Get on Your Bike And Ride! (with the kids, of course . . .)
Portland, being the generally bike-friendly city that it is, has an amazing number of cyclists hitting the road with kids in tow. Being left without a car and not having a bike meant getting around on Tri-met for about 6 months, but then the days got nicer and I started dreaming of feeling the wind in my hair. Oh yeah, and our daughter was finally big enough to don a helmet and sit up straight for long stretches of time! As she neared that 1-year milestone Jeremy and I got anxious to get on our bikes so I started looking around in earnest for a bike for myself and a way to haul our little bundle of joy.
I ended up deciding on a hybrid bike (not a road or a mountain bike, but something with features of both) because sitting higher up makes it easier for me to glance behind and keep an eye on baby. I'm sure I'll get comments from at least one hardcore road bike enthusiast who loves her steed, but after test riding lots of bikes over a few weeks I went with a KHS and have been more than satisfied. A smooth ride for not a terrible lot of money.
As far as child-carrying devices go, there's a whole slew of options to choose from. I grew up riding in a rear-mounted child seat on my mom's bike, as I'm sure many of you did, and there are still plenty of people using those. They're nice because the child is close to you, but the main disadvantages are that the height make your center of gravity go way up, which can mean it's harder to maneuver at slow speeds, and in the (unthinkable) event of an accident, your baby will fall from a considerable height.
An interesting variation on the rear-mounted bike is the front-mounted version, which is, apparently, quite popular in Europe. I saw one on Woodstock the other day, so I'm sure they'll soon start popping up all over the place. The advantages are that you can keep an eye on your child at all times, and in turn, they get to check out the view. If you fall, chances are that you'll be able to cushion the impact for them, since they sit perched between your legs. The down sides seems to be that the seats might interfere with long-legged parents' ability to pedal comfortably, and that the shorter people among us might have trouble seeing over and around baby's helmeted head. A few different designs include the Safe-T-Seat, and the Bike Tutor. Have you used one? How do you like it?
After some discussion we decided to go with a bike trailer. There seems to be consensus that they're the safest way to carry kids, since they're designed not to flip even if you and your bike do. Plus, the better ones have roll bars and 5-point harnesses for the off chance that your little one goes for an unexpected spin. Oh yeah, we also wanted one with a screen small enough to avoid spraying baby with road grit, as well as a sun shade so she wouldn't bake in the heat. One of our other considerations, besides safety, was that, without a car, we'd need to pick up groceries, etc. while on our bikes. Our trailer is rated to carry up to 100 lbs. As it turns out, it also came in really handy when Jeremy was teaching a cooking class at a school in Gresham. He would bike the Springwater Corridor to the Fred Meyer closest to the school, load up groceries for 15 kids, (they each received a grocery bag full of stuff to be able to try the recipes at home) and then ride to his class. Keep in mind, he was doing this in the middle of winter. So yeah, our Burley trailer is a champ.
To choose a trailer we did a lot of research and essentially everyone said the same thing: Burley's are the best. Of course, they also happen to be three or four times as expensive as the kind you can pick up at Toys R Us. We lucked out and had a couple relatives chip in to buy it for us as a (very generous) gift. You can also find them used on craigslist or eBay since they're built to last a lifetime (though, of course the warranty is non-transferable). We also decided to go for the model that can hold two kids, even though we're not exactly planning another yet, and now it means that I can go out biking with other mamas and carry one other kid.
When I wrote about Tri-Met there were quite a few of you that commented about how much more complicated reality gets when you have more than one child. If your kids are a little bigger, yet can't handle a long ride, I really like the Adams Trail-a-Bike option. It's like a tandem attachment for an adult bike, but it's designed so that the child (age 4-7) can stop pedaling whenever s/he wants and just enjoy the ride. If you buy this product second-hand keep in mind that there was a recall issued in October 2004 and you should make sure the bike comes with the appropriate new parts.
Finally, here comes the probably unnecessary reminder that kids under age 12 are all required to wear helmets, regardless of the method of bike travel you choose. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a helmet that goes on easily on a squirmy toddler. Maya loathes having her helmet on. She likes playing with it, she loves pointing out when other people are wearing "hats", but she shrieks cries of terror every third time we put it on her. Granted, this seems to coincide with return trips when she's already tired and cranky, but it drives me nuts. Why can't they design a helmet with the latch on the side of the child's face? Babies and toddlers often have cute little double chins and pudgy necks that can easily get caught in their so-called PinchGuard (tm) fasteners. Seriously, I'm going to start working on my own design and sell it to Bell or Giro for a million dollars some day. If anyone has a solution, please, please let me know!
In spite of helmet trauma, Maya has really been enjoying the bike outings we've taken. After one particularly grueling ride across town and up Terwilliger I nixed any all day outings until baby is a bit older, but she will literally coo and whee! all around SE Portland--until she conks out, that is. It's a rare ride where she doesn't decide to nap until we reach our destination. Must be all that fresh air.
PS- One big recommendation I have is for everyone to check out the Metro bike maps available for $6 at most bike shops or online here. Also, the folks at ByCycle have a good tool to help you plan your routes. Yay!