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5 Things You Need to Commute to School by Bike

5 Things You Need to Commute to School by Bike

My seven-year-old son and I bike to and from school every day. It takes about 10 minutes each way, and is mostly flat, so it’s an ideal commute for a smaller cyclist. He is on his own bike and I am on mine. This isn’t an option for everyone, I know – in our last city his school was much too far away and up a giant hill. We’re now in a small European city with extensive bike lanes and an incredible amount of cyclists on the road, so it feels like drivers are much more aware of us.

There are a few bits of kit that make this much easier, most of them really inexpensive. I’ve lusted after cargo bikes and bakfiets, but the reality is with one child we just don’t really need it, nor can we afford it. So if you’re thinking about changing your commute, or just want to ride with your kids more often, take a look:

Bike rearview mirror

Rearview mirror

This bendy-armed thing might look a bit ridiculous, but it has made such a difference. It’s hard not to turn around constantly to see what your child is doing, but with this mirror I can always see him. It minimizes those bike-wobbling full body visual checks too, and allows me to keep my eyes on what’s going on in front of me as well. It just fits on your handle bars, no need to remove grips.

Front and rear baskets, bungee cords

Because we bike to school, there are school bags and sports kit, plus the unwanted jumper or coat on the way home. It’s quite hard to cycle with a backpack on when you’re small, so I have both a front basket, and a big rear basket with a four-hook bungee cord thing that spreads over whatever I have crammed in there. I find this set-up easiest so I am free from backpacks too, and my bike can accommodate whatever comes home from school.

Front and read bike baskets

Lights for everyone

In the autumn and winter, it’s quite dark during commute times, and if it’s raining, visibility to car traffic is tough. Having lights on your own bike and your child’s really helps. Lots of kids helmets also have lights on the back which is a great feature, as rear lights on kids bikes are quite low to the ground. My son has cheap LED USB battery lights on his bike, but I have dynamo-powered lights on mine. I have an after-market bottle dynamo, which is like a little bottle shaped thing next to my front wheel that I can click into place, and it rubs along my tire, generating energy that powers my front and rear lights. I like this because all my lights are screwed permanently in place, and never run out of power. It can make it harder to pedal, and it’s not quiet, but I do mostly city cycling, so it works for me. Also, if my son’s lights run out of battery, at least his helmet light works and mine always do.

biking to school

Gloves and cowl

These gloves don’t need to be fancy – in fact I buy a pile of cheap stretchy gloves from H&M, as well as his main pair, which are fingerless with a flip over top to make them mittens. In the autumn and early winter it can be 1ºC when we set out in the morning. He also has a cowl made from fuzzy fleece which can be easy to whip up on the sewing machine – it looks like a single loop, so no ends to flop about.

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Seat covers for wet weather

Sitting through school with a wet bum is pretty horrible, so we have a selection of waterproof covers to pull over our seats. What we’ve also used: plastic bags tied underneath or shower caps. And if you’ve forgotten to put one on and your seat is soaking, use the seat cover anyway and just sit on it, keeps your bum dry for that ride at least.

Do you cycle often with your kids? How about riding to school? Let me know in the comments!

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Finally, track your period and your steps

Finally, track your period and your steps

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I bought an Apple Watch. More specifically, I decided my Christmas presents would add up to an Apple Watch. Before that, I supported the Pebble smartwatch on kickstarter. I had a fitbit for awhile.

So you know, I’m into this smart watch/tracking stuff thing.

I track my bike rides, the food I eat, the steps I take, how long I sleep. But for some reason, none of these neat little things track something all women I know have tracked since they were about 13: our periods.

Yes I know there are many apps for that, but how can the all-knowing Apple Health app offer to track practically everything, but not my menstrual cycle? Is it really just because there’s only men in the room when they plan these features?

Then there’s tracking apps themselves. Why are they all pink with flowers? Menstruating is not a big deal, it’s just a monthly biological cycle. I don’t like talking or looking at people’s teeth, but I don’t feel any need to make a huge deal about it when someone talks about their dentist appointment, toothpaste, or bleaching stuff.

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Now that we’ve all agreed we’re grownups, I have to tell you about this new tracking gadget. The Leaf by Bellabeat. It’s not sporty, it’s doesn’t scream TECH OBJECT, it’s wearable in several ways. You can track your monthly cycle, and see how your exercise, sleep, and breathing changes in relation to it. Doesn’t that sound interesting and useful? I have to say, this isn’t hard stuff, but somehow no one has bothered before now. Possibly my favourite part of this is the 6-month battery life. Yes, you read that correctly. Six. Months. All of this for about $130 US. The preorders are flying out the door, so if you’re thinking about it, do it now. I ordered mine yesterday.

Congratulations to Bellabeat’s Urška Sršen, and thanks for making a piece of tech that addresses our needs.

Images courtesy of Bellabeat. This post contains affiliate links. 

