Monthly Archives: February 2011

Cycling Alongside Children: Cold Weather Cycling

So far the children and I have managed to cycle them to school at least once a month.  Well, it was several times in December until the harried pre-Christmas schedule saw us just needing the convenience of quicker vehicular transportation.

Then in January we managed 2 or 3 round trips but I wouldn’t let them cycle in the super cold weather we’ve had.

So far in February we’ve manged two trips.  We are sincerely hoping that the weather gets warmer by the end of this week and then stays in that zone!

Cold weather cycling with children raises a lot of eyebrows.  I get the feeling the assumption is that I’m ‘forcing my children’ onto the bikes.  It is typical that one of the children are requiring extra encouragement but that encouragement is usually coming from the other child.  Then there are the mornings that both children are encouraging me to take the bikes instead of the van.

We’ve taken some precautions that we think make cold weather cycling safer.

First we’ve taken the time to make sure each child is on a cycle that is more upright in position.  From what I’ve read on the internet, an upright position puts more of the riders weight on the back wheel (logical) and helps them steer and keep their balance in slippery conditions.

Our experiences seem to support this.  We’ve ridden in some very snowy streets and typically our front wheel indicates that we’re in trouble and then the feet go down or adjustments are made to keep the balance.

In fact the children have only slipped once.  First it was my son and that was because he was riding hands free and went over a patch of ice.  About 10 feet down the road my daughter slipped and we are thinking she went down because her ‘mind slipped because of E’s fall.’ (her explanation and I tend to agree, she lost her mental game!)

Second, we’ve installed internal brakes on their winter bikes.  My daughter and I currently only own one bike, but the husband and son each have a winter bike.  Oddly enough, husband doesn’t have internal brakes and wishes he did.

Third, I made sure both of them have racks on their bikes so that they are not carrying their school bags on their backs.  Now, my son has developed the opinion that it is not manly to put a basket on your bike so he uses his rat trap to hold his bag on the bike or it ends up in my basket.  Because, having your mother cycle your books home… nevermind! 😉

Fourth, we don’t alter anything else that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  We don’t take different routes (EXCEPT we do not take the long route home through the woods as it is not ploughed).  We don’t change our position on the road or ride sidewalks.  We don’t ride as often but that is more because I’m concerned about the drivers and them not expecting children on the road!

Last, clothing.

I’m a knitter and we’ve found that we all love neck cowls.  When knit with alpaca or merino they provide toasty warmth that stays warm even though you’re huffing through the material.

We also have a thinner beanie style hat that we wear under ‘bucket’ style helmets.  These helmets are different from those we wear in the summer and I made them wear their hat and then sized the helmet to fig snug with the toque in place.  Typically I knit the beanie style hats a wee bit long so that the ears are covered by the hat.  I’ll also knit a facing into the hat (provisional cast-on and then a picot turn for the girls or a purl row for the boys in a stockinette tube hat), which provides a double layer over the ears.

Our noses and lips are typically out although our cowls can and do get pulled up.

We do have a pair of ski snow pants for each of us.  They are a wee bit thinner than traditional snow pants.  We all appreciate the extra warmth but wonder if knitted tubes over the knees would be enough.  Sadly time has not allowed me to experiment with this yet!  I’d say my son wears his ski pants 50% of the time, on the way to school and then ‘forgets’ to put them on and takes off home before I can force him to wear them.

The kids don’t have time to change out of long underwear at school and found that it was too hot to leave them on, so we found the snowpants was the best option for us.

They wear their normal winter coats but I switch between my regular coat and a windproof, waterproof cycling shell with a warm sweatshirt underneath.  The last combination works great and I do love it but does look a bit odd going into stores.  I’m hoping to eventually have enough money to buy a 2XL merino wool cardigan from the bike shop to wear under the shell.  Sadly being a tall busty woman does have its negatives!

The kids do wear their regular mitts as well.  I have several pairs of mitts and gloves and tend to favour my lobster style cycling gloves.  The kids have not complained of cold fingers yet.

They bike in their regular winter boots, the kind you get at any big box store.  I will go between a pair of cotton socks and a pair of wool socks over top in my steel toe work shoes, or sometimes I’ll cycle in winter hiking style boots and then change into my work shoes.

