3 January 2008

A great Saturday ride. (In traffic. With kids!)

Posted by todd under: Riding in the Bluegrass; Riding with children .

Two of my boys (ages six and eight) and I turned an errand to the bank and post office into a great ride on Saturday morning.

Check this out if you are nervous about riding with children in traffic. I will post later about the route we took, which is my favorite urban ride here in Lexington, Ky.

The 6-year-old rode his Huffy single-speed dirt bike. We put some longhorn-type handlebars on it before starting out, so he was pretty excited. Also, I showed him the old using-hairspray-to-get-the-handgrips-on trick. More about this later, it will be worth watching for the post if you have not heard of this.

The 8-year-old rode his Bridgestone MB-6 mountain bike ($2.50 from a yard sale!). I rode my Breezer Uptown 8.

We rode on some pretty busy roads. Our route took us onto Harrodsburg Road, which is 5 lanes, for several blocks where it crosses under New Circle Road (a 4-lane divided highway). We also rode for several blocks on Lane Allen Road and on Clays Mill Road; both are narrow two-lanes that are fairly heavily traveled.

The boys are not rookies: We do a decent amount of riding around our neighborhood, which has little traffic. And they have ridden with me to church on several Sunday mornings, when not many cars are on the road.

I wouldn’t advise taking inexperienced young riders onto the roads we took that morning.

On the other hand, if a child is fairly confident and follows directions well, there is no reason to avoid such roads. Within reason, of course. Here are a couple of things we keep in mind when riding together:

  • Ride in single file. I go first, with the 6-year-old behind me and the 8-year-old behind him. I keep an eye on them with a rearview mirror that clips to my helmet. I advise using a rearview mirror if you are riding with children. I especially recommend the Bell Metro helmet. Bike Nashbar is blowing these out at great prices right now (check here, here and here). If you need a helmet at all, or if you do much commuter riding at all, get one. You can buy a rearview mirror designed for this helmet. It is worth it as well.
  • Stay together, but not too close together. The boys learned by experience to leave enough room so that they don’t crash into each other if someone has to slow down suddenly. When someone gets too far behind, I wait for them. This means I go a lot slower than normal. This is not a big deal.
  • Take as much of the lane as you need. I tell the boys not to ride right on the edge of the road, because if they lose their balance a little they could go off the edge. When we are going past a parked car, or at any other time when I don’t want cars trying to squeeze past us, I tell the boys to “take the lane.” That means we ease out toward the center line, yielding no room to pass. Then we ease back over to the side of the road.
  • Ride at a normal speed in a straight line. When a car slows down and stays behind you, you might feel the need to ride faster, or pull over farther to give the car more of the road. I advise the boys not to do these things. Since we have a right to the road, there is no need to “ride scared.” We try to keep our riding predictable, and the cars will eventually pass.
  • Signal your intentions. The boys know the arm signals for left turn, right turn, and stop. This helps me communicate with them during the ride without having to holler over my shoulder, and it helps all three of us communicate with drivers who might know what the arm signals mean.
  • Let the children know the route in advance. If they have some idea of the “big picture,” they can ride with more confidence. I stop from time to time to let them know what’s coming up next. (“OK, guys, we are going to take this bike path behind the houses, then we are going to turn right and go through the park.”)

One great thing about riding with youngsters is that it makes you analyze what you are doing, so you can explain it. This will help you find weak spots in your technique, and in your communication skills.

Is riding with children in a little traffic labor-intensive? Yes.

Is it worth it? Yes.

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About the picture atop the page

Yes, that's me, Todd Van Campen. No, I'm not wearing a helmet. Yes, I usually wear one, so please don't scold! Seriously, I endorse wearing a helmet! Pinky swear! In fact, I almost ALWAYS wear one (while riding a bike anyway). (On the other hand, if YOU don't want to wear a helmet, I have no problem with it.) I don't remember what happened on this particular day. Fortunately for all of us it makes for a less-nerdly picture. My exceptionally talented professional photographer friend Charles Bertram took this photo.

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Art for art’s sake

I asked my 6-year-old son, Caleb, an avid bicyclist and artist, to draw a bike for me. I think he did a great job!

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