Biking with kids: tips on getting started, part 2

This post is part of an ongoing series on getting started at family biking. You should start with:

Biking with kids: tips on getting started, part 1

Me, on my first “real” loaded ride on the new Dummy.

Now that we’ve talked about obstacles to getting on a bike, let’s assume you’ve gotten yourself at least semi-mobile and you’re ready to contemplate Actually Going Somewhere.

Obstacle: Total terror and complete confusion related to navigation, not falling down, and making an ass out of yourself while proving all the naysayers right. NBD.

When I first started riding my Frankenbike, I was afraid I’d just fall over (and I nearly did at least three times, but we never totally ate it). You probably will fall over–even experienced riders do–and it’ll probably be okay. No matter how long you were riding bikes before this, it’s not the same thing at all anymore. Just balancing on the Frankenbike was a feat because it was so dang long and so clearly not meant to do what I was trying to make it do.

And on top of all that, there was the challenge of getting us all on and off. See, the Frankenbike had no kickstand, OMG, which is hard to imagine now that I’m accustomed to the Rolling Jackass on the Dummy. But even on the sleek and nimble Dummy, I had to start over just like I did with the Frankenbike (short rides, practicing getting on and off, etc.). You’ll probably have to do that, too, when/if you switch bikes.

Anyway, getting out my driveway and rolling down the street with everyone unscathed and strapped in was a big deal at first. But you can practice take-off and landing, just like anything else you want to become good enough at that you don’t embarrass yourself on the regular. Do it alone, in your driveway or wherever it is you generally embark. Do it with your children on board and when no one is looking so you can relax and do what feels natural, instead of feeling like you’re putting on a performance. Pretty soon you’ll figure out what works for your crew and it’ll become automatic.

How it plays out can be pretty different for everyone, though. For example, my friend has a Trek with a Burley Piccolo on the back (very stable trail-a-bike, by the way, since it attaches to a custom rear rack and not to the seat post like most other models) and an iBert on the front. Similar set-up to my iBert+Gary Fisher+Weehoo, but we get on and off pretty differently. You’ll just have to fiddle and practice and see what feels right.

Bicycle stage fright: It’s real, but it goes away, just like memes.

Bicycle stage fright–I never had it before, but I have it now. I’ve found there can be a fair bit of spectacle involved in family biking. I tend to imagine people are looking at me and evaluating how easy and safe it does or doesn’t seem to ride with kids. Part of it is just the bike–family bikes look cool and different, so people are naturally curious. But in my irrational mind and because I am a clumsy person, I always think onlookers are evaluating the grace/ease with which I (dis)mount and ride. I figure they do this to determine whether or not it looks like a safe thing to do and to form general opinions, for one thing, but their evaluation could dramatically sway their thinking as to whether or not they’d be capable of trying it themselves.

Anyway, all of that is possibly not true, but it nevertheless prompted me to practice leaving my house and returning to it, just getting on and off the bike (and getting the kids on and off the bike) successfully while no one was looking.

Just pretend onlookers are doing this. Actually, they mostly are. You’ll see.

It involved a lot of irritation from 2yo PvE and 4yo DPS and a lot of short trips around the block on the sidewalk. It also prompted me to retrain my mind to just focus on what I’m doing with my bike and my kids and block out all the distractions. After you feel more confident, you’ll be able to respond to shouts of encouragement or criticism without letting them wreck your focus. By then, the bike will be an extension of you, for the most part. And anyway, most people are just excited to see you and want to say so (they get bikeyface by proxy!).

Another big obstacle for me in starting to ride a la familia was that I have absolutely no sense of direction. It’s one thing if you’re just a single person with no dependents biking around town, but when little people depend on you, it’s another entirely. I feel this (imaginary?) pressure to make sure we get places on time and without getting lost or encountering unexpected obstacles like enormous hills or roads with no bike lane and heavy traffic.

There are three key ways around navigational terror:

  1. Start little and go where you know. Don’t start with a full day of school drop-off/work/errands/appointments. Instead, start with short trips close to your point of departure. Ride to the closest park, coffee shop, or corner store. Or don’t have a destination at all–just follow a familiar path. Do it a few times, until you feel more confident.
  2. As you widen your navigational net, you may want to use a GPS/map app (mapp?) on your smart phone. There are a ton of GPS apps out there just for bikes (I like Ride the City). Beyond that, you can even record your ride and route to remember for next time (I like Strava, but there are others). Even if I don’t use the mapp (heh), I still feel more secure knowing that if I get turned around, I’ll be able to figure it out. I even have a handy weatherproof mount for my phone so I don’t have to keep awkwardly digging in my pocket while trying to balance the bike with kids on.
  3. Family Ride… more like Family RAD!

  4. Ride with a friend. It doesn’t have to be another family biker, but that helps a lot. For me, this person was Family Ride. Whether she realized it or not, she became a mentor for me and another friend of ours. And her enthusiasm and positive you-can-do-it-and-it’s-not-that-hard attitude really made family biking for transportation feel doable and normal. I watched what she did, learned from her experience in figuring out routes, and learned lots of tricks/tips. I’m probably still not out of the mentee role, but I do feel like she was a huge piece of my success at this. I didn’t feel alone! I felt encouraged and excited.

Stay tuned for more parts in the series, which will focus on finding the right family bike, and possibly more.

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