If you were to see us on our cycles in the winter time we do not look ‘cycle chic’ but we definitely look normal Canadian person dressed against the cold.  If you were to see us near the end of our cycling trip you’d have to laugh though, typically we’ve removed our cowls, unzipped our coats and sit there fanning ourselves to cool down.  But hey!  At least in winter you can cool down quickly!

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Cycling Alongside Children: The Awesome and Good

With all of the previous posts it may seem that cycling with children is a lot of work, requires a huge amount of ‘stuff’ and time and in general is a lot of work.

It is.  I won’t lie.  If you want to use cycling as a main mode of transportation for your family or as a serious recreational hobby cycling is a lot of work for any person.

It is also costly.  Not as costly as owning a vehicle but it is not free.  There are varying degrees of money commitment but it will likely cost more than you think.  Mainly because if you are cycling a lot you will find that you will need to invest in some good quality equipment.

None of that has been considered a huge negative to my family.  In fact every year we cycle more and we plan greater distances.  Our long term goal (7 year plan) is to actually cycle across Canada with the children just before or after they graduate from high school!

Cycling has so many benefits.  So many of them have been recorded.  There are health benefits.  There are environmental benefits.  There are financial benefits.

But I am focusing on children here.

Cycling alongside children provides you with an amazing opportunity to connect with your children.

Cycling creates a situation in which you are all required to focus intently on what you are doing and on how you work together in this situation.

You will be functioning as a very tight unit in a very public forum.

You will be testing your understanding of each others abilities and developing good understanding of each others strengths, weaknesses and personalities.

As a family we’ve developed some very strong communication skills.  I have seen times when my children support each other that could make me weep for joy!

I have listened to my children express confidence and pride as they talk about their achievements.

We have learned about the importance of humour as we cycle in a downpour singing, “I’m cycling in the rain. I’m cycling in the rain! What a glorious feeling, I’m soaking again!”

We’ve learned that we have limits and the need to express them.

At times of grief we learned how to turn that into helpful action by choosing to turn the physical action of cycling into fund-raising.

As a mother of a child with what is currently labelled ADHD, I’ve seen how cycling helps him find the calm and allows him to take that into his day.  I love listening to him express how cycling is like taking a trip to the moon or a planet all of his own.

As a mother of a child who is a perfectionist and extremely cautious, I’ve seen how cycling has helped her stretch herself in ways that I wanted to but didn’t have the patience to teach.  I take joy in her trill of letting herself go down a big hill at 10 kph instead of 5 or hopping off to walk down.

I watch my children fist pump as they crest a big hill.  High-5 as we cross a distance milestone.  Cheer each other as they reach fatigue.

I can step back and watch them learn to make adult choices.  Accepting that even though they don’t ‘feel like it’ or that ‘it would be easier’ or ‘if only’ that in their hearts they know that just working past those thoughts will bring greater joy.

As a parent, I feel it is my job to walk beside them as they journey.  At this point in their lives I direct and choose for them.  Cycling allows me several easy ways to let my children develop the skills they need as an adult in an environment that I can monitor.

Those are some of the reasons why I cycle alongside my children.

Here is proof that I was there…

Note: I’m not a photographer by any definition. These pictures were taken on my Blackberry Curve. Currently I have a Blackberry Torch and use that for the current pictures on my blog.

I was using a Canon point and shoot but I let my kids use the camera and so now I don’t have a working camera!

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Cycling Alongside Children: The Route and Planning

When cycling with children I find the best way to get a good experience is to plan ahead.  Make sure you have what you need but to also consider what you are going to do and where you want to go.  I guess I’m talking about using cycling as a mode of transportation here.

We’re at the stage where we go to several places when we head out on the bike.  And, for the record I think it was always this way.

But if I were starting off from scratch I might consider that the first few trips would be mainly pleasurable experiences.  Heading to the park for a picnic, to the beach for some sun and sand, the museum, whatever you happen to have within a reasonable distance from your home.  So, realistically, heading to the corner store for a bag of treats ;).

