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.

  • Jen

    The “35 miles” is a little misleading… A shared 7.5 mile ride plus 2.5 for the other parent does not quite a “35 mile commute” make. That’s like me and my partner commuting 22 miles every day, despite the fact that he lives 4 miles from work and I live 7.

    That semantic argument aside, I love this family. What better way to teach your kids about fitness, health, and the benefits of connecting with the world around them than to show them how easy it is to get everywhere on a bicycle every day? Congrats to the Rileys – may more follow in your footsteps!

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Nice bikes.

    I can understand why a lot of parents think that a car is an absolute requirement of breeding. Last year my wife and I were stumped by a policy at UCSF, namely that if you want to give birth at UCSF you have to bring your car seat for inspection first. That sort of institutionalizes the car requirement right from the beginning. What if you literally live across the street from UCSF and just want to walk home with your newborn? Tough.

  • Love seeing an Xtracycle family!

  • Brandon

    Even though they do have a car, the phrase “the family car” is revealing: in many places in the US, a family of 4 will have 4 cars once the kids are 16-20 years old.

  • Jeffrey,

    Though not for car-related reasons, for my third child I had a homebirth with a midwife. Beats the hospital hands down.

  • I love the fish wind sock!

    Their biking seems so normal and down-to-earth to me, in part because of how they think of it and how the article presents them. Great stuff!

  • Nick

    One of the things the SFBC has failed to do is create a “network of traffic calmed streets.” Bike lanes on busy streets are fine for the daring, but there’s not going to be a sea change of family biking any time soon.

  • Jen

    @ Jeffrey – really? I wonder what happens if someone comes in and really doesn’t have a car, and no intention on purchasing a car seat? I can see how a person without a car WOULD have one – Zipcar, rides from friends with no car seats or something – but I’m still interested in the consequences or restrictions on not having one. Fascinating.

  • @Jeffrey – that’s especially heinous since 30% of City residents don’t own cars.

  • That’s a great kick-off story for Bike to Work Day. The Rileys are a real inspiration, and the best thing is they’re not the only ones. Pioneer parents bike with their kids to school all over the city, and they’re one of the best reasons for an even better network of bikeways.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    @Jen: The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued the following policy statement “Safe Transportation of Newborns at Hospital Discharge” which reads, in part:

    “At discharge every newborn should be properly restrained in a car safety seat.”

    Their policy makes no allowance for the idea that it is possible to move babies from place to place without an automobile.

    The AAP also puts out a book called “Your Baby’s First Year” which has extensive safety information about how to use a car seat. Unfortunately the safety instructions do not include the two important ideas of not driving, and if you do choose to drive, not driving like a jackass. As for UCSF, I was told that our baby would not be discharged by the well baby nursery department unless and until I had produced the car seat for inspection. Considering that our stay there was costing roughly $800 per hour I was in a hurry to be discharged.

  • Virginia Balogh-Rosenthal

    I thought the car seat requirement for newborns at CPMC was a bit strange myself. Although truthfully, I would not have taken MUNI with our newborn twins. But, if I had lived close to the hospital, we definitely would have walked home after hospital discharge.

  • I carry my 3 y.o. daughter on a rear-mounted bikeseat to preschool every day (bar rain, then we take the MUNI train). Not only do we travel by bike, but on a nice sunny day as many as five of the twenty families at our preschool will travel in by bike, including two families who’ve rigged their bikes to carry two children (for the pickup of siblings at their respective elementary schools).

    What’s great about it is that my daughter sees cycling as a perfectly normal way to get around the City, not just for her and I, but for her peers. Our route takes us through the Panhandle, too, so she sees a wide diversity of bike commuters.

    To her, that’s just the way the world looks. I love that.

  • We love our xtracycle! but without the baby seats- our kiddos are big enough to just sit on the padded board and hang on!

  • Maureen

    Here’s another family biking voice. I take my 8 y.o. son from Bernal Heights to his elementary school in Potrero Hill using a Burley 1/2 bike attachment. I always wear a “One Less Car” shirt and have Dr. Demento tunes blasting. Be sure to wave!

  • Tammy’s Mom

    Too bad that these self righteous parents are willing to risk the safety of their children to prove a point.
    Grow up.

  • Yeah, Tammy’s Mom! Putting kids in cars and driving them everywhere is a really dangerous way to raise them! Thank goodness there are people out there showing their kids how to live a different life : ) It is good to know that we biking families have your support.

  • fixiemama

    I also ride to drop the boys off at school and then get to work. My boys are 7 and 4. We ride from the NoPa to USF, drop off my 7-yr-old, on to the Presidio where I leave the preschooler, and then I go to the Inner Richmond.

    I met Susan on the road! It was so cool, because we have the same set-up (Xtracycle rules). Susan rocks! Oh yeah and her husband sounds cool too.

    @Jeffrey — as a former childbirth educator, I have to say I can’t really imagine transporting a newborn, aside from walking, in any other vehicle but a personal automobile. That being said, thank you for adding one more reason NOT to have a hospital birth to my list!

    Ride safe all!

  • Xtracycles make it all possible! They are life changing and freeing for sure.

    @Tammy’s Mom – the streets look more dangerous when viewed from a car. In reality, it’s not so dangerous to ride with (or without) kids (if you have data that proves otherwise, please share it).

    I’d encourage you to give biking with your kid(s) a try – you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. And Tammy will definitely thank you!

  • Sandy Crockett

    I biked with my son to school today, with another parent and her daughter who were doing it for the first time. Lots of fun, and it gave the kids a great sense of accomplishment.

