short trips that end in a place, or with an activity, your child will enjoy. The library, park, or a friend’s house are a few examples of great places to start and will associate riding with positive outcomes.
Safety. I propose that a few wise choices and setting an example for your young ones will have a lasting impact. Start with both you and your child wearing helmets. Choose trails and bike-friendly streets, and ride defensively. Another thing to consider is that trailer and seat manuals generally suggest your child have good head control and be one year old. We didn’t take our daughters by bike for their first ten months or so. Also, buckle them in securely, just as you would in a car seat. Early on with our first daughter, I took a corner too fast and tipped over the trailer with my daughter inside. In a panic I ran back to the trailer, now on its side, expecting to find a crying kid with at least a bump to attend to. Amazingly she was hanging in her five-point harness with a rather puzzled look on her face, but completely unhurt. Thankfully I had secured her tightly enough that only my pride was damaged! It is still embarrassing to talk about, but now I always double check to make sure the kids are secure before riding off.
Hopefully, all of this helps to get you out more often on your bike with your kids. Commuting, running errands, riding the riverfront trail, or a trip to the park are all well worth it. Hope you see you around town!
Orin lives in downtown Grand Junction with his two kids and wife. As a member of the Urban Trails Committee, he is passionate about connecting communities, creating safer streets, and bringing families together through bike riding and advocacy.