Bike Snob on Cycling With a Child
This week we’re so excited to have BikeSnobNYC guest posting on the blog. BikeSnobNYC (a.k.a. Eben Weiss) is the blogger behind bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com and writes a regular column in Bicycling magazine. Check out the mini-site to learn more about his books, Bike Snob, The Enlightened Cyclist, and Bike Snob Abroad, enter our Bike Month Giveaway for a chance to win a bike and a copy of Bike Snob Abroad, and tune in to a virtual chat with Fat Cyclist this Thursday.
In my latest book, Bike Snob Abroad, I write a lot about cycling as a family—you know, the kind of cycling where you actually do stuff together, as opposed to the kind where you put on some stretchy clothes and go off on your own to try to get a good time on Strava.
In particular, I write about cycling with a child in tow, which is something I’ve been doing for a couple of years now. (I mean I’ve been doing it with my child, I didn’t just borrow one.) As Americans, we’re pretty comfortable with putting on stretchy clothes and beating our best time on Strava, and we’re even pretty good at getting on a bike to go to the store, but we’ve got a long way to go as far cycling with a child passenger being considered “normal.”
I’m no different than most Americans, and I have a lot to learn in the “riding with kids” department. However, I have managed to figure out some stuff so far, which I’ll share with you herewith.
So, Like, Where Do You Put The Kid?
If you don’t want to spring for a giant Dutch-style bakfiets, there are three basic ways you can adapt your current bicycle to carry your child: a front-mounted seat, a rear-mounted seat, or a trailer. Here are the pros and cons of each:
Pros: Better weight distribution, you get to interact with your child.
Cons: Lower child weight limit, you have to interact with your child so it’s harder to ignore their incessant requests to “stop for ice cream” or to “please slow down” because they’re “scared.”
Pros: Higher child weight limit, larger seats more conducive to napping.
Con: It may take a day or it may take a year, but your child will learn how to give you a wedgie.
Pros: Stable, weatherproof, kid can bring his or her favorite toys.
Cons: You’ll need to find someplace to store a bike trailer, bike may be less maneuverable, and your dry child will laugh and taunt you when it rains.
Kids Like To Be On Bikes
It’s true! A bike can turn even a mundane journey into a delightful one. You can drive down the same street a million times and be bored to tears, and then all of a sudden you do it by bike and it becomes an expedition filled with wonder. In the car, all they really see is the seatback. On the bike, they’ll point out all the stuff they never noticed before (“It’s Santa!” they’ll squeal with delight as you pedal past the bearded wino sleeping under the overpass) with one hand while they administer a massive wedgie to you with the other.
You Are Now At The Public’s Disposal
People generally won’t look twice if you ride with your child in the park, but if you actually use the bike to do stuff around town you tend to draw lots attention. You know how nobody’s interested in you when you help your kid into your Hyundai? Well, it doesn’t work that way with bikes. When you show up at school or the local grocery store, expect your neighbors to loiter and gawk while you load or unload, and they expect you to account for yourself. Mostly they’ll ask you questions about your child seat and comment on what a lovely day for a bike ride it is, which is their polite way of letting you know they think you’re totally crazy. Occasionally, they’ll also congratulate you for being “green,” which means they think you think you’re better than them.
You Will Be Judged
Your neighbors don’t just think you’re crazy because you’re doing all the work by pedaling instead of driving. Some of them also think you’re crazy because they’ve been brainwashed by the automotive industrial complex to think that bikes are “dangerous” whereas cars are “safe.” As far as some people are concerned, riding a bike to Whole Foods at 9mph is somehow much more reckless than driving a top-heavy SUV at 70mph while simultaneously following a GPS and rooting around under the passenger seat for your crying kid’s sippy cup.
Still, It’s All Worth It
It’s corny, but it’s true: riding with your child is even more rewarding than that Strava KOM. (Or at least I’m assuming it is, since I’ve never actually attained a Strava KOM.) And the more people do it, the more normal it will become—which I hope happens soon, because if another person congratulates me for being “green” I think I’m going to puke.
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