It’s not you, it’s me

This is our fourth post in our summer transitions series, How to transition kids from being cargo to riding their own bikes.
DowntownSometimes parents use their kids as excuses when they (the parents) don’t want to do something.  Come on, admit it, you do it too.

“We can’t make it to (insert destination or event) because Johnny is real real tired and cranky”.

Biking with kids is no different.

Parents use their kids as excuses all the time.

  • Billy can’t make it up all those hills so we can’t bike to school (translation: there is no way in hell I’m getting my a** on a bike and riding up all those hills with Billy)
  • Billy is scared to ride a bike (translation: I’m scared to let Billy ride a bike)
  • Billy is too out of shape to ride (translation: I’m too out of shape) this one is stretching it a bit…who says their kid is out of shape? ; -)

For us cargo hauling parents (or parents who want to be cargo haulers but haven’t made the leap yet) kids are a great excuse to continue hauling (or driving) them around.

Sometimes we haul the kids instead of let them ride because it’s easier for us.

We know how to ride, we know how long it will take to get there, we know we can handle the hills. And kids on their own bikes are just plain unpredictable.Cycle Fest 2010

How do we make the leap and let the wee ones ride their own bikes?

Parents: It’s all about letting go.

This is hard for me as I like to be in control. And when my kids are on their own bikes, I’m definitely not in control. Sometimes kids swerve, sometimes they space out, most of the time they pedal real real slow. They may even hit a parked car (yes, indeed). We just have to remain calm because there is nothing we can do to prevent this from happening: kids are in charge of their bikes, we are not.

When my kids were younger (like last year ), I found it much easier and faster to schlep them on the Xtracycle rather than experience the unnerving, out-of-control feeling of letting them ride their own bikes. When they were in that transition period and weren’t 100% kid powered, I’d often hope they would choose the Xtracycle over their own bike. Sometimes I even bribed them to ride on the back of the Xtracycle. It was just easier for me to haul them around.

IMG_2744Now, the nine-year-old is 99% kid powered. She amazes us every day with her composure and bad assery on the bike. Last weekend she rode from our house in Ravenna to Vashon Island (through downtown Seattle no less) for a wedding. She totally rocks. The seven-year-old is @ 50% kid powered. He still gets tired and he still spaces out. I haul him when we’re going longer distances or when we’re doing a lot of riding in traffic. He’s the main reason we bought the tandem (more on transition bikes in a later post). He’s still pretty good for a seven-year-old.

But like all tough parenting phases, we persevere. We know that our kids will learn to do things on their own (when we let them) and it’s better in the long run to help them learn to do it right.

So how do we do that?

Be a good coach.

    • Ride behind your kids and give them gentle reminders. When you ride behind your kid, you can watch what they are doing and coach them about where they should be riding (out of the door zone), telling them there is a car back or a car up etc. Even better if you can make a kid sandwich with two parents and the kids in between
    • Patience (yes, easier said than done at times, but key)
    • Lots of encouragement, less criticism (this is a no brainer and definitely applies to riding bikes with kids)
    • Make it fun (who wants to ride with a cranky pants who does nothing but fret and bark orders? I sure don’t)

Sam and Eva Wedding

Nothing but time

Parents of bike riding kids have to accept that they will ride a lot slower and pedal shorter distances. This is hard for me. I like to crank up hills and fly down them on my bike. Even when the kids were on the back of the Xtracycle, I could keep a pretty good pace most of the time. Not anymore. The pace is slow and we stop often: to adjust itchy helmets, to take drinks of water, to rest, to pick up junk in the road, you name it, we stop for it. It’s not a big deal, it just takes some time to adjust to a slower pace. OK, I admit, I still get impatient sometimes.

Timing is Everything

Summer is a great time to practice: the weather is warm, the days are long and you can practice road riding skills in the evening when it’s cooler, the streets have less traffic and you don’t have anywhere to be. There is nothing worse than being in a hurry with a kid who doesn’t want to be rushed bike or no bike. How about a trip to the store to get ice cream after dinner?

If you don’t think your child is quite ready, let them be cargo a little longer and try again at a later time.

Take the opportunity to do some coaching while they are still cargo:

  • Have them make decisions about when it’s safe for you to cross a busy road
  • Ask them questions while you ride: Is it safe for me to go? What do you see? Are there any cars coming?
  • Teach them hand signals and let them signal for you. Kids love being responsible and in charge of something.

