Words and photos by Cass Gilbert
“Que huevito!” they cried out as he passed. As I had suspected, Sage was proving a big hit in South America. His locks of curly blond hair, those big blue eyes and – at the tender age of 18 months – his endearingly wobbly gait, had all the women and schoolgirls swooning. They scooped him up in their arms and peppered him with kisses, the fortunate among them rewarded with a smile. And thus was born Sage’s travel persona: El Huevito, or ‘The Little Egg.’
To those in search of Latin American adventure, Chile makes a fine introduction. Few countries have it beat for sheer beauty and diversity. Long and skinny in proportion, Chile crams it in: a slender land of volcanoes, beaches, lakes, desert, vineyards, high plateaux and Patagonian steppe, corseted between Andean mountains to the east, and Pacific surf to the west. What’s more, its infrastructure is amongst the most developed in the region, making it particularly appealing for families cycling with a trailer in tow.
To the lake!
Given such a menu of natural beauty from which to gorge, my Nancy and I decided it best to hone in on three of its dominant themes for our visit: lakes, volcanoes and beaches. Thankfully, the country has a system of excellent, affordable long distance buses, and we were soon shuttled south of Santiago, all the way down to Villarica in the Lake District. A region renowned for the perfection of its bodies of water and the majesty of the volcanoes that preside over them, it made the ideal base from which to find our bearings and settle in to Chilean life.
As a seasoned solo bike tourer, I knew I was in for a radical change of pace, compared to any of my previous travels alone. Over the last few years, I’ve taken it upon myself to link the dirt roads that course through the Americas, riding from Alaska to Cuzco. I’ve pedaled my way through the crumpled ranges of Mexico’s Sierra Madre, the remote singletrack of Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, the coffee plantations of backcountry Colombia, and the mining roads of Andean Peru.
Exploring South America has become a passion, and naturally I was excited to share my enthusiasm with my son and partner. But this would be something completely new. It would also be Sage’s first ever bike tour, let alone his first Latin American experience. Prior to the trip, we’d experimented with overnighters in New Mexico, introducing him to camping. Traveling around Santa Fe in the trailer was second nature to him too, generally having the pleasing effect of lulling him into a peaceful sleep. But Nancy and I both knew this trip promised a whole new universe of challenges—and hopefully rewards.
So instead of my usual quest to seek out the remotest of dirt roads, or clamber over mountains, or camp in abandoned houses, we kept our sights within reason, appreciating the importance of being off the bike as much as on it. Indeed, many would have ridden in a single stint what took us several days to cover. But Sage prefers to appreciate life at a more leisurely pace, stopping to smell the roses along the way. “What’s the rush, papa?” he might have been saying, as he ambled off to pet another feral dog, or inspect a rock of particular interest. And who were we to disagree? Rediscovering the world through Sage’s eyes proved to be a highlight of traveling together, as we marveled at his unconditional interest in everything that surrounded him.
Our first night camping was in a farmer’s field, pitched under the cosseting arms of a giant oak tree in full autumnal bloom. Sage observed us set up our brand new tent, as if appraising our efforts. He was eager to be part of the team, so I sent him off to deliver tent stakes to his mother, in what was to become our daily ceremony. “Shoes off in the tent, Sage,” we said, when the tent was up, laying down the camp craft ground rules. He’d duly oblige, before slipping into our portable cocoon and helping-in his eyes at least-to inflate his diminutive Therm-a-Rest.
As a family, we prepared dinner together that first night on the table of an uneven slab of wood, cooking up fresh produce we’d sourced in an outdoor market in Villarica. Then Sage indulged in a favorite pastime— expressive dancing, hands arcing through the air to the falling leaves that swirled in the wind. But his highlight that day was surely the enormous pig that snuffled over, inspecting him as it might a small piece of juicy cauliflower. Sage was positively delighted.
Over the next few days, we worked our way up and down the steep rolling, gravel roads of the region. And ridiculously steep they were. Sometimes, they spiraled so abruptly skyward that it required the two of us pushing my bike together, with all our might, feet scrabbling, to the brows of hills. As I quickly found out, a bike, trailer, growing baby, food, and all the paraphernalia of toys we carried amongst our entourage certainly makes for good strength training. By comparison, my fat-tired Surly Pugsley felt positively buoyant when unladen. In any case, our toils made for good excuses to pause regularly, when we saw horses and cows to show Sage, or a patch of grass to picnic on. Passing through small settlements, our preferred food stops involved piping hot empanadas, the Chilean speciality, which we’d all blow on then eat in harmonious, contended family silence. Sage would then retire to his chariot for an afternoon nap, and a couple of hours later we’d seek out a suitable spot to pitch the tent, whether it be an organized campsite, or an impromptu opportunity we chanced upon.
Journey to the Monkey Puzzle trees
Our first destination was Coliseum, a small hamlet nestled at the foot of the Conguillío National Park. But just as we arrived, heavy weather rolled in after days of warming sunshine, forcing us to forgo our portable home for the cheapest room we could find in a local hospedaje. It was bare bones: the door refused to close, creaking petulantly, and the lopsided bed threatened to swallow Sage whole. So began El Huevito’s initiation to dirt-bag touring. Soon, our combined belongings were strewn around our shoebox of a space, clothes of all shapes and sizes hanging from windows and door handles.
Porridge was cooked up on the floor of the bathroom and the bed quickly filled with bread crumbs. Of course, the matriarchal owners of the hospedaje were quickly won over by Sage’s blue- eyed charms, calling out his name and luring him into the kitchen, the social centre of the premises. To Nancy’s chagrin, he’d return from such forays laden with a soft drink and biscuits, when prior to the trip, his impeccable diet revolved around the finest home cooked, organic goodness the Santa Fean farmer’s market could offer.
