Q&A: How to Ride Bikes With Kids with Michael Anderson
Mikey is an avid cyclist and a dedicated father of two young girls. In this article, he shares his insights about how to make riding bikes a family activity that everyone can enjoy.
Here at Po Campo, we know Michael Anderson as Mikey. He is a husband, a dedicated father of two girls, a pharmacist, and an avid cyclist who loves cycling in all its forms: road bikes, fixie bikes, cargo bikes, and even triathlon. Social media has allowed us to follow Mikey for some years now, it has been a small window that reveals us little moments from the Anderson family’s day-to-day, with special attention on their bike adventures from strider bikes and a vintage Schwinn for little Margo to fat bikes and all-mighty cargo bikes for Dad.
Now that we have launched the Po Campo Kid’s Line, it felt appropriate to put him in the spotlight and pick his brain about how he seems to do it all! How does he manage to do all these family rides and avoid tantrums? How does he keep it fun? How do you encourage your kids to fall in love with bikes too? Mikey answered all of our questions, gave us tips and tricks, as well as product recommendations, and his secret into making bikes a sustainable lifestyle full of passion for him and his family.
First, a little context . . .
Mikey and his wife Lindsey have two girls, Margo of age 4, and a newborn, Maya, who will turn one in March. They live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the second-largest city in the state with approximately 1,500,000 people living in the greater metropolitan area, and an early adopter of bicycle action planning in the US. Grand Rapids goes by the nicknames “Furniture City,” “River City,” and “Beer City USA”. More importantly, Grand Rapids has been ranked a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly City, with an ongoing city initiative to increase/improve bike lanes to over 240 miles (thanks, GGR Bike Coalition!). The street that Mikey and Lindsey live on is the main neighborhood arterial, where the speed limit picks up from 35 to 45 mph. They have a bike lane on their street that connects into the riverside trails, a protected bike lane, and the White Pine trail in under a half-mile. Safe to say that despite the initial appearance, they live in bike-lover haven!
Did you ride bikes before starting a family?
Yes! I had a Schwinn Gremlin as a kid that I remember riding around the neighborhood on, but the adult bike bug bit once I finished my college swimming career and needed something to do. I started with a road bike to try some triathlons. Then I picked up a fixie for zipping around campus. When I finished college and moved for my first post-college job, I got roped into the fat bike craze by the folks at Einstein Cycles in Traverse City, MI and that’s where I really fell in love with cycling. My wife Lindsey and I had a road bike each and a couple of Surly bikes before our oldest daughter arrived. We were going to keep biking so adding a long-tail cargo bike (Yuba Mundo) to the mix made sense!
Why do you want your kids to ride bikes?
I love the way that cycling has allowed me to keep active in a fun way. It’s a competitive sport as far as you want to take it, that you can fall back into and rediscover in ways that team sports never can. It makes me focus on the moment and process my surroundings in a more intentional way than if I was driving. Riding bikes has made me more thoughtful in planning even short trips to the grocery store and more resourceful in making my own modifications and repairs. When I look at my total biking experience I see that it brings confidence, self-reliance, awareness, and planning skills. It sparks my creativity and fuels my curiosity. These are all life skills I want for my girls, and I hope biking brings them the same joy it brings me.
How did you start riding bikes with Margo? What kind of bike did you get her and how was that first experience?
We started Margo on a Strider 12” at about a year old, we held her standing/walking in the living room. For a while, she was indifferent to the strider bike. The bike would sometimes spend a month leaning in a corner. If she wasn’t interested, we wouldn’t push it. We would hang out and Lindsey and I would take turns walking with her and riding our own bikes. Margo really got excited about it when I stripped down an old MTB into my own strider bike. Something about “riding” the same way as dad really kicked her interest (fun) level into gear. Pedal bike experience: Last summer my father-in-law refinished an old Schwinn and that got her pedaling. We started pedaling practice on a trainer in the living room watching bike videos on TV ( she had no concept of how to pedal having only been on her balance bike) After a few sessions of that, we took to the driveway. We have a long driveway with a high point in the middle and a gentle slope towards the street and back towards the garage. The gentle hill was perfect for Margo to get her balance and get her feet on the pedals, but there wasn’t quite enough distance to really get the hang of pedaling. So we took it to a parking lot. We have a minor league baseball stadium near us with a huge parking lot that backs up to the bike path. I put Margo's “big girl bike” on the Yuba and I rode us over to the parking lot. Over the course of an hour, we’d had 2 meltdowns, a coffee break, a snack break, and finally, I got -
“THIS IS SO FUN!”
(Margo and Mikey on strider bikes)
What is Margo’s favorite part of riding bikes?
Snacks! (but stopping to check out animals would be a close second.) Fun Margo responses to this question:
How many and what kind of bikes do you have?
Five, here they are:
(Yuba Mundo cargo bike before it was customized/accessorized)
Which one do you ride when you are not with your kids?
When without the kids I’ll usually ride one of my fat bikes (trail, snow, gravel, beach) or my Surly Cross-Check for faster townie trips. It's rare nowadays that I’ll get out my road bike, but I still keep it around for that occasional coffee shop spandex ride.
