BIKING with BABIES
Michelle bounced happily behind the tandem in her "bugger." In her arms she held her ever present teddy bear. Although she's only three years
old, she has biked over 10,000 miles with her parents, Darryl and Carol LeVesque of Southern California. Her younger sister Andrea, 13 months old, has ridden 3,000 miles in a
Gerry carrier on her father's back. the LeVCesques are experts at biking with babies.
At a recent interview Darryl explained: "Remember a child on your bike makes a difference in your balance. Be sure you are an experienced rider before trying it. Always have your bicycle in top mechanical form. Most accidents occur because a bike has not been properly maintained.
"We believe in starting children biking early. Michelle was three months old and Andrea five months. Naturally you start out on very short trips and work up gradually to all day and overnight tours."
"Be sure the child will be comfortable before you start. I modified our Jack Taylor, 24-speed tandem so that my whole family could accompany me on my regular bike trips with the Los Angeles Wheelmen."
"Michelle rides in a trailer (called a "bugger"). I replaced the standard bugger seat with a child's car seat. We found that the modled seat you can buy with the buigger is too hard to sit on for long trips. The car seat works ifne as it is foam padded and has a head rest for when Michelle is sleeping."
"On our 14-day trip along the Pacific Coast last summer she slept 70 percent of the time. She gets a little upset when we are going slower uphill but loves speed and is quite friendly toward strangers, especially other cyclists."
"The Gerry pack (a backpack) is fine for Andrea at this age, and she rides comfortably on my back. We padded it with towels at first when she was smaller."
"I put two or three diapers on the baby before we start," Carol said, "and pack two extra diapers and juice in the false bottom of the Gerry carriers."
"We've attached a water bottle carrier to the frame of the bugger," added Darryl, "so Michelle can get her own drink. We've found it necessary to tie Andrea's bottle onto the backpack with string so she can't drop it."
For a typical one-day outing with a regular lunch stop at a restaurant, the LeVesque's take:
For the 3-year old
For the 13-month old
bottle of juice
extra bottle (in
2 extra diapers
Carol keeps the Cheerios and graham crackers in plastic bags in her bike shirt pockets. From her position on the back of the tandem, she can
reach both girls easily and feed them snacks enroute.
"The children occasionally get fussy just before they fall asleep or when it is near lunchtime. We don't stop every time the girls fuss. We know they are well padded and protedted. No metal is touching them that can become burning hot. We stop often at parks for play and stretching little legs. the children examine flowers, trees and see historical landmarks."
"We decided to try a tandem because we got tired of being split up during club rides. I'd do a four-and-a-half-hour century, and my wife would take eight hours. Now we ride it together in five hours.
"At the Great Western Bike Rally, we completed the 50-mile Morro Rock Ride in three and a half hours with both kids along. We average a cruising speed of 17 to 19 miles per hour."
"Last summer we left Andrea with her grandmother and went on a 14-day, 650-mile trip form Kelso, Washington to Fort Bragg, California."
"Michelle rode in the bugger with gear packed around and under her. We also had saddle bags and the sleeping bags were tied onto the bar that attaches the bugger to the bike."
"We planned well in advance and stayed at state park campgrounds some of the nights and motels the others."
"We'd stop each night at a store," Carol said, "and buy food to heat up on our stove for dinner and get something for breakfast. Then we'd stop at restaurants for lunch."
"We traveled between 20 and 81 miles a day, depending on the roads and the weather. Our 13th night out, just north of Fort Bragg while we were snug in our tent, Michelle called out, "What's that hitting our tent?" It was rain! When we packed up and went into town for breakfast, it was still pouring. We all wore rain ponchos. Michelle's small one was big enough to cover the gear in the bugger and, of coursse, Teddy."
"We rode on as far as the beach. There, still in the pouring rain, we had a flat tire. Some cyclist friends we had met at 'Valley of the Giants' came by in their Volkswagen van and stopped to help. It was raining so hard we decided to give up and piled the tandem and bugger on top of the van and drove back to the Bay Area."
"The only real problem with biking with children is the weather. You can't travel if it's too hot or too cold. Luckily, our children tan easily and do not burn, but Carol uses suntan lotion on them frequently. Andrea wears a sunbonnet, and Michelle sometimes wears a visor-type cap under her regular bike helmet. (I prefer the ice hockey-type helmet for children, especially one made by Cooper of Canada.)"
If you start your children young, plan your trip carefully (best to travel with a bike club), have your bicycle in good condition and your kid's seat fixed for safety and comfort, and work up to long trips gradually, you can enjoy biking as a family as much as the LeVesques.
Now they are looking for a Triplet (a bicycle built for three). "After all," said Darryl, "Michelle's almost old enough to help pedal."
by Ralph Cooper, 12-19-07