Safety first as kids join the bicycle commute at a young age

Niesha Lofing

Raleigh White, 2, is an entertaining front-seat driver.

Snuggled in the Bobike safety seat atop the front of her mom’s bicycle, she points out other cyclists to Mina White as they pass by, providing a running commentary during the five-mile trek from their Tahoe Park, Calif., home to downtown Sacramento.

From her vantage point near mom’s handlebars, Raleigh – yes, named for one of the oldest bicycle companies in the world – can giggle at dogs and feel the spring breeze tickle her face.

The bicycle commute means a workout for 34-year-old Mina White, but it also affords her quality time with her daughter and a chance to maintain a beloved pastime.

“I used to bike to work before we had her and didn’t want to go back to using a car full time just because I had a baby,” White said. “It’s nice to be able to do this with her and show her that biking to work is a good thing to do in terms of exercise.”

Though White uses a bike trailer in winter months, she prefers the front-mounted seat because it seems a bit safer.

“(Drivers) are a little more careful when they see her, especially when she’s in front,” White said.

And when you’re riding with precious kid cargo, safety reigns supreme.

While there’s no one safest method of towing children on bikes, most important is to find the style that works best for the family.

Chris Dougherty, 38, and his daughter have tried a front-mounted safety seat and a trailer. Dougherty preferred the WeeRide seat – which his 4-year-old daughter has since outgrown – if only because it seemed a little safer.

If a crash had happened, he could have put his arms around his daughter to shield her from the fall, he said.

“But really, I think a lot of these things are illusions of safety rather than actually being safer,” he said.

It helps that Sacramento is a fairly safe place to bike with children, said Dougherty, a board member of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates.

Drivers seem to pay attention to cyclists with trailers and tend to give wide berths to parents towing kids.

But that doesn’t mean Dougherty, a transportation planner, wouldn’t like to see more infrastructure for cycling in the city.

Protected bike lanes or a cycling track, which essentially is a bike lane that runs between the sidewalk and parked cars, would be great, especially in high-traffic corridors, he said.

On some streets, all it would take to change that is some paint to do the restriping.

“We have some challenges here,” he said. “Some lane designs and street designs are really auto-heavy and are designs that don’t favor cyclists much.”

May is Bike Safety Month, and includes Bike to Work Week May 16-20.

I’m committing to commute via bike from our Land Park home to work next week as well.

Sure, it means earlier mornings, pulling 70 pounds of resistance in the trailer and remembering to pack snacks and water for them for the ride home.

But it also means an entertaining workout, funny conversations about sights and smells and the tinkling laughter of children filling my ears.