How To Bike Commute With A Baby: A Mom’s Perspective

by Tammy Strobel on September 29, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dusti Arab of Minimalist Adventures.

Sophie asleep in the bike trailerThe day I told my mother I was pregnant, she was so excited. The first words out of her mouth were:

“Oh, we have to start getting things for the baby. Now you have to get a car. The baby has to have a car!”

When I informed her I had no intention of getting a car, it caused some tension to say the least. She was convinced that without a car, it would be impossible to properly take care of the baby, especially since we live in such a wet climate.

Fast forward to today, Evie is nearing two, and things are a little different. Now I am a dedicated bike commuter, with over a thousand miles just commuting under my belt since April. I get up in the morning, get myself ready, and put my daughter her in trailer, where she spends most of her time playing and yelling, “Whee!” It’s one of the best parts of my day. My mom is now at least used to it, and she waits outside when I’m riding up, so she can hear my daughter shout, “Nana! Nana!” as we turn the corner.

Many people think it’s impossible to be a bike commuter with children, but that is simply not the case. Biking with children is totally possible and tons of fun with the right equipment, safety precautions, and the proper amount of planning. It’s really not so different from going on a car trip with your kids. You wouldn’t go on a trip without buckling up and having a car seat for your child.

Here is a list to help you get started:

Find the proper gear!

Consider your visibility.

  • This means lights and mirrors. I use a headlight, taillight, reflectors, two mirrors, and an additional taillight for the trailer.
  • Also, my trailer is bright yellow. Pretty much the brightest shade there is. Yes, its pretty gaudy, but people always see me on the bike.

What are you planning on wearing?

  • I have to prepare for bad weather on a daily basis, so I wear biking clothes and change when I get to my destination.
  • Figure out what works for you, but try to wear bright colors to alert motorists to your presence.

Know your local biking laws!

  • In most areas, bikes are legally considered as vehicles and must obey all the laws that apply to vehicles in the roadway such as obeying traffic signs and lights.
  • Motorists don’t like driving next to bikes because they can be unpredictable. Let’s work to fix this perception by knowing the laws regarding bicycling and operating our bikes like we do our cars. Share the road!

Kid Haulers

As far as equipment for hauling kids goes, parents have more options than ever, with seat attachments, front loading seats, trailers, and the multitude of DIY jobs I see everyday in Portland. You really have to do some research and figure out what will work the best for you, but after considering several options, I prefer baby trailers. You can use them for other purposes, like carrying groceries when not in use by baby, they improve your visibility to other vehicles, your balance isn’t as altered, and my daughter loves the extra room to play.

Evie is set for long trips, unlike in a car where she gets squirmy, sick, and thoroughly unhappy. Also, baby trailers are much better for places like Oregon, where wet weather is a part of life for most of the year. For a really excellent set of product reviews, read Offspring Haulers.

In case you are curious, I use a Schwinn model similar to the trailer reviewed in the article that converts to a stroller.

Safety and Busting Myths

Safety is cited as a major concern by many parents when discussing bike commuting; however, I find this pretty ludicrous. Although most folks assume cars are safe, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car accidents (with child passengers) are far and away the leading cause of death in children.

In contrast, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deaths for bicyclists in the United States are less than 1000 a year and decreasing even though the number of bikes on the road is increasing. There are a lot of great statistics regarding bike safety you can find here to bust the myths revolving around cycling safety.

Plan Your Route and Prepare!

Now it’s time to preplan your trip. This means a couple of different things. First of all, before you take your kids out, figure out your main routes. Do you have bike lanes or sharrows available in all of the places you will be going? How is visibility? Would it be safer to go around certain trouble spot? Perhaps ask other more experienced bike commuters for route suggestions.

Map your routes and you will be rewarded by having fewer surprises when out with the kids. Next, when the big day finally arrives, have everything ready the night before. Have your diaper bag packed, your work stuff ready, and clothes for both of you laid out in advance. The key to making bike commuting with kids work is making sure it is as convenient for you as possible. This also means having a back up plan, in case one of you is sick, you get a flat tire and have no tube, etc. Be prepared, and you will be amazed how easy and wonderful it is to bike commute with kids.

The Perks!

There are so many reasons to be a bike commuter, especially if you have kids. The sheer amount of money you save from not having a car was one of my first reasons for ditching the gas guzzler. Take a look at your budget and cut out the car payment, insurance, repairs, and gas. How much extra discretionary income is there? According to American Automobile Association the average American spends $9,519 per year to own a vehicle, or over $800 per month! That could be going to your child’s college fund, swapping to a healthier diet, or to your dream of taking your child to Argentina with you.

Another benefit is less spent on healthcare. If you are exercising regularly, you’re going to have fewer health issues. What better way to set an example of fitness as a part of daily life? Also you demonstrate you care about the environment, because you actually show them the commitment you are making as a family to saving the planet. Cycling is the ultimate way to lead by example. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot – it’s fun!

