How do you choose your bike route? If I am biking to an unfamiliar place I might ask friends who live in that area what routes they recommend or consult a map. I might pick a route based on available bike lanes, or lack of cobblestones or trolley tracks. But when you add kids into that mix, how does that effect your route?
Five tips for picking a route to ride with your kids when you are all on one bike:
1. Take it slow. All parents know that when kids are involved you will be moving slowly. The same is true for biking with kids. When you are all on the same bike you cannot ride as fast as when you are biking on your own. Kids are heavy for one thing, and they sometimes do unpredictable things that require monitoring. Factor in extra time for getting kids into proper clothing for the weather and settled into their seats with helmets on and straps secured. (Remember that helmets are required by law for children under 12 years old, even when they are just passengers.)
2. Plan for hills. As the parent providing all the power, try to pick a route that is flat. Your knees and back will thank you. If you must deal with a steep hill you can get off and push the bike safely out of the roadway and up the hill.
3. Find some elbow room. Try and find streets that have a bike lane or are wide enough for you to have some space cushion. Kids like to point out sights along your ride and may reach outside the bike’s space. I frequently have to yell Hands in! to remind the kids to stay within the box of our cargo bike when we have less elbow room.
4. Ride with confidence. Cargo and longtail bikes have a bigger footprint, wider turning radius, and are heavier than other bikes. When you claim your space in the roadway take those factors into account. For the most part drivers are excited to see your adorable children riding on an unusual bike and will give you more space than when you ride alone. But there are times where a driver does not want to give you room in the road. Use signals, indicate if you can pull over to let the driver pass or are turning, keeping in mind you will need space to turn and more time and space to get moving from a foot-down stop.
5. Talk to your kids while riding. Let them know why you picked your route, talk about drivers and your behavior, talk about the rules of road, talk to them about signaling, and what signs mean. My kids sit right in front of me and we talk about all that we see. Call out unavoidable bumps in the road so the kids don’t get startled by them. When I ride with my kids, I am conscious that I am preparing them to understand the road and how to bike in it once they are on their own bikes.
Outside of the 5 tips, I want to mention trolley tracks, which in Philly are often unavoidable. These tracks can be slick and may have gaps between them and the pavement in which a bike tire can stick. I live on a former trolley route and my son’s school is on another trolley track street, so I have to deal with that danger almost every day. When you need to cross trolley tracks, remember to cross the tracks on a 45- to 90-degree angle. On a cargo or longtail bike that means you need more room to make that crossing. Try not to get stuck in the door zone between the track and the parked cars. If you are riding in the center between the tracks, be mindful of the cars behind you. The tracks can be just as slippery for a driver, making it hard for cars to stop quickly.
Riding with your children can be a real joy. My kids love it and I do, too.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Biking with Kids When Everyone is on Their Own Bike.