    Jeff Baker — Our younger son was born at UCSF Parnassus 3 years ago and they did not make us bring a car seat or go home in a car. We took the newborn home on the N-Judah, which statistically is a much safer way to make the same trip than in a car (check out the numbers — traveling half a mile in an 80-ton streetcar is much safer than traveling half a mile in a 2-ton car). Nobody from UCSF gave us any grief about it. Nor should they. Think of the liability if they made us take the baby home in a car and we got into a crash and the baby was injured. They FORCED us to use the MORE DANGEROUS mode of transportation, and the baby was harmed as a result? It would make a plaintiff’s lawyer salivate. I’m not sure if UCSF has somehow changed their policy since 2007, but if they have that would be a shame.

  • Clancy

    I ride with my kids on the Xtracycle to school and around town. I can say it is a wonderful experience.

    BUT the above picture shows a DANGEROUS situation. The bags should always be attached when having a young rider on the Snap Deck. There is nothing stopping the passenger’s foot from going between the Free Radical frame and the wheel. I had this happen with my 8yr old son and he sprained his ankle and could of much worse.

  • tea


  • Gillian Gillett

    @Jeffrey W. Baker

    We had a difficult time walking to our home across the street from St. Luke’s when our first child was born there. The nurse who walked us out walked us to the edge of the campus somewhat incredulous that we really didn’t bring a car. It’s a funny world we’ve built ourselves.

  • tea

    It must suck to be Tammy.

  • peternatural

    Tammy’s mom, don’t assume going by car is necessarily safer. I took my kindergartner to school by trail-a-bike last year, and the entire route (a 20 minute ride, as opposed to 17 minutes by car, or 40 – 60 minutes by bus + foot) was low-traffic and bike friendly (sharrows, bike lanes, or bike paths all the way). I’m sure some car commutes are more dangerous.

    Also remember that not all risks to children from cars involve crashes. You can read statistics and real-life (and death) stories of “back-overs”, “front-overs”, power-window strangulations, hyperthermia, and more at:

    At the end of last year we improved our situation by moving a few blocks from my younger daughter’s school, and my mother-in-law moved in and now walks my daughter to and from school. Everyone’s commute got easier and we’re all getting more sleep. (My older daughter takes MUNI on her own, and her trip time was cut in half).

    Cars aren’t a viable solution for people without a driver’s license (like my older daughter and mother-in-law).

  • CBrinkman

    Wow, so many parents who bike with kids – you are all amazing. I admire you so much.

    I think it would be very worthwhile to have a biking parents meet-up. The photos of so many parents and children on their commute vehicles will be so valuable to have as we ask for REAL family friendly streets in our city.

    No one realizes how many of you there are, photographic evidence is needed – like that great photo showing how many cars/buses/bikes fit the same number of people.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Hopefully we’ll get some nice photo evidence from today’s Bike to School events.

  • friscolex

    This brings joy to my heart, not only this lovely family, but also these awesome comments. (Save for the silly hospital business and the ridiculous notion that cars are safer than bikes. I know people that have lost children to tragic car accidents and never heard of such a thing on bikes. It’s pretty grown up to evolve past cars.)

    As an unmarried, childless daily commuter, I love seeing families biking because it gives me someone fun to talk to at stoplights– the cute kids! Too bad I’ve never seen this darling family on Valencia; I’ll keep an eye out for them! Great article.

  • Today was a beautiful day and many, many people took the opportunity to get their kids out on bikes, even if they couldn’t ride to school. I think the future of SF will have children using their own power to transport themselves to where they need to go. It gives me hope that these kids will grow up to be strong enough to live in the world they will inherit from us.

  • Sprague

    For what it’s worth, I received much of my nursing education in Austria and I don’t recall any mention of child car seats. From a foreign perspective, it does seem a bit odd the importance placed on proper child car seat usage in U.S. nursing education and testing. Of course, accident prevention is critical to good health and safety… Thank you for an interesting discussion.

  • No

    @#2 – home birth. Birth is natural and shouldn’t be something you assume you do in hospital (complications fine, but not an assumption from the start).

  • bmwlover

    I do give these parents credit for trying..and for biking their kids to school. But, seriously. this is dangerous. They’re not riding down some remote country road.

    I hope I never have to read about a serious bike/car accident one morning that involves parents and little kids on the back.

    For the inherent risk involved, I would never do it. and obviously not very many parents do this. I mean a few out of tens of thousands of families…Cars are not going away, and the streets are not getting any safer.

  • bmwlover, glad you took the time to read. Sadly you didn’t take the message away that most us hope you would.

    How is being in a car considered safe? And that false sense of safety is what makes every road user that much more at risk.

    And I point to the Gulf as evidence that cars may not go away, but the fuel to run them will (at least at the cheap, highly subsidized price Americans have become accustom to).

  • I can see bmwlover’s point. For most of my daughter’s kindergarten year (ending a year ago), I took her to school via bike + trail-a-bike. It was a 20 minute ride, and for the whole route we were either in a bike lane, or on designated bike route with sharrows (on a low-traffic street), or on a dedicated bike path, separated from traffic. So it felt pretty safe, and we never had any close calls or alarming incidents.

    But I was still relieved when we moved 4 blocks from her school and she could walk to school. For kids (especially your own), “pretty safe” isn’t really good enough.

    Driving isn’t totally safe either, but if you stay in the city, in 25 mph zones, it’s probably safer than biking. Maybe. If the ride includes time on a highway, probably much less so!

    All the more reason that citizens of SF deserve a network of car-free routes connecting all neighborhoods, where people of all ages can get around safely on their own power (or with a parental assist 😉


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