When it comes to teaching kids about biking safely, remember that actions speak louder than words.
"There’s nothing inherently different about riding with a child. Just take the same precautions you should take as an adult," says Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago. "Teach kids hand signals and good traffic behavior."
Now that warm weather is peeking out from behind the clouds, many families will be dusting off their two-wheelers and hitting the bike paths in the Chicago area. No matter which end of the city you live in, or if you’re in one of the suburbs, bike paths are plentiful and with a little preparation even the youngest children can enjoy the ride.
When planning your ride, start out by considering your kids’ ages and abilities, Sadowsky says. "If you have a child who needs to stop often—maybe they’re potty training—that will help dictate how long the trip will be or if you need places along the way to stop," he says.
All the bike trails are designed to accommodate trailers carrying young children, Sadowsky says. If you’re going to be riding on the street, make sure you have a flag on the trailer and use the trailer’s seatbelt to secure children. Children should wear helmets even if they’re in the trailer, since it gets them prepared to wear a helmet when they transition to their own bike.
Younger children often enjoy a ride that includes time to get off their bike and play. Check out the lakefront bike path to the Museum of Science and Industry or Salt Creek Trail, which can include a stop at Brookfield Zoo. If you’re heading north of the city, the North Branch Trail to the Chicago Botanic Gardens lets you see some wildlife and get into the gardens for free (there’s no charge for bikes, only a parking fee for cars).
Another way to bike as a family is to participate in an organized ride, like Chicago’s annual "Bike the Drive," which takes place on Memorial Day weekend (check out www.bikethedrive.org). The ride varies from 7.5-30 miles and is open to families, with special pricing for kids, Sadowsky says.
To learn more about local trails, visit activetrans.org or your local forest preserve district’s Web site. The Chicagoland Hiking and Biking Guidebook Series (available online) is also a great resource for families who are ready to hit the trails.