Finally, remember to laugh. You’re going to have bad days. It’s going to rain. Sometimes, there are days when you really, really want to drive. There are mornings where I loathe going out into the dark, rainy morning. But, once I get my muscles moving and feel the cool breeze in my face and inhale the clean scent of the rain, I feel blessed. How many people get to start their day like that?

You could.

***

Dusti Arab is a student, mother, and writer of Minimalist Adventures. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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1 andrewodom September 29, 2010

What a great post. I am not a mom and unless science makes major steps I will never be. However, my wife and I have talked multiple times about bike commuting when we do start a family. It is a huge priority of ours as we are in the middle of transitioning from sharing one car to being full time bike commuters. It is difficult mind you as we live in a rural community. But sometimes the best things in life require dedication and sacrifice.

This post as well as Dusti’s whole website include some wonderful first-hand accounts and tips/tricks. Thank you for sharing with us today. I have sent the link to my wife so we can read it together and really solidify our feelings on the subject. Until then though, I am pretty sure we could use such a trailer for a “station wagon / grocery getter” bike, no? hahahhah

2 Miguel de luis September 29, 2010

I would be a bit concerned to use a kid hauler. When you take into account how rough people can drive, I mean it just makes terribly uneasy.

3 Dusti Arab October 2, 2010

Honestly, it’s more dangerous in a car than it is to bike. Look at the numbers before you make a decision based on “safety.” Yes, some people are rough drivers, but is that an excuse not to try and end oil dependency?

4 beelnite October 18, 2010

And it actually looks a lot scarier from the car – or sitting behind the wheel of an SUV. But when you are on the bike – it feels even safer than a car! I’m in charge. I have great visibility – I can hear everything – I’m in the scenery and feel quite safe actually. Sure some people are really rude and take chances with my life and my kid’s life – for dumb reasons (save 2 seconds?) but they do it to me all the time in the car too… so – since my family is nearly killed by some idiot just about every car trip – being nearly killed on the bike every once in a while doesn’t seem so bad.

5 sarah k. September 29, 2010

Thanks for this post! I’m a new bike commuter, and so far have not had any huge setbacks, but I’m wondering if you could recommend resources on biking in more severe climates? I live in Ohio, and in the late spring through early fall, there’s no problem, but here comes winter! Freezing rain and snow will obviously make cycling impossible, but when it’s just cold… I don’t really know. I guess blankets in the trailer for the kid, but what about the cyclist?

Also, as a new cyclist, I really like the googlemaps bike option. So far, it’s created routes for me that are not on major/dangerous roads, and takes me to bike routes I didn’t know about, and are pretty!

6 Logan September 29, 2010

@Sarah K.

Dottie from the Lets go ride a bike blog in Chicago has a great post to answer your question on dressing for winter from a woman’s perspective: http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/2009/11/how-to-dress-for-winter-bike-commuting/

Dottie also has a great review of studded bike tires for winter riding! :) Cheers!

7 Jörgen September 29, 2010

Here is some inspiration from my nephews in Denmark (living in Sweden myself). http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com
I am a dad and our family doesn’t own a car. No car = you don’t have to spend 800 $/month (think of how many hours of work is $800? ). No car = you don’t have to spend money on a gym card (where I live that is about $40/month) . No car = you save our environment. Not owning a car has made it possible for me to down shift and have more time for my kids.

8 McKella September 29, 2010

I would love to commute by bike in the future. Right now I’m a live-in nanny, so I have no work commute, and I live in the mountains where everything is far apart and our schedule isn’t very flexible. When I get my own place though, I’ll try to bike around more. I’m tired of my income getting sucked into my car and having to fix something every week.

9 Marc September 29, 2010

Hi i’m from Holland and here we use the bikes from a company called http://www.defietsfabriek.nl/pages/english.htm
Great bikes to get around town with the kids or with groceries

10 Syarbro September 29, 2010

I got here through the New York Times artice “But Will It Make You Happy” by Stephanie Rosenbloom. I am on my way to Washington State. I want a tricycle and I admire your fortitude in leaving the so called American Dream and opting for Happiness instead. It’s really something selling everything but it’s freeing to. I’ll keep you posted… I am your Mom’s age and I am excited to begin my Zen lifestyle…

11 Diane September 29, 2010

This was a fabulous inspiration.

The more I bicycle, the more I hate to drive. But I, like sarah k. above, live in a climate that has icy, snowy winters. I’m not at all confident about driving my car, much less riding my bike, in those conditions.

I do love the idea of getting a trailer to haul groceries, library books, changes of clothes in, though.

