Biking with Kids in the Colder Months

By: Evonne Cho

School has started, and predictably the days will get shorter and shorter while the weather cool offs. As hot weather riding has given way to cooler weather riding, many of us stop riding bikes day-to-day. But I’m here to tell and to encourage you that doesn’t need to happen! WE are here to walk you through riding with the little ones throughout the year. Beating cold weather is largely based on choosing the appropriate clothing. If you and your kids are dressed for the weather, riding in colder temperatures should be as enjoyable as when it’s in the 70s and y’all are in t-shirts.

Kids riding on your bike
If your little one is riding on the front or the back of your bike, (s)he might need an extra layer – (s)he isn’t pedaling and isn’t self-generating any heat. With the colder temps and possibly more blustery winds, start dressing your little one in gloves and an extra pair of pants to keep their little bodies relatively comfortable.

As the weather dips into the 30s just above freezing, a warm neck tube or infinity scarf/gaiter is great for the little ones as well as for yourself. A long scarf can easily unravel in the wind and it would be bye bye scarf! These accessories plus a thin skull cap under your child’s helmet will provide them with additional warmth (s)he will need in the colder temps. Additionally, warm wool socks and shoes that do not aerate are preferable for both you and your child.

Kids riding on their own

If your little one is riding on his/her own power, your child might go with slightly thick layers but probably not extra layers as (s)he will be generating the same kind of heat you would if biking at about 5-8 mph. Think about the distance covered and whether it is mostly downhill or uphill. Uphill – your child will work harder than on flat ground. Downhill – it will be breezy and colder than if it were flat or uphill. The best course of action is to keep trying to get it right and pack an extra thin layer for the articles of clothing in which you just have one layer. Overheating is arguably worse than being a little chilly; many say staying just a little chilly at the start, and even the duration of the ride, is key to a pleasant ride. Keep experimenting and find what works for you both as the temperatures drop.

Remember that thick one-layer clothing can be bulky, hard to maneuver in, and just plain uncomfortable. Multiple thin wool or technical layers will do the job and you and your children will stay comfortable. Times are changing and so are fabrics.

Lights and Reflective Accessories

Whether your child is riding on your bike or on their own, it cannot be stressed enough how important visibility is as the days get shorter. Protect yourself and your little ones with both front and rear lights. It’s okay to be bright and flashy! Using multiple lights, obnoxiously bright, and/or blinking lights assist in getting motorists to pay extra attention to you! You and your kids want to be seen and flashiness is the way to accomplish that – so don’t be shy! Bright front lights are sometimes seen as not as important as bright rear lights, but they are extremely important for spotting potholes and other street obstacles that could put you in harm’s way.

In addition to good lights, it is also important to have reflectors and reflective gear. Lights and reflectors work as complements to each other. Reflectors are arguably sometimes the only thing a motorist will see – a motorist’s lights can drown out your lights, but not your reflectors. And vice versa: at times, motorists will only see your lights and not your reflectors because of the way the reflectors are angled – they may not be facing the motorist. In sum, it is best to have both. Reflectors and lights work together to let motorists see you and your child better – and together they catch a person’s attention well – so get what you can to feel safe out there in the dark.  As for what the bare minimum is? Some say a front light and rear reflector is all that is needed. Regardless of your choices, do what you feel is best and necessary to keep you and your children seen and visible.

Other Tips

Practice hand signals, learn to stop quickly or stop exactly on a line in the road, and learn to stay on your bike when you don’t have the light to cross. These essential bike skills for adults do translate to bike skills for kids too.

If you have questions about these tips and suggestions, feel  free to join us in discussion at our Moms on Wheels group on Facebook and ask fellow moms what they are doing or what they are buying to stay safe in the colder months. Also, join us in person for our upcoming Moms on Wheels: WE ride in costumes with the kids in Central Park on October 23 (details in ‘Events’)!

Reflecting on our past and looking toward the future:

This past year we had a Kids Bike Forum with Kidical Mass NYC and Make Queens Safer, and we rode with Kidical Mass NYC in Manhattan and Queens with a police motorcade assisting us to hold traffic so we could ride together. We also rode in the bike lanes with our kids without a police motorcade. For many of us, riding with our kids is new territory. Riding on the street on bikes can be unnerving for many of us. We want to help overcome that by doing it together. Kids are an important addition to cycling in NYC – and they as much as anyone else has a right to safe infrastructure to help get from point A to point B. We strive to promote this and encourage caregivers of all backgrounds to ride with their kids and show an example of healthy choices while getting around in a timely manner! We hope you offer your suggestions thoughts and feedback and we hope even more that some of you will feel inclined to take up the torch and join us to help organize, and facilitate this goal – that bikes really are for everyone!