There was nothing to do but wait out the storm for a couple of days, as Sage bounced around the walls in his sugary fix. When a break in the weather finally came, our patience was rewarded with cinematic views of the conical Llaima Volcano, towering overhead at 10,252 feet. Come morning, we made a dash for the park itself. Following soft and loamy dirt roads, we climbed ever upwards into this wild, beautiful and other-worldly place, striking out across its volcanic lunar landscape, where islands of fertile land lay stranded between lava flows frozen in time—or at least until the next eruption.
With a 1,500 foot climb to tackle that day, we made it, just, to the enchanting Araucaria araucana, standing nobly in tranquil groves around the park. Their nickname was as appealing as their appearance: Monkey Puzzle trees are so called as it’s considered that climbing them would flummox even a monkey. I could see why. These bizarre, bandy, Seussian-like creations reach up to 130 feet high, and their tentacle-like branches are clad in stiff, sharp edged leaves, surely protecting them from any primate intrusion.
To the beach!
Mission accomplished, it was time to gather our belongings, scour the room for toys, and move on once more. Appreciating the way rain douses family holiday-making with a perfunctory fizzle, we headed north, in search of beaches and sunshine. Our destination, Valparaíso, is well known in Chile as an artistic city rich in muralism, and perfectly located to spend our last few nights camping along the Pacific. So away from the damp and humid Lake District we fled, via a 12-hour bus ride that required both stubborn haggling to secure safe passage of our booty of bikes and trailer, and the challenge of coaxing Sage through the night without one of his famous meltdowns.
Thankfully, animals and objects all survived, largely unscathed, to be unceremoniously ejected into Valparaíso’s bus station in the early hours. It was our first experience of urban riding, South American-style. Where we’d meandered through a quiet, traffic-free Lake District, here we tussled with cars, dodged kami- kaze buses, and hopped jagged curbs, the trailer dancing graciously but unintentionally on one wheel at times.
The hostel we found in this ramshackle port’s bohemian district was perfect. Adorned with pictures of bicycles in every room, La Bicyclette was run by the ever-smiling Giles, a relocated Frenchman who bobbed around us enthusiastically and mollycoddled Sage. “No problem, no problem,” he soothed again and again, showing us to a bright and airy room, its windows opening out onto a colorful street scene below, as he advised on the best places to walk.
Giles was quite right. Family cycling isn’t much of an option in Valparaíso, given the crazy traffic that plies its streets, and the even crazier inclines etched into the hills of this lopsided city. So steep are the roads draped across the hillside that each year the city hosts an urban Red Bull challenge, in which downhill riders tear down its stairways and barrio backstreets, the angle of which puts San Francisco to shame.
Instead we took to the city by foot, investigating its fish market, exploring the preserved house of national poet and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Pablo Neruda, and appreciating the wonderful array of murals for which Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known. Quite literally, the city is painted in color. Like a giant outdoor gallery, one piece of street art after another graces all but every wall, with barely a blank slab of dreary concrete to be seen.
Munching on our Chilean empanada staple, we ambled down its maze of precipitous passageways, and admired its mishmash of architectural styles, houses stacked up like Jenga. Sage seemed to enjoy himself too, running, wobbly-legged, down the steepest of its inclines. Emitting peels of baby laughter, he gathered a drunken-like momentum with each step, tottering ever so close to the tall curbs that match him for height, as we chased after him with nervous exhaustion.
When it was time to escape the city, there was no avoiding a herculean climb: a 1,300 feet elevation gain over just a few lung-busting, vein-popping, sweat-inducing miles. With just a few nights left in Chile, we made for a remote headland we’d been told promised peace and solitude. The ride there, rollercoasting up and down a network of dusty red dirt tracks, was bereft of traffic but exhausting. Again, the challenges proved worthwhile. The dilapidated campsite perched at the end of the headland may have been a babysitter’s nightmare, complete as it was with spools of discarded barbed wire and rickety walkways, but it boasted its own private cove of unimaginable beauty.
There, we dined at sunset, gazing out into the vastness of the Pacific and watching pelicans swoop overhead, which incited excited squeaks and finger jabbing from Sage. Come morning, we beachcombed to our hearts content, clambering over rocks, sifting through flotsam and creating collections of shells. Sage, Befriender of Feral Animals, even found himself a kitten as a playmate, before it was time to load up once more, return to Valparaíso and begin the process of retracing our steps home.
All in all, our first family cycling trip had been a definite success. Looking at the world through Sage’s eyes had proved to be, in itself, a journey of true wonder, equal to the best riding we’d enjoyed over our three weeks in Chile. Sometimes, it was as simple as noticing the way in which he watched birds fly by, or looked out to sea, or stared up at trees. There were so many moments to cherish: playing chase around the campsite table, reading bedtime stories together in the tent or introducing him to portly pigs. The family bond is strong in South America, and the manner in which everyone we met interacted with us, warming immediately to Sage, introduced a new richness to traveling.
I can’t claim it was the smoothest of rides, or that we slipped into family travel effortlessly and gracefully. It was hard, harder than I’d envisaged, despite all my studious planning and fretting. At times Sage struggled, and at times we all struggled. But even with hindsight, I’m not sure it could have been any other way. This was living, each and every moment of the day. It had brought us closer as a family. Together, we’d learnt and grown.
Words and photos by Ben Popper
Three miles from the end of the road, the rain cloud that we’d been skirting for the last 15 miles finally caught up with us. It opened up as we wove along Carbon River past the ranger station, blasting the sheet of water off the windshield with the wipers set to Mach 1. For the first time in the last 90 minutes, my son was silent in the back seat. At 5-and-a-half, I wondered if he had yet gained the emotional ability to be pensive. Truth be told, the confident front I was putting up to hide the butterflies in my stomach probably wasn’t fooling even him.
