Just Ask Jack — OK Bike and Safety for the Kids?

Raye Lynn sent in the following questions:

“Hey, I am new to commuting by bike (haven’t started yet.) I have been doing research online and I am drawn to your site daily. I have a couple of questions/ concerns that I can’t get a straight answer on and was wondering if you can help me out.

We have a very tight budget and being a bit overweight, my husband wanted to make sure I stuck with it before we invested real money into biking. So, we bought a Schwinn Jaguar Cruiser from Target with a bike trailer for the two kids under 3. I work 0.8 miles from home, 1.8 miles from church, doctors, grocery store, etc… Its ridiculous that I havent been commuting by bike sooner. My question is, is this bike ok for the distance/ purpose for someone just starting off?

Second question. I know riding on the sidewalk is not a good thing to do (would have never known that prior to researching.) But, my concern is for the kids. I live in a small town in NE Georgia. Bike lanes are no where to be found and frankly, they are a bunch of rednecks who will probably scream obscenities about riding on the road, my weight, etc… There are mostly back roads I can take, but there are some busy roads in my commute. Is it safe to haul a trailer on the road?”


Raye Lynn, the answer to the first question is easy — your bike is ABSOLUTELY ok for your commute!!! There’s a misconception among many new bike commuters that there’s one “right bike” for bicycle commuting, and that’s actually right, in a sense. The “right bike” is the one you enjoy riding! So, I see nothing wrong at all with your choice of bike for getting started, based on the distances you intend to cover. Remember, too, that as your fitness increases and you discover the many other joys of using a bicycle as transportation, you can always upgrade to something more suitable for longer distances or bigger loads. You needn’t pay a fortune for an upgrade, either: the bicycle market is flooded with suitable choices at price points below $600.

The second question is something I have had a personal struggle with…I have a four-year-old, and while he loves to ride in his trailer and has done so almost his entire life, I’ve been very leery of certain roads and routes in my area. That being said, I get a perception that the brightly-colored trailer, which is obviously intended for children, actually gets me more respect from motorists out on the road! Many trailers come with that silly fluorescent orange flag…might as well use it for more conspicuity. For those of you who are considering a child trailer, purchase the most garishly colored one you can find that also has the features you’re looking for — the brighter and uglier it is, the more folks will notice it!

My boy

Even after some favorable experiences, however, I would carefully choose routes that have less vehicle traffic and more shoulder whenever possible. And, as dangerous as sidewalks can be for bicyclists, sometimes they are the smartest and safest choice for really ugly situations (but don’t get too much in the habit of using them: use “as needed” and check your local laws carefully for legality). I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks with my child, and I don’t think anyone else should, either. For short stretches on busy roads, hog as much of the lane as you can — folks will catcall and yell and honk no matter what we cyclists are doing out there, so just let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back. While you’re enjoying your health and your gas savings, those same rude motorists will be suffering — struggling to keep their gas tanks full and their car payments up to date.

Now that my child is getting too big for the trailer, I rigged up a passenger setup on my new Xtracycle…and I’m going through the same internal debates I did when we first started using the trailer: “is he safe back there?” “Is he ready for this?” “Are motorists going to give us the room we deserve?” I am happy to report that so far, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “yes”.

xtra boys by Alan Snel photo by Alan Snel

Good luck, Raye Lynn, and be safe. Thanks for your questions!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


  1. Rick June 16, 2008 4:53 am 

    I have also had wonderful experiences with my daughters in a trailer. Cars are much nicer when kids are involved. Most of the negative comments I get are from people who are genuinely concerned for their safety. The overwhelming majority of comments are positive.

    My trailer came with a handle attachment. I have a couple of lights hanging off that for some additional visibility/

  2. Nancy June 16, 2008 5:39 am 

    I am also new to bike commuting and purchased a cheap ($100) bike for Academy. I wanted to make sure I was committed before I sank some real money into it. Sadly, only two months into it, my bicycle gears have broken down and the cost to repair them is half of the original price of the bike.

    In a couple of weeks I will have saved up enough to purchase myself a new, more expensive bicycle. Surely, it will be of greater quality and will not break down as easily. I think this is one of those cases where you get what you paid for.

  3. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 5:46 am 

    Nancy…the important thing is you made the leap to bicycle commuting, and you’ve discovered that some bikes are a bit more suitable than other. At least, now you can tell everyone who asks, “yeah, I rode so much I wore that bike out in 2 months!”.

    Happy shopping for a replacement…it can be daunting to make a decision with all these amazing bicycles on the market!

  4. Iron Man June 16, 2008 5:59 am 

    “… so just let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back.” Really? You Ghost? I chuckled a little on that, but it’s true. I love the passion for the bike on this blog. Especially when it comes to passing it on to the kids.

  5. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 6:14 am 

    Seriously, I can curse like a sailor, but never when my son is riding with me. When a motorist does something stupid, though, I let fly with the expletives!

  6. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 6:19 am 

    I meant to add “…when I am riding by myself”

  7. Palm Beach Bike Tours June 16, 2008 7:02 am 

    Raye Lynn, first of all, good for you.

