This weekend I finally had the time to test out a new setup on my bike allowing me to bring my daughter along for a ride. Although the ride was brief, only about a half hour in total, it managed to live up to all my expectations and more.
My oldest daughter, now almost 4, has been asking to come along on my bike rides pretty much ever since I started cycling regularly. She once saw a bike trailer at a Costco and when I explained what it was she begged me to buy one so she can ride in it. I thought about it quite a bit, but since I am not a fan of driving somewhere just so you can ride your bike, and a bike trailer so low to the ground didn’t seem like the safest option in traffic, I looked for something better.
I searched high and low for an adequate bike seat that would support her height and weight, but it seems the market for these things peters out after age 3. I’m not sure what exactly most people do after then. Perhaps, since they are not riding in traffic, they get the trailer. Or perhaps they let the kids pedal their own bikes at that age. In either case, neither seemed like a good idea in NYC traffic.
So that left only the possibility of a bespoke solution. Finally, after searching high and low, I found out that most parents in my situation opt for a cargo bike. In this realm, there are two easy solutions: either an entirely new bike or a conversion kit. Both of these, however, are also very expensive. Furthermore, we don’t really have the room for a second bike, and I’d still like to ride my regular bike on my own regularly, and occasionally for long distances. This left me with just one alternative: cobbling together my own conversion kit.
My custom conversion kit turned out to be much cheaper and easier to assemble than I thought. I replaced my light-duty rack (purchased one year ago for $36) with a heavy-duty rack rated for up to 55 lbs ($40). Given my daughter’s fully clothed weight of under 40 lbs, this rack should be able to support her for a few more years at least. I used some bungee cords to strap an old bike seat to the rack. Finally, I bought a stem ($9), pink handle bar ($13), and purple grips ($9), which I attached to my seat post, and the setup was complete. I knew this was the right way to go when my daughter saw the handle bar and grips in her favorite colors and exclaimed “it’s exactly what I wanted!”
For our first “test” ride we went for a 10-minute spin around the neighborhood. I wasn’t quire sure where to go, since in our immediate vicinity one faces the choices of either very hilly terrain, very rough roads, or high traffic roads. I opted for the hills, which may have been a mistake given that I was not yet used to hauling all the extra weight, but turned out OK. I quickly learned that (a) I needed to stay in a gear about 2 notches below my usual, and (b) coasting down-hill at high speed is not nearly so much fun when you’re worried that your child will lose her grip and slide off the back at any moment. I ended up using the brakes a lot more than usual.
With the test ride successfully completed, we decided we’d take things up a notch. I geared up with my usual bike shorts underneath some casual shorts and a polo shirt, while my wife put on her jogging outfit and strapped our younger daughter into the jogging stroller, and we went out together to a bagel shop about 1.5 miles away. I opted for a mile-long detour through quiet neighborhood streets to avoid some of the traffic, while my wife jogged on the most direct path on sidewalks along the busy streets.
Rolling along at a leisurely pace on the serene tree-lined streets of Fieldston on a cloudy but pleasant Sunday morning, we actually saw more bikes than cars. At one point my daughter remarked, “this is a bike road.” Yeah, not quite, but it did seem that way for a bit. As we continued traveling, and my daughter continued giving me some of her unique preschooler commentary on the surroundings, she astutely noted that “it’s so quiet you can hear me talk.” And indeed, for just a moment, with no cars around and far from the noisy Henry Hudson Parkway, it was. At that moment, I felt like I finally understood what all those other bike parents are talking about. Sure, you can walk, but the scenery doesn’t change very quickly at walking pace. You can drive slowly through the countryside with the windows down, but the roar of the engine never disappears. Truly the only way to efficiently and completely experience the streetscape is by bicycle.