How do you plan your family rides?
Location: I’m approaching this as I would plan a ride with my kiddo on the back of the cargo bike. She’s not big enough nor has the attention span for long rides on her own bike yet. For rides where she’s on her own bike, we stick to the driveway, backyard trail, nearby park, or short trips on the bike path.
Time: First I assess the amount of time for the ride. Whatever you might plan solo; distance, length of ride, number of stops, etc. start at a quarter of it. The amount of time getting settled on the bike, stopping to adjust straps, pick up dropped sunglasses, find an emergency potty, is going to be very different than riding by yourself.
Weather: Next I look at the weather. Little ones are cold easier, bothered by the wind easier than an adult. Don’t forget about sunburn. I’ll usually pack a light jacket when it's warm, in case we need it for a windbreak. Warm coats, gloves, and a light blanket for chillier days. We really like the long sleeve Patagonia Capilene shirts for sun protection, even when it's hot, these shirts keep the sun off but let the breeze through. I like the sunscreen face sticks (like a tiny deodorant applicator) for mess-free reapplication. Also, bug spray.
Snacks: Snacks are on almost every big ride. Sometimes snacks are the destination of the ride (coffee shop, ice cream, etc) and sometimes snacks are the way to survive until we get to the destination. They change depending on that week’s groceries and time of day, but I try to keep it to bite-size snacks or other snacks that will take longer to eat. We do a lot of apples (Michigan apples are amazing) and dried fruit. I credit my wife with the genius idea of doing layered snacks in a bar bag on a bikepacking overnight: pretzels/dried fruit/potato/chips/m&ms in the bottom. Often I’ll base snack allotment on landmarks like we’ll stop for a snack at the baseball field, or we’ll have raisins and juice by the river, as opposed to “halfway” or a specific interval of time.
Comfort: You also need to consider kid comfort when your rides go beyond a half hour or so. Just like your grown-up buns need to get used to extended saddle time, so need the little buns in the kid seat on the back. Be mindful of clothing. We do snug-fitting, longer spandex-style shorts to prevent riding up and chafing you get with baggy shorts. The hood of a hooded sweatshirt might not fit under a helmet and can turn into the cause of a tantrum bunched behind a kiddo in their seat.
How do you stay safe on these rides?
First of all: properly fitting helmets! Our whole family rides with Nutcase helmets. Their no pinch, magnetic buckles are awesome and they have the coolest patterns and colors! We choose our routes carefully, going out of the way to avoid busy streets and high-speed limits. Ride defensively and predictably. Seriously, when I ride with my daughter on the back I assume every car is going to run us over. Flashy lights, everywhere. There are lots of fun light options for the bike, helmets, spokes, etc.
Tantrums. How do you avoid them and how do you manage when you can’t?
You’ll never completely avoid tantrums. Trying to plan for comfort, snacks (bribes), and activities all help. You kid has to get used to time on the bike just like you’ve had to. If things start getting rocky, that’s when I look for a fun stop, activity, or break out a snack. You’ll have to work with your kiddo to adapt and get a routine down. When riding with Margo, the biggest tantrums have been due to being physically uncomfortable in some way, or hungry. From this, I always carry extra clothing layers and options; backup snacks (the good good stuff: sucker, fruit snacks, fun-size candy bar) for if things get really rough ((never reveal your whole stash, and don’t get into it for every tantrum, just when it's really hitting the fan)); and a BlueTooth speaker. We don’t get this out all the time, but there have been a few long rides where blaring and singing Disney tunes was the only thing that got us home with my sanity.
What about bike maintenance?
Over my years I’ve become pretty okay with most basic maintenance tasks. I’ve been selective with my upgrades and purchases so that I have parts I can work on or fix in a pinch. I carry extra bits on long excursions based on past failures. I broke a chain during Iceman Cometh years ago, and that couple mile hike in the mud and snow taught me to carry an extra chain link and a chain tool. Flat tire on the cargo bike a mile out of the campground? That taught me to carry the right size wrench needed to remove the front wheel (that is not on any standard multi-tool.) Sure, an extra wrench, extra brake cable, few extra rack bolts, etc. take up space and are heavy. But the only thing worse than trying to fix an issue a long walk home is trying that fix or that long walk with a sobbing 3-year-old. So if you haven’t done them before, practice some of the basics and see what extra bits you might need for your bike before you're in that really bad spot.
What have been your favorite products during this journey?
Here is a list!
The Irving Backpack Pannier, also by Po Campo is a game-changer for bike families (in my humble opinion.) Any backpack that has a laptop/device sleeve easily becomes a diaper bag: that laptop pocket holds your changing pad, main pocket for diapers, wipes, bottles, etc, and the front compartment hand sanitizer, etc. Aside from the backpack straps, this bag has neat magnetic straps to attach to your bike rack. A big benefit of these attachment straps is that you're not limited to strictly a traditional rear cargo rack. I’ve used this bike on the side rails of the cargo area, on the back of the bike behind Margo’s seat, and off the sides of the front cargo basket. Seriously, if you have “uncommon” racks or need to move a bag between multiple bikes/bike share, these are your bags.
What is your advice for parents out there?