Mom is away and the boys are going to play. He and I were headed straight from school on a Friday afternoon to the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park for a quick overnight in the backcountry. Though Carbon River Road has been closed to vehicle traffic since it washed out in spots back in 2006, it’s still passable by four-wheel drive, or bike—its five-mile stretch leading to the marvelously appointed, and now remote, Ipsut Creek campground.
It seemed like an easy-enough introduction for him to the wonderful world of bikepacking, and we were both eagerly awaiting sleeping outside for the first time this season. The rain let up a little, and I turn back to him. “We should be there in a minute or two, are you ready?” To which I got an enthusiastic response: “Yeah Dad, I am ready to go bikepacking!”
When we first brought home an Adams Trail-A-Bike, I noticed almost immediately that the hand-me-down had enough random holes in the rear dropouts that I could probably get a rack onto it. A family bike-camping trip was being hatched right there and then. I found a rear rack for a 24-inch bike at our local bike co-op, and have been ready for the adventure ever since. All winter I had been eyeing the waiting rig in the corner of our basement, and when the day finally arrived, I attached my Rock Lobster gravel bike and loaded it down with two full panniers, a bear-proof barrel and a 45-pound kid.
The rain started letting up. Struggling around the gate like an 18-wheeler in a Walmart parking lot, we were on our way into the backcountry with, save for our car, an empty parking lot behind us. We were going to have it all to ourselves.
If there were any moments along the way when I began to get discouraged because I couldn’t ride a soft, rocky, uphill section, my spirit would instantly be lifted by the giggles of my boy. He thought it was hilarious that I was off the bike, grunting and pushing while he got to pedal. He would even clamber off and help push, because, apparently, pushing your bike is a necessary part of bikepacking, and I was giving him the full experience.
It only took about 100 feet for me to start sweating through my rain gear, and another mile to get a little tired. But as soon as I’d start wishing for the campground to be just around the next bend, I’d hear a yell from behind, letting me know that he was shifting into a better gear to help more as if he could tell I was feigning. A flurry of pedaling would ensue from behind, and—like a black-and-gold ’73 T-Top Firebird—my underweighted front tire would lift off the ground. We happily swerved, wheelied and bounced up the river valley, keeping a keen eye out for bears.
I had been watching the weather forecast for the weekend degrade for days, but we had been granted a window and made it to the campground without it raining. Even better, we were able to set up the tent and get most of dinner in before the next set of showers rolled through. We climbed into the tent, and I settled in for trying to contain a little boy after a long car ride and not a whole lot of rumpus time. Expecting this, I came prepared. I got him into dry, warm clothes, and surprised him with a little Lego set he didn’t see coming. It brightened his mood and gave us a light, compact and fun in-tent activity.
As the last blocks clicked together, the rhythmic patter of rain slowly fell silent, and we left the tent to make a short pajama-clad exploration of Carbon River. The sun slowly sank below the ceiling of clouds on some far, unseen horizon, bathing a perpendicular valley in a blaze-orange sunset. A bear could have appeared in the river bottom riding atop a moose juggling live salmon, and we would still have been more surprised by the sunset on this rainy evening deep in the mountains.
The rain really started in earnest at about 1 in the morning. After that, I didn’t sleep much, trying to plan our exit strategy the best I could. I knew the hardest part was going to be getting out of the tent to retrieve the bear barrel, but after that I could cook from the relative shelter of our vestibule.
I awoke the sleeping boy after his oatmeal and hot cocoa were already cooked and cooling. Keep him warm was my mantra. The hot chocolate, a two-prong approach, warmed the belly and put a little extra oomph in his step. After hours of restless worrying, the transition from bag to bike went swimmingly, and we were cruising downhill in no time. It would have been rad to stay and explore the river and trails some more, but it seemed foolish to tempt the rain any further, and we had a violin recital to get to.
Three miles into the five rainy miles back to the car, I was a little apprehensive on what his outlook would be. This could turn him off forever. I try not to push things on him, lest he never want to do them again. The proof was to be in the pudding.
I had taken my hood down so I could hear all the chatter from him as we rode. He had gotten silent again for a bit, and I called back to make sure I wasn’t spraying him. He replied, “No Dad, I just think we made the right decision by camping and not staying home.” An hour later in the car, when asked by his Mom on the phone what his favorite part of the trip was, he enthusiastically responded, “Riding through the rain this morning on the way back to the car!”
This had been an amazing time with my son in the backcountry, our first father-and-son-only camping trip. I will remember it fondly, forever.
Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes
What would life look like right now if my wife and I hadn’t decided to have kids? It’s a question that seems cold in the face of actually having children, but ask any parent whether they’ve conducted this thought experiment and they will answer in the affirmative. If they don’t, they’re probably lying.
I’ve asked myself this question a handful of times in the 15 years since having kids, and not in the yelling, arguing, pig-headed moments you might automatically expect. Often these moments of reflection are encountered when I’m engaged in doing something alone, like being out on a long solo ride, or spending hours plein air painting. The thought occurs to me: “Is this what it’s like for those without kids?”
I proposed to my wife one summer evening at a stoplight while riding our bikes back from a dinner (where I had planned to do the deed, but chickened out). A few months later we moved from our childhood home in Southern California to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I started at college and she became a bike messenger. While we’d left a lot of the temptations of the past behind in California, a constant stream of alcohol, cigarettes, weed and the occasional hit of acid were still present in our lives.
Post graduation, instead of deciding to have kids and subsequently get (relatively) healthy by quitting smoking and giving up acid, what if we’d doubled down and engaged in all the heady, international, drug-crazed adventures some of our friends took part in? What if I’d decided to re-form my old punk band and tour around Europe and Japan (with wealth and adoration almost certain to follow…)?