And if you don’t know the rules of the road, by all means learn them and set a good example for your kids. If you don’t want your kids to weave in and out of cars and run red lights and flip off drivers,  don’t do it yourself. Little people are sponges and watch and mimic everything we do! (I wonder how my one-year-old niece just learned how to say sh**?)

Do you have any other tips for parents who are ready to give it a try?

– Anne

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13 responses to “It’s not you, it’s me

  1. I’m so proud. Our kids are full of badassery(ness).

  2. Excellent tips! Summer is also a good time to try out your bike-to-school route. You never know – your kids may find some of their friends at the school playground.

    • Great idea. Go for a family bike ride after dinner to school. You may realize it’s not as far and doesn’t take as long as you thought.

  3. It sounds kind of funny, but my wife and I, though we have no kids, have had very similar experience riding around Portland with my wife’s teenage sister and a friend of hers who rarely if ever get on a bike at home (they live about an hour south of Portland).

    I highly concur about having them make decisions about when it’s safe to go or not at intersections. As we were riding around and I was leading us, they had a distinct tendency to just follow me whenever I went without looking, even though we had told them to always look first, even if it was clear for me to go – this made for a couple of not dangerous situations so much, but a couple of moments when they really should have waited and ended up requiring folks in cars to slow down or stop for them in spots when the cars had right of way.

    Also had to deal with the riding slow (I was coasting most of the time) and of course getting tired more quickly, so we just had to expect to go slow and take it really easy and stop and walk sometimes.

    We rode with me in front, and my wife behind (or sometimes two abreast if we were on quiet streets), so we could keep an eye on them, as they also tended to just not really pay attention much while we were riding, and as you said, we could audibly warn them if a car was coming or something :)

    Overall, they loved the experience and when we would go out in the evenings (they were up for a week), they would ask to take bikes.

  4. wow Ravenna to Vashon, I’m impressed, I know grown-ups that wouldn’t do this. Anne I love your comments about time. It reminded me of when my son was young and we would go hiking.
    you keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

  5. We have twins, so sometimes we take one bike and one trail-a-bike, and they take turns. This works well to extend our range.

  6. I go back and forth about riding in front or back. I like being in back because I can watch him, but I worry about coming up on a hazard (or a stop sign) that H won’t notice and won’t stop for. I just had a rear view mirror installed on my bike so I can keep an eye on him that way.

    Plus H can ride much faster than I can!

    The thing we struggle with the most is knowing how far is too far on any given day. It’s intimidating to think about getting all the way out there, doing our thing, then when it’s time to come home, H is too tired. I can put him on my bike for a bit but then what do we do with his?

    • Yes, knowing how far to go is tricky. Little ones go from 100% to 20% output pretty quickly sometimes.

      I can’t remember if your bike has a front rack…. I’ve hooked the 7-year-old bike to the front rack of my dutch bike with a couple of straps before. Works in a pinch and actually wasn’t too bad to ride that way (since it’s a frame mounted rack).

      Xtracycles are good for that. We can hook the kid bike to the adult bike very easily to give them a break.

  7. All good thoughts. We aren’t there yet…. We are getting close. Will definitely transition into getting them to make some decisions for us about road crossing, etc. in these next six months & see where we are then.

  8. We’re not quite there yet – we take leisurely walks w/the kid on his kick bike, and that’s scary enough – child is *fast* that way.

    But I am very interested in your upcoming post on transition bikes – mine really really really really wants a trail-a-bike but I don’t see how I can let him have one and still have the kind of carrying capacity we need for farmer’s market & dumpster runs.

  9. I think your “set a good example” point is crucial. Thanks for mentioning it.

    I live in Manhattan (NYC) so I don’t see many examples of parents riding with their children. But the one I do see consistently makes me cringe: a father and son riding together on a “long tail” bicycle, commuting crosstown in the morning. The father runs every red light dragging the kid behind him across each avenue with its five or six lanes of traffic. It’s scary and it’s useless. I wait for the light and catch up with them at every block. Today, I saw another father with a trailer drag his kid through an intersection (on a red light) as cars came at them.

    What worries me about these incidents, beyond their immediate danger and the fact that stupid people are procreating, is that sooner or later these kids will get bikes of their own, start riding just like their parents demonstrated, and likely and unfortunately, get hurt. Then other parents, advocacy groups, government agencies will respond by saying we mustn’t encourage cycling, look how dangerous it is.

  10. Pingback: Carfree and biking roundup and links for August 2010 | Carfree with Kids — Carfree with Kids

  11. Pingback: Look Both Ways | Car Free Days

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