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.

About the author

Bicycle commuter since 1989, bicycle enthusiast for 30+ years. I am a Bookmobile/Books By Mail librarian at a large library system and the proud father of two wonderful boys.