My favorite non-kid daydream involves following in the footsteps of Disney studio artist and animator Eyvind Earle, who, in 1937, at the age of 21, rode his bike 3,000 miles in 45 days from Hollywood, California, to Monroe, New York. He made 42 watercolor paintings along the way and showed them at the Charles Morgan Gallery in New York City, in a solo art exhibition.
This dream combines two of my longstanding life goals: riding across the country and having a solo art show in a New York City gallery. The painting along the way is an added bonus, though I can’t imagine having the focus or desire to paint anything meaningful after riding my bike for 8-10 hours.
It’s entirely possible that I’d have ended up in dire straits on the wrong end of some sort of terrible addiction; who knows? The point is, you can’t go backwards, and thinking about “what might have been” is a little foolhardy at best, and unhealthy at worst.
In the end we decided to have kids, and while I may never have a solo art show in New York City, or tour Europe and Japan with my old punk band, I can still ride across the country and paint what I see along the way. Better yet, I can try to instill in my kids (and subsequently myself) the focus and attention such activities require and maybe inspire them to come along with me, or go out on their own.
This is the first in a series of columns at the intersection of parenting and (sometimes) cycling to serve, not as a manual for child-rearing, but rather one parent’s anecdotal struggle to preserve his sanity and waistline. It will be an adventure, for sure.
For the National Bike Summit Recap, we are highlighting some of the amazing organizations and people that attended this year’s event. The role that these organizations play in bicycle and pedestrian safety is extremely important. Go here to read the Part 1 Recap.
Bike Summit Attendee: Julie Mallis
Organization: Bike PGH, Pittsburgh, PA
Tell me why did you attended the National Bike Summit? I wanted to meet with other youth bike educators and LCI’s (League Cycling Instructor), connect with other women in the industry, discuss and challenge the equity of the work we all do, lobby our state senators for people-centric safer streets and to bike around DC! Being around a lot of bike advocates is empowering and fun!
What are some easy ways for people to get involved and support an organization like yours? Thanks for asking! It’s easy, you can: 1: Donate or become a member. You can become a monthly sustainer or contribute annually, 2: Get your business involved with supporting bicycling, 3: Volunteer at our big events like OpenStreetsPGH or parking bikes at the bike valets.
Why should people support organizations like yours? We are a membership-based organization and we need the support and participation of the community to keep up the work! Our organizational focus is on advocacy, community, and education. We work for policy change and transformation of our urban core by inspiring and advocating within communities to achieve bikeable/walkable streets. As we work together for safer streets, we also host large community events like OpenStreets that reimagine how a street could be used. We provide accessible education programs and printed resources for youth and adults to learn online or on-the-saddle bike safety and tips. There are a number of ways in which someone can support or participate in this work!
What was your #1 takeaway from the Summit? Youth are the future of bicycling and we must centralize their voices and experiences in advocating for safer streets. The Engaging Youth in Advocacy and Education was my favorite session. It was hosted by young people from Philly’s Cadence Cycling and Neighborhood Bike Works, Arlington’s Phoenix Bikes and DC’s Gearing Up. Everything the youth had to say was on-point, inspiring and direct. “Just because I’m a youth, doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about” – Theo of @GearinUpDC
Look forward to one more National Bike Summit attendee posts !
Words: Andrew Titus
Illustrations: Stephen Haynes
Recently I got back to work after lunch unbelievably dirty. My face was splattered with mud, my arms and legs were completely covered and straight up my butt, like a big fuzzy squirrel’s tail, was red muck and gravel, the kind that the cleaning lady in the office hates and the kind that clearly says, ‘I spent that precious hour absolutely bombing the woodlot on my bike.’
What can I say, it doesn’t just make me feel like a kid, it reminds me that the best part of me is still a kid, still capable of hours of continuous effort, still wantonly splashing through puddles at top speed, still daring hills and challenging jumps to rip either my back or my bike to pieces. Very few folks get it, and most of them are under 12.
Like my 11-year-old son.
The other day we were out for a rip in the woods — he biking and me running — when we passed through a gravel pit. “Wanna stop and play here for a minute?” he asked. Sure, says I, that sounds good. So he pedaled up to the top and stopped — I whipped by him and then flew down the hill, taking high jumps by tucking my feet up under me and recoiling into the landings, protecting all my soft bits and letting the larger muscles take the brunt.
My son, seeing what I was up to, got off his bike and came down after me, arms in the air like he might lift right off. After an hour or so of running up and down the hills we left and he said “I think I can bike it next time.”
“No doubt you will,” I said, “no doubt at all.”
See, the thing we forget is that while we are righteously endowed with a powerful fearlessness when we’re kids, we lose that when we get older and become more ‘reasonable.’ Just as unfortunately, is that we forget that maybe, just maybe, it’s not just our kids that have to take lessons to get good at things. I mean really — we take lessons to learn how to swim, to skate, to dance, to paint, to scrapbook!
And yet, somehow, we figure that we should, miraculously, just KNOW how to bike. Partly I think that’s the fault of a society that hinges the very act of riding itself on that age old weird-ism ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’ and while that’s true of the magic formula ‘balance over inertia equals freedom,’ we do ourselves an incredible disservice by thinking that that’s that.
I can’t say I blame us though — the spectre of cycling athleticism (not to mention the FASHION that goes with both ends of the professional cyclist/ hipster spectrum) is enough to leave anyone with the feeling that nope, can’t do, just gonna ride the thing on the path once a week, when it’s nice, with one friend, and be done with it. And that’s not even talking about traffic. Or The Hill.