We live by the river, so for us several of our bike trips look like this:

We are also at the stage that we all take part in planning our route.  Our city is relatively hilly.  We live close to the river which means that it is nearly impossible to head somewhere without climbing a hill.  The exception to that is school, which happens to be on the opposite side of the river 2.5 kms from our home.

However, initially I would take the time to plan routes with mapmyride and carefully consider elevation.  I find that with my daughter it is much better to take a longer but more level route.  However, on a really hot day she will sometimes now request that we modify the route to climb the steeper hills but take the shorter route home.  I find we end up taking the same amount of time.

Another blessing we have in this city is that it is one of the older North American cities and was originally planned for pedestrians.  This is a huge advantage to the cyclist.  Also, city planners here have worked hard to maintain an extensive number of trails and paved walkways that are designed for pedestrians and cyclists.

All of this adds up to amazing cycling.

The river plays another factor into our route planning.  Both in and out of our favour.  For example, to cycle from our home to the school actually works out to the same amount of time by cycle or by car.  In fact… its a 50/50 tie between the modes of transportation as to who will return home first.

These factors aside, there are things you should consider when planning your route with children.

First and most simple.  Put the stops in order.  Don’t zig zag.  My tip here is to do the farthest away first and work your way home.

Second be reasonable.  I can plan to be gone for hours with my children.  My children covered 1500 kms in the summer of 2010.

When thinking about your children, realize they cycle much slower and I would wager they’ll cycle much farther than you think.  Certainly much farther than they’d walk.

Third plan rest stops.  IF you are doing a series of stops plan rest stops.  If we are gone for several hours I also consider making sure that we can refill our water bottles.  Water is actually pretty heavy so if we can stop and refill and take a smaller bottle I take that option.  Its a little thing but for some reason the kids think that way too.

It is not uncommon for us to stop at a grocery store in the summer and grab a box of ice cream drumsticks.  Since there are typically 3 of us, we’ll randomly gift the 4th to a stranger.

If we are able to use the trail, sometimes we’ll pull off and lay in the grass.

Fourth, be flexible.  In the beginning it is important to be willing to forget your agenda.  The worst thing you can do, if your goal is to teach children to enjoy cycling, is to force them to one more stop.  If you are cycling places because you absolutely must get to place ‘A’ today, take the vehicle.  It will be better for all of you.  Then come home and do something on the bikes for fun.

Well that’s enough for today 🙂

 

Heading Home:

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Cycling Alongside Children: Safety

Safety is always my first concern when riding with my children.  I was much happier when they were quite young and I could pop them in a trailer.  I knew where they were and I felt they were significantly more visible to the rider.

Plus they were shaded and I felt protected from most elements.

Also, it removed one huge factor, them!

Riding alongside children is a HUGE exercise in your faith.  It becomes a workout, both physically and mentally.  You learn gratitude because there will be times when you know you avoided serious injury and blind drivers yet again.

But, in my opinion, your children will be blessed with knowledge, self-confidence, wisdom and understanding that takes years to learn in any other setting.

There are many ideas as to the best way for children to ride on streets.  We have different methods if we are out with two parents or just one.  Typically it is just the kids and I.  Believe it or not, I sometimes adding my husband frustrating because I’ve taught them very specific methods for cycling with traffic and my husband isn’t as familiar with them and I find that we get into more ‘near’ experiences when we ride as a group.

I find as a cyclist, I have far fewer ‘near’ experiences riding with the children than I do when riding alone.  I’ve been right hooked dozens of times alone, but only once has someone nearly right hooked my child.

Which leads to the first item of safety:

Brakes: I am fanatical about brakes.  They must be very tight and finger sensitive.  We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on brakes for the bikes.

Over time several other children have gone biking with my family.  If I don’t approve of their cycle’s braking ability I remount them on one of the family bikes… or in one case where I knew the sole source of transportation was the cycle I paid to have the brake system replaced.

As far as I am concerned, as a parent, how stupid of me would it if I were sitting in a hospital beside my injured child who got there because they couldn’t brake in time to avoid an accident!

Position on the street:

I prefer to ride with my children in front of me.  This is because we ride with traffic (the vast majority of the time) and I am bigger and I take more of the lane so I hope it helps drivers see us cycling.

