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Guest Column: Biking With Babies

The author and her child on a family outing in the Arnold Arboretum. Courtesy of Carol Ann Young.

As most first-time parents do, we scour the internet to find answers to questions about our baby. Sifting through websites, blogs, and comments can be tough, because there are rarely clear answers, and you often have to weigh all the information, trust yourself, and make a decision.

Deciding whether we would bike with our infant took us down one of those rabbit holes of parenting debates, and introduced us to issues we had not previously considered. Is riding bikes with babies problematic because of the bumpiness? Roads are also bumpy in cars and sidewalks are bumpy in strollers. Is riding bikes with babies too dangerous? Driving in cars, and being a pedestrian around cars, is also risky. Should babies wear helmets? Babies wearing helmets before they can hold their heads up can potentially block their airways.

In the Netherlands, infants regularly ride in bikes. In the United States, there were more danger-wary stories against infants riding in bikes, and most advice recommends waiting until children are at least one year old. That wariness likely stems from the high fatal crash rates of bicyclists hit by cars in the United States.

We bought a cargo bucket bike when I was 8 months pregnant. I struck up a conversation with someone riding a cargo bike while we were stopped at the long traffic light at Inman Square in Cambridge. I explained that I was in the market for one and asked if they liked riding theirs. They said they were planning to sell theirs soon because they were upgrading to a larger model of bucket bike, and we exchanged contact information. As we were deciding whether to buy the bike from them at the time or wait until our baby was older to get one, we decided to purchase the used bucket bike and start our family biking as soon as we could.

Our baby took her first bike ride, facing us, strapped in her car seat without a helmet, strapped into the box of our cargo bike, 6 weeks after she was born.

I’m so pleased by the increase in bike lanes and cycle tracks in Cambridge and the Boston area compared to when I moved here in 2012. Many of the streets I biked before my baby was born now have great separated bike lanes, adding more space and comfort on busy roads. I learned in a transportation planning class in my urban planning program that more women, elderly, and children riding bikes demonstrates the increased level of comfort and safety bicyclists are feeling. I love living in Cambridge and the bike connectivity with bike lanes, narrow roads, and fewer fast-moving cars.

I’ve been asked if I feel safe biking in the Boston area. I do, though there are some dicey intersections where I bike slowly and assertively. Compared to where I lived in the west (Idaho and Utah) where roads are wide, cars drive fast, and there are fewer marked or separated bike lanes, I feel much safer bicycling here.

Our baby loves riding on the bike. After a few months of new routines with social distancing during the COVID pandemic, she does a dance when I put my mask on and squeals with delight when we buckle her helmet on before we head to the bike. Feeling the breeze, looking around and seeing that the world is bigger than just our apartment, especially during the COVID-19 quarantine, is invaluable.

We’ve taken rides with two other families with babies during the quarantine, including group rides to the Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park for Black Lives Matter protests, and the Mystic Lakes in Medford. One family built their own cargo bike, and the other family has a bike trailer.

Overall, cars tend to give us space. I sometimes get nervous while biking with the baby, and if I’m the support bike with my partner riding with the baby, I ride on the edge of the bike lane to force a little more space from passing cars.

We do not bike everywhere. We recognize our privilege of owning a car and living in a connected part of Cambridge that’s close to Somerville and Boston. But if a trip is less than five miles away, we take the bike to move our bodies, reduce car emissions, avoid worrying about parking, and to allow our baby to have a more multi-sensory experience on those trips.

She is now almost a year old, and we transitioned her to a forward facing Babboe booster seat and a helmet. On her first ride facing outward, she kept staring at the ground. Now she looks around, points at things, and waves and smiles at the people she sees. I love that she gets to keep exploring her world not just riding in a car. I also love the conversations it starts with pedestrians and fellow bicyclists.

I hope riding with my baby helps cars to slow down and see that people (and not inconveniences) are riding bikes in the road. Dear Cars, we’re saving you a parking spot, reducing car traffic, and helping you avoid a speeding ticket by being the resident pace bike.

And I hope a smiling baby, perhaps waving at you, brightens your day and reminds you to drive nicely.

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