I have been biking my kids around on a Dutch cargo bike for nearly five years. My eldest has recently learned to ride on his own and, as we are preparing to make the transition from passenger to solo rider, I have talked to other parents who are already experienced in the art of family bicycle convoys. I asked my friend, Krista Pfeiffer, how she taught her young kids to ride solo. I rode with them one day to see firsthand how the made the commute home from school.
I recommend asking other parents what routes they take and how they instruct their kids on navigating the road. Let your kids know the rules you expect them to follow and the commands you will use when directing them through traffic. Teach your kids hand signals for turning and braking and make sure they know their left from their right. Take a few short rides as a family on a route where you feel comfortable. Here are the basics you need to know when riding with your kids when everyone is on their own bike:
1. Slow down.
All parents know that when kids are involved you will be moving slowly. Even with wheels under them, kids move at a pokey pace. Kids’ bikes have smaller wheels and single-speed gears. Let the kids set the pace of the ride since they just cannot go as fast as you can. For most of your ride, your kids will be pumping their little legs and you will be coasting.
2. Combine bike lanes and sidewalks.
Children under the age of 12 can legally ride on the sidewalk. I presume you as a parent are over the age of 12, so you cannot. You might pick a route that is a mix of sidewalk riding (for them) and bike lane riding for you.
Let your kids know the rules you expect them to follow and the commands you will use when directing them through traffic.
3. Direct your kids.
Kids will need to concentrate on riding the bicycle and will not be able to watch for all the environmental variables, so you will be directing the show. You must be watching for traffic and cars around you in the street, watching for pedestrians and sidewalk obstructions, watching crossing traffic, driveways, and turning cars. (It sounds like a lot to watch out for but you will be moving at a snail’s pace and will have time to react.) You must then use voice commands to let your kids know when it is safe to cross a driveway or street. You might call to pedestrians letting them know that there is a small cyclist near. (Don’t let a cell-phone-talking-dog-walker clothesline your kid with the dog leash.) If you are all riding in the bike lane, figure out what is a comfortable space between you and your small rider(s). When you come to a car parked in the bike lane — and you will — you will need to block traffic while your kids move around the car and back into the lane. Keep in mind that cars do not expect to see cyclists, which can make them blind to riders, especially small ones.
4. Keep the kids focused.
Young kids are thinking about riding the bike and not much else. When you come to a stop, check in to make sure everyone is ready to keep riding. As the kids get older and more used to riding, they might get over-confident. Your role will move from route director to coaching your over-confident rider on making safe choices in the road.
5. Be consistent.
Parents should have a similar riding style with their kids. If Mom rides with the kids to school in the morning and Dad picks up in the afternoon, make sure the same types of safety commands and boundaries are used by both parents.
Have fun riding with your kids. Before long they will be able to ride on their own.