Recently we reached out to families with young children in our area who are primarily using bikes for transportation. Families are using bikes for a variety of reasons, including cost, traffic, active lifestyles, environmental reasons and a passion for biking.
Amanda Wanner is birth and postpartum doula at Cygnet Doula Services. Amanda uses her bike as a parent, and also in her work as a nanny. She shared her best tips with PEPS.
Kelli Refer from G&O Family Cyclery, which helps families get around by bike, contributed to this story with expert tips on family cycling as well as strategies she uses herself.
Bikes and Gear
- Kelli: We have a special cargo bike that is designed to carry our baby. It is a box bike, with a big box in front and has a special attachment for a child seat (a.k.a car seat) that locks into place. The bike has front suspension and the seat attachment is on springs so it feels like being in a bouncy seat. I like the box bike because my baby is in front of me and I can see her. It is very easy to pull over [if she is fussy]. Our bike also has a rain canopy that we set up to be a shade canopy. Our bike has an e-assist to make hauling our baby, her stuff, our stuff and the bike up all of Seattle’s hills a breeze. When she gets bigger there is a little seat for her to sit in, along with a friend.
- Kelli: The alternative, a bike trailer, is a very affordable option since it can work with your existing bicycle.
- Amanda: Our bicycle started out as an old trek mountain bike with an Ibert seat on the handle bars and a hill topper assist from Clean Republic. We rode that bike for 2 years before I purchased my big blue box bike made by Metrofiets.
- Amanda: I keep a few essentials on the bike in the winter: fold up rain jackets, fold up rain pants, blankets, a small towel, bungee cords (I have at least 3 on the bike at all times plus a bungee net), a seat cover, a small air pump, a small first add kit, decorative lights (which makes the box feel fun for the kids and makes up more visible at night).
How does it work in your life?
- Kelly: We live in Wallingford and our family bikes all over. We go to Ballard and Wedgwood for doctor’s appointments, Greenwood, the Central District and beyond to see friends.
- Amanda: I am a mom to one kiddo who is now 5. Since he was 10 months old we have been biking to get to where we need to go. I have not owned a car in 6 years. I am also a professional nanny. Once I bought my box bike I was allowed to start riding with my charges. Families who were happy to have their kiddos on the bicycle with me sort of just found me. I can carry up to 4 kiddos + myself on the bike at once.
Do you have a tip for how this works for daycare and work?
- Kelli: Some families share a kid’s seat that can easily fit on both parent’s bikes if drop off is a split task. A good example is the Yepp Easyfit, which fits on a conventional bike rack that is weighted for 50lbs. Parents can leave the child seat at daycare, and that way both parents can do drop off/pick up with a bike. Bike trailers also can work in this way.
- Kelli: Trail-a-bikes work well for older kids. They attach to the back of a parent’s bike.
Do you have any tips on grocery shopping, playdates, running errands, pediatrician visits, etc.?
- Kelli: Get carrying capacity for your bike. Sure, a backpack will work, but you will be able to carry more groceries more comfortably if you get a bike basket and/or panniers that hold grocery bags easily. Our family probably goes to the grocery store more frequently – we pick up food for 3-4 days at a time.
- Kelli: Carrying capacity also helps to bring toys and snacks or pick up things you find along your way!
- Amanda: We basically go everywhere on the bicycle: doctors’ appointments, dentist, grocery, parks, Costco, Science Center, gym. Most of Seattle is easy to get around when you travel on side streets, greenways, bike lanes or trails. Some of my routes go a little out of my way.
- Kelli: Know about how long it takes you to get to certain places like the pediatrician, always give yourself a 10 minute buffer in case you need a last minute diaper change or stop for a snack break along the way. Worst case scenario is you end up getting to your appointment a little early.
Beyond the bike
- Kelli: We also take the bus using our baby carrier. Get to know bus routes if you plan on using the bus and definitely get an Orca card with autoload for easy payment so you don’t have to think about bus fare.
- Kelli: If we need access to a car, there are car sharing services like Reach Now and Car2Go that are readily available in Seattle and Zipcar around the region.
