For several years before our son, Levi, was born, my husband, Dave, and I participated in Ready2Roll Cycling‘s training series to prepare for the MS150, which we rode together in 2011 and 2012. While these bike rides occur all over the U.S., locally, it’s a two-day, approximately 190-mile charity bike ride from Houston to Austin; funds raised benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Society. So from mid-January through mid-April, nearly every Saturday we’d rise early to drive out to a rural area of town and bicycle distances from 25 to 65 miles. The fully supported training rides with pre-determined routes and little traffic made the extra driving worthwhile. However, this endeavor was quite the commitment, as it would take over your Friday evening plans as well as most, if not all (counting the post-ride nap), of the day Saturday. During the training series we learned many tips and tricks for a successful bike ride, but we were baffled as to how best incorporate a little one.
Bicycling During Pregnancy
So why did I bicycle during pregnancy? I registered for the spring 2013 MS150 prior to finding out I was pregnant with Levi. And since I had already registered and wanted to stay active, I even participated in the Ready2Roll training series into my second trimester. That came to an end in mid-March after a dehydration episode caused Braxton Hicks contractions at 20 weeks pregnant, and my OB advised me to stay out of the heat and only bicycle on a stationary bike indoors. Not my favorite activity, so I ended up walking frequently and started prenatal yoga at the Motherhood Center with a friend who was also expecting. As a side note, I highly recommend prenatal yoga to keep the aches and pains of pregnancy at bay!
So, please learn from my experience, the key to bicycling during pregnancy: hydration, hydration, hydration! As for bicycling gear, I improvised by folding down my bike shorts under my baby bump and borrowed my husband’s bicycling jersey when mine became too tight.
Baby Bike Gear
For Dave’s first Father’s Day, Levi surprised his daddy with a baby bike seat and helmet. Since then, we’ve taken weekly family bike rides, albeit fairly short rides ranging from 10 to 22 miles. Our little guy probably could last farther if mommy would ride faster, but I digress. We’ve learned a few things that have made our family bike rides go smoothly thus far, and I hope these tips help someone else get back in the saddle post-baby.
Baby Bike Seat
After asking friends and neighbors who bicycled with their kids, by far the most recommended baby bike seat was the front-mounted iBert Safe-T Seat, and we love it! It’s lightweight; easy to install, a plus for my husband who also uses his bike to commute to work, weather permitting; grows with baby up to 4 years/38 pounds; and the front-mount allows baby to be entertained by the scenery during the ride. This past weekend we installed the play steering wheel, and it provides entertainment for Levi as well as a padded place to rest his head when he ultimately nods off during the ride (see photos at the top of this post). Prior to installing the play steering wheel, Dave had to wedge Levi’s helmet between his body and arm to keep Levi from hurting his neck after falling asleep—not sustainable and probably not very safe. So, I recommend taking a little extra time to mount the play steering wheel as well.
I’m told that with baby seats that mount on the back of your bike, you get kicked in the back and your child gets bored easily since they can only see your back. Plus, I anticipate my little one would be pulling out whatever he could find in the back pockets of my husband’s bike jersey then crying “uh oh!.” Bye-bye iPhone!
Baby Bike Helmet
Also on a recommendation from a friend, we purchased the Giro Me2 Infant/Toddler Bike Helmet. We tried it on at our friends’ home before buying so we didn’t have to run around town trying to find a store that carried a bicycle helmet in Levi’s size. While this helmet is a little big for our 11-month-old even on the smallest setting, we really like that it expands and will grow along with him. He didn’t like the helmet at first, but wearing it around the house for a while to test it out seemed to do the trick.
So we didn’t have to lug around the baby bag or even the diaper clutch—what my husband calls the fold-out changing pad that holds a couple diapers and wipes—we used a gallon-sized plastic bag (see photo at the top of this section), which easily fits into the back pockets of a bike jersey, to keep our diaper-changing supplies sweat-free. A sandwich-sized plastic bag also works well to keep your cell phone and other essentials—such as a credit card, cash, ID and medical card—dry while in your jersey pocket.
We packed the gallon-sized plastic bag with two diapers and a plastic sandwich bag of baby wipes. For our ride on Independence Day, Burn Your Buns benefiting Bridgewood Farms—a charity bike ride through the beautiful Sam Houston National Forest—we also packed a squeeze pouch of shelf-stable raspberry-spinach Greek yogurt and a package of pumpkin-banana crackers. Other items we used but typically carry in our small, under-seat bike bags are hand sanitizer and sunscreen. We also let Levi drink from our water bottles rather than bringing along his sippy cup.
We changed Levi just prior to the ride start then again at the rest stop. Changing baby during the ride can be a challenge, but at the supported rest stop my Eagle Scout husband devised a changing table out of two stacked coolers with a clean, giant trash bag on top as a sanitary layer. If you’re riding on your own, you could always stop into a gas station or restaurant and use the baby changing station there.
As for the snacks, my son enjoyed the yogurt on the car ride, as it was an easy breakfast on the go. He also ate half of a banana at the rest stop, and we distracted him with the crackers (one package holds three crackers) one at a time on the second half of the ride. He even fell asleep holding onto half of his second cracker—adorable!
While your child doesn’t need any special attire to accompany you on a bike ride, we found that fast-drying wicking materials are best to avoid sweat rashes. The quick-dry clothing in Levi’s current wardrobe include the amazing REI Sahara Convertible Pants, which also cut down on the amount of sunscreen we need to apply, and the REI Sea Squirt Rashguard Top. The pants, which run big (at 11 months, Levi is wearing the 6-month size with the waist cinched in on the fourth belt notch) are especially awesome because they not only are both pants and shorts, but also have a built-in, interior elastic/button belt that cinches in the waist. On the rashguard top, Levi is currently wearing the 12-month size. Since REI was having a big sale when we purchased these, we picked up both the pants and a similar REI rashguard top in different colors in one size up, so Levi can continue having the proper attire for biking, hiking and the like.
For those who are nursing their little ones, I recommend wearing a nursing sports bra and a bike jersey that zips most, if not all, the way down. The tricky part is carrying a nursing cover on the ride itself. On our ride to/from Dripping Springs, we carried a lightweight backpack, the REI Flash 22 Pack, with my nursing cover and our other baby supplies, which worked pretty well. Downside is that it doesn’t allow for much air flow for the one wearing the back pack. On our Independence Day ride, I was able to wait to nurse Levi until after we finished the ride, since we’re now down to nursing four times a day.
Whenever possible, I recommend looking for supported bike rides, as there are rest stops with snacks, water and restrooms; you don’t have to plan your route (plus there’s usually a map available of how far until the next rest stop); and there are sag wagons who can assist you if you need help and can even take you and your bike back to your car. Having the security of others looking out for you eases my mind when taking along a young child. For those impromptu rides in between, just make sure that you are familiar with the route (for instance, if you will encounter traffic or can avoid it), keep the distances short when baby is in tow, and have a cell phone and credit card handy just in case.
Anyone else have tips for bicycling with a baby, toddler or older children?