We call the lead person the Captain.  Typically it is my more cautious daughter, partly because having the slower rider leads avoids situations where the group splits.

If my husband rides with us, either he or myself take the lead and the other the rear.  Unless he and son are in a mood.  In which they’ll draft by the daughter and she and I ride as a pair.  Not at all something I like!

Crossing the Road:

We use various methods.  I gauge familiarity with the area, number of lanes to cross, number of vehicles and type, sun/visibility, and how the kids have been riding that day.

Typically we operate much like a car.  If I am at the rear I’ll signal a turn, call it up the chain, signal and take half the lane, have the kids move over and then we rest in the middle of the turning lane.  This is to avoid drafting of the cars coming the other direction.

Turning I’ll take what I consider the most dangerous edge of the turn, and try to get the kids to ride single file with me kind of riding parallel and placed right in between them.  I try to be the visible person.  Then there is a bit of jostling as we return to position.  Our mantra for crossing is this: cross and then turn.  In other words, get across the traffic to the farthest lane and then cross the on coming traffic.  It works out into a big arc.  Cars tend to like this because they can turn within our radius and move along their merry way.  If we can we try to be the first at a left turn and once the kids are on the go I’ll signal to the cars to turn within our arc.  This keeps them from getting annoyed at kids on a cycle and I think is good bike culture.

If traffic is really bad we’ll simply pull to the edge of the lane, dismount and walk across as pedestrians.  Again, we use the cross then turn method.  It works the best.  Once we get to the far corner we’ll remount and continue on the road.  Sometimes I’ll signal that we’re re-entering traffic if it is busy enough to warrant this.   I actually find that this method of turning annoys most drivers the most.  We’ll use it where there are 6 lanes of traffic or more.

Another method we use but that I don’t like and don’t endorse for adults is to use pedestrian only cross-walks.  Right by our house are two of these.   Our house is right on a main highway with really wide lanes.  Typically we have to turn left into our driveway to get home.  We first tried to get cross as a vehicle.  But because the road lanes are wide… we discovered that the transport trucks would just blow by us on the outer side of the lane.  This meant that 3 times I saw my daughter tipped into the on coming traffic.

Now I have them cross at the crosswalk which is 5 houses before our home.  They then salmon up the outside of the oncoming traffic lane.  I know that this is panic inducing to the oncoming traffic and they move to the opposite side of their lane.

If there are no pedestrians I have the kids ride the sidewalk but typically there are because this is a University student rich area.

So we salmon.  And… not once has my child been knocked off in front of another vehicle.

But my husband and I do not salmon if we are without the children.

Health of the Cyclist:

In the heat of the summer I find exhaustion and dehydration factors to seriously consider when talking about road safety.  A tired child will rub their head.  A dehydrated child will start to wander. They’ll be slow to respond and just plain dangerous to themselves.

We have actually all ridden while sick.  In fact we’ll ride sick to the doctor’s office and often feel better for doing that.  But there is something different from heat exhaustion.

In certain situations I will chain the bike up to something and have the child mount my rear rack and cycle them home.  I’ve done this once or twice.  Once that I can remember.  This is why I say water is your number one safety item.  A cell phone works too, but water on hand is gold.

Communication:

Last point I’ll mention today.  Clear communication is key.  Before we go and at every stop we discuss the next steps of our route.  We plan where we’ll be on the road, for example that we have to cross a lane to be ready for a turn.  We’ll check the road ahead for bumps, glass, etc.

We try to be clear about which route we take.  We will sometimes pull to the side and allow the cars to pass so that we can be in the place we choose on the road.

If turning we deliberately get the attention of the drivers.  We’ll try to hand signal our intentions.

If crossing traffic and its bright and sunny we talk about making sure that on coming traffic is stopped.

We’ll rehearse scary cycling mishaps and talk about how we could have handled the situation better.

When cycling past cars we yell ‘DOOR ZONE’.

Remind each other: “Don’t ride THROUGH the puddle!”

Lots of yelling, laughing, singing.  We communicate on our cycles a lot.  We encourage.  We warn.

