Thursday, March 1, 2012

Evolution of a Baby Cyclist

Happy Leap Year everyone!  I wanted to dedicate this post to my daughter Neva.  Okay, I know that this site is pretty much already dedicated to her, but this is a specific account on how she has blossomed and evolved on the bike.  She has grown so much, at the tender age of 2, and I am so proud of her.
Neva in Iowa, on RAGBRAI tour
I think one of the best gifts I have been able to give Neva is the love for cycling.  Seeing my example of utilizing a bike, making bikes our main source of transportation for at least half of the year, and seeing other communities in Nicaragua, Davis, San Francisco, etc. integrating biking into their transportation network really has her excited about the biking machine.  She doesn't really know much else.  Sometimes when we try to leave somewhere which necessitates a vehicle, she will hop into the trailer, anxiously awaiting a hair sweeping ride.  Much to her chagrin, I pull her out and say, "Sometimes, we use the car, Honey".  Neva has become quite attached to bike trailers, and let's face it, who wouldn't be!  She is carted around town in luxury, pulled by yours truly.
The first time Neva was in a trailer, it is a Nordic Cab.  We are in Flagstaff, AZ in April, 2010
I started biking with Neva when she was six months old, bringing her with me on my commute to work at the Bike Trailer Shop.  We had a ten mile round trip commute on the main east/west bike path that will take you from one side of town to the other.  She loved it from the very beginning.  At this stage, she would smile and coo for a few minutes, inspecting all of the scenery, and before long, be sawing logs from the repetitive and melodic lulling of the sidewalk bumps. The straps inside the trailer are similar to the car seat, having a five-point harness and there are pockets for toys and a tasty beverage within arm's reach.  The transition is pretty easy as long as you have good weather and a good path.  It can be pretty chilly in Flagstaff, so we both fully suited up for riding in the cooler months, as you can see from the "A Christmas Story" reminiscent photo above.
Randy from "A Christmas Story" movie
As Neva grew older, she was able to enjoy more biking experiences, so I continued the trailer tradition.  We biked to pick up our groceries, biked to see friends, biked to the park, and pretty much went everywhere around town by bike, baby on board style.  With hundreds of miles under her belt, I decided to get her a first bike for the Christmas after she turned one.  She was just beginning to walk by herself, but was ready to try that coveted seat atop a self powered machine.  I got her the Y-Bike Pewi which was the only bike that was short enough for her at the time.  Her toes could barley touch the ground when she first got it, but she still used it with unbridled tenacity.
Neva on her Y-Bike, Pewi
 With Neva's love of the trailer, there was no question in my mind that we could easily transition from the 20-30 mile per day around town commutes to extensive touring.  We went on our first mother/daughter bike tour in Costa Rica and Nicaragua when she was 15 months old, accompanied by our good friend Cass who writes about his travels on his blog, While out Riding.

Neva and I in front of the touring set up.  We are headed toward Rivas, which is on the port of Lago Nicaragua, to catch a ferry to the Island of Ometepe
Our next tour was a last minute decision.  We had been invited by our good friends Todd and Ben to tour with them on the famous RAGBRAI ride about two weeks beforehand.  Logistics were complicated, but we managed to all meet up in Omaha, Nebraska, and proceeded to bike across the entire state of Iowa for the next seven days, when we reached the border of Iowa and Illinois.  We did the traditional dipping of the front tire in the Mississippi River, on the east side.  I can't take all the credit though, Ben offered to pull Neva for half of the trip, and we switched back and forth throughout the tour which helped tremendously with the rigid schedule we were on, the intense heat and humidity, and travel over difficult terrain. I don't have any statistics on this, but Neva might be the first 18 month old to do the entirety of RAGBRAI.
Ben and Neva stopping for a well deserved break on RAGBRAI (oh, and me in the background!)

