Saturday, April 24, 2010

Journey of a new bike commuter: Towing your bundle of joy

You don't have to be in shape, you don't have to have a fancy bike, and you don't even have to know the difference between a headset and a cassette to get out there and start bicycle commuting. I used to ride my bike around the neighborhood as a child, but I hadn't really ridden in years and I considered myself lucky to even know how to fix a flat tire.

I have since grown up, and easily grew away from my bike, with my busy lifestyle and my 20 mile commute out to EWU, and back every day. I always cared about the environment and always made sure to recycle and use cloth diapers and all of that, but when I saw my other crunchy friends out there riding their bikes instead of driving their cars, did I join them? No.

I wanted to try it out a couple of years ago, but it just didn't take off. My first ride was a whopping 8 miles, while 7 months pregnant. I actually had no problem with the ride, but I scared the wits out of my childbirth teacher! After that, for one reason or another, I just never got back on my bike – most of them having to do with the fact that I was commuting to EWU, and the time required to ride 4 miles to and back from church every week was too great since I could never manage to make it on time via a 10 minute car trip.

My daughter was born at the end of June that year, and I found myself wishing many times throughout the summer that I could get out on my bike, with or without her. I got on to Google, my go-to for answers to life's questions, and started looking for information about taking small babies on bikes. I'll tell you now, the prospects didn't look good; shaken [by a bike trailer] baby syndrome was one of the big worries, plus the fact that they just don't make bicycle helmets for newborns. So, just like with so many other things I had suddenly realized you just can't do for a few years as a new parent, I shelved the idea of bicycle commuting for the rest of the year.

Finally, it was cycling season again, and my baby was now 9 months old. I had just graduated from college and I was ready to get us out on a bike! I started browsing Craigslist for a trailer, but every time I would find one and call the seller, I'd find out it had already been sold – dang! Finally, I found one for sale in Pullman and decided to make the trek. Something seemed a bit ironic about driving my car so far with the ultimate goal of riding my bike to be more green, but I also took the opportunity to visit some friends while I was in the area. That makes it ok, right?

After a nice trip, we got the trailer home and I got to work. I had picked up an In-Step Quick 'N Lite trailer, which has a hammock type seat inside for the child. My plan was to mount a car seat inside, but this sloping, curved seat made things interesting. As if the universe was finally trying to help me on my way, I just so happened to have the perfect car seat: a Cosco Scenera convertible that I had gotten for free from my daughter's HMO.

All I had to do was fold up the rear foot (this is how you convert it to be installed rear-facing in the car), run the rear tether strap (used while the seat is forward-facing in the car) up over the trailers top crossbar, and down again to the rear part of the frame. I wrapped the tether around the frame and clipped its latch back on to the strap. After that, I simply ran the trailer's lap belt through the section of the car seat where you'd run the car's lap belt.

Presto! I was amazed at how secure the seat was inside of the trailer. I shook the the whole thing and even tipped it over sideways and the seat didn't budge. After a trip to REI for their smallest helmet, we were ready to go!

Excitedly, I hooked the trailer up to my 10-year-old Walmart bike (yes, the same one I used to ride around the neighborhood as a child) and we were off! I did have to stick a pillow behind my daughter's back to make room for the huge bulk of the helmet, but from there we went to play dates, the grocery store, and even the coffee shop for our weekly game night.

I was finally on my bike, and I loved it; we loved it! There I was, free to go where I'd like with the wind in my hair, and she got this awesome view of the whole world rolling by. I was reducing my footprint but – best of all for a poor, unemployed college grad living in this age of high gas prices – I also wasn't paying out the nose for gas anymore!

I'm glad to say that I had finally gotten off on the right foot. Things have changed quite a bit in the last year as I've gotten stronger, become more confident in traffic, and tried out different bikes, gear, and trailers, but I'm still with it and way more in to it than I ever would have guessed!

Stay tuned for more about my experiences as a new bike commuter!

1 comment:

Traditional Bike Club Curmudgeon said...

That kid looks appropriately skeptical.