But the kids know — they know that hills only exist in the mind, that if you don’t have enough power to get up it (yet!), then you get off and walk for a bit — hell’s bells, the thing carries you enough, it’s okay to push it for bit. They also know traffic is okay if you respect it and understand that cars don’t give a shit about you and that, ultimately, you have way more pick-up from a dead stop and maneuverability than those clunky hunks of metal and fossil fuels anyway. And the kids know that if the weather looks bad, you add a layer that you can peel off later when you’re ready to lock up your steed and head inside.
Lessons off end though, right? There’s something terribly ‘kid-ish’ about having to go to class to learn how to do something as rudimentary, something as intimately HUMAN as riding a bike. Understandable. Perhaps, then, we might want to consider it more of an apprenticeship or mentoring — would that make us feel better in asking for a little help? Would that assuage our sense of self-worth? Yeah, dealing with adults is impossible, requiring such tact and sensitivity to people’s fragile feelings and egos that it’s hardly worth it. Kids, on the other hand…
An article recently went around wondering aloud about giving adults lessons in commuting and ‘street sense’ and while I agree that it’s a good idea, fighting against the general malaise of grown-ups, their fear of trying new things (and not being 100 percent perfect right off the bat), their distrust of Lycra as much as beards and skinny jeans, their Eeyore-ish attitude towards both the hill and the weather (oh, that hill always happens to ME), and their overall lack of interest is just too much.
On the flipside, however, it seems to me that that’s putting the cart before the horse, as it were, that getting kids on bikes, teaching them how to ride smart and hard and fast and confidently, not just for fun but for travel and adventure, is exactly the way to get more people on bikes.
Seriously, if you start young and it becomes a THING for you, if you are 10 or 11 years old and you can identify as a BIKER, it’s a powerful thing. And that’s really what this revolution is about, isn’t it? Isn’t it about encouraging folks to be healthier, stronger, more independent, more ecological and community minded? Isn’t this about changing the world?
Maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s about riding bikes. Maybe we don’t need lessons per se, but we do need a generation that grows up seeing their bicycle as part utility, part sexy and a whole lot of unstoppability. Maybe by getting kids riding their bikes (and thereby guilting their folks into doing the same) a whole lot of problems will be taken down in one fell swoop, a regular ol’ panacea for obesity, fossil fuel dependence, urban sprawl, etc. Maybe it’s just about riding bikes and in the fall out tons of good serendipitous things will happen. Imagine that — it’s hard to, isn’t it? Almost beyond our wildest dreams that something utterly NEW could happen.
Kind of like in 1817 when one Karl Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn put one wheel in front of another and, for the first time in human history, someone came upon the astounding revelation that a human being could balance like that and move forward at the same time. Fast, even elegantly one might say. Revolutionary. What a kidder that guy must have been; betcha anything the first thing he tried to do, once he got it going, was cruise by some lady’s house, call her name, and try to ride it with no hands.
Originally published in Issue #31. Don’t miss any Bicycle Times content. Subscribe to our email newsletter, today! No SPAM, just bikes.
Words: Jeff Lockwood
This piece originally appeared in Dirt Rag Magazine in 2005. All of the books mentioned are still available.
We don’t watch much television in our house. In fact, by the time you read this, our daughter Kaya will be 2 years old [now 13!], and I can say with confidence that she’s probably watched a total of one hour of television since the day she was born. Instead of filling her head with the latest Disney tripe fed to us, she’s become very fond of books. We read to her before bed and throughout the day. While most children her age take dolls, stuffed animals or toys to bed, Kaya sleeps with books.
So recently, I went to Powells.com and took the plunge. I spent less than $100 on new and used books aimed at a variety of age groups and reading levels. As you’d expect, books aimed at children under 3 years old are mostly illustrated paperbacks with minimal words. And only a small subset of those is focused around a bicycle. Fortunately, I found books with some bright, exciting illustrations that caught the attention of Kaya. Some of the other books I purchased are aimed at a slightly older age group, and I also picked one book that’s a great resource for us parents. All prices listed are for new books.
Franklin Rides a Bike
Author: Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrator: Brenda Clark
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
22 page paperback; $5
Franklin is a sad little turtle because he still relies on training wheels while the rest of his friends zoom through the woods training-wheel-free. With practice, determination and encouragement from his mom, Franklin soon loses the training wheels. Bright illustrations and brief text make this a good book to read to toddlers.
A Bicycle for Rosaura
Author: Daniel Barbot
Illustrator: Morella Fuenmayor
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
24 page paperback; $6
Señora Amelia decides to buy a bicycle for her hen, Rosaura, as a birthday present. Furthering the high-end frame builder stereotype, an eccentric man measures Rosaura for the perfect custom fit. And, amazingly, he actually delivers the bike on time. The story is short and to the point, the illustrations are soft and pleasant, and the book is best read to younger children.
Author: Gail Gibbons
Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
32 page hardcover; $17
Aimed toward roughly the third grade reading level, this book provides a wealth of bicycle information for young readers. Filled with large, descriptive and fun illustrations, this book quickly and painlessly presents children with the history of bicycles, basic functionality, types of bikes, uses, componentry, safety, simple bicycle care and fun facts.
Author: Jane B. Mason
Illustrator: David Monteith
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
48 page paperback; $4
Short and simple sentences combined with exciting illustrations make this a good book designed for beginner-level readers. We follow a young boy frustrated that he’s still on training wheels. After deceiving his friends with excuses to get out of riding with them, he suddenly discovers that he can ride without the training wheels.
Go Fly A Bike!
Author: Bill Haduch
Illustrator: Chris Murphy
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
83 page hardcover; $17
The subtitle of this book is “The Ultimate Book About Bicycle Fun, Freedom and Science,” and that’s a very accurate description. You and your children are going to get all kinds of useful, fun and interesting information here. Small, whimsical black and white illustrations throughout the book work well with informative sidebars and entertaining quotes.
