Bicycling with your Children


BICYCLING WITH YOUR CHILDREN * * * * * * * * * * from "Take 'em Along: Sharing the Wilderness with Your Children" ---------------------------------------------------------------- by Barbara J. Euser Because bicycling requires roads or bike paths (we are not concerned about mountain biking here) it is not strictly a wilderness activity. It is, however, an active, adaptable sport that parents can engage in while their children are young. My family has found that cycling on the bike paths in metropolitan Denver has allowed us to spend time outdoors together for a morning or afternoon without committing the whole day travelling to and from the mountains. Another advantage to cycling is that it may allow families with children of very different ages to participate in a family activity that is fun for all. The basic requirement is a sturdy bicycle. Next in order are helmets and child seats. Then comes the gear. A small pack strapped behind the child's bicycle seat is large enough to carry boxes of juice, sandwiches, and fruit, as well as sun screen lotion and raingear. It is best to carry a raincoat and pants for the child. Though a poncho is more efficient, it may get caught in the rear wheel. As for helmets, there are several brands available for children. We opted to purchase a standard size model with an inner band that will adjust to fit Helane's head as she grows. Helane's helmet is exactly like mine, though at first she was unwilling to put in on. At my parents' suggestion, I discovered that if I put mine on first, she willingly copied me. There are a number of children's bicycle seats on the market. We chose a heavy plastic model with a high back and armrests that allowed Helane to fall asleep comfortably while riding. The seat belt was adequate to keep her from jumping out, but whenever she fell asleep we used thick, elastic cords criss-crossed across her chest and under her arms to keep her secure. The child seat worked well during the summers when Helane was two and three years old. Once she turned four, however, her legs were so long that if her feet slipped off the footrest on the child seat, they could have become entangled in the spokes of the rear wheel. She also weighed more than forty pounds,the maximum weight her child seat was manufactured to carry. Another complicating factor was Helane's baby sister Piper. Where do you put the second child? If each one could ride on a parent's bicycle, the answer would be easy. But since Helane was too big to ride in a child seat, and too small to ride her own bike, we had to consider other options. The one that appeared to make the most sense was a trailer. There are several different models available, each made of various materials. The main consideration when choosing a trailer is whether the children face forward or backward. The second consideration is construction: an aluminum frame covered with nylon fabric versus a roofless molded plastic model. The third consideration is how the trailer will be attached to the bicycle. Some trailers are attached near the seat so that if the bicycle falls over, the trailer also goes over. Others are attached near the pedal so that if the bicycle falls over, the trailer remains upright. Of course, by adding a trailer, the bicycle effectively becomes a tricycle and is much less likely to fall over in any case. Cycling on anything other than separate bicycle paths presents an element of danger, which makes the sport less attractive as a family activity. Throughout the country, however, more and more cities, towns, and counties are constructing bicycle paths, thus expanding the possibilities. Many new areas developed for other recreational purposes now include bike paths. Near Denver, for example, the Cherry Creek Reservoir Recreation Area contains many miles of bike paths. Another path runs alongside Dillon Reservoir between Frisco and Dillon, Colorado, and one parallels Interstate 70 from Copper Mountain over Vail Pass to Vail. During the summer when Helane was two, three friends and I bicycled from Frisco to Breckenridge, then to the top of Hoosier Pass. For most of the way from Frisco to Breckenridge there was a newly-constructed bike path that paralleled the road. In the sections where there was no path, the shoulders were fairly wide. Because bicyclists travel the road frequently, drivers are aware that they will probably encounter them. I felt that Helane and I were reasonably safe. After a stop for ice cream in Breckenridge, we continued up the pass. It was a warm summer afternoon and Helane fell asleep. We tied windjackets across her chest to keep her securely in her seat. I fell behind my friends and was not sure whether or not I would make it to the top, so they pedalled on without me. Here I felt rather vulnerable because the shoulders along the road were not always wide, and I was riding alone without other cyclists to draw the attention of motorists. When we reached the switchbacks near the top, I had to stop riding and walk. Helane remained asleep, which allowed me to keep going. I feared that as soon as she woke up, we would have to turn around. Once the road leveled out, I was able to ride again. Then the top came into sight, and I recognized one of my friends speeding toward us. The other two had ridden down the other side of the pass to Fairplay, where they planned to spend the night. My friend graciously rode back up to the top with me. Helane conveniently awoke when we arrived there and stretched her legs and threw a few snowballs. Even at the age of two, she appreciated the novelty of making snowballs in the middle o July. The ride from the top of the pass all the way down to Frisco was exhilarating! Even though I was unwilling to let go and really speed down the pass as my friend did, Helane thought I lacked caution. Any time I let go of the brakes, she kicked me and admonished, "Not so fast, Mommy, not so fast." Friends whose family includes two teenagers as well as two toddlers have iscovered that the bicycling is the perfect compromise for family sport. When the father pedals along pulling the two toddlers in a trailer, he has had a workout at about the same time that his wife and teenage daughters are ready to call it a day. Their teenagers are often too busy to devote more than half a day to a family outing, and the toddlers become restless after much more than two hours. So they plan two hours of riding to bring them to their picnic spot, then two hours of return riding to complete the excursion. Our friends point out that it is hard to find a movie that appeals to everyone in their family. A bicycle route is easier to locate and much more fun. OBSERVATIONS: And Some Helpful Hints Bicycling is an easy, enjoyable outdoor family activity. Keep these points in mind: 1. Safety is the main element of concern. Use bicycle helmets, a suitable child seat or trailer, and take a route along a bicycle path or a road with wide shoulders. 2. Remember to take along thick, elastic cords or extra jackets to secure a sleeping passenger in a child seat. 3. Take plenty of water or boxes of juice. Passengers seem to get as thirsty as pedalers. 4. Remember that a park with a playground makes a good objective for a family bicycle outing. 5. Check around your local area for bike paths in parks, along rivers or canals, or parallel to stretches of highway. 6. Keep in mind that the great advantage of cycling is that it's possible for all ages to ride or be carried along in a seat or trailer. It can be done anywhere there's a road, and it doesn't take much time. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - This article is from "Take 'em Along: Sharing the Wilderness with Your Children" from Johnson Books, 1880 South 57th Court, Boulder, Colorado, 80301. Call 800-258-5830 or e-mail A positive approach to sharing hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, horse packing, canoeing and bicycling with your children. 128 pp, 5-1/2" x 8-1/2". Photos.

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