While serving as a plus-one at a cocktail party a couple years ago, a cordial conversation with the host became less so when the topic moved to bicycling in Philadelphia. New in town, he and his family had just recently bought a condo in Northern Liberties. And he couldn’t believe how many parents rode bikes with their children.
How many of those kids’ first memories, he wondered, would be exchanging middle fingers or expletives with passing drivers? Not to mention, he said, the danger parents are putting their kids in by strapping to the front or rear of a 20-pound bicycle.
Here’s the thing, though: despite the bad-tempered driver yelling expletives out their window, biking with kids is good; it’s a great way to show your young ones the city, a great way to bond, and actually relatively safe when compared to driving.
More and more parents are opting to get their kids around Philadelphia on bikes. And if you’re thinking about doing it this summer, consider these tips.
Choose a Seat
There are two main attachable seat options: Front and rear. Most begin with a front handlebar-attached seat so as to better monitor their kids' movements and reactions. Front seats usually accommodate children up to 35 pounds. A rear seat can fit a child up to 50.
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For older kids (and people willing to drop more money), there are even more options. You’ve got cargo bikes, which is the most expensive option. Then there are Trail-a-Bikes: an attachment for the back of your own bicycle. “Trail-a-Bikes are easy to use, but can be a bit cumbersome because it has to be put together each time you leave the house,” says Leonard Bonarek, a West Philadelphia dad who works at the Bicycle Coalition. “But they’re good because they give the kid an opportunity to participate. They’re not just a passenger.”
Ease Into It
Getting used to riding with a child is as much practice for you as it is getting them used to this new form of transportation. “If a kid is nervous to try it, maybe start with one of the family bikes they rent along the Schuylkill Banks,” says Steve Dolph, a Spanish professor at Drexel University who rides a cargo bike with children in-tow, “or borrow a friend’s and take it to a park.” If you want to ease into it, head over to Forbidden Drive in Northwest Philly, Pennypack Park in the Northeast, or Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on a weekend, when it’s closed to traffic, to try it out.
Be Prepared for Some Parent-Splaining
Kate Mundie, who lives in South Philadelphia and bikes with her family, had one of her helmet cam videos go viral in 2015 when she filmed a man in South Philadelphia screaming obscenities at her for, apparently, putting her children in danger. “When I bike with the kids all together on the big [cargo] bike, some people would be nicer but I would get lots of people who felt like they had to tell me that I was a bad mom or putting my kids in danger,” she says. “That unwanted parenting advice, we all get.”
Bonarek agrees. “People always used to ask, ‘Is that legal?’ and would passive aggressively ask if it were being safe.”
That said, it may be a bit better than the alternative.
“All the interactions you get frustrated with as a solo cyclist sort of disappear when you’ve got your kid in tow with you – but you should still plan your route differently," Bonarek adds. "If there are those roads that make you feel a little bit nervous, just go around or something like that.”