Life is Like a Ten-Speed Bicycle
Author/Illustrator: Charles Shulz
Publisher: Collins Publishers
32 page hardcover; $6
Linus has always been the most philosophical personality in the Peanuts gang, so he got his own book. Though only one of these black and white strips mentions a bicycle, it’s still a fun book for kids of all ages. Linus’ quote that “Life is like a ten-speed bicycle—most of us have gears that we never use.” alone is worth the price of admission.
Bicycling With Children: A Complete How-To Guide
Author: Trudy E. Bell with Roxana K. Bell
Publisher: The Mountaineers
221 page paperback; $15
Every parent, no matter the skill level, should buy and carefully read this book. Bell and her young daughter (the co-author) explore every important topic relating to children and bicycles: proper bicycles, riding with a baby, tandems, safety, purchasing a bike, bicycle maintenance and riding with children with special needs. There is also an exhaustive list of great resources.
Q: Hey Beardo,
I love riding bikes and I’d like to share that experience with my kids, but they just aren’t into it. Any suggestions on how I can get them on two wheels?
Thanks, Fernando Crombestia Fernando
Let’s get this out of the way first. Until recently, I didn’t have much experience with kids. Kids kinda scared me. They seemed so needy, and there was an odor about them that I couldn’t get down with. And some part of my brain figured if I spent enough time around them, I might end up with one of my own, and I have a hard enough time keeping my cactus alive, and a whole other human seemed too much.
But these little buggers have grown on me, and once I fixed a flat tire for one neighborhood kid, the rest of the little urchins seemed to glom onto my repair skills like moths to a stadium light. And while their parents might not be doing a great job teaching these grubby youngsters to say thank you, keeping them on two wheels warms me up like a handle of whiskey never could.
Anyway, your little urchins don’t like bikes. But you do. I’m willing to bet you had a very different childhood than your offspring. Your bike took you places, places without the ever-present parental eyeball. To the store to buy penny candy, to play basketball, to soccer practice, to sleepovers. In other words, the bike was your first taste of freedom and adventure.
But your kids? You probably have to find helmets, load the bikes up on the car, drive somewhere, ride around in the circle and repeat the car trip home. It is a crying shame. Literally. I tear up thinking about this stuff , even when I haven’t been warming myself with whiskey.
At some point, all you parents got scared. Scared of all the stupid cars driven by people checking emails and twitters and weather and the stock market and guaranteed-you’ll-have-an-affair websites while “sharing the road,” all in a hurry to get to work, school, the store or home. While somehow car deaths have gone down, all those airbags in modern cars can’t protect little Josie when some careless driver pulls that rolling right turn and smashes the kid in a crosswalk.
My advice? Go somewhere via bike with your kids. Some place your kids want to go. The movies. The hot mess that is Chuck E. Cheese’s. To get ice cream. To the park. Get them associating bikes with good times. Maybe even think about swallowing some of that fear and letting them ride somewhere themselves when they are old enough to be saddled with some responsibility. Give them a few bucks for ice cream sandwiches, make them a map, ride the route with them first, and then suck up that knot in your stomach and untie those apron strings.
This is a form of bribery. And I fully support it. Because you should listen to a childless bachelor when it comes to child-rearing. But only about bike stuff. And teaching the little heathens to say thank you to the dude who fixed that flat tire.
From Bicycle Times Issue #38. Portrait of Yours Truly by Stephen Haynes.
As the distances of their travels grow, so too does the bond formed by a young family on the go.
Words and photos: Cass Gilbert
Originally published in Bicycle Times Issue #38
My son Sage is something of a seasoned traveller. At the ripe old age of two and three quarters, he’s already chalked up an impressive tally of countries visited, including the U.K., France, Chile and Ecuador—all of which have been enjoyed from the comfort of his bicycle trailer. But first, allow me to rewind a couple of years.
Like any father with a passion for bicycle touring, I was formulating adventures within the first few days of his birth. All the necessary accessories had already been gathered. The intricacies of a whole new world of gear had been duly studied. From what I could see all I needed was to bundle him into the trailer and go!
Of course the reality wasn’t quite as simple as that. It took eight long months before I was given the all clear to devise our first family trip: a simple overnighter close to our hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I fretted over our route. I pondered the terrain. I poured over our packlist, wishing only that our first trip as a family be as positive an experience as possible. Which, despite its many undoubted challenges, it turned out to be. The fact that we only rode a handful of miles before setting up camp in a swathe of forest I’d scoped out on Google Earth was inconsequential. Those precious miles were, without doubt, amongst the most rewarding miles of all my bicycle tours to date.
Since that day, the reach and breadth of our adventures has grown as the three of us have become more versed with how best to tour as a family. After numerous local jaunts close to home, Sage was ready to take on Chile at the tender age of 18 months. It was there that he earned the nickname El Huevito—the Little Egg— from all the women who scooped him up into their arms, tussled his blond hair and fed him untold amounts of sugary treats. The family bond is especially strong in South America, and the manner in which everyone we met interacted with us, warming immediately to Sage, introduced a whole new richness to traveling on a bicycle. This interaction was just as important as the riding itself, which was as varied as we could have hoped for.
Over a three week period we camped in the lunar landscape of Conguillio National Park, explored the seaside city of Valparaíso by foot and rode from beach to beach along the windswept Pacific Coast. After our adventures in Chile we progressed the following year to Ecuador, joining forces with three brothers I’d met on previous two wheeled travels through South America. Since then we had kept in touch and we’d all had children.
