Ants. So many ants. They were crawling all over the seat, fabric and metal bars of my bike trailer. I poked at the swarm with a leaf, but they just scattered. I sprayed them with Lysol, but that didn’t seem to faze them. Finally, after hearing many proclaimations of “Ew!”, Chris stepped in. After spraying the whole trailer with the hose and shaking it upside down, he declared that I would not be bringing Little Bird on his first ever bike ride that day.
Before I became a mother, I had dealt with a lot of problems on the bike, from flat tires to thigh-grinding hills. But never ant infestations. This was only one of the many times I’ve had to adapt one of my major passions after becoming a parent.
Just dealing with the equipment was a major change. I’m a minimalist when it comes to biking. I’ve put thousands of miles on my 15-year-old hybrid. My big investment is my annual tune-up. The bells and whistles on my bike are limited to my literal bell and an American flag ribbon from marching in my town’s Memorial Day parade.
In contrast, family biking brings a whole slew of possible and lovely kid-toting options. Although I still know nothing about road bikes, I’m now well-versed in the many family biking options, from front seats to bakefiets. Whereas I would have pooh-poohed bikes with the latest technology, I now lust after e-assist cargo bikes that run to almost $5,000. (They really couId replace a car.) Like so many things with children, it’s easy to get sucked into the allure of awesome stuff, even though I won’t be able to use it enough to justify the investment.
Then there’s the sheer physical effort. Before having children, I participated in the Climate Ride (300 miles from New York City to DC) and pedaled into the third trimester of pregnancy. Despite that, my immediate reaction the first time I pulled the bike trailer was, “Oh Lord, this is heavy!” Hauling around an extra 50 pounds or so is hard to imagine until you do it.
Like so many things, I’ve had to adjust my expectations. Instead of a multi-hour bike tour, we max out at 10 miles, with several breaks. My speed has slowed to a crawl, especially on hills. Instead of having to wait for Chris, he actually keeps up with me! (He enjoys that.) The pace of both biking and life takes on a different speed with children.
Even the community bike rides I lead are different. Instead of leading adults who can (mostly) take care of themselves, I’m the Pied Piper to a gaggle of children and their parents. Some kids arrive with training wheels. Some parents have arrived with no bikes at all! We stop at playgrounds rather than restaurants. They’re the slowest bike rides I’ve ever loved.
Of course, these adjustments bring benefits with them. While rides are shorter, there’s so much more beauty packed into each one. I’m trailed by a constant companion, pointing out the cars and other points of interest along the way. “Look!” he shouts, drawing my attention to something I’d have missed on my own. When he falls asleep in the trailer, there’s a satisfaction that I rarely get now that I no longer rock him to sleep. On the few occasions I ride by myself, the solitude spreads through me. It inspires me to open my eyes and ears rather than be held captive by my thoughts.
And yet, for all this change, so much is the same. I still love to bike, to feel my legs pumping up and down, to coast down hills. I still lead community rides, often forgetting where we’re supposed to turn. I still love the freedom and the beauty of the bike, no matter where I’m going. Even though I’m a biking mom, I’m still a bicyclist.
Holding onto the core of who I am – on and off the bike – gives me strength as a mom. It guides my parenting and gives me passion to share with my children. In sharing who I am with them, I hope to help them find out who they are.
If you want to learn more about family biking, be sure to check out my other family biking posts, including my family biking profiles and my experience reintroducing Sprout to the bike as a toddler. Be sure to follow us on Facebook!