Bikeshare Bingo: Six Years of Biking to School

Read the other entries in our Bike to School Day series here and here.

We are still working on the tandem selfie.

Getting Ready for the Big (New Bike) Day

When my wife, Jodi, informed me that she was pregnant, I went through all of the emotions you’d expect. One thing I didn’t really get caught up in was the excitement of acquiring all of the baby “stuff”, with one exception: bikes. But babies can’t ride bikes, you’re thinking, and you’re right. But I found a way to share my  enthusiasm with my future child: a bike trailer. It would allow me to take the newest member of our family out on runs and rides (and maybe even ski trips). Normally a hard sell when it comes to new bike gear, Jodi actually wanted to join me on the trip to the store because she was so happy to see me so excited.

It’s important to note that a bike trailer worked best for our family. It fit our needs and served the purposes we wanted it to. There are so many different options for carrying kids on bikes, I encourage to look around and ask parents when you see something you like. Our tips for buying a bike trailer:

  • Consider what you want to do with it, is it just for biking or other activities too
  • What size do you need, do you anticipate more than one child in the trailer
  • How many bikes will you attach it to – some trailers are easier to attach to multiple bikes than others

Trailers and Trails

On the guidance of our pediatrician, I waited until my son Noah’s neck was strong enough to support a helmet before our first ride. In an effort to understand how the biking is different when pulling extra weight I first pulled a sack of flour around the neighborhood. Turning and braking was really different and something I constantly had to be conscious of.

I also worried about visibility. First, I wasn’t convinced that drivers would be able to recognize that this is a trailer. There is hi-visibility piping built in to the trailer, but I added lights. I also utilized a tall orange flag to grab driver’s attention.

We started out slow and kept the distance short. He was 11 months old for his first ride and he “chattered” away the whole time, taking in all the sights and sounds in Rock Creek Park. After that, we rode together nearly every weekend Often he would sleep. But sometimes he would “talk,” “sing” or “read.” When he got a bit older we would stop to explore the woods or have a snack. The luxury of the trailer is that there was tons of space to carry everything we needed and more.

After he started daycare ( just under 2 miles from our house), I rode with him almost every day (we only missed 3 days in that year). The trailer provided a covered space to keep him dry in the rain and add layers when it was cold (on the really cold days, I put in a few of those chemical hand warmers to keep the space even more toasty).

Tips for riding with an infant/toddler in a trailer:

  • Don’t start until your child’s neck is strong enough
  • Practice pulling the trailer with some weight in a parking lot
  • Make your trailer as visible as possible
  • Take advantage of all the space a trailer provides and pack extra layers, food, and activities/distractions

A Bicycle Built for Two

Eventually we outgrew the trailer and it was time to look for another way to ride together. A family friend had an old “trail-a-bike” attachment that they were looking to get rid of and we were happy to take. The first time we rode with this, we took it slow and rode around the neighborhood. I wasn’t prepared for how much the attachment leaning to each side would affect my handling. Starting out slow and getting comfortable was key before I started riding on the roads with Noah. He loved being free and on his own bike. He could see more of what was happening and be in more control, especially since he had pedals and his own bell. Frequently, when I was looking behind me to make sure it was clear for us to make a turn, I would see his outstretched arm signaling to drivers that we were turning, just like I was doing a few moments before. This setup worked for us, I was able to carry his school stuff in my panniers and he loved riding to school. The biggest challenge I always had to consider was the weather and Noah’s comfort. Since he wasn’t working as hard as I was he would get colder faster. Choosing appropriate layers and clothing is key. For more tips on layering and youth, click here.

Noah is now in second grade and our commute is just under 4 miles. Our route is a mix of roads and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. We’re not the only ones riding to our school. The community is welcoming and when I have questions for other parents bicycling with kids, they’re happy to answer. We have a different bike set-up now. Noah loves it because he gets to ride in the front and see everything instead of my back. I love it because I get to hear him better and we have a lot of really fun conversations. One of the most recent games we started playing on our ride to school is “Bikeshare Bingo.” We try to spot every type of bikeshare available in the city before we get to school. What’s more fun is that Noah has my loud voice and Jodi’s ability to be super direct. Since he’s on the front of the bike and sees everything happening around him, he’s turned in to a mighty advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Tips on choosing a route:

  • The roads you use to drive to school may not be the best roads to bicycle on
  • Plan your route based off of traffic flow and bike lanes available
  • Ride your route on the weekend first when there’s no stress about getting to school on time
  • Talk with other parents at the school that ride and ask them about their route, see if there’s an opportunity to ride together

Time for his own bike commute

Eventually, Noah will be ready to ride his own bike to school. He keeps asking if today is the day he can ride his own bike. We’ve done a few “trial runs” on the weekends when there’s less traffic. Personally, I’m not ready for him to ride on his yet so I keep putting it off. If we had a protected space for the majority of our ride I’d be more comfortable to let him go. Additionally, I’m just not emotionally ready to no longer have him on the bike with me – we’ve been doing it for more than six years! He thinks he’s ready and wants to do it before the end

of second grade, we’ll see.

On days that we don’t ride to school, Noah will state at least once, while sitting in traffic, “I wish we rode.” My response is always the same, me too Noah, me too.