Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

family bike ride

Stay close to home and go on a family bike ride

Check your equipment, keep a safe distance and know the rules of the road.

There has never been a better time to try a family bike ride.

And sure enough, sunny days see convoys of families making their way through residential neighborhoods all over town.

Want to join in?

Here are three steps to get started. You can find more details at the Cascade Bicycle Club’s page of resources for new riders.

1. Make sure your family’s bikes and equipment are in good shape.

Stephen Rowley is the fleet manager for Cascade Bicycle Club. These days, he’s serving as unofficial bike mechanic for his block in the Mount Baker neighborhood, as friends who live nearby prepare to venture out on bikes they haven’t used in a while.

Rowley uses the mnemonic ABC Quick Check to describe the basics of deciding whether a bike is roadworthy.

“A” is for air in your bike tires, “B” is for checking your brakes, how the pads are and whether they work, “C” is for checking that the chain and cranks are oiled and functioning. “Quick” is for the quick release levers that connect the wheels to the frame. They need to be able to close securely. “Check” is for riding the bike slowly for 50 feet, to make sure it works, and for making sure bike helmets are not more than 5 years old. The foam in helmets degrades, so they become less useful over time.

If you need new helmets or work on one or more bikes, fear not. Many bicycle shops are still open (they perform an essential transportation service, after all), though they might have changed hours. To find out what’s open when go to Cascade Bicyle Club’s Covid-19 resources page on bike shops.

2. Check your kids’ bike skills.

Before you set out into the street, it’s a good idea to take your kids bike riding in a park or an empty parking lot, and make sure they have basic bike control skills, that they know how ride in a straight line and use their brakes (hand-controlled brakes are hard for younger kids), that if they have gears, they either have the know-how and hand strength use them or have them set at an appropriate level (“It should be in a lowish gear,” Rowley says), so kids can ride without needing to shift.

You also need to instill in them some knowledge of the rules of the road, how to use hand signals, be cautious at every intersection, and keep a -foot gap between themselves and people outside your family.

3. Proceed with caution.

Before you leave, have a safety talk.

“It’s good to go over everything again,” Rowley says.

If it’s your first ride, make it as short and flat as possible. Once around the block is fine for a start.

If you have two adults in the party, it’s good to have one leading the ride, and the other in the rear “sweep” position. But even with adults around, kids should know that it’s up to them individually to make sure an intersection is safe before they cross it, Rowley says.

“Let them know: always make your own assessment.” If you see your child skip looking back and forth to follow anyone, including an adult, through an intersection, stop the ride and make sure they know their mistake.

Also look out for pedestrians stepping out into the street in order to socially distance from other pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Resist the impulse to hug the edge of the street. On narrow residential streets, with more pedestrians than moving cars, bikes belong in the middle anyway. On arterial streets, your safety depends on being where car drivers can see you. If you’re obscured by parked cars, or riding on the sidewalk, the drivers can’t see you.

“Let the car know you are going to stay in the lane,” Rowley says. “It’s legal for us to occupy the road.”

Among the Cascade Bicycle Club’s 10 guidelines for save bicycling under coronavirus restrictions is the recommendation to stay off multiuse trails if you are comfortable riding in the street, because those trails can get crowded.

The loop trails at Green Lake Park and Seward Park are closed to bikes, and the trail crossing the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks is closed altogether. Other public bike trails and multiuse trails are open, but they can get crowded, so be ready to take your bike ride in another direction, especially if it’s a weekend. And keep in mind that Seattle Parks and Recreation will close facilities at short notice if there is a problem with social distancing.

Here are some roads and streets that the city of Seattle has temporarily closed to (most) vehicles to enhance walking and bicycling.  And in the fall, add Seward Park to that list.

For more information: Teach a child to ride a bike using these four steps.
Note: Originally published in April 2020.