Really, its the communication part of cycling that I love the most about cycling with the children!

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Cycling Alongside Children: What should be on the Bikes?

Using our cycles for transportation there are a number of things on our bikes that make them different from the bikes that you find in the big box stores.

Not only that, we have different bikes for different purposes.

But there are somethings that we consider important and there are somethings I think crucial to riding with children.

Bikes:

Its the law but I think foolishness even if it were not.  I’m talking about lights.  My bike came with them installed and mounted on the frame.  Actually my head light is run with a dynamo hub and is brilliantly bright.  My rear light is securely mounted to the rear of my rack.

If lights don’t come with the bike I don’t take the bike home from the store without buying a kit for the bike before I leave.  If I buy a bike used, I stop on the way home and get a set.  Front and back.  If you go cycling with us and do not have them, you will have a set of ours strapped on for the journey and sometimes I won’t let you go home without them if you ride frequently.

The next item I find critical when riding with children is a bell on every bike.  In our city it is also the law to have a bell on the bike.  Bells are an awesome way to express individuality on a bike.

But with kids they are a way to communicate.

1 ring = head’s up because we’re about to do something.  I’ll shout out what the something is like ‘turning left, ready for lane change.’  Once ready for the lane change I’ll ring once again and yell, ‘Lane change!’

If the kids do it it means, “slow down.”

2 ring = attention! Something is potentially dangerous.  This is often then repeated down the chain.  What we find is that if we are riding single file that each person has to repeat so that we all can hear down the chain.  It can signal, “car turning” or “lights are changing, watch for speeders.”

If the kids do a 2 ring it means, “I’ve caught up, return to normal speed.”

3 ring + = Emergency level alert.  This one gets used rarely and in quick bursts.  For example: ice patch, accident ahead, get ready to cross several lanes to make a left turn.  Anyone can signal this and it means the same across the family.

I find that riding for the kids is very calming and they tend to drift into their own world very quickly.  Yes, even with traffic zooming by them.  A bell ring brings them back to earth and often back into a straight riding line.

One of the things I do to keep them safe is to ride what I call in the half lane if we don’t have a bike lane etched out for us.  I literally position myself so that the drivers have to move right over to pass us.  A lot of where we ride is with 2 lanes of traffic going in our direction.  So there is room for them to move over 1 whole lane.  Still, it burns me because often they scoot back over and nearly clip the head rider when coming back into the lane.  I’ll talk more about the positions we take riding later on.

The bell, for us becomes a communication tool.  We have all bought bells we like and at times we’ll be using them merrily along a side trail.  But on the roads they are a tool we use a lot.

Last things we feel should be on the bikes at all times.

Some form of locking.  With us we prefer O-locks as a minimum lock.  My daughter’s bike is the only one without a lock.  As I mentioned before, it is really a bad position to be in when you realize you forgot the lock at home and you are out with the children.

Bike pump, patch kit and Allen key set.  Both my husband and I have bike pumps permanently mounted on our bikes.  We carry allen key sets like they are swiss army knives.  The pumps have a built in space for a very limited bike patch but typically we find we don’t use them other than to buy us a bit of distance to home or the closest store.  Carrying a bike is worse than walking!

The allen key sets are essential.  A spill often results in something being knocked out of line.  With a kid this can lead to frustration, which is silly because it can be avoided.

Other items we consider key to happy bike commuting are rear racks and or baskets and fenders.

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Cycling Alongside Children: What to Bring

 

Cycling with my children, there are several more items I consider necessary than for solo cycling.  I’ll try to break them into two lists.  Stuff we bring for every day short distance cycling and what we take on longer trips.

The stuff for shorter trips:

-small first aide type items which include:

bandaides

headache meds

wipe (something disinfecting)

anti-septic cream

-cell phone

-degreasing wipes (this is for chain replacement fixes)

-small patch kit/pump (these are actually stored on my bike permanently)

-water bottle, typically 1 cup size for each person.  They have to carry their own.  Because we are cycling in a city we can almost always score free water refills.

-bike locks and cables

These items are actually standard in my purse.  During the summer my purse also carries two spare tire tubes.