Two months later, Neva and I were off again on the longest trip either of us had ever been on.  We biked for forty days down the state of California.  We started in San Francisco, and traveled east, almost to Lake Tahoe, to the border of Nevada.  The terrain was very mountainous, as we worked our way south through areas like Yosemite and the Giant Forest.  We kept south until we almost hit the border of Mexico and the US, and ended our tour in Pine Valley, CA.  This tour was also unique in that it was just the two of us.  We were able to explore on our own schedule, and met lots of friends along the way.  I have to admit though, there were times when having a strapping young lad like Cass or Ben offering to share the load up steep mountain passes would have been nice.
Neva in the trailer, waiting for the ferry at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, CA to take us to Vallejo, CA
Neva and I camped, went to museums, stayed with friends, enjoyed local foods, and really experienced many parts of southern California.  The best experience being the people we met and the connections we made.  It is very humbling to be out on your own.  We relied on the kindness of others, and received nothing but love and acceptance.  Here is Neva at a bike shop where we stopped for directions to the nearest camp site.  Rufus, a long time employee at the Golden Spoke Bike Shop in Placerville did one better, and offered his home and shower to us for the evening, and even took us out to Chinese food.
Neva's first time on training wheels.  She is soaking up the applause of her accomplishment.
Hospitality came in many forms, but sometimes it came through Warm Showers, a site dedicated to getting bikers together for the purpose of hosting other bikers, or being hosted while on tour.  We were hosted by three Warm Showers members, and are supremely lucky to have met such wonderful people.  One of our hosts were Gene and Ann who are in their late seventies.  They have a whole fleet of recumbent trikes that they wanted us to try.  Here is Neva experimenting with a recumbent.
Neva riding Gene's prized recumbent trike, the Vello Scorpion, the most expensive of the fleet.  It has over fifty gears due to the internally geared hub.
After 5 countries, 9 states, 3 bike tours, a 2 year birthday, and about 3,000 biking miles later, we decided to pull out Neva's going away present from the Bike Kid Shop, a Strider balance bike.  The balance bike focuses on building the child's balance instead of having them continually falling back to the tricycle wheels.  It is basically a bike with no pedals.  The child runs with the bike, lifts their legs, glides as long as possible, and then puts their legs down when they begin to lose balance.  Neva was very cautious at first, so I decided to demonstrate.
Then she began with carrying the bike, 

pushing the bike beside her, 
and sitting on the bike and walking it.  We decided to give her a little push and see what would happen.
Before long, she was gliding on it, and moving quicker and with more ease.  If the bike fell down,
  she would get back up.

Neva getting suited up
The word "bike" is in Neva's daily vocabulary, and she asks to ride on her bike every day.  The next step now that she is on two wheels is to get her a her own helmet.  While in the trailer, she has a full roll cage, and there isn't a need for a helmet, especially since the trailers are not made to accommodate a helmet (no matter what the features say, there is not a trailer currently on the market that has enough space for a helmet, the child will have their head pushed forward, looking towards their knees).  It is important that your kids see you wearing a helmet, so when it comes time for them to wear one, they think it's cool, and are ready to suit up in the appropriate biking gear.  Bell and Giro sell high quality helmets for around $30 a piece that should last until they need the next size up.  Nutcase also has some good helmets, but they go for around $60.  When buying a helmet, make sure to know the size of your child's head in centimeters.  Most helmets are sized this way.  Also, there is a difference in size between toddler, child, and youth helmets.  Make sure to pay attention to the specs and see what head size each one represents.   

In the near future, Neva will be on a trail-a-bike, probably one of Adam's Trail-a-bikes, since they are the best.  They are well made, and include folding options which make it easier to travel with.  You could even rent a bike someplace and carry the trail-a-bike on the plane as just another piece of luggage since it is much smaller than a full bike.  They can be expensive, starting out around $200, but they can last from ages 3-6 and 7-10, so you can get three to four good years out of it before the child outgrows it.  I would reserve the trail-a-bike for family trips, and let her practice on her own bike while in the neighborhood.  I am looking forward to sharing her next baby pedal strokes with you as she enters the next stages of cycling. 

Neva making sure my bike is off-road worthy


  1. Amazing. Even though I know about most f what you wrote, it becomes even more amazing to read about it. You guys are awesome!

  2. Fantastic!! Thanks for sharing your stories with us!

  3. What an amazing post! Neva is growing up in the most awesome of ways, and I can't wait to read about your next adventure. As someone relatively new to the world of biking, you've inspired me to seriously think about touring as a possibility in our own future, and in the meantime, I think I'll sign us up as WarmShowers hosts at the very least! Thanks for sharing your stories!
    (Vicki's friend, Susie)

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