    As to the trailer safety, I’ll agree with the others. I’m far less likely to get hit when pulling my son in his trailer.

    First, common sense, ain’t no one going to miss a very reflectored yellow and red three-foot-wide trailer with a orange flag going down the road. Yes, not even a drunken redneck is going to miss seeing you.

    The second reason is more metaphysical: Karma.

    If you run over a goofy-looking fat guy in spandex (ie: me), you still might make it inside the pearly gates. You can tell yourself that you didn’t see me. You can say I swerved into traffic. Your drinkin’ buddies might cut you some slack or even laugh if off because they don’t like me slowing them down either. In any case, you can kill me and, more or less, feel okay about it; I’m an adult, I knew the risks.

    On the other hand, even the biggest redneck bubba knows there isn’t anything cool about running over a three year old kid. The folks at the local watering hole aren’t going to play darts with you if you put tire tracks over a little boy holding a stuffed giraffe. You ain’t going to live that down. Run him me over affects you negatively and you’re going to hell.

    When pulling the trailer, cars almost always give me three or four feet of clearance compared to the 18-24 inches I feel comfortable with when riding alone.

    My kid in his bike trailer.

  8. Joe June 16, 2008 8:01 am 

    I concur with the above comments: You seem to get more space and respect with a trailer.

    Also, I think most importantly, get a good mirror on that bike or on your helmet and really keep an eye on what’s going on behind you as juxtaposed with what’s coming ahead. If for example, you are coming to a small bridge crossing where the shoulder peters out, you need to veer over and take more lane. To do that safely, you need to spot openings in traffic.

    Have fun.

  9. Palm Beach Bike Tours June 16, 2008 8:40 am 

    I ride with a helmet-mounted mirror and wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I wouldn’t get too hung up on what is behind you.

    Never has what was behind me caused an accident. The handful of times I have gone down, it was something in front that messed me up. (And of those times, if I had been paying more attention to what was up front, I probably wouldn’t have gone down.)

    The point about paying extra attention is a good one. I, too, have a thin bridge between me and one of our favorite playgrounds. I make sure to take the lane well in advance of the bridge so the folks behind me aren’t surprised.

    Raye Lynn, if you’re like me and are into keeping score, when you’re pulling 70+ pounds of trailer, kid and groceries you get to double your mileage with a clean conscience when discussing your weekend around the company water cooler. (Anyone can push around a feather-light, 14-pound carbon fiber bike with helium-filled tires… give a roadie a kickstand — let alone a trailer — and you’ll see where the rubber meets the road. {grin})

  10. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 8:45 am 


    Amen and a half — that is the PERFECT way to put it. Karma’s a bitch!

  11. Iron Man June 16, 2008 9:22 am 

    I do have a couple of sections of my stretch where the guy behind me can cause great havoc. The roads do an ever-so-slight S turn at these sections. As such the drivers tend to come inside the turn—buzzing me—and risking a head on. They generally whip in front of me entirely too soon or I hear hard braking behind me. The impatience of many drivers is unbelievable.

    This is only a problem for me on the trip home as I’m hitting some rush hour traffic. I wish a cop would park himself on those bends and bust those drivers for something.

  12. Palm Beach Bike Tours June 18, 2008 6:41 am 

    Somewhat on this topic… Did anyone else see The Washington Post article this week on road rage? In short, a driver with a bumper sticker or who has otherwise personalized a vehicle is far more likely to display road rage than someone who is riding stock.

    Cars a are ‘personal spaces’ in ‘public places’ so, the boundaries between each are blurred. People with bumper stickers are more inclined to see the road as their ‘personal space’ and thus be more aggressive.

    How road rage affects cyclists
    in mass is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’m going to think twice before sprinting to the next stoplight to give a driver a piece of my mind (and selected finger) if he has a ‘my kid can beat up your honor student’ bumper sticker.


  13. Iron Man June 18, 2008 8:22 am 

    Palm, what does that mean for those of us who will adorn our bikes with bikecommuters.com stickers? :)

  14. Palm Beach Bike Tours June 18, 2008 11:17 am 

    Iron, if the bumper sticker is on a road bike, I wouldn’t worry too much. Roadies wouldn’t weigh themselves down with a gun.

    On the other hand, I can easily see someone on a Xtracycle packing heat — what is two more pounds on top of a 50-pound bike, right?

  15. Ghost Rider June 18, 2008 12:26 pm 

    I was thinking some sort of remote-activated swivel mount for a GE Minigun…mounted to the back of my Snapdeck. Perfect for keeping pesky tailgaters away!

  16. Iron Man June 18, 2008 2:07 pm 

    You know the perfect weapon for a bike commuter is some sort of electro magnetic pulse emitter. That way you can cause all the autos on your route to freeze up. Giving the biker a nice peaceful ride weaving in and out of useless hunks of metal that used to be vehicles. I swear they made something like that on an episode of Star Trek TNG.

  17. Ghost Rider June 18, 2008 2:47 pm 

    I’ll just call my friends from The Matrix — EMP weapons figured highly in that realm. It would be pretty fitting to have an EMP generator on my bike, too, because my wife refers to my Xtra as the “Nebuccanezzar” (Morpheus’ craft).

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