In any shape or form, our first outing together would have been enjoyable enough. It came complete with dirt roads, singletrack, a hike-a-bike and even a stint bouncing along the sleepers of a disused railroad, set to a backdrop of high altitude Andean páramo and silhouetted volcanos. Factor in no less than eight bicycles and five accompanying trailers, with a payload of 6-month-old to 3-year-old children, and such a journey takes on an even more memorable character.
Together we blazed a trail of family mayhem through the countryside. We built roaring campfires and drank water that bubbled up from highland springs. We collected watercress and roasted it with garlic. Every moment was a chance to learn and share, from cooking outdoors, to pitching tents, to gathering firewood and purifying water. We explored, we laughed, and we shared a love of bikes, good company and simple living and, of course, we enjoyed some fabulous riding.
Basing ourselves at our friends’ family-run organic farm, Sage, Nancy and I set out on several week-long excursions around the countryside, exploring local markets, feasting on exotic fruit and rubbing shoulders with poncho-clad horsemen. By the time we were done in Ecuador, we were hooked on two-wheeled family travel.
More recently, visiting my own family in the U.K. afforded us another opportunity for a mini adventure. This time it was to Exmoor National Park, a small but enchanting parcel of land located in the rolling hills of the South West. It came complete with quiet back roads and verdant combes harboring secret mossy glades—perfect wilderness camping material. Elsewhere, open and windswept moorland was punctuated by traditional tea houses, serving up fresh scones, jam and dollops of clotted cream.
Of course, we still enjoy local jaunts as much as those that lie further afield, camping with friends on short overnighters outside of Santa Fe or heading into Colorado when the aspens are ablaze with color. With each trip, and each month that goes by, Sage seems to enjoy himself more and more. He’s now at the point where he actively relishes the whole experience rather than simply tagging along with what his parents are doing. He knows how to scout for a good camp spot, he’s eager to help put up the tent and he delights in studying the map with me. He loves being part of the team.
Indeed, as someone who lives for being outside, it’s been one of my great delights to experience the world through his eyes. We’ll watch him wander off and forage for sticks, or investigate interesting rock piles, or collect pine cones. He sleeps as well in the tent as he does at home, and loves the undivided attention he gets from us when we’re unplugged from our various electronic devices, spending undiluted time as a family.
Whether he grows into a passionate bicycle tourer is another matter. I hope at least that these experiences are broadening his mind, introducing him to the concept of car-free travel and allowing him to feel comfortable and confident in the great outdoors.
There is, however, a disclaimer. Despite their diminutive distances, I can’t promise that family bike tours are always easy. Without doubt, they have their own set of physical, mental and logistical challenges to contend with. The first few trips will undoubtedly involve a massive learning curve. But I couldn’t more highly recommend trying one out, wherever it may be in the world, for however many days you may have.
So gather the troops and brew up a plan. Choose a route that everyone will enjoy. Enjoy being off the bike as much as you are on it. Above all, make time for family adventures. I can guarantee they will warm the heart and feed the soul. For everyone involved.
16 tips for touring with a toddler
1. Devise a route that’s as traffic-free as possible. It will be a lot more relaxing.
2. Forget the miles. Focus on having a good time. Take regular breaks and lengthy lunches.
3. Factor in terrain to your expected distances—if it’s mountainous, we rarely cover more than 15 or 20 miles a day.
4. Ride while your child is napping whenever you can.
5. Don’t forget hydration. Initially Nancy found it a challenge to stay hydrated while riding and breastfeeding.
6. Figure on four hours of trailer time a day, split into smaller portions. On longer trips factor in plenty of off-the-bike days too.
7. Pack light. Hauling a trailer, plus extra food, water and baby gear can be a challenge.
8. Leave bulky toys at home. Allow your child to fully be immersed in nature. They’ll find plenty of things to do.
9. Keep it varied, particularly as your child becomes a toddler. After lunch, we often push our bikes and let Sage walk or run alongside us. Sometimes we bring a football to kick around in forest glades. Never pass up a good playground!
10. To help pass the time, listen to music or audiobooks on the move. We use the excellent Outdoor Tech Buckshot speaker.
11. Stop early enough that you have time to settle into your campsite and enjoy some downtime together.
12. Pack delicious, nutritious food, even if it weighs a little more.
13. A familiar bedtime storybook is great for helping your child get to sleep.
14. Engage your children to help out whenever possible, like cooking, setting up a tent, gathering firewood or purifying water. Sage loves helping out.
15. Be prepared for the occasional meltdown! It doesn’t mean your child isn’t having fun. Similarly, always keep your child’s needs to the forefront. After all, if they’re not enjoying themselves, what’s the point?
16. If you can, team up with another family—your toddler will love the company.
Continue Reading: Gilbert also wrote a piece on the “best bike touring gear for family travel,” which is based on his extensive experience. It includes thoughts on kid trailers, bike setup and Sage’s packing list for overnight adventures.
10 Lessons from 10 Years Adventuring with Kids
Words and photos: Stuart Wickes
Ten years ago, my wife Kirstie and I started The Family Adventure Project after making resolutions to put our family first. We wrote some ideas down and promised each other we’d act on them. Over the years, those handwritten notes became a website and now a blog, recording all the things we’ve done together, providing lasting memories of our little and big adventures and reminding us not to settle for a life less lived. Here is some of what we have learned.
Lesson 1: Newborns can travel, too
Babies don’t melt if you take them out in the rain and they don’t break if you hike them up a mountain. Sure, those early months and years are a precious and demanding time, but you don’t have stay at home to enjoy them. You might as well have no sleep in a place you’ll remember.
