Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Dusti Arab of Minimalist Adventures.
The 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!
- Start with your bike. Unlike cars, which are "one size fits all," a comfortable bicycle must fit like a shoe. Also consider your riding terrain and do some research to find a bike type that matches your needs!
- Next, you need helmets. If your child can hold up their head, they can probably wear a helmet just fine and are ready for riding.
- Finally, you'll need to find your child hauling device of choice.
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!
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.
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?
Dusti Arab is a student, mother, and writer of Minimalist Adventures. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org