How do you get your kids on their own bikes?

Our kids, at ages 7 and 10, were still riding on our big bikes at the end of 1st grade and 5th grade last year. It got awkward to carry them both, but it was still doable; that why we got big bikes. We like big bikes and we cannot lie. The kids’ commute is complicated by the fact that they both take a van from school to their after-school program, and the van does not have a bike rack. However there was no way we were going to give up their spots in the after-school program, given that it is both an exceptionally good program and literally across the street from my office. The van to after school does, however, have room in the back for a folding bike. As our son got older and tall enough, we offered him the Brompton to ride. We even considered an assisted Brompton, because he’s scrawny and San Francisco is hilly. Unfortunately we learned that the van driver can’t legally offer him assistance loading his bike, and the regular Brompton is already so heavy that he can barely lift it. However he preferred to ride on our bikes.

From here, in 2012

From here, in 2012

The older our kids have gotten, the more drive-by parents and ride-by parents have told us to “put those kids on their own bikes.” I flipped them the bird or ignored them, respectively. I am not into insisting that my kids turn into Mini-Mes (no matter how tempting that is) and I swore that I would never pressure my kids to ride their own bikes. They could ride if and when they were ready. We did however offer bribes: for active transportation, either walking or biking, we pay them 10 cents/mile. I anticipate that they will eventually ask for a better rate (I always encourage them to negotiate) but that’s still cheaper than paying for transit fares.

To this

To this

In August my son started middle school. The same options were on the table as in previous years: I could carry him to school on my bike or he could ride on his own. Also there was one new option: he could take the bus (or rather buses, given that the trip requires a transfer.) The first week he chose to ride on my bike. Then he decided that this was embarrassing and only little kids ride on the back of their parents’ bikes. Next he tried the bus. For the first couple of days we rode with him. This was not necessary, as it turns out that the bus at that time of day and in this part of town only carries students going to school; admittedly the younger kids ride with their parents. However thanks to this experience I did learn that a city bus full of middle school students reeks to eternity. It was weeks ago and I am still reeling from the experience. After a few trips he decided the bus wasn’t to his taste either. He wanted to try riding to school on his own bike. And since then that’s what he’s done, every day.

To this, in 2016. The Brompton is an all-ages bike.

To this, in 2016. The Brompton is an all-ages bike.

So here we are now, with a 6th grader who has chosen to ride his bike to school. We had to jigger the route to find a relatively flat trip because he’s still building up strength. He is still a slow rider and needs extra time on the hills and prefers that one of us shadow him. I am okay with all of these things. He says he likes the extra time he gets to sleep in when he rides his bike instead of taking the bus. He likes feeling independent. He says he wants to try riding completely solo soon. At this point, it seems like he’s going to keep riding, although there are no guarantees. Our daughter, now in 2nd grade, wants to start riding on her own too. So we may be getting another tag-along as a starter; she’s not big enough to ride a Brompton and there’s still that van ride she takes in the middle of the day.

When we started riding bikes everywhere, we did not know how things were going to go as our kids got older. We know families whose kids took to riding their own bikes and never looked back and have heard of families where the kids decided they didn’t like riding their bikes at all, so we kept our expectations low. Our kids are their own people and I know they will find their own way. I don’t always know why they choose to do what they do. At least for now, though, they’ve decided to continue riding with us. And although we try not to overreact and get mushy (at least not where they can see us,) we’re pretty thrilled.




Filed under Brompton, commuting, family biking, kids' bikes, San Francisco

14 responses to “How do you get your kids on their own bikes?

  1. Heather

    I let our 3rd grader ride alongside/with me when it’s not particularly hilly, but I’m not sure what to do about the big hills. We go up them regularly and at some point she’ll outgrow the tag-along-type attachment on my husband’s bike. I’m not sure at what point we buy an assist for her bike- and if it’s worth it to buy an assist for a child’s bike that they’ll grow out of quickly.

    • Our son built up strength by riding partway up the hills and then walking the bike. We would get off and walk with him. If we got him an assist it would be an aftermarket model that could transition from one bike to another.

    • Rather than an assist, you might consider the Bicycle Bungee: – (It’s basically a big version of those retractable dog-leashes, but with a serious bungee). I tried one out, & it was surprisingly forgiving, the bungee smoothes out the differences in speed & direction. That way you can have the assist for yourself, & tow when you need. (I’ll report back more if I actually get one).

  2. steve

    You did not mention if your son is riding in the street in the bike lane or on the sidewalk. when my son was 5-6, he would zig zag in the bike lane so we practiced bike lane riding when i was certain that car traffic was minimal. if the car traffic is heavy (like Fell) we ride on the sidewalk. we still watch out of people pulling out of their garages and slow down or stop at all intersections. thanks for your update.

    • He rides in the street, even on streets with heavy traffic like Fell and Fulton. After a couple of summers with wheelkids, he keeps a straight line while riding.

      • Rene Netter

        What kind of assist would you get? I still like the Nano the best but then have installed a center drive bafang on one of our other small wheel bikes which seems to work just fine except form the battery being drained really fast with all the hills.

      • I would consult with the bike shop if we wanted to do this. One possibility is a BionX, which can be installed on larger wheels (although not the Brompton) and switched from bike to bike, so that’s appealing. Another possibility would be a small throttle assist on the front wheel, given that he doesn’t weigh much. Those I have seen on Bromptons.

  3. Rene Netter

    My daughter won’t use a brompton ☹ anyway, one of our bromptons as a mountain drive it is really gets us up the hills. They have gotten a lot cheaper over the last 10 years and sometimes can be found new on ebay for $300

    • Are you serious? A Brompton on eBay for $300? I’ve seen other brands of folding bike at that price point (I have a sweet internal 8 speed Dahon I scored on craigslist for only $75) but not Bromptons – never for less than $1000. Methinks I need to do some searching!

  4. Does your hotc address get to you?

    More nitpickery! When we started riding bikes everywhere, we did not know *how?* things were going to go as our kids got older. We know families whose kids *[who]* took to riding… -Forrest

    On Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 4:48 PM, Hum of the city wrote:

    > humofthecity posted: “Our kids, at age 7 and 10, were still riding on our > big bikes at the end of 1st grade and 5th grade last year. It got awkward > to carry them both, but it was still doable; that why we got big bikes. We > like big bikes and we cannot lie. The kids’ commute is” >

  5. David

    I was a few years older than your son when I got hooked on bicycles because of the transportation independence they provided. I planned a trip to visit a friend who lived about 5 miles away and biked there entirely on my own. (It was in a flat city, so traffic and way finding were my major concerns – I’m not sure I could have planned the trip with topography like SF back then; but Google makes it much easier to do now). I also used a bike to deliver morning newspapers as job while in the later high school years.

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