Riding Bikes with a Toddler
If you’ve considered riding bikes with a toddler, you know the needs and options for outfitting yourself for a ride can be overwhelming. When wee Baby Cletus turned about a year old, I located a helmet that fit her head and promptly began sourcing iBerts on Craigslist. I liked the idea a lot — baby rides in front between your arms, you can talk and communicate with each other without yelling into the wind. It worked great last year when she was still small, but it didn’t work out all that well this year, now that she’s big, she hit the terrible twos, and has big opinions.
This year my knees bumped up against the iBert seat and I had to pedal with my legs akimbo. My chest kept bumping into the back of the girl’s head, and she took that as an invitation to play the fun game “Head Butt Mom in the Sternum While She Struggles to Pedal Uphill.” Back on Craigslist, I found a gently used Schwinn cart that I can pull behind the bike. It’s the best thing that happened to us this summer.
I’m not racing, I’m not riding trails, we’re looking to get out of the house and see the world. My bike isn’t that great. My friends with money and willpower are riding around on $2K road bikes, but a Craigslisted Wal-Mart Schwinn does all right.
If you’re like me and get embarrassed and apologetic about your uncool bike from the big box store, remember: The best bike for you is the one that fits your body and your lifestyle. Does it feel good? Good. Don’t let the bike snobs side-eye you out of a ride.
We don’t use anything fancy. A bike, good helmets, a headlight and a flashing tail light in case we’re riding at dusk, and a smallish backpack to carry my phone and wallet. I spent maybe $200 for the complete set-up, a mixture of used and new. Once it’s all set up, it just sits in the garage taking up all my parking space, ready to go.
Note: If you don’t have storage, garage, or shed space handy for gear, be prepared to find space not only for a bike but something roughly the size of a small armchair.
The cart is pretty fantastic. The aluminum frame is covered with colorful canvas and has reflective lights attached to the front and back. On the outside, two large flaps lift up in the front and back to give you access to the child seating area and the “trunk.” These attach securely with snaps and velcro. The “trunk” is large enough to carry a couple of bags of groceries or a large tote bag. The seating area can fit 1-2 children and has a five point buckle for each child. Each child has access to a spandex cup holder and a little pocket for snacks and toys. The front flap can be used with open air mesh, or with a second solid plastic flap in case of rain.
Here’s what Baby Cletus discovered very quickly. She can either ride on the front of my bike and cuddle/headbutt mom, or she can ride in the rainbow chariot with a snack, a drink, and an entourage of stuffed animals. Which one do you think won out?
Baby Cletus doesn’t like to sit at home and she is happiest outdoors. Riding bikes is perfect for her needs and temperament. She has a routine she likes to do to get ready for the ride: shoes, snack (cereal, dried fruit), drink, toy(s), bike hat (helmet), all of which provide plenty of entertainment when we’re on a boring stretch of road.
We talk about everything we see on the ride, including birds, dogs, cats, trucks, construction equipment, funny sounds, fountains, trees, flowers, road, rocks, you name it. I usually try to have a destination for our rides, like a small park or a business or landmark. Living near a university campus means there are a lot of restaurants, fountains, statues, and businesses nearby. A ride to the library is always pleasant. Occasionally we pick up another neighbor kid and ride around (which is an extra 60+ lbs for me to haul and quite a workout).
Biking is the magic touch for her. Baby Cletus can be quite a handful and sometimes going out is a crapshoot as to whether or not you’re going to have to apologize to a restaurant/library full of people for her dramatic toddler displays of temper! discontent! and indignation! But these bike rides? She loves them! Which is why we do it almost every day. There are places to see, people to meet, and many fountains to run through. We go places by bike, and we’re happier for it.