A love of riding bikes can be seen as a childlike quality in adults, something that allows us to play and have fun. What happens when actual children enter the picture, and the adults have to grow up? Here are a few examples of lifetime cyclists who, rather than abandoning their playful pursuit, are bringing their kids along for the ride.
Scott Spitz is the man behind the biking 'zine Leapfrog. Dirt Rag gaveLeapfrog a page in the Dirt Rag #126 feature "Cut & Paste," and a passage from that was one of the inspirations for this article:
There is a child on the way. Just when I could no longer imagine another way and another meaning for this bike beneath me, this child will change everything. This bike now has the potential to acquire a whole new set of meanings. It will mean whatever may come of the lessons it affords my child, from their sense of accomplishment of balance, to the joys of independence and exploration, to the sorrows of leaving it all behind for the sake of maturity, to the hope that they may one day return to attach their own new meanings to its place in their life.
Scott's son, August, is now eight months old. Scott is eager to share bicycling with him, but doesn't want to push him into it. "I'd love my child to go on rides and runs with me, but however they choose to be active and lively will be just fine with me.
"Children instinctively look to adults for guidance, even if it's not explicit, so just being on a bike will introduce a child to riding, and that's the most effective way you can get a kid to ride. I'd say the more important part is also showing them that you don't have to quit riding to start driving."
With a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude, Sharon attacks climbs like they've offended her, and rides back down as if crashing were impossible. She was even a pro downhiller back in the day. She and husband Chuck have three children, ages 6, 4 and 1.
Once the kids came along, Sharon was determined to keep on pedaling. "Biking with a 2 1/2-year-old in a bike seat while eight months pregnant in Frick Park is a really good workout (reducing labor time to 2.35 hours.)" She came to a women's ride last summer only a few weeks after giving birth to her third child—via C-section.
Sharon started biking with all three kids early, before they were a month old. "I found the itty-bitty ones can go in a trailer in their car seat," she says. Once they were more grown, she found that towing the kids on mild singletrack was not out of the question: "Children are not afraid of singletrack until they learn to walk and have experience with falling." She takes the kids along on a quarter of her rides now. With a trail-a-bike off the adult bike and a trailer attached to that, all the kids can come along, and the towing parent can get some serious resistance training.
Some kids are just lucky. Marley and Korbin Jones have Jeff Jones for a dad—a framebuilder famous for gorgeous swooping titanium creations that are as functional as they are beautiful. The Jeff Jones Custom Bicycles website says that the years-long waiting list was recently closed; but in the Jones family, "whoever's pedaling and balancing gets a bike," one with proper function and fit taken meticulously into account.
Jeff is another parent who has turned the lack of time to ride alone into a good training opportunity. Both kids came along on bike trips in a trailer as soon as they could sit up. Now that they are old enough to "pedal and participate," Jeff welded a bottom bracket onto the rear seat tube of a tandem to create a kid-size stoker position for Korbin (age 2), and Marley (age 6) pedals atop a trail-a-bike attachment.
"People think kids can't do things, but really, they don't know what they can't do. They only get tired when they're bored." To avoid that boredom he sets goals along the way of their excursions, telling them they're going to ride to an interesting place, such as a park or a creek, to play for a while—"Break up a 15-mile ride into 5-mile segments."
Jeff recommends taking the pedals off a child's first two-wheeler; this allows them to learn to balance first, by scooting along and lifting their feet for short distances, then pedals can be put back on later. For Korbin he bought a simple, lightweight wooden kids' bike that came without pedals. He took them both to a grassy area at first so they could have soft landings while getting the hang of the balance trick.
Jeff advises sticking to singlespeeds and coaster brakes until about the age of ten, since "a kid will be a better rider if they learn on that first, then get into the tech stuff much later," and since kids tend to be hard on their equipment. From his bike shop days Jeff found that parents tend to buy bikes too big; they need at least an inch of standover clearance to be comfortable. In his view the geometry of kids' bikes is often wrong, being the same as an adult bike with much larger wheels—fortunately he can avoid that for his own children.
"Keep it fun and simple, let it become whatever they want it to be." He does have to be careful that the kids don't try to emulate him too early; Jeff once found Korbin walking up the stairs with his bike with the intention of riding down, and when dissuaded, he said, "But you do it!"
The Cirilano family was another inspiration for this article. Once they had kids, they didn't abandon their biking lifestyle, but worked to incorporate their children into it. They ride together as a family two or three times a week. Joseph Jr. is 5 1/2, and Mia is 3 1/2.
Joe uses bike riding as an enticement and as transportation. "Getting kids to do stuff they don't like works better when you involve bikes (riding to church, etc.)." Like the Joneses, they also intertwine other activities with bike riding to keep it interesting, such as riding downtown to a fountain at an urban park where the kids can splash around, or taking a picnic lunch to a nice spot. Going places by bike, the kids learn their way around much faster than by car.
They can also be recruited to help with maintenance. "You can sucker the young'uns into helping you clean your rig. They love it and they're good at scrubbing tires. You just have to be careful with the chemicals."
As far as equipment, Joe prefers the type of child seat mounted on a rear rack: "Not only don't you get the 'parachute' effect with the seat (so it's easier for the 'rents) but the kids can see more, and I think they find it more exhilarating to have the wind in their faces—who doesn't?" Then, once they are older, he also uses a trail-a-bike attachment, since "it's so much easier to have a stoker."
Equipment for the Little Ones
Child seat -- A plastic seat with safety harness that attaches to a rear rack above the back wheel on an adult bike. Often includes a cushion, safety bar, and foot rests. Can be easily removed from rack when not in use. Bell and Topeak are two examples.
Trailer -- A two-wheeled, fully enclosed, low-slung cab for one or two children towed behind an adult bike. Usually has mesh screen with rain cover, soft seat with safety harness, passive suspension. Attachment to rear triangle allows independent movement, and will allow trailer to remain upright if bicycle falls over. Often foldable. Burley, Chariot and Trek are three common brands.
Trailer cycle (a.k.a. trail-a-bike, third wheel attachment) -- Like the back half of a kids' bike, attached to the seat tube or rear triangle of an adult bike. Allows the child to pedal or coast at their own speed. Attachment hitch has a joint allowing the trailer to move independently. The Adams Trail-A-Bike and Burley Piccolo (being reintroduced this month) are two popular models.
Child stoker kit (or kidback attachment) -- A kit consisting of a bottom bracket with cranks and timing chain, clamped to the rear seat tube of an adult tandem. Allows a child stoker to reach the pedals.
Safety for Tagging Along
First of all, check with your doctor to determine if your child is physically developed enough to come along on a ride.
Also check the laws in your location. In some states and municipalities children must be at least a year old before they can be carried by bike.
Make sure you are capable of maintaining control while pulling the extra weight.
Fit your child with an approved helmet. A good bike shop is the best resource for buying and learning how to adjust a kids' helmet.