For many parents, teaching kids to ride a bike is a coming-of-age moment that takes place in quiet streets or parking lots. But much like many multi-modal families in Minneapolis, Amber and Scott Woller’s two daughters learned to ride around the streets of downtown.
The Wollers are just one example of Minneapolis families who have added biking to their mix of commuting options. Their children are the latest generation in the city to grow up learning to ride in an age of supported transportation options.
“Before we moved downtown I hadn’t been on a bike in like 20 years,” Amber said, who learned to ride in the suburbs of New York. “They learned on the parking lots and the sidewalks and on Nicollet Mall.”
One impetus to bike as a family was their single car. There’s no school bus to pick up their kids, so when Amber has to take their car for work, Scott and the kids need to bike or use public transit.
Amy Brugh, a board member of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said her multi-modal family are “utility bikers,” cycling to the grocery store or her kids’ games.
But biking as family can be a new and challenging task for some families. Scott and Amber found that the first step in raising their kids around cycling was re-learning how to bike in an urban setting themselves.
“It took me a couple years to gain the confidence that I can do this,” Amber said. “Now that we’ve been here, it’s great. It did take take me a little while.”
Bringing kids on for a ride early on can also help. Brugh has used a progression of tools to help her two children join in on group rides.
Brugh said she tried using a bicycle trailer when her oldest son was younger, but as he got older she used a trailer bike, which is the back half of a small bike that attaches to the parent’s seat post. The Wollers also used a similar tool with their kids. Brugh is now looking for a tandem bike now that her kids are gaining confidence.
“I think it’s a progression to get them riding on their own bikes. As your kids get older, you try something new,” she said.
Listening to what a child wants and feels comfortable doing is also important. Brugh said her oldest son didn’t like the trailer when he was young and now at 10 he confidently bikes on his own. Her youngest, an 8-year-old, still likes biking on the trailer bike attachment.
Many parents also set rules early on with their kids on when, where and how to bike. Scott and Amber tell their daughters, 13-year-old Kaiya and 11-year-old Abrea, to avoid congested intersections and streets without bike lanes. Rather than take the Hennepin Avenue Bridge to school from downtown, the two use the Stone Arch Bridge and bikeways.
“With anything, there’s that risk factor and we can live in fear that something is always going to wrong or teach them this is how you can be safe. Ultimately, they can only do their part,” Amber said. “We’ve all had our skinned knees.”
Brugh covers the basics in her rules: wear a helmet, use a bike light, stop at stop signs and stop lights, etc. She also tells her kids to make eye contact with drivers, too.
Families can also experiment with commuting via bike to make it fun and interesting. Scott and Amber recently tried cycling as a central part of their Washington, D.C., vacation. The family of four decided against renting a car, using a local bike-sharing program similar to Nice Ride to get around instead.
Brugh said Minneapolis lacks many groups and resources directed at parents or guardians and their children, but there are some out there.
“A lot of times parents are working so hard to take care of their kids, the next step of organizing a group is hard,” she said. “We have more work to do to reach out to parents and families.”