Well, 2014 has come and mostly gone, and my son and I are still riding most mornings to daycare. After 8 months of riding with a little kiddo, from 8 to 16 months of his life, here are my observations.
Initial Hesitance. At 6-8 months, we were walking the 2 miles to daycare, and it was a loooong cold walk. I wanted to wait til 9 months, but I was unsure about the setup. Cargo bike, bakfiets, seats – the options were overwhelming, and costly. I decided to start slow – a Yepp Mini seat on our dutch-style Linus bike. My knees hit the seat pretty hard at first, but after lowering the seat it worked – with more balance, but less leverage and speed. In the beginning I actually tried riding with a 20-lb. bag of dog food in the seat. That’s been the setup ever since, but he’s close to outgrowing the Mini.
Short Rides. It took me awhile to adjust to shorter rides. 3-5 miles is about the right length of a “ride” with a little kiddo, and by 8-10 miles he would get fidgety or fussy. Thankfully on the Hill, just about everything is within a few miles. Thank God for urban living. But it was an adjustment to abandon the long after-work rides.
Weather. We managed to dodge all but one summer thunderstorm, but he is remarkably tolerant of cold, rain, and heat. (Although he’s starting to get more opinionated these days). In the heat of the summer, we took it slow and dressed lightly. In the rain, we change clothes on arrival, which also means keeping track of extra clothes. He doesn’t like cold headwinds in the face – but ya know, neither do I. In really cold weather, we take the bus or the train.
Low Tolerance for Cars. When I ride with a kiddo, my threshold for safety is multiplied by ten. I do not assert my right as a bicyclist; I back off and wait ’til it’s safe. It no longer matters to me that I’m right; safety is foremost. Even if car drivers are doing something illegal, I just wait. I ride on the sidewalk if I need to. I seek out quiet roads and protected bike lanes, and simply do not ride in any condition that’s even mildly unsafe – and that has meant we don’t go to certain places, sadly. I look forward to when bicycling infrastructure is prevalent enough that we can go anywhere.
Singing Songs. Inventing songs has been a great way to mark the commute with him. Usually terribly corny and unimaginative, these include such gems as “East Capitol Street is East” and “Ken Tucky was a friend of mine.” It’s a silly and great way to bring some routine and fun to the commute.
Exploring and Seeing. What I love best about riding with him is showing him the richness, variety, and the unexpected in this city. We pass crazy loud street bands at Gallery Place, we see the huge Christmas wreaths at Union Station, we watch the pigeons and dogs in Lincoln Park. We wave to neighbors, security guards, and stop to chat with friends. We watch the leaves on the trees change around Union Station. We’ve cruised around gridlocked cars on 4th Street on our way to a riverfront concert at Yards Park. We feel the direction of the wind. We see Congress’s cars and protestors in front of the Supreme Court. We are usually passed by many other faster cyclists. We’ve looked out over the Anacostia River from the 11th St. Bridge. Lately he’s been babbling up a storm as we round the Capitol grounds, orating at the orators within. Most importantly, we always arrive at our destination more awake and energized than when we left. Our bike commute is consistently the most variable thing in my daily routine.
Establishing Normal. As kiddo begins to understand the world, I know the habits we start now will seem “normal” to him throughout life. I want him to learn that the richness of his city is best experienced not from behind a windshield and climate control, but from being immersed and involved in his surroundings. I’ll save the climate control and predictability for when we get home.
Ideas for a New Setup. We are close to outgrowing the Yepp Mini, so I am now looking for the next setup. My current thinking is an XtraCycle EdgeRunner, as a) a bike that I could really ride in a less upright way, b) a bike that could grow with us through the years, and c) that has a kick-ass kickstand. Seriously, loading and unloading kid and gear can be a major to-do, and a tippy bike doesn’t help.
The Future. In the last year, “my commute” has changed to “our commute,” and the results have been rewarding beyond my wildest dreams. As with most parenting adventures, you can only plan so much; after a certain point, you just need to react. While I have little idea what the future really holds, I want to keep riding with him.