Family Biking: Andrew
We are constantly amazed by the biking families in Chicago – your commitment to biking with your kids, the adventures you embark on, the daily school drop off by bike – and want to share these stories, so other families just starting on their biking journeys can know they're not alone or crazy :)
Tell us about you & your family! Names, ages of kid(s), whatever you're comfortable with sharing.
Andrew, Victoria (7), Benjamin (5)
What neighborhood do you live in?
Just moved to Oldtown!
What's your current bike set up? What do you love about it? What would you change?
Surly Big Dummy - longtail cargo bike. I really love this bike and often say it's the best thing I've ever bought. I'm car-free and it's been my only bike for the past three and a half years; I ride it everywhere. We've bike commuted, bike camped, and ridden around the city and beyond. I love that it's fun to ride loaded and unloaded, with kids or without. It feels fast and nimble despite being 7' long and 55+ lbs. It's also extremely versatile. I've added/changed accessories for gear and kid hauling as our uses evolve and the kids get bigger. I can also switch tires and go off-road or winter riding with ease. I think it's an amazing machine and wouldn't change anything about the bike itself. Sometimes I do wish it were easier to get such a big bike around - CTA elevators are never the same size and hauling it up stairs or angling it into a bike room designed for little bikes isn't fun, but that's true with any cargo bike. I would never have considered e-assist when I was first shopping, but as the kids get heavier, I can certainly see the benefit of having an extra boost.
What drew or inspired you to bike with your kid(s)?
I hadn't ridden a bike for a decade before I got a used bike and put a kid seat on it when they were three and one. I had moved to the same neighborhood where I was working and realized it would be easier, faster, and more fun to get around by bike instead of walking or driving.
How did you get started biking as a family?
I started doing pre-school pick-up and drop-off and taking a kid with me for errands around the neighborhood or longer leisure rides along the lake. When we moved six miles away from school and work, I decided to get a cargo bike so I could bike commute with the kids. That year of living six miles away we rode every week except one due to cold weather and my kids got to experience a full year of being truly outside.
Share a favorite, family-friendly, quiet neighborhood route/shortcut in the city.
One-way streets in the neighborhood are great. I've also done lots of riding with my daughter on the lakefront trail on the South Side - it's generally less busy.
Where does an average day of riding take you? School, grown up commute to work, grocery store, weekend errands, trips to the park, etc.
Right now, I have a short ride to drop my son off and then head to my office - all in the same neighborhood. Any errands get done by bike. Longer rides with kids are usually on weekends to downtown and beyond. It's not unusual for me to go on 30-mile rides on my own. In winter, we often bring the bike on CTA trains to lessen the miles and keep the kids warmer longer. That means I still get some exercise and have flexibility once we get to our destination, but the kids aren't sitting on a bike for an hour straight when it's 20 degrees. New school means I'm moving to the North Side in a few months and will have a 10+ mile each way bike commute so have a whole new scenario to figure out soon. In the summer, we do a lot of bike camping.
People often say that biking with your kids is "dangerous" or "crazy" or "so brave". How do you respond to that?
I think the dangers of cycling are far overstated and that the sense of freedom, joys of discovery, and benefits of health and wellness that come from riding a bike far outweigh the dangers inherent in living in close proximity to millions of other people. Riding defensively, knowing the rules of the road, and not being afraid to take the lane go a long way.
How has biking with your kid(s) impacted your family's life?
It's been one of the most important highlights in our life and it's introduced us to some of our best friends for the kids and for me. Our life is pretty slow and simple. We don't do five different things on a Saturday - we pick one big thing or sometimes nothing at all. If it's too complicated and we can't ride there, we generally avoid it - this helps cut out some of the noise and focus on each other as well as the experience of how we're getting where we're going.
Do your kid(s) ride independently? What's the best part & hardest part of having independent riders?
My daughter, 7, has been riding independently for two years. On trips to the museum or long rides she will often ride part of the way and then hitch a ride on my bike. It takes a lot of trust and patience to have your child ride on the street with you, but it's also a great opportunity for them to learn in a supportive environment. Depending on our ride, destination, or mood, I will decide to bring her bike or not.
Tell us one of your favorite or most memorable biking-with-kids moments or adventures.
One of my favorite moments was when another dad and I took our kids bike camping and our eldest daughters, both then six-almost-seven, each rode the entirety of the 26-mile route on their own bikes, surprising us all. They were - and are - so proud of their achievement which was tangible and totally owing to their own hard work. Last year, I led a small group of families to Indiana Dunes State Park. Most of us did 60+ miles with kid(s) that day - something most people thought we were crazy to do - but for me it was a euphoric proof of concept that for the right riders and the right kids, crazy-long miles to a breathtakingly beautiful destination were totally doable and absolutely worth it. Finally, I enjoy the conversations I have while riding with my kids as we experience all of our senses and the adventure mentality that rewards perseverance, creativity, and positivity.
What are your top three tips for families considering riding together or just starting out?
Don't wait for the perfect bike set-up or ideal weather - just ride. Group rides like Kidical Mass are great for building confidence, gaining savvy and stamina, and meeting other biking families. Keep riding and you'll be surprised at how well and how far you can go.
Thanks so much, Andrew!
Check out Andrew’s instagram for some serious bike camping & commuting with kids inspiration!