Bike commuting in Philly for the average able-bodied person can seem daunting. For parents, it may feel downright impossible. As a bike-commuting mother of two living in Northwest Philadelphia, I am here to help get you started.
The first step is some confidence to ride a bike in the city: I believe in you! So there you go. Really, anyone is capable of biking in the city. It is a fun experience both with and without children. Do not let a bit of healthy fear hold you back. Bicycling is a safe, economical and fun form of transportation that will provide endless family memories.
Next, you will need to figure out the equipment best suited for your commute. Family biking comes in many forms and price ranges. Most local bike shops will be happy to help you.
I personally started out with an old road bike outfitted with a front-mounted child seat. My original step-up was simple, cheap and light. As I began biking more than driving, I upgraded to a cargo bike — described as the minivan of the bike world. These are on the pricier end of the spectrum but I can hold four children in my bike and even mount a car seat.
In between there are various trailers, bike seats (front and rear mounted), solo kids bikes and trail-a-bikes. In terms of other equipment beyond bike and child holder, I recommend having kids fitted at your local bike shop with helmets and outfitting your commuter bike with a basket or saddlebags to carry all the things children require.
OK now that you have the necessary equipment it’s time to plan the route! The process can take a bit of trial and error. Start with Google.
By utilizing the bicycle option, the map will draw directions based on available bike lanes and bike-friendly streets in the city. Although Google may consider certain streets bike friendly there may be other obstacles you will want to avoid (construction, heavy bus use, cobblestones etc). Ask a friend who already rides to look over the route for obstacles.
If you don’t know any other bike commuters, reach out to online communities such as Women Bike PHL or Kidical Mass PHL for advice. Finally, try the route for yourself. If it doesn’t work for you do not be afraid to try a different way. You will find one that feels right for your family.
Now you are ready to ride! Preparing the night before a ride is a great way to ease the tension in the morning. The evening before give your bike a once-over by checking tire air pressure and testing brakes. Pack adult and children’s bags the night before and leave them by the door alongside your helmets so you will be ready to go the next morning.
Finally, cheating is OK too. Don’t feel like biking for transportation is all or nothing. You can split routes between SEPTA and riding or ditch riding all together on a bad mood day or in bad weather.
Adding additional accessories to your bike can make life easier too: Mirrors, flags, cup holders etc. Trust me, my coffee cup holder is just as important as my helmet in the mornings. For the kids you can bring along snacks, books or small toys to keep them content. A happy biking child is a happy biking parent. We all have imperfect days and sometimes you will find my kids gazing at an iDevice while I am biking. We all need to reach our happy place somehow.
I hope you feel ready to start riding with you kids! Before you know it, your children will think buckling a helmet is as normal as buckling a seat belt. If you still feel unsure check out the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia‘s monthly Urban Riding Basics course.
Reach out, join and ride!