Since I got pregnant, I’ve been thinking about how I would carry my baby on my bike. Biking is such a big part of my life that I couldn’t imagine giving it up or not including my kid in it. My research on family biking led me to Kidical Mass, a nationwide movement to encourage families to bike together, especially for transportation. While all of my bike volunteer group’s rides welcome younger cyclists, the idea of a ride for little ones where we wouldn’t have to worry about slowing everyone else down was appealing. Plus, I wanted to push back against the idea that new parents need to get a minivan and be even more auto-dependent than ever. As I was extremely pregnant when I first found out about Kidical Mass, there was no way I could organize it that season. (The thought of a bicycle seat immediately postpartum is pretty horrifying.) But I committed to organize Rockville’s first series of Kidical Mass rides this summer. This past weekend, I finally made good on my promise and found out if Rockville is ready for family biking or not!
As the spring season approached, I got serious about planning the rides: picking dates, putting it in our town’s recreation guide, writing press releases, pitching blog posts, and posting it to as many social media outlets as possible. For our first ride, I decided to start at one of our community centers and ride to a local ice cream parlor and back. At only 1.5 miles each way using multi-use paths, residential streets and a short hop on a bike lane, I figured the route was low-key enough for even fairly small munchkins to participate.
Unfortunately, I was terrified that my suburb – which most people in the area know for a huge multi-lane state highway – just wasn’t going to have the interest. While we’re actually pretty bike-friendly (Bronze level), but most people don’t realize that. Plus, suburban parents have a stereotype of being tied to their cars and overprotective of their children. Lastly, I have a history of events with mixed results. Often the ones I work the hardest on organizing have the worst turnout, so I was nervous I was going to create all of this hype for nothing.
Then the Kidical Mass DC organizer pitched our story to a reporter at WTOP, the D.C. area’s major news radio station. After quite a bit of phone tag, we finally had our phone interview. While I tried to stay on my talking points as much as possible, good little communications person that I am, I think I still rambled a little. Catching the interview on Friday morning, I actually punched the air, even though she did chose one of my more inane and vaguely defensive quotes. (In response to a question about safety: “I bike more cautiously with my baby in a trailer and I’m a pretty cautious bicyclist anyway.” So much for good sound bites.)
After the reporter told me that the interview was going to air during the next morning’s drive time, the opposite fear struck me – what if we had too many people? What if I had a bunch of little kids on bikes whom I couldn’t keep together and safe? The response to my panicked email to my volunteer group didn’t allay my fears, as everyone was either traveling or leading other bikey activities. Chris said he could sweep (stay in the back of the group and keep everyone together), but with his relative lack of biking experience, I hated putting him in that position.
When I woke up the day of the ride, I thought, “Thank God the weather is cooperating.” The sky was blue, and the temperature was blessedly low for DC in June. The wind was a bit strong, but it provided some nice cooling power. We hustled to get Sprout, the snacks and our baby gear in the trailer so we would have plenty of time to pedal over to the community center. The fact that we had to skip Sprout’s morning nap provided me with one more reason to worry, as I didn’t want him crying while I was leading the ride! Despite the breeze, incredible weight of the trailer, a broken traffic light, and me jumping a gear, we managed to get there a few minutes early. I breathed a sigh of relief at that at small mercy.
My nerves began to calm as people showed up toting small children in trailers and on their own bikes. Overall, six families with 17 people in total showed up! While most of the kids were in trailers, there were 3 little ones on their own bikes, along with two older kids. Much to my relief, the leader of our sister ride Kidical Mass Gaithersburg showed up and was willing to sweep. I gave a brief safety talk, we took a group photo and then we were off!
Or least off the curb. I cycled into the community center’s parking lot, only to find out there was no curb cut back to the trail. With some effort, I hauled my bike and the trailer up to the trail while everyone waited for me. Not an auspicious start.
Then, we had a few abrupt drop-outs. Waiting for everyone to cross the road less than a quarter-mile into the ride, I noticed our sweep had arrived but our group was noticeably smaller. We actually lost two families! In one of the families, the dad was on a bikeshare bike and the two girls were older, so they may have decided the ride was too slow and going to take too long for their taste. The little girl with the other family kept saying before the ride that she was going to ride on the sidewalk, so the large road crossing may have scared her. The Gaithersburg Kidical Mass guy said that dropouts occasionally happen to them as well – people’s expectations don’t always match the ride, even when you describe it well.
Thankfully, the rest of the ride went much more smoothly. The two kids on their own bikes were a hoot. They were up front with me for much of the ride and pumped up the rather substantial hill. The little girl kept yelling, “These hills are going to make our legs soooo strong! Strong legs!” Indeed. The little boy was equally as enthusiastic, although a bit of a danger to himself. I had to remind him multiple times to stay behind me. He took that direction as literally as possible, riding so close that he almost ran into the back of the trailer a couple times. While it was frustrating, these rides are designed to teach kids how to ride safely on the road, so teaching him proper etiquette was important.
My favorite part of the ride was hearing both of the kids say, “This was awesome!” While they liked the ice cream, they actually seemed to enjoy the ride itself the most. Cultivating a love of bicycling is so rewarding; I was glad to be part of that joy.
Sprout did pretty well this time around too. He didn’t fuss in the trailer and enjoyed hanging out at the ice cream place’s patio. He actually fell asleep on the way home, his head tilted to the side, weighed down by the helmet. A bit uncomfortable most likely, but otherwise a good reward for a job well-done.