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Riding Bikes With a Teenager

Not my kid(s).
Not my kid(s).

There are so many pieces out there about riding with young kids, but not many about riding with older kids, so when I started riding with my older child, a young teenager, I felt like we were on the steep end of the learning curve. The Big Kid learned to ride a bike when he was little, had no issues with balance, distance, or speed, but I found that street riding in a more serious way was an exercise in parent-child anxiety. I was constantly yelling, “STOP!” “GO!” “WATCH OUT!” “OMG!” and freaking out about nearby drivers, intersections, and near-accidents, which inspired a serious lack of confidence in BK.

Confidence and safety go very much hand in hand on the road. The two things I noticed that were crucial to his success as a new cyclist were:

GEAR

If riding bikes with a toddler is about having the right gear, riding bikes with a teenager is about having gear that is both for safety and for confidence.

Convincing him that a helmet was a necessity and not a fashion item was the first hurdle. Admittedly I was not the best role model until we started riding on a regular basis. Once I had some real solo experience on the road — and with the aggression of drivers — we wore helmets. No excuses, no exceptions.

Another crucial step was finding a bike that fits his body. Teenagers seem to grow inches overnight. They are constantly growing. Can’t keep this kid in shoes or jeans. While he once was fine on a youth bike, very suddenly he was too tall for it and required an adult bike — but still one small and light enough to fit his frame. We went through several used bike configurations* before finding one that was comfortable that he could navigate with feet on the ground at stops, and that he could start easily at intersections. That said, some cool lights, some bike stickers, and a helmet that didn’t make him feel dorky were pretty important too.

KNOWING THE RULES OF THE ROAD

At some point I realized that in order for him to feel confident on the road, I had to get myself to a level where I was confident and knowledgeable myself. I started reading bike blogs, paying more attention to the local biking advocacy group, and asking annoying questions at my local bike shop. I also had to learn the local laws of the road and get familiar with using turn signals and taking the lane.

As I learned these rules, I’d pass them on as we were riding together. With practice, BK began signaling his movements and taking the lane alongside me. He knew what to to at stop signs and stoplights and when a car was approaching in any direction. He got comfortable in bike lanes on busier stretches of road, and began to learn the side streets in our section of town. I haven’t given him carte blanche freedom to go wherever he wants by bicycle, but I’m confident in his skills.

OTHER RELATED OBSERVATIONS

  • This time riding together has made us closer. This is the time we have to be fun and playful together, to race, to joke, to tease one another about our skills (i.e. “Mom is so slow”), and leave behind stern conversations about life and school and household responsibilities.
  • The confidence = safety factor was never clearer to me than the day we added another teen to our bike crew that didn’t have the experience we do. The addition of an inexperienced, hesitant rider to our group made us all less confident and more jumpy on the road. Over the course of the ride, BK and the other teen were commiserating about how to ride, where to go, and what to do, which bolstered the other teen over the course of the outing. BK got to be the authority and teach his buddy some of what he knew. It turned out to be a really fun day. Which is to say, as I always do, that it’s beneficial to all to build one another up rather than leave one another behind.

All this said, before I sat down to write this post, I googled a lot about teenagers and bikes and found that most of the top stories online are of drivers targeting teen cyclists for violence nationwide. Kids are shot at and run off the road for the offense of sharing the lane. This is terrifying. It both underlines the need to educate the greater public about cyclist safety and road rights, and emphasizes the pervasive social enmity we have against teens and older children. Even living in a bike-friendly — or bike-friendlier — community, we have experienced some scary interactions with angry and/or ignorant drivers that remind me that no matter how safe and knowledgeable we are out there, we are always at the will of the people behind the wheel. My job as a parent is to make sure that BK knows how to minimize that risk on the road as a cyclist, and later as a driver as well.

* Craigslist Bikes is your friend.

 

Riding Bikes with a Toddler

My steed. Wait, I think I'm the steed.
My steed. Wait, I think I’m the steed.

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.

The Bike

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

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Snack, check! Bike hat, check! Cold beverage, check! Giant Brobee, check!

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?

The Baby

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.

On the Vintage Spiro Agnew Watch by Dirty Time Company

I ran across this hilarious Spiro Agnew watch this weekend. Spiro Agnew was Nixon’s extremely unpopular vice president, and the first VP to resign from office due to criminal charges. One of the many jokes targeting Agnew was: “Did you know that Mickey Mouse wears a Spiro Agnew watch?” I don’t get it either.

During Christmas 1969, a physician in Orange County, California named Hale E. Dougherty decided to capitalize on this joke by making a watch that featured Agnew in a pose and outfit reminiscent of the famous Mickey Mouse watches.

Dougherty named his watch company the “Dirty Time Company,” perhaps in reference to the perceptions about Agnew’s dirty political and financial dealings.

The Dirty Time Company Spiro Agnew watches were basic mechanical, Swiss Made watches, originally retailing for $14.95. Among those who owned the watches were Elizabeth Taylor, John Lennon, as well as both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress. Dougherty even sent an early watch to Agnew who wrote back that the watch was “both attractive and clever,” before later changing his tune and threatening legal action over the use of his likeness and invasion of his privacy.

For some reason I have talent picking out valuable novelties. I struggle with fine metals and gemstones, but weird pop culture items? Of course I’m good at weird pop culture items. The dealer I got it from probably had no idea what he was holding, and my picking partner had no idea why I was so excited.

VALUE: If your Spiro Agnew watch is in good to great condition and it works, it will get about $40 on the market today.