Bike commuting with a big kid (not yet teenager)

Hi all - I am wondering if anyone has any advice specific to bike commuting with a bigger kid who is not yet teenager-sized. I have an 8.5 year old who is quickly becoming too heavy for me to haul her around on her trail-a-bike, which we have been happily using for many years to date. She has her own bike and is reasonably comfortable riding short distances, but I am not yet comfortable letting her ride on anything but super low-traffic neighborhood greenways. We live in inner NE and regularly commute to other places in the inner eastside as well as downtown, and most of our destinations involve at least some distance on a higher-traffic road with bike lane. (Example - inner NE to OMSI requires riding on Vancouver and through the shared bus/bike lane between Broadway and Weidler. I am fine with this trip as long as I am controlling her ability to stop and start, which I do on the trail-a-bike, but I would be super afraid to let her do this on her own, particularly in any kind of darkness/bad weather).

Any advice from parents who have been there with this age group? We have adjusted our setup to date (bike seat, then bike trailer, then trail-a-bike) but now I am stumped. I feel like maybe I might have to give up on biking for actual transportation until she is physically bigger (i.e. easier for drivers to see) and also more mentally aware. We have resisted buying a cargo bike to date because my husband and I share duties of picking her up and dropping her off, so we’d essentially have to buy two cargo bikes, which seems very silly when we already have our own bikes.

Thanks for any recommendations!

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Great question and I totally feel where you’re coming from. We went through a similar progression of gear as our 3 kids grew up. I think every family will be different as this is such a personal call… And like you’ve realized there’s no silver bullet gear-wise for this transition to biking on their own. I think the key is sticking to the safest streets and/or ones with the widest/most protected biking spaces where you can ride alongside your little one (instead of that dreadful choice of being either behind them (where they have to make decisions on their own) or in front of them (where you can’t see them to keep them from harm)).

And yes, this is also a parent thing about just letting go and letting it happen. I don’t know you, but I do know that our culture is suffocating by fear and the bike/car thing is a part of that. I raised my kids to respect the consequences of what can happen on streets, but to not be afraid of cars/drivers/streets. When we do that “the terrorists win” IMO. If we don’t just put them out there and feel a bit scared for a while, they’ll never learn the hard lessons of independence and we’ll never learn to just let them go.

Hope this was helpful.

I’d also suggest reading through the Family Biking story archives on BikePortland. We’ve written a ton about this and other issues and reader comments on the stories are also full of helpful nuggets…


Thanks Jonathan for the thoughtful reply!

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Plus one to everything Jonathan said!
While I don’t have parenting experience of my own to share, I was a bicycle child. I went from a bougie bike trailer straight to training wheels. One of the things that helped me learn to bike responsibly as a kid was biking around at campgrounds and on paved trails. That way I got confident biking on my own and learned to be in control without all the anxiety that comes with city biking. I also went to bike camp at the Community Cycling Center around age 8, which was a massive help. By the time I was 12 I was biking around NE Portland like a little commuter.
It seems like you’ve already got biking sewn into the fabric of your lives, so you will definitely be a good teacher. It just takes a little patience and practice (for the both of you) and I bet your kid will be a stellar independent cyclist.

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I have an 8yo who rides with me around town quite a lot. Mostly she’s great, but she’s sometimes distracted enough to ride into a recycling bin in the street - just so you have some perspective.

I’d say the biggest thing that’s helped me is assuming I won’t be using many designated bike routes like Vancouver/Williams, etc… Ride Rodney instead! The maps and route planning tools on Ride With GPS are a great resource, particularly the OSM Cycle maps. OSM stands for open source mapping or similar, and it is a great way to find safer, quieter routes. That cycle map does a better job of showing protected paths, connecting alleys and other quiet options than something like google.

It’s also a lot easier to get from A to B with a kid if you’re not in a hurry, I try really hard to leave as much extra time as possible so we’re not dealing with that added pressure. Less pressure means less risk taking, more fun, and a safer ride overall.