I should note that if we get a flat fixing it depends on how far we are from one of the several Local Bike Shops or how quickly I can get us a ride home.

Longer trips:

-bigger water bottles on the bike, camel-back type packs or 2 1L water bottles stored in baskets or panniers.

-snacks

-tire tubes in every wheel size

-sun screen (a face stick and goop for the rest) and after-sun

-a more complete first aid kit

-sometimes (weather depending) jackets or other clothing

-cell phone

-print out of our route (marked) with our names and contact information printed on the sheet.  I print two.  One is tucked into our bags and the other accessible.  While I typically don’t need directions the kids like checking and navigating.

-anything else we need depending on where we’re going and what we’re doing.

 

Of all of the above I would say that water is likely the most critical.  Mind you on our to school commute trips we have it but don’t think to special pack it.  Our ride this past week I forgot to take a bottle or two and was kicking myself for making what I consider a rookie mistake!

And our favourite water bottles are the Kleen Kanteen bottles.

After water bottles, I’d recommend some way to lock up your bikes securely.  Having been victims of bike theft I’d like to say that there is nothing worse than returning to nobike with young children.  And its a hard choice if you forget, do you leave a child while you run into a store?  Send in both children together with a note?  Risk the bikes and the ensuing potential chaos?

 

I recommend getting the items together and just keeping them bike ready.  Then cycling alongside children can truly feel spontaneous!

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Cycling Alongside Children

I’m going into my third summer of cycling with children who ride on their own bikes.  I thought I’d try to post a series of tips and tricks that my family have developed.

First I’ll explain our riding style.

We ride on the road with the car traffic.  95% of the time we ride with traffic, but being in a city and our house being on a very busy road with lots of traffic, there are a few times for less than 20 meters when we’ll ride against traffic.  In bike culture this is called ‘salmon-ing’ and is very frowned upon.  I’ll explain why I allow this later on.

Cycling on the sidewalk is just plain dangerous for many reasons (namely the cars do not see you!) and it tends to be very jarring.  It may sound silly but I can not think that the constant rattling over the joints in the sidewalk as being any good for young brains.  I know I end up with a head ache!

Second, I’ll explain where we cycle and when we cycle.

We cycle every where and every when.  We use the cycle to go about our daily lives.  We’re cycling now, in the midst of the Canadian winter.  We cycle in snow, we cycle in rain, we cycle in the wind (grr!), and we have cycled in hail.  My husband, who doesn’t cycle with the kids as often, has cycled to work year round and has only taken our motor vehicle to work twice in the last 14 calendar months.

Third, and last, I’ll explain who cycles.

Our son is now 11.  He has been cycling since just before 2 years of age without training wheels.  The summer he was 6 he and I did some 27 km rides.  These were in the countryside near the farm where we lived at the time.  He’s tall for his age but those were epic rides for him.  At 8 he cycled just over 170 kms in one weekend with me.  He frequently likes to freak me out but riding hands off bike in the middle of very busy traffic.

Our daughter is now 9.  She finally learned to ride without training wheels a the age of 7 and then it was at a rate of about 3 kph and frequently putting her feet down and scooting herself along.  She is my cautious child, and since we live in a hilly-ish city, I end up replacing her brake pads continually.  We eventually swapped out her cantilever brakes for drum brakes and special levers to maximize her gripping power.  She will now ride down inclines greater than 15% at about 2 inches per minute.  Just kidding!

Then there is myself.  I’ve been riding lots my whole life.  I grew up overseas and I remember my father cycling us across the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh to school on days when there were military hartels.  He’d bike ahead to the intersections and I was under strict orders to drop into the open sewers with my brothers if he got shot.  As a high school student I’d ride my road bike to my babysitting job, 60 km from the house.

My husband rode as a child, but only for pleasure and on his paper routes.  When he could drive, he abandoned his bike.  His family culture is quite different from mine and when we married I had 6 bikes and he had none.  I no longer have any of those bikes, but he has two of them heavily modified and my son rides another.

In this series I’ll cover items I think important to have while cycling with kids, some safety measures we take, and some of the mental issues when cycling with children.

Hopefully this series will be helpful to you!

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