[Xabi's first ride at 11 months old.]
I enjoy riding with my youngest. Though Xabi will now be two years old in November, we've been riding together since he was 11 months old. (Remember that toddlers should not be riding until they are about 1 years old due to their maturing bones and muscles. Check on your child. See how strong he's getting, how he sits on chairs, how his neck holds up, etc. If in doubt wait. There's plenty of time.)
I still remember that first ride together--how nervous I was, how unstable the bike felt (cause I was so unused to the weight out back), how simply strange it felt to ride with a fragile baby "drafting" behind me. We've learned a few things since then and we'd like to share them with you and your baby:
1. You must practice getting the child on and off the seat, preferably by yourself without outside assistance. This almost sounds stupid but getting children on and off the bike is one of the most dangerous situations you can encounter when riding with children. Many kids get hurt when they either fall off their seat or fall while on their seat with the bike on top of them from a standstill position. This will almost always result in a serious accident as the weight of the bike will fall on the child. (The child is always wearing a helmet, right?! The child is secured with chest straps/belts in his seat, right? And you checked that the seat is properly anchored to the bike, right?) Right.
2. Practice getting yourself on and off the bike with the child in the seat. Feel comfortable and secure. Be careful the bike doesn't slip away from you or beneath you. Remember the weight is now out back and the front wheel may rise, tipping the bike backwards or over. Get on the bike on even, flat ground. Not uphill, not downhill.
3. Ride with a toddler only if you have decent bike-handling skills. Since I don't have the time to explain what common sense should be about in this post just think that if you have the slightest doubt DON'T do it. A stupid fall can be very serious.
4. Dress the child appropriately for the weather. A toddler moves very little on a bike seat and he's strapped in. She's not pedaling so she is neither breathing hard nor sweating as you climb that little hill. So remember that temperature/wind are not the same for both of you. The child may need an extra sweater (or may need to remove it). Stop from time to time. Check how things are and don't forget to offer them a drink.
5. Talk a lot, though people who don't see your child out back at first might think you're a strange cyclist (or maybe they already knew that, regardless!) Communicate with the child. "Oh look at those birdies, cars, flowers!") They love to talk and are amazed by what they see, especially for the first time. Don't forget to stop to let them get a better view of that horsie or that bridge or that big truck parked on the side of the road.
6. Make the rides short, especially the first ones. Let the child get used to his new environment. Short rides also allow you to see if the toddler is comfortable. (Recently, for example, I found that Xabi's chest straps where a bit tight -- how children grow from week to week.) Increase the length of the rides accordingly and don't ride too far from home in case the child insists on finishing the ride NOW. This may happen on first rides and you don't want to punish the kid for an hour while you try to make it home. Besides, they may not want to go with your again.
7. Ride for fun and for fun only. This is not part of your training or your recovery ride or your August mileage. This is a stroll with your child. If you can't make it fun, don't do it.
8. Stop in locations of interest. This is "dangerous" but necessary at some point. Stopping in the park, having a go at the swings, etc., just makes the trip all that more fun and the child will remember it, believe me. Dangerous because the child will not know when to stop playing and may not want to go home, not on the bike, not in the car, not no-how. Plan accordingly. Stop in those strategic places when you have the time and the patience to do so.
9. Change your route often, if possible. Children have tremendous memories. Looking at the sea and the gulls flying is cool for a couple of outings but may get old quickly. Spice it up. Point out differences to the child: colors, shapes, wind in your face. It's amazing how they appreciate and how quickly they learn. (When Xabi gets a little tired he likes to go through his list of peoples' and animals' names that he knows. I chant them along with him.)
10. Celebrate the completion of the outing once you get home. My wife and I clap and cheer and encourage him the minute we get through the garage door. We take off the helmet and clap. We unstrap him and clap and we cheer when he gets off the bike. He seems as satisfied as a congressional speaker (and he didn't even have to lie about the importance of bike paths)!
[A more experienced Xabi, August 2007.]
Enjoy your bike and your toddler. It makes for a great family activity. Do so carefully. Ask about the correct and proper equipment you need. Inform yourself. It's one of life's hidden pleasures.
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