Abigail Pugh wrote this great article a few years ago.
In a perfect world, we’d never look up at the lighted windows of a downtown gym and see rows of sweaty people pedaling off their Timbits to an iPod beat.
Instead, they’d be speeding homeward along heated, lighted car-free roadways. Only an eccentric few urbanites would bother getting their driver’s licence. Converted garages would replace basements as the new affordable rental housing. “Obesity” and “type 2 diabetes” would sound quaint, like suffering from rickets or scurvy. Bike sales would outstrip car sales a hundredfold. All so far fetched, so speculative, it might as well be sci-fi.
A more mundane prediction? In a perfect world, people hauling everything from kids to aging relatives to dogs to Ikea purchases, by bike, would be common. Like, seen-several-times-a-day or part-of-the-landscape common. Kids in trailers wouldn’t be the eccentrics of our urban traffic, as they are today.
Right now, those two-wheeled canvas and aluminum bike trailers for kids elicit raised eyebrows…even from other cyclists. The received wisdom seems to be “rather your kids than mine”, or “cool gesture – but what about safety?”.
Derek Baker is a sales guy at Dukes at Queen and Bathurst, so he can be expected to walk the walk. He hauled his son by bike, rain or shine, for five years: “My son rode in ours from when he was 3 years old to when he was 7. Then I gave it to my sister. We’re at the decade mark with it now.” What’s it like sitting in one? “My son loved it: with its padding and its metal structure, it’s like sitting in a rocket ship.”
Is Derek worried about safety? “There’s a big flag on the back, and these companies don’t chintz out: there’s an aluminum frame, and there’s a ball joint so the trailer can rotate 360 degrees and isn’t likely to tip if the bike does.” Derek says that in his experience drivers are more respectful and give proper distance when they see a child in a trailer. Nancy Kendrew of Urbane Cyclist agrees, remarking ironically that “it’s a psychological thing with traffic. A driver’s willing to risk running down a man on a bike who might be a breadwinner to a family – but if he sees a kid in a trailer he’ll give lots of room and be very courteous”.
There’s a sidecar kid carrier on the market now. Most stores haven’t started carrying it – but Derek enthuses: ”when I found out about it, it almost made me want to have another kid.” One believes him. Mark Newman, who has worked at Duke’s for 15 years and sold countless trailers, says he generally advises customers to stick to parks or dedicated bike lanes with sidecars, simply because otherwise the bike is taking up an entire lane which, in present-day (non sci-fi) Toronto might cause problems like road rage and traffic jams. He also notes, however: “In the 15 years I’ve been selling bike trailers, I’ve never had a single parent come to me and say they’ve had a tricky or a dangerous situation with one.”
Bike Trailer Safety Tips
- Plan ahead; don’t necessarily use the same route you’d use when traveling alone: smog and traffic are even bigger considerations when hauling kids.
- Make sure the child stays hydrated; don’t forget sunscreen, even in winter.
- Don’t tuck the child in with loose blankets, scarves or anything else that could come loose and drag.
- Kids in trailers need bike helmets, just like the rest of us do when we’re biking.
- Watch for the curb: the trailer makes your vehicle wider, and the few tipping accidents that do happen, are often from inexperienced users clipping the curb.
The Experts on Hauling Kids by Bike
Barb Wentworth, head of bike safety for the Can Bike program:
“Trailers are a great boon because they actively engage kids in bikes as transportation or recreation. Parents can drop kids off and then commute. In my personal experience with a trailer, car drivers are more cognizant of the need to keep a safe space from the bike.”
A.A Heaps, Chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee (disbanded by Rob Ford in April this year together with 20 other citizens’ committees):
“In principle (bike trailers are) a great idea. They’re encouraging a future audience (for the pro-bike message) which is very positive. Personally I’d be concerned because they add 2-3 metres to the length of the bicycle and someone in an SUV can’t see over the hood. Also, trailers are at tailpipe level, which is a health and safety issue. The safest application is on dedicated bike trails.”
Nancy Kendrew, Owner, Urbane Cyclist Cooperative
“I’ve had customers who buy a single trailer, then a double one. Then when the kids are old enough to bike by themselves so the parents start hauling groceries or going to Ikea with them. Then they say to themselves: ‘I don’t even need a car’; they’ve proven to themselves they can easily be car-free.”