Kids have it rough. And as far as bikes go -- at least in this country -- kids have it even rougher.
My wife and I decided yesterday to take the kids to the local farmer's market before popping in at the library. It was a great plan, but it required some awkward logistical management, since we've been leaving our bike trailer at daycare so it can get regular use.
After walking our youngest over there to fetch it, I cleaned off the chain to very quickly resolve a minor shifting problem, then headed back home to pack up. We rolled up, got everyone ready, and headed down the driveway, where we were immediately greeted by a pack of cars. On a small residential street. On Saturday, mid-morning. Over the next 15 minutes, the fun just never let up.
While I appreciate keeping our daughter on the sidewalk when she's riding up and down our street, when we're using our bikes as utilitarian objects, trying to get somewhere, we need to be in the road.
Sadly, in the US, that seems to be an affront to most people. A kid? On a street? On a bike? She's slowing me down! That was the general sense on what should have been our minimally-trafficked course, and it left me on edge.
We weren't exactly taking harrowing streets, either. For the most part, the roads we travel on are somewhat windy, relatively narrow, generally with parking on one or both sides, and realistically not useful for much beyond local travel. But somehow, we repeatedly found ourselves with a vehicle pressed against our rearmost rider, or staring down a car desperate to get through that narrow slot one of us had created by simply existing on the road.
More than once I was worried that an oncoming car wasn't watching my oldest daugher as she drifted a little in our lane, or that a car behind us would simply blow by without any regard for who might be in our group.
Then there were the intersections, where we often stopped as a group to let cars go. On at least two of these stops, a driver waved their arms to indicate which way they were going. Right, you can do that with your turn signal. That's what it's for. Or you can wave your arms like a doofus and communicate even less.
The entire experience was quite eye-opening, actually.
I'm not going to delve into the whole "European cycling is awesome!" bit, but I will say this about American biking: when a family out on a simple 2-mile cruise through town has to deal with sketchy situations and irate drivers, perhaps we need to rethink the way that families of four can ride around.
This isn't some epic trek, it's a quick jaunt to pick up some books and food. We're not trying to take over the highways, we're angling for a low-key, quiet way through a medium-density suburban area. Please let us do that without dying.
Be safe out there.
Mash out. Spin on.