Ditch The Car: The Marin Guide To Every Day Cycling With Kids
Have Kids, Will Travel
It’s a fact of life, if you’ve got kids you’re going to need to take them places.
To the grocery store, to kindergarten, to grandma’s place. Even just to the park to throw a ball and feed the birds. They’re those daily journeys that we take for granted and classic “bundle the kids in the SUV” trips we’ve done a thousand times.
But have you ever considered swapping bike for car for those daily trips?
How about getting you and your kids out of the car and into the fresh air and enjoying all of the good stuff that comes with it?
Why Would You Even Cycle With Your Kids?
Why cycle instead of drive with your kids? After all, isn’t driving just quicker and easier?
Did you know that (on average) 50% of the journeys we all make are under 2 miles? That means that half of all journeys are pretty short and pretty local and could, in many cases, be done on foot or by bike.
Switching to pedal power has loads of great benefits.
It’s free exercise for a start, adding a little more activity to your day when you’d otherwise be sat still. The more you move, the longer you’ll live says the World Health Organisation.
But it’s not just your body, exercise is great for your mind, boosting those happy chemicals that keep that all-important mental health up.
It’s also better for the environment, reducing air pollution in your community and taking cars off the road. The American Lung Association reports that "25% of Americans live with air pollution that can hurt their health and shorten their lives".
It’s also lower cost, reducing your gas, parking and garage bills, and it’s said that bikes cost 10% of the annual running costs of an average car.
You might also save time and in many congested areas trips by bike can equal or beat those of traffic-jammed car rides, especially when you factor in the daily hunt for parking.
But it's not just for grown-ups. There’s also loads of benefits to your kids. Even sat in a kid’s seat on your bike, they’ll benefit from the physical and mental health benefits. They’ll see more sights, smell more smells and feel the wind in their hair. They’ll get the chance to see more stuff, touch more stuff and engage with more stuff. Think of it like travelling but in HD.
And, of course, you’ll be setting your kids up with great habits early. Get them on the back of your bike young and they’ll be much more likely to keep cycling as older kids and adults, which in turn keeps them healthy and active.
Are You Sitting Comfortably?
If you want to cycle with young children and they’re not able to cycle confidently by themselves, you’ll need some way to carry them.
For very young children, around 6-12 months, there aren’t many bike seat options that will work comfortably. A trailer with some sort of head support is your best bet. Trailers are also your best option if you need to carry two kids at once and don't have a cargo bike.
High-end trailer models have suspension to smooth out the bumps, and nearly all of them tend to have extra carrying capacity built in, which is great for spare clothes, books, or even a bit of shopping. Most trailers also have some degree of weather protection, and it’s easy for Junior to snooze while you ride. Some also have an extra wheel attachment at the front to convert them into a stroller or running buggy, making them two pieces of equipment in one.
The downside of trailers is that you’ll have to maneuver a long load around your regular route, and it can also be tricky to store one at home without disconnecting and dismantling it every time. They can also be quite a substantial investment, although there's a good second-hand market.
Front bike seats, where your passenger sits between your saddle and handlebars, are another option for smaller children. If you’ve been relegated to the back seat of vehicles your whole life, being up front is a fun new experience, and it’s also easy to check if your kid is happy, or chat while you ride.
Younger children, around 2-years old and under, are safest in a conventional seat with straps, but above that age, you can use a minimalist design that works like an extra saddle in front of yours, such as a Kids Ride Shotgun. Using this setup you can even take your kids off road on mellower trails, and really up the fun factor. Just don’t forget to fit a front mudguard!
With a front seat setup, space can be limited, especially on smaller bike frames, and your child can outgrow it quite quickly. It’s not really an option that works on bikes with drop handlebars either, as these bikes tend to be shorter and place your arms closer together. Even on a flat bar bike, front seats can also interfere slightly with pedaling, so try before you buy if you ride a smaller frame. They’re also more exposed to chilly winds and bad weather, although there are solutions like windscreens available if you're planning to use them in those conditions.
