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.


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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