Play Date: Seattle Biking Mom Madi Carlson

madi2-kidsEditor' note: In honor of Bike Month, Seattle mom and cyclist Madeleine (Madi) Carlson shares tips on biking with kids, including favorite gear, rides and safety tips. Read more of Madi's bike adventures at her blog, FamilyRide. This is part of a series that profiles some of our community’s most interesting parents and how they live and play.

1. Who's in your family and what do they ride?

My husband, Dan, rides a normal bike — a touring bike, to be specific — but I'll get him on a cargo bike, too, one of these days.

Brandt is six and rides a 16-inch BMX bike cheaply obtained at Bike Works. I recently found a wonderful Danish city bike on Craigslist. It has three speeds, fenders, and a rear rack, but he's not quite ready to move up to the bigger bike yet.

Rijder is almost four and just learned to pedal on a borrowed 12-inch bike. He still prefers his Kinderbike mini balance bike, but very soon we'll all be pedalers!

My primary bike is a Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike. I love that I can carry my two kids and their two bikes. Or toss on an extra kid. And six bags of groceries.

cargo4I still use my previous mamabike, too — it's a city bike with front and rear kid seats. Since it's normal-sized I can put it on the bus and train for long and/or too-hilly trips.

2. For families just starting out with babies and young kids, is there a best method of riding with them?

It's really a preference thing. I love front bike seats for toddlers age one to three-ish (depending on when they reach the weight limit), but it's not so convenient huffing up a hill with a toddler napping on one's forearm. Trailers are great for naps and snack/toy containment, but it's harder to communicate with trailer passengers and there's not quite the same sense of sharing the ride. Rear seats are a nice middle ground — often easier to nap in than front seats and close enough to talk with one another without shouting.

When Rijder was ten weeks old and I felt he had sufficient core strength and head control I put his infant carseat into a trailer. I still have the trailer and often find uses for it, though sometimes it's for cargo and not children.

trailer-bike3. What's a good age to start a child on a trailer bike (bike that attaches to an adult's bike)?

We didn't get one until Brandt was five, but many people seem to start at three or four. Our first trailer bike was an Adams Trail-a-bike that was a bit too big, even at age five. It was actually harder for me when he pedaled because he'd sway back and forth to hit the bottom of his pedal stroke. Now we have a Burley Piccolo that comes with a rear rack, making the whole thing very stable (most other trailer bikes attach to the seat post). Many parents opt for the recumbent Weehoo iGo — the kid is strapped into a seat with access to snack pockets.

4. What are a couple of tips to help families find affordable kids' bikes?

We love Bike Works, a nonprofit in Columbia City. Bike shops that carry new and used bikes will have affordable used kid bikes, too. Also try Craigslist and the neighborhood mom Yahoo groups. I sometimes even see free bikes on street corners. Free bikes can often benefit from a trip to your local bike shop for a once-over.

5. A big concern of families is bike safety; what are a couple of key safety tips that families can follow and/or teach kids from a young age?

I'll admit at ages six and three, I prefer my little guys attached to my bike, but they're already well-versed in the rules of the road just from experiencing traffic with me. Group rides are great practice — we love Kidical Mass and Spokespeople. Age 8 is the general age at which kids ride separate bikes for these rides.

One can borrow a Bike Rodeo kit from the Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation for free. It's full of bike safety and skill drills. We just borrowed one for our school and the kids all had a blast.

madi-pedals-removed-cropped6. What are a few of your favorite trails or routes to take kids biking?

I love our local bike trails for actually getting places with the kids — Burke-Gilman Trail, Elliott Bay Trail, Ship Canal Trail — but they can get a little crowded, especially on sunny weekends. For just practicing skills, we love Gas Works Park [in Seattle] for its trails, space, and hills. Green Lake is also wonderful, but it's sometimes hard to get past the playground.

7. What are some local resources to help families learn to bike together?

- Morgan Scherer of Familybike Seattle is a wonderful instructor and is partnering with Cascade Bicycle Club for their new Family
Biking Program
with a class every Sunday in June and September.

- Familybike also holds Family Bike Expos during which families can try various bikes. If you're ready to be out on the road, Kidical Mass is the way to go, or connect with people via the Seattle Family Biking Facebook group.

8. If you could wave a magic wand and do one thing to make the Seattle area more bike-friendly, what would it be?

Traffic calming! Speed bumps and stop signs to keep motorists moving at the speed limit on non arterial streets would go a long way towards making me feel safer about kids biking on the road. The Neighborhood Safe Streets Bill, just passed making it easier for Seattle to lower speed limits to 20 mph, but signs alone won't slow things down.

See also

- Balance Bike Basics: Teaching kids to ride in the no-pedal era

- 13 great scoot-bike paths for Seattle kids and families

- Photo essay: Babes on bikes

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