Rear children’s bicycle seats are by far the most popular option for everyday journeys, and it’s easy to see why. Your passenger gets some shelter from the weather, more space to grow into, and there are lots of different designs to choose from. Some mount to a rear rack, some fix to the bike’s frame. Some are designed to be removed quickly when not in use or swapped between bikes. Investigate different options and you should find something that’ll work with your bike.
Look for a design that will keep little legs away from the bike’s rear wheel, with as much adjustment as possible. Rear seats put your child’s weight quite high up, and directly over the rear axle, so be prepared for some changes to your bike’s handling. They can also take out some of your bike’s carrying capacity, particularly if they mount to the rear carrier where you’d normally sling some panniers, so you might need to switch to wearing a backpack instead.
As your kid gets bigger, they’ll probably move towards riding their own bike. A trailer bike or tagalong can be a great step towards this, as they’ll be able to get some practice at pedaling without wobbling all over the road or being left behind up the hills. You can even get devices that’ll attach a child’s bike to the back of yours, but allow it to be unhitched for quiet or traffic-free sections.
Check the compatibility of these types of devices with your bike carefully before hitting the buy button, as a lot of them will only work happily with adequate wheel clearance or an axle adapter. There are lots of different designs out there and you should be able to find something that suits.
For all of the above, we’d recommend giving your friendly, neighbourhood Marin dealer a call and they can recommend some options.
Take Your Time, Make It Fun
A good tip when commuting with kids is to leave some extra time.
From the simple act of putting on clothes, to last-minute bathroom trips, there are loads of ways that children can derail your schedule, and it’s much less stressful if you build in some leeway.
One of the nice things about going places on bikes is that it’s easy to stop for a moment to deal with a minor problem or look at something interesting, and if you’re not on a tight deadline you can take full advantage of this.
And, let’s not forget that kids care a lot more about cool things than meetings and deadlines. A cold and windy ride will be 200% more fun for them if it goes via the lake, stops to see the construction site, feed the ducks or they’re allowed to help choose the route. Fun is your friend!
Take your time, make it fun, keep your cool. It’ll get smoother and faster with practice!
Wrap Up Warm
If you’re carrying a kid on your bike, chances are you’ll be working harder than them, so in bad weather it’s easy to forget that they might be getting cold. Small bodies lose heat quicker and a lot of kids’ outdoor gear is less effective than the stuff available for adults. So make sure they’re overdressed rather than undressed, with plenty of layers.
Kids don’t always see the point in wearing things like gloves, so you might have to think laterally. Bar mitts or pogies can be much less hassle than trying to wrangle tiny little fingers into tiny little gloves. You can even get special ponchos that wrap all the way around a child seat and its passenger.
eBikes For Riding With Kids
Unless you’re a really strong rider, chances are you’ll notice the extra weight of a child and a seat, and like it or not kids only get bigger.
Investing in an e-bike can make things much easier, and means your family commute can carry on for a few extra months or even years.
In an urban area, e-bike journey times become competitive with motor vehicles, or even beat them, especially when you factor in the time for things like finding a parking space.
Some riders also feel safer in traffic on an e-bike, because they’re able to set off quickly and keep up with other vehicles.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you’re trying out a new route, or a new piece of equipment, it really pays to have a test ride first.
As a rule, kids don't have the same sense of time that adults do. The last thing you want is to set off five minutes late because you had to watch just one more episode of Bluey, then realize that things are going even further adrift.
If you're used to riding an unladen bike, you might want to check how things change when you have a passenger on board. Some parents test-ride child seats or trailers with a sack of potatoes. It's worth checking how much longer a ride will take you when fully loaded, as well as the location of places to park up.
Loading and unloading can be one of the trickiest parts of riding with kids on board and a nice flat area with something to lean your bike against will make this much easier.