The Family That Rides Together

Rileys_front_small.jpgThe Rileys on Valencia Street at Cesar Chavez Street, near the start of their long journey to school and work. Photos: Matthew Roth
When trying to find San Francisco parents who take their kids to school by bike or on foot, we often hear this refrain: It's all well and good to ride your bike while you're single or recently married, but once you have kids, you have to have a car. It's just too much trouble, they say, to ferry your kids by bus or bike and still make it to work and run errands at the end of the day.

That's why I was thrilled to meet the Rileys while they were riding home on Valencia Street several days ago. The family of four lives in the Excelsior and routinely commutes a total of 35 miles round-trip to school and work on two Xtra Cycle conversion bicycles replete with child seats. They ride their bicycles most weekdays, though rain will get them off their long-tails to take the family car.

Dylan, the father, is a second year teacher at Sunset Elementary School, where his daughter Maya is currently in Kindergarten. Susan, the mother, takes Declan to pre-school at Nihon Machi Little Friends in Japantown, before continuing on to her job at One Market Street.

Though Dylan and Maya's commute would be much shorter if they went along Ocean Avenue, Dylan doesn't feel comfortable with the speed of traffic, especially with a child onboard. Likewise, by taking the longer route, he can accompany his wife and son for more family time. Dylan and Maya go as far as The Wiggle, before they cut over to the Panhandle, through Golden Gate Park, and then exit the park at 41st Avenue for the last few blocks to Sunset Elementary. After leaving her husband and daughter on The Wiggle, Susan drops Declan off at school in Japantown and continues downtown via bike routes.

Dylan said his commitment to ride comes from the inspiration of his job as a teacher. "It has a lot to do with my being a teacher and wanting to see the kids that I'm teaching grow into a greener future than we're headed for right now," he said. "By riding every day I'm showing them that it's doable and it's something they can do when they grow up."

Declan_seat_small.jpgDeclan straped into his child seat Xtra Cycle accessory.
Dylan said beyond the environmental considerations, driving stresses him out and he doesn't get as much family time as he does on the bike. When he ferries everyone to their destinations by car, it also takes longer than if they ride together and split up at The Wiggle.

"We generally find bicycles a faster mode of transport than cars in the city and I feel less foggy on arrival," said Dylan. "Additionally, like many San Francisco families, we find ourselves over-committed and have no time to go to the gym and take care of ourselves. Biking squeezes in our exercise."

The Rileys got the idea for the child seats on the Xtra Cycle extensions from a family friend who purchased their own set of seats online. According to Dylan, the new setup is far superior to the trailer bike he used to have for Maya.

Dylan will be participating in a press event for Bike to School tomorrow morning at Sunset Elementary with Supervisor Carmen Chu, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the San Francisco Unified School District. Last year, he met Benjamin Caldwell, the head of the Presidio YMCA's bicycle education and primary organizer for Bike to School Day, who trained him to lead Bike to School rides with the children.

About leading the rides for Bike to School Day, Susan said with a laugh, "It's like herding cats."

Though Maya was shy at first about my questions and the incessant photos I took, she opened up when I asked if she likes riding to school (a big nod and "uh huh"). When her dad asked her to explain why she liked the ride, she thought for a moment and then replied, "The air, in my hair."

Dylan_and_Maya_small.jpgDylan and Maya, just before their 10 mile ride to school.
Susan_and_Declan.jpgSusan and Declan "only" have a 7.5 mile ride to school and work.

Rileys_small.jpgAt the end of the day, the Rileys will have put 35 miles behind them in their round trip as a family.