When you’re biking with your kid, even with them in a seat on the back of your bike or in a trailer, talk to them as much as you can about what you're doing or why. Examples: When we’re on a ride I’ll ask Margo if there are any cars coming? Did you see those cool bikes? Which way should we go to be safe? Which way is your school? This hill is so big, cheer me on! Ding your bell so the runner knows we’re coming! Look at all those flowers! Which is your favorite? And so on, and on, and on…. Why? This entertains them in a way but more importantly teaches them to be aware of their surroundings while seeming like a kind of game.
When it came to teaching Margo the balance that got her going on her pedal bike, I’ll give most of the credit to the balance bike. It really made for an easy transition. Seriously, go the balance bike route. And get the cheapest old 26” Mtb you can find, strip it down, and balance bike right along with them! It’s more fun than you’d expect!
Aside from the mechanics of riding a bike, I’ve found my biggest successes in teaching Margo some important biking lessons (and maybe life lessons) was simply by riding with her. -I’ll start with the story of the first time I realized this was happening. Margo was just getting the hang of her balance on her pedal bike in the driveway and I was constantly annoying her taking her picture or recording a video. On one occasion I was trying to follow her and get video, and I came in a little too fast right behind her. Margo stopped, and I had to steer off into the grass and dropped the bike beneath me (rather than fall in a tangled heap or crash into my wife and baby.) I didn’t run her over and dad crashing his bike gets some good laughs. Fast forward a week: we are balance-biking in the woods and Margo gets bumped by a protruding log and veers off the trail. Rather than try to keep the bike up and stay on it, she dumped the bike. That’s when it clicked, she’d dumped the bike just like she saw me do! From there I’d make sure there was a lesson or two in some of our rides. I’d go up a slope that was a little too steep and stop, or step off the bike into the side of a hill, not down the hill, backing up the bike to get unstuck from a branch, turning a too-big bike around on the trail, etc. Just little things added up to show her that a struggle is ok and that she can figure out any situation she’s getting herself into. However, showing your kiddo some exaggerated situations to give them the idea is the easy part. The hard part is letting them really struggle and fail a time or two. As she got more comfortable on our little trail I backed down my assistance. There were many times where I carried that heavy little Schwinn over my shoulder, pushing my own bike, and following that mad and tearful toddler out of the woods. But that next ride, when Margo got around that log or over that bumpy spot by herself and she’s beaming with pride, makes all those tough rides so worth it.
The way my wife and I have always biked has always been with a stop for coffee, going to the park, out to eat, full-fledged camping trips, etc. Rarely just a “go hammer out 2 hours of exercise” ride. Sure, there’s a place for that athleticism, but that’s not all biking is. I think this is important for long-term bicycle life enjoyment, and I want the girls to have that. Our long cargo bike rides are always interrupted with a stop to count the turtles, play at a playground we happen upon, look for caterpillars, or check out a snake. Sometimes we have a planned cupcake ride to a favorite bakery that we talked about days in advance. Sometimes we’ll have surprise bike tea in the woods on a Sunday morning. I guess there’s no limit to the fun things you can incorporate, and I think mixing it up keeps it fun for both me and Margo. It also helps her see biking as a part of all these fun experiences, not just some exercise thing. And again, that’s my goal.
I guess it boils down to this: Bike with your kid in different environments. Let them see your struggle and show them how you overcome it. Let them struggle and learn to overcome some obstacles without your help. Celebrate their success, however small at first. That kid will surprise you. And keep biking with your kid.
Finally, any big family adventures in your future?
With the Maya being so little, we’ll probably not do any huge family trips this summer. We plan on doing some camping trips with bikes along but will probably keep our full family rides shorter for local park rides, ice cream trips, etc.
My wife, Lindsey, and I are planning to explore some of the gravel roads and Lake Michigan shoreline up near our family cottage near Shelby Michigan. We hope to do an overnight bikepacking trip or two this summer. Once we get some experience on the routes up there we’ll bring the girls along. We are also looking forward to attending the Salsa Cycles Fargo Sub48 again this year. It is an organized bikepacking trip that moves around Michigan for a new location each year. We rode in the inaugural event on a whim and loved it. I rode it again a couple of years ago with some buddies. It’s serious fun. Check it out. We can’t wait to go back.
If you have been thinking about taking up cycling with your kids or are struggling to, we hope Mikey’s advice is helpful in building up your confidence. Whether it is on your driveway, neighborhood streets, bike lanes, or local trails, the reward of accomplishing this family activity is most certainly worth it. For more inspiration, you can follow Mikey and his family on Instagram @mikeyrx.
Depending on the age of your kids, your location, and available equipment, approaches may vary, but we encourage you to keep at it. You may find additional support within your own community via social platforms like Facebook Groups, Reddit, and other online resources. Here are a few to get you started:
- Ultimate Guide To Biking With Young Kids by Rascal Rides
- Cycling With Young Kids by REI Coop
- How To Have A Safe Family Bike Ride by The New York Times
This blog post was co-written with Rosael Torres-Davis
When she is not out riding her road bike or working on her bread-making game, Rosael manages Social Media & Content for Po Campo.
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