12 Logan September 29, 2010

@Diane,

Like Sarah K above, you may also be interested in the lets go ride a bike blog that covers Women cycling topics in Chicago and Nashville. One of my fav articles of theirs is a review of studded bike tires for snowy/icy bike commuting http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/2009/12/bicycling-on-ice-my-studded-tires/

Cheers! :)

13 Michael Bauer September 29, 2010

I lived in the greater Boston area (MA) for two years now always bike commuting (~10miles/day). I got winter marathons last year and although they are expensive (~70usd/tire) they are great in winter. Especially in icy and packed snow conditions. They were dead stable when even walking would be a slipping and insecure thing.

The only thing you have to worry about then is getting dressed right. But winter commuting is possible and it’s fun.

14 jody lee September 29, 2010

I moved to Copenhagen from Vancouver 8 months ago and I’m still in awe every time I hop on my bike. Not only are there hundreds – thousands of other people on bikes around me, but a large proportion of them carry passengers- babies, kids, friends, grandparents. Cargo bikes are the way to go. It’s truly inspiring.

In Vancouver, being a ‘cyclist’ was part of my identity – people said ‘ohh… you’re a cyclist!’, as if I was part of an exclusive club. In Copenhagen, nobody is a cyclist… but everybody cycles! Children are transported by their parents and as soon as they can walk, they ride their own tiny bikes with everyone else.

It’s simple. People in Copenhagen ride bicycles because it’s easy and safe here. Three words: dedicated bike lanes. They make all the difference in the world. I have to say I don’t miss the daily adrenaline rush of cycling to work.

This video by Streetfilms gives you a glimpse:
http://www.streetfilms.org/cycling-copenhagen-through-north-american-eyes/

15 The Tiny Homestead September 29, 2010

good for you not getting sucked into the whole “we need x because of the baby”! very inspiring, though I don’t have children myself (yet).

16 Rona September 29, 2010

I’m so glad that you shared your experience of biking with your little one. Yes, many people feel that you have to have a car when you have kids.
We have 2 teens and have been car free since last year. It was my husband that thought we wouldn’t be able to survive with a car. We live about 5 minutes for a bus route. We have several restaurants, stores, dentist and my hair stylist within walking distance.
Now that he’s on his second layoff after 4 months I’m glad we don’t have that responsiblity.

17 gregory September 30, 2010

yes! great post! i had the same problem — perfectly reasonable people assuming i would get a car because i had a baby. wtf? so besides all the many many benefits of riding with the babe, i enjoy proving them wrong :-)

here’s my rig, with details about the gear (i went for handlebar mounted seat; i have a separate trailer for hauling stuff, but i like having him up where we can talk and he can see):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/parsnip/4410943445/in/set-72157612497513008/

that video was the boy’s first ever bike ride. we’ve logged hundreds of miles since and it just keeps getting better!!!

(also, if you think raising a kid without a car is liberating, try no TV too! talk about mind expanding!!!)

18 Dusti Arab October 2, 2010

I love it! Glad to know I’m not alone!

We are TV-less, as well. It’s pretty amazing. :)

19 Jessica @ Minimal Student October 1, 2010

In Japan, mothers commute with their kids on bikes all the time! It’s not unusual to see mom’s wheeling their kids to school like this, there’s so many of them at a time it’s probably safer than driving. I just wish that the rest of the world would take it on!

20 Karen October 2, 2010

Great post! I am wondering how the author is going to transition with the child is older? Will the child be able to ride his own bike in the mornings to day care and school? Curious!

I have been contemplaing moving in to biking to work. I have teenagers that only live with us on weekend. Here is Seattle we get plenty or rain too!

Posted this link to my blog post today. Have a great Portland weekend!

21 Dusti Arab October 2, 2010

Well, the trailer is going to be fine until my daughter is around five. Honestly, I haven’t really considered what I will use in the interim. It depends on how fast she gets her “two-wheeler” proficiency, but I will likely use one of those attached tandem pieces until she is old enough to ride alone. I don’t think it is fair to place an age on that particular skill, but I imagine it will happen by the time she is eight or nine. Happy riding!

22 Hal October 3, 2010

Take a look at trail a bikes. The have only a rear wheel and seat. The front of the bike hooks up to your bike. The kids then get the feel of riding on their own, and can pedal, but you are in charge of steering, maneuvering, and stopping.

http://www.trail-a-bike.com/

23 Brenda October 3, 2010

Dusti, thank you so much for your post. My husband and I are considering expanding our family soon and the last thing I want is to buy another car. We have one car and that is plenty. I applaud you and feel encouraged by acts.

24 Anonymous October 8, 2010

Thank you so much! Glad I could help you out. :)

25 Ruthie October 8, 2010

Thank you so much for this! I have just started bike commuting and love it. We want to start a family soon and I keep thinking “WELL, enjoy this now because soon it’ll be ALL OVER!”