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Five essentials for my bike commute

Five essentials for my bike commute

Bike to Work week is coming up soon here in Vancouver, and this year I actually do ride my bike to work. Albeit a few days a week, and it’s only a 8-10 minute ride. However, thanks to some serious research and great gear, it feels easy. I am not a CYCLIST. I don’t change when I get to work, I don’t go super fast, I wear heels. My bike is a lovely Raleigh step-through with a basket. As with many exercise-related endeavours, it pays to get some bits that you love, that will also make doing the exercise easier. Here are mine:

Cleverhood rain cape. This being Raincouver, if I decided not to bike every time it rained, I would never bike. I have yet to find a raincoat that doesn’t make me feel like I’m slowly stewing in my own juices, so the open bottom of this rain poncho is ideal. Not only that, it allows me to wear all normal clothes underneath, including whatever layers I need for the cold. The houndstooth is woven with reflective fibres, so shows up clearly in dark rainy weather, but looks normal and cool in daylight. The hood fits under my helmet, and the thumb loops help me keep the cape on while cycling. I’ve had endless compliments on it whenever I show up somewhere, which is better than ‘whoa, it’s really raining out, isn’t it?’ the subtext being ‘you look like you waded through the ocean to get here’. The clincher for me: made in the US by decently paid workers. Cleverhood rain cape.

straw pannier, image credit: Le Vélo Victoria

image credit: Le Vélo Victoria

Bobbin Bicycles straw pannier. I love my pannier dearly, and it took months of research to find. I am not a sporty cyclist, as mentioned above. So, I didn’t want a pannier that was all rubberized and reflective-y. I saw photos of this straw pannier around Pinterest, but for the life of me couldn’t find a stockist anywhere. It seemed to be discontinued. I tracked it to Holland, but then got lost in a maze of Dutch bicycle sites. Finally, I found the wonderful Le Vélo in Victoria, BC, and they carry it. I was so obsessed, they emailed me as soon as the pre-order was available. I fit my laptop, a bento box, a small mason jar with snacks, a notebook, and my little Cambridge Satchel Company bag in here, with my rain cape folded on top. It’s treated, so a little rain is no problem. Super secure on my rear rack and it stands up well on its own, so loading and unloading it is simple. Bobbin Bicycles straw pannier, Le Vélo in Canada, Eleanor’s in the US.

jockies

Jockey skimmies. As I mentioned, I cycle in regular clothes. In the summer months, that means a lot of dresses. These little shorts are thin and light, and come in a variety of non-underwear colours, so when you accidentally flash someone, it looks like bike shorts and not, well, underwear. They are super comfortable to wear, and if you get any thigh rub, this solves that whole problem too. They come in longer and shorter lengths, and loads of sizes. Jockey skimmies slip shorts. Hudson’s Bay in Canadain the US.

Barista coffee cup holder. I often make my coffee before I leave, and then when I pull up to a light, I sit back and have a sip. People point at me from cars, they are so impressed with my set-up. I’ve had many people watch me walk up to my bike at the rack, plunk my half-finished coffee in my holder and get on with leaving, make that ‘ahhhhh – now that’s a good idea’ noise. I know, right? Why rush your coffee drinking if you don’t have to? Portland Design Works Barista coffee cup holder, from MEC in Canada, from PDW in the US.

CharlestonGoldS

Bandbox bike helmet with cover(s). There are opinions about helmets, and that’s fine. I wear one. This helmet is the one thing on the list I don’t actually own yet, right now I wear this super cute one. I am in love with these helmets though. You buy the base helmet, and then can choose hat-like covers for it. Straw hats! Wool felt cloches! I am obsessed with this, and I think I want about three of them. Love. It. Bandbox helmet and covers. image credit: Bandbox

Finally, if anyone has any leads on a decent skirt guard, let me know. Enjoy your commute!

PS – Panniers that look cool. Really.

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Doing the school run by bike – not quite yet

Doing the school run by bike – not quite yet

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The thing with cycling with small children is they grow.

You think you’ve got the set-up organized, the rear seat works and everyone is happy, then suddenly they are too tall to fit.

I’m still struggling with the journey to school problem. We’re at the bottom end of a significant 12-block hill, with all routes being on roads shared with light traffic. What I would dearly love is a Yuba ElBoda Boda with my son sitting on the back hanging on. While I would love to make the switch to a cargo bike for most of our trips, that’s just not within our budget. As well as nearly impossible to find in Canada it seems.

Which brings me to our current family cycling solution. I bought an Adams Trail-a-Bike off craigslist for $100, and for longer, mostly flat trips than my son can manage on his own bike, it’s a good solution. It’s heavy, and I miss the rear seat for the lack of added weight (other than the 40-pound kindergartener of course). However when he’s pedalling as well, I can feel the propulsion. I like that he’s doing some work too, which takes the edge off his boundless energy when we arrive home and I’m knackered.

Further downside is I can’t fit a rear rack on my bike when the Trail-a-Bike is attached, and so my cargo is limited by what fits in the front basket.

So until my piggy bank is bursting, and then magically replicates a few times, I’m not sure I’ll be doing the school run by bike for a bit. Though, we have been walking up the Big Hill, and that seems to be working for now. The 25-minute journey one way, though, means I spend nearly 2 hours in transit doing the school run. Not ideal when I’m also trying to get some work done.

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My new favourite cycling dress

My new favourite cycling dress

stripe-bottom dressIt’s just what I look for: a bit stretchy, just above the knee, breathable. Just above the knee is crucial, because it allows full leg movement without getting tangled in my rear brake pads (say) but doesn’t ride up enough to give the entire bike route a view of my knickers. Yay!

And only $24 at Joe Fresh.

My other secret weapon in the cycling in dresses department is Jockeys Skimmies Slipshorts. Ignore the naff name, enjoy the comfortable, non-chafing underwear. I particularly like these as they aren’t meant as shapewear, so there is no Olympics-worthy, sweat-inducing 20 minutes getting them on. They come in many colours and the bottom edge isn’t lacey or anything, so if you do accidentally flash a passing cyclist, you just look super prepared in bike shorts. They are also quite cool to wear.

 

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