A guest post from Cycle Action committee member Stephen Horsley, about the regular trip to daycare:

StephenHkidThree days a week, I take my 2 year old son to daycare on the back of my bike. It’s not a long trip – probably 800m or so – and then I carry on to work in the city. Why do we go by bike? Mainly because he loves it, and it’s the fastest way for the two of us to get him to daycare and then me into work. It also allows me to share the load with my wife (we are a one-car household), and it’s no less safe than driving him (try crossing Newton Road in a car during rush hour).

When he started daycare, like all parents we had to figure out the logistics of getting him there. So we discussed a few options:

  • My wife dropping him off and picking him up in the car (not fair to her, and absurd given the short distance)
  • Walking him in his stroller, and then returning home and setting off for work (a waste of time)
  • Taking him there on the bike, and picking him up in the car (which is what we ended up doing)

We weren’t sure initially if it was going to work- he was seven months old when he started, but we talked to our physiotherapist (who rides everywhere) who explained if the child is able to sit up on their own, they are strong enough to be taken on a bike. This matched what we had read online from Dutch and Danish parents. We also had friends who lived in Utrecht in the Netherlands, who took their kids everywhere on their bikes – their quality of life was off the charts, and we wanted to bring a bit of that back to Auckland.

From the get-go, he loved it. He is surrounded by his environment and can see and hear everything that’s going on. He points out all the big trucks, motorbikes, trailers and dogs he sees along the way, and says goodbye to the bike when we get to daycare!  Getting him strapped into the bike seat has always been easy, unlike his car seat. That said, getting his helmet on has often been an exercise in ‘persuasion’…

For me, too, it’s great. Riding to work is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way for me to get there, and getting to do part of the journey with my son is a bonus.

Of course, there have been a few challenges along the way. The first one was criticism from people I work with – comments like “how could you put your child in danger like that”. Ironically, the journey is actually really safe. The dangerous part is Newton Road, so for that short section, we ride on the footpath. Then we need to cross Newton Road, so I use the pedestrian phase of the lights. This is the most frustrating part of the trip; the phasing is set to favour traffic, so we often are held up by about 4 minutes waiting for a green signal. From there, it’s easy, as the rest of the route is on quiet back streets.

The other issue is, of course, the weather. What to do when it rains? Fortunately, Auckland’s rain generally comes in bands, so we put him in wet weather gear, and pick a gap in the rain and go for it!  If it’s really pouring, his mum takes him in the car – we aren’t that mean! The funny thing is that he loves riding in the rain, and thinks it’s really amusing.

The key thing for me is thinking about how we could make this easier for other parents to do. I’m prepared to bike my son to daycare because I have a safe, low-risk route there, but I know this isn’t the case in many places. It all comes back to infrastructure and street design. Separated cycleways along busy roads are essential, as is making our suburban streets low-speed zones.

Cities should be places that are safe for children to play in, travel through, and experience, not places where they are shuttled between fenced areas in metal boxes.


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2 responses to “A toddler is my co-pilot: biking with small passengers in Auckland

  1. I spent five years carting my daughter all around the North Shore before she started primary school. Best time our lives, I really miss towing her in that trailer. Because the Shore has a distinct lack of (safe) biking infrastructure I would ride on the footpath a fair bit if the roads were busy, but we were just cruising, not going fast. The best parts were impromptu breaks for morning tea at the beach, or a playground stop en route. Fun, fresh air and fitness, it was win, win, win compared to the car alternative.

  2. I ran my son in from Avondale to Newton Road for a few months before his daycare changed management. NW cycleway and the generous hard shoulder along Rosebank Road make it a breeze.

    A trailer gets around the weather issues for him and keeps the whole rig more manageable, as a childseat tends to upset the steering on my twitchy DIY hybrid. Even so, you have better control of the extra mass when riding than when pushing.

    Sensible hacks include a waterproof footwell, made by inserting a perfectly sized fish bin; permanent attachment of the removable stroller handlebar as a combination rollbar and eye-level light mounting and replacement of the chainstay clamp hitch with the Burley forged hitch kit, that puts the hitch on the rear axle, well away from the sweep of my size 12’s. I just got an eyelet punch and a big piece of clear PVC for a storm cover that will see off the worst downpour.

    He’s now 3 and the trailer coming out is a promise of a day out exploring.

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