Your blog post completely changed my perspective. Do you have any info about biking while pregnant??

26 Dusti Arab October 8, 2010

Hi Ruthie,

I wish I did! As far as biking while pregnant goes, I only did a little bit of it. My only piece of advice would be to make sure your seat is REALLY comfortable. Mine was not, and even in the beginning, it aggravated my psiatic nerve. Listen to your body, and try not to push yourself too hard. Honestly, I had such a rough pregnancy, I wasn’t able to ride my bike. I wish you better luck in your endeavors!

27 tornadogrrrl October 25, 2010

Ruthie,
I’m currently 24 weeks pregnant, and still using my bike as my primary form of transportation.
I think the most important thing is to listen to your body and be kind to yourself. In the first trimester there was about 6 weeks where I was so sick that I didn’t ride at all. During the weeks that I was sick it was really hard for me to adjust to not being well enough to ride, I missed it terribly and it raised a lot of fears that I would never go back to being a “bike person”. Currently my biggest adjustment is in how long it takes me to get places, I’m a LOT slower than I used to be. All of the extra blood in your body along with a shift in your bodies’ cardiovascular priorities, plus being heavier, really changes how hard you can ride.
I second the advice about having a comfortable seat. You also will want to change back to regular peddles if you use clips or clipless. If you have a bike with a high crossbar you might want to consider switching to one where it’s easier to step on and off (your balance WILL change). If you have a bike that necesitates a bent over riding position you will probably want to switch to one where you can sit mostly, or all the way, upright (more room for the belly).
Good luck!

28 James November 2, 2010

Tammy, Logan, and whomever else wants to chime in,

I live in rural Cowlitz County (oxymoronic, I know) where my current (car) commute is 17 miles one-way (take your pick – I-5 or windy, low-visability county highways). I also have an absolutely beautiful one-year-old whom I see a few times every week and every other weekend (going through a divorce – would move closer to work but I’m living in a safe, small town and am only three miles from her. This county, unlike Portland, is NOT bike friendly in any way (residents often complain about the Seattle to Portland instead of cheering riders on). I’m trying to go car-less or car-free (I’m TV free, at least), but do you have any suggestions?

If I lived in Portland, I’d ditch all and ride Tri-Met in a heartbeat.

Thanks!

James

29 Logan November 2, 2010

Big dilemmas often require difficult and slow solutions.

Find a way to tele-commute (at least one day a week), car-pool, and car-share with neighbors for the short term to just decrease how much you use the car. For the longer term, I would say if you don’t want to move closer to work, bring work closer to you. If you like your town find a way to bring in an income to where you are. You may not be able to make as much as you make now at your current job but you should calculate and factor in how much your current job costs you (Car payments, gas, costuming, eating out, health risks of stress, poor exercise, etc.). The book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin can help you put your budget in perspective on this issue. Also, Tammy’s e-book Smalltopia is a great resource for starting a small business.

If you indeed love cycling, you should do something about the unfriendly nature of your town. Run for a political office, go to town council meetings and volunteer to host bicycle races using your town as a stop. Above all else ride your bike because as Gandhi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. You may be the town crazy for doing so but you will also inspire others in your community to also try out cycling. By committing to something you love you will also send a great message to your kid that its OK to do something you love, even if everyone thinks you’re crazy for doing it.

Before Mia Birk came along in the 90′s Portland similarly had a similar unfriendly attitude towards bikes. People used to yell at her and tell her she was crazy, now she’s a national bike mecca hero!

Cheers and Good luck! :)

30 gwendolyn November 15, 2010

My question is what did you do until your baby was old enough to hold up its head? Did you bike with it when it was a newborn? How did you get around? I plan on commuting via bike with a baby but I would have to go back to work when it was 2 months old. How did you deal with being carless? Or did you have a car for this time period?

31 Dusti Arab November 15, 2010

When my daughter was born, I was in between terms for college, and I wasn’t yet a dedicated bike commuter. I mostly used the bus and walked where I needed to go. At two months post baby, I wouldn’t have been able to ride a bike for very long, if at all. At the least, it would not have been either comfortable or enjoyable. I chose to use a sling and use public transit, which is more friendly to a very tiny baby. Being carless was never a problem for me, because I had a system already in place.

If I were to have another baby, I honestly would probably build something to suit my needs until the baby was big enough to ride in the bike trailer with my daughter.

I’m going to refer you to this site, because they are pretty serious about helping out commuters with babies. It seems the best option would be to use an infant car seat in a bike styled like theirs. http://www.joe-bike.com

32 Tim Z April 28, 2011

Great story! Thanks for sharing and good luck keeping it up.

We are looking into ways to work our two-month-old into our urban cycling lifestyle. My intrepid partner biked all through her pregnancy right into labor. So far we’ve been using transit with the little one but plan to get a trailer or other carrier soon.

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