Lesson 2: Toddlers are easier in the outdoors
Toddlers were made for stamping in puddles, for gathering up leaves in the woods and for stuffing twigs into pockets. The outdoors is a great big playground. It’s also free. Why visit expensive fun factories or waste money on play barns when you can explore the world together at no cost? Take a wagon of snacks and go see what’s out there.
Lesson 3: Tweens and teens bring challenges wherever they are
Everyone knows children can be challenging, tweens and teens especially, so why not let them sulk in a pleasant environment? Give them the chance to say what’s on their mind without the distractions of everyday life. Spend time with them now, keep those communications channels open and you can build relationships that will survive almost anything.
Lesson 4: The world is a natural learning environment
School is a great thing, but the world is the most effective teacher there is. Just think of all the subjects that crop up when you’re out exploring the real world. History, geography, science, maths, art and languages never feel like a chore when they’re studied as part of a journey.
Lesson 5: Family life is more fun when you’re together
So much of daily life is spent in separate rooms, or even separate buildings. Come together once in awhile and get to know each other. Build up a bank of shared experiences that you can draw on. It’ll help to ground you for when more difficult times set in.
Lesson 6: You don’t need all that stuff. Really, you don’t
Life is about people. Ditch the stuff and try playing with each other for a change. Even the littlest member of the family can make a doll out of a stick and we’re constantly surprised by how many games they can all create from a pocket full of stones.
Lesson 7: Taking on new challenges boosts confidence
Who doesn’t want confident children? Every time you go on a journey together, go somewhere new or try something different you create an opportunity to learn new skills for yourself and the rest of the family. You’ll discover that you and your family can deal with way more than you think and that’s great for everyone’s confidence.
Lesson 8: Adventures create strong reminders of their childhood
Children grow up in the blink of an eye and, let’s face it, a lot of regular life isn’t really that memorable. Adventure ramps up the number of new situations, people and places we encounter. It stirs up emotions of all kinds and deepens and tests relationships, which creates front, shared memories.
Lesson 9: Getting out with the kids keeps you fit not fat
Middle aged spread setting in? Get on your bikes. Or up a mountain. The children will be fitter than you, and closer to their peak. Let that be a challenge not a problem. If the kids are eating too many trans fats then make them burn them off. They’ll thank you when their own middle age sets in.
Lesson 10: Parenthood is short
You think it will last forever. It doesn’t. Make the most of it while you can.
Stuart Wickes and his wife Kirstie lead the Family Adventure Project, a UKbased website that chronicles its adventures online and beyond in an effort to encourage families get out, get active and adventure together. Learn more at familyadventureproject.org.
For a lot of kids growing up in poverty, the world they know is only what’s directly in front of them. Pittsburgh attorney Mark Rubenstein was seeing young adults make the same mistakes and commit the same crimes as their parents and grandparents. He knew that if he could only expose them to the wider world it would give them a greater perspective on what they could achieve in life.
In 2006 he founded Pittsburgh Youth Leadership, a non-profit that would take at-risk kids from the city on all-expense-paid bicycle tours. Along the way the teens have learned invaluable leadership skills, perseverance, teamwork and how to challenge the world around them.
Since then the group has racked up more than 137,000 miles through 44 states. This summer the organization is planning a 3,000-mile journey from Oregon to New Jersey and filming a documentary of the trip. The film they hope to create a long the way, Conquering the Cycle, will hopefully inspire more teens to challenge themselves and reach for their dreams.
If you’re inspired by how far they’ve come, you can make a donation to Pittsburgh Youth Leadership on its website.Tweet Print
Courtesy of Strider Sports
Rapid City, South Dakota, will host the fourth annual Strider World Championships from September 19-21. The event, presented by FedEx, is the culmination of a series of qualifying races held in North America, Asia, Europe, and South America. Nearly 200 riders from age two to five are registered to compete. Twelve countries will be represented in the world’s premier balance bike racing competition.
Hosted by Strider Sports International, the event kicks-off on Friday, September 19 with opening ceremonies, a Special Olympics South Dakota exhibition race, and a final qualifier for the World Championship Races. The Final Races will be held on Saturday, September 20 at Main Street Square, followed by an awards ceremony and trophy presentation to the top eight winners in each age category: 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- year olds. In addition to the competition there will be a free Strider Adventure Zone for kids to ride demo Strider bikes. Admission for spectators is free.
On Sunday, September 21, there will be tours of the brand new Strider Sports World Headquarters, the Black Hills, and Mt. Rushmore for the international distributors and their families.Tweet Print
Tandems have been bringing together the mighty cycling power of two since the late 1800s, and Bike Friday has been building tandems since the co-founders’ very first in 1987.
As a mom of two kids, functionality and reusability are often paramount when I look for new products. I had been on the hunt for a tandem that could accommodate my 11-year-old daughter, Darby, as a stoker over the next few years, then have the honor be passed down to her younger brother. Bike Friday’s Traveler XL seemed like a good choice, as it is designed to fit a captain’s height range of 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-5, and a stoker height range of 3 feet to 6-foot-5. Not only could my kids join forces with me on adventures, but my hubby and I could also ride together.Tweet Print
Traveling with children on bicycles is a great way to live the car-free lifestyle and introduce kids to the joys and health benefits of bicycling. But for parents new to cycling with children, there are challenges. What kind of bike works best? Is it best to use a trailer or child seats? Yuba Bicycles has created a three-part series to answer these questions and explain the options for parents.
In Part One, Yuba provides an overview of safely bicycling with children. Part Two examines the different types of bikes available for carrying children. Part Three will provide rider profiles of bicyclists and parents who are living the car-free lifestyle by using their cargo bikes as mini school buses and pedal-powered station wagons. The series can be viewed at www.whatabikecando.com.
Do you ride with your kids? What do you feel is the safest and most convenient way to do it? Let us know in the comments!