Bike Commuting with Kids

Bike Commuting with Kids

Image by Mark Stosberg

On this blog we like to celebrate all kinds of cycling—mountain biking, road biking, recreational rides—but bike commuting is without a doubt the most environmentally-friendly, responsible use of a bicycle.   Lots of folks use a bicycle to get to work or to the grocery store, but throw a child into the mix and things get more complicated. Here are some of our tips on using a bicycle for transport with kids in tow.

Add extra time to your commute.

If it would normally take you 30 minutes to bike somewhere, budget for 45 minutes when doing it with kids. Guaranteed someone is going to need a snack, a potty break, or a clothing adjustment. A time buffer also allows you to take a safer, potentially less-direct route than you would normally take.

Consider a cargo or long-tail bike.

If you’re just biking to the park or around town, a bike seat or trailer works great. But if you are using a bicycle as one of your primary modes of transportation, consider investing in a cargo bike or long-tail bike. These bikes allow you to haul kids as well as school gear, work clothes, groceries, and more. Some of the best options for commuting with kids are:

  • Madsen. This fashionable bucket bike is what all the cool kids are riding.
  • Xtracycle. The Yepp child seat easily installs on the xtracycle, allowing you to tow not only gear but kiddos too.
  • Surly Big Dummy This steel bike is built to perform and will last for years of commuting.

If a new bike isn’t in the cards, you can still totally get around with a bike seat, trailer, or trailer-bike. Check out a comparison of the different options here.

Kids on an Xtracycle

Photo from Science Kiddo

Make sure you’re visible.

When mapping out a Sunday afternoon ride, it’s easy to pick a bike path or rail trail to bike with minimal traffic. When bike commuting, however, you have a definite Point A and Point B which makes finding traffic-free routes challenging or impossible. You should always choose the safest route possible, but when faced with less than desirable conditions, it becomes especially important to make sure you’re visible.

Add reflective tape to your bike and whatever carrier you are using for your child. Consider adding reflective tape to your helmets as well. When riding in low-light conditions, make sure to use both front and rear lights. If riding with your child in a trailer, make sure to add a safety flag and lights to the trailer as well.  For other ideas, read our safety tips for biking with kids.

Wear a helmet.

This goes for you and the kids.  Not only does it drastically improve your chances of surviving a fall or collision, it might be the law in your area.  If you need help picking out a good helmet for your child, read my post on the best bike helmets for young children.

Benefits of Bike Commuting with Kids

Yes, it does take a little effort to bike commute with children, but most good things in life do. After talking with other families who do the majority of their transportation by bike, here are the major benefits that were listed time and time again:

Environmentally-friendly

There’s no doubt that biking is a more sustainable option than driving. Young children are particularly impressionable, and by learning to bike and a young age they are more likely to view it as the norm for the rest of their lives.

Quality family time.

One of my favorite parts of biking with my son is chatting with him. We can talk about our day just like we do in the car, but we also tend to talk about what we see. Compared to driving, biking is much more interactive with the world around us. We might talk about the weather, about people and animals we see, and the sounds all around us.

Exercise

Mom and dad can often forgo the gym just by biking the kids to school and themselves to work. Hauling kids and gear is great exercise, and makes for a healthy lifestyle. Once kids are old enough to pedal themselves, its also good exercise for them.

Bike commuting is a bit of work, but totally worth it.  What tips do you have for bike commuting with kids?


Kristen

Kristen is a project manager and writer. She spends all her free time mountain biking with her family on the trails in Salt Lake City and Park City, UT.

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2 Responses

  1. john simmond says:

    i live in NYC and have been a bike commuter in for over twenty years. i’d like to share a few of the things i’ve learned over the years. when i first got a bicycle child seat for my daughter i was concerned about how differently the bike would handle. before i ever put her in the seat, i filled three 1 gallon water jugs 3/4 of the way and put them in a duffle bag, i then strapped the duffle bag into the child seat. the water sloshing around in the jugs simulated having a kid moving around and helped me get used to riding with a constantly shifting weight on the bike. i strongly recommend trying this before you ever ride a bike with a child as your bike will behave very differently. i would also suggest getting a bike bell for your little passenger, { i had to used plastic zip ties to attach one to my daughter’s seat}. kids love ringing the bell and it helps alert others to your presence . loading a child on to and unloading your them from the seat can be pretty tricky. i always lean the bike on something sturdy while keeping my toe pressed against the bottom of the rear wheel to keep it from rolling. use flashing lights front and rear even in the daytime. i try to avoid riding after dark,{ the streets of Brooklyn are just too crazy and congested}, but if i do, i wear reflective clothing and i stick reflective tape on my bike and helmets. reflective safety vests similar to the one worn by night road crews are very good for visibility as well. i basically look like a rolling Christmas tree when i ride at night . my daughter has since out grown out of the bike seat, which presented a whole new set of problems. she is too young to ride on her own, and the trail -a- bike we have is too much to lug around once i get to work. my solution was a midtail bike , the kona minute. it is big but not gigantic like the yuba mundo i initially considered. yuba also makes a nice midtail, the boda boda to turn my minute into a kid carrier, i made spoke guards out of poster board, foot pegs with 4 inch bolts that screwed right into the frame, attached a stoker stem and handlebars to my seat post and a seat pad for her to sit comfortably on the extra long built in rear rack. my daughter, prefers riding the to taking the train or even the car. one last note about the must have bell. we use it to communicate with each other i ask her questions and she answers with the bell- three rings for “yes” and two for “no”or i’ll give her a simple math problem and she answer with the correct number of rings she really get a kick out of doing this. the minute is so sturdy that we have a new family tradition on election and primary days i carry my wife and daughter on the bike to our polling location. the bike is know for having somewhat inadequate brakes. this has not been an issue for me, mostly because i don’t go very fast. so if your kid out grows their child seat look around, there are options out there! ride safe- john.s

    • Kristen says:

      John,
      Thanks so much for the fantastic tips. I 100% agree on the bell. We have one on every set-up we use with our son, and it provides lots of fun and entertainment. He’s just starting to do some simple math, so we will have to try that as well. Cheers.
      -KB