- Amanda: Luckily we have the option to use car shares and the buses are pretty frequent. We occasionally take the bus on icy days or to get into downtown.
Do you have a story about your longest trip? Most fun trip?
- Amanda: We rode to Mercer Island recently, which was lovely. A lot of rides from Crown Hill to the Ferry terminal downtown. That ride is nice because most of it is bike lane and path plus you ride right alongside the locomotive yard then through a centennial park, still watching trains. We’ve ridden to West Seattle. The Alki trail is well marked with signs and most of it is flat enough for my kiddo to ride his own bike.
- Kelli: Bike camping with our baby to Bainbridge Island. We will bike to the ferry, carrying camping gear on our cargo bike. There are many State Parks and local camping spots within a biking range of the city. It is one of our favorite activities and we are excited to plan more bike camping adventures.
What about the costs – is it more affordable for you?
- Kelli: Our family saves that money by primarily biking and walking to get around. We spent a fair amount on our cargo bike, but we never pay for gas, parking or insurance and our bike will maintain its value and functionality for at least a decade. We spend a small amount of money on the bus each month. Maybe two or three times a year we use car share.
- Amanda: For me I could not afford to buy a car, so my choice was to bike and bus. It ended up being exactly what my family needed.
What’s the biggest challenge?
- Kelli: Adjusting the amount of time it takes to get places can be a little bit of a learning curve.
- But, she notes that bike time is predictable – it’s nearly always travel time whenever you go. Unlike in a car, when traffic can make a typical cross-town drive take twice as long as usual.
Other thoughts – Added Benefits
- Kelli: Not only to you get exercise and spend time outside, you get to notice the change of the seasons, stop to check out new local businesses and often run into friends. Walking and biking build community in this amazing way. It is so easy to stop and talk to people.
- Kelli: I feel like I also get the chance to explore more parks and beautiful spots in the city.
- Amanda: Riding an electric assisted cargo bike has changed my life. It fills in the times when I would otherwise be sitting and just driving and turns it into active movement. It has promoted healthy habits in my kiddo who learned to ride a pedal bike at 3.5 years old and can ride up to 6 miles along with me at 5 years old.
- Amanda: We say “hi” to people walking by us and engage in more conversations with our neighbors because of our bike.
- Amanda: With all of the traffic in Seattle nowadays, it is faster for me to get around on my electric-assisted cargo bike then it is sitting in a car. I am not frustrated on the bike even when it’s pouring rain.
- Amanda: My electric-assisted cargo bike gets me around faster. During rush hour I can get from Fremont to Crown Hill in 20 minutes. When we get to a location, we don’t worry about parking. We roll right up to the door.
- Kelli: You can find slow, safe, neighborhood routes and often cut through parks!
- Amanda: If you are considering becoming a bike family, use the bike practically for your life. You can choose: to ride in the rain or not, ride in only the summer or all year round, keep your car or not. It may take you a few months to get to this point or a few years. And, you can be somewhere in between, car-lite or car-less.
Ways to get started
- Kelli: A great resource for fun rides is Family Bike Seattle that hosts regular Kidical Mass rides. They also plan camping trips!
Passion for biking
- Kelli: Our family already loved biking, so when I got pregnant, there was no question that we’d get a bike to haul our baby in.
- Amanda: I have seen the benefits of riding in my life and in the lives of the children who ride with me. No matter the weather or how they feel, once we are on the bicycle and rolling, the kids’ moods always level out. They always scream and giggle when going downhill.
- Bike Safety from King County
- BikeWorks – earn-a-bike and bike-o-rama programs, events and more
- Cascade Bicycle Club – family info
- Familybike Seattle – local nonprofit
- Family Ride – local blog
- HealthyChildren.org – bike safety from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Seattle Children’s Hospital has bike helmet safety
- TrailLink – Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has rated paths in our state with helpful details on difficulty and riding surface
- WSDOT – Washington State bike maps
More families are biking for fun and for some – or more – transportation needs. Share your tips with PEPS in the comments for more ways to bike with kids.