Last year we became a family of avid transportation cyclists – Mama, Papa and toddler son. We bike everywhere that we can these days. We live just a couple miles north of downtown San Antonio in Beacon Hill, which means we can visit an incredible amount of places in under 30 minutes. This is our story, and the beginning of a series of posts on tips and insights for riding as a family around our beautiful city.
The Story Begins
Once upon a time there was a father, a mother, and a toddler who lived near downtown San Antonio. They were a content family and often drove around to visit the nearby sites. But there was something amiss. Every time they had to get in the car, they faced challenges, including the most vocal one: a two year old who hated sitting in the car seat. Then one day in early summer, things changed.
At the beginning of last summer, we ran into a spell of good fortune. A family member and a great friend each give us new bicycles (this one and this one). When we did ride, which wasn’t very often, we had been riding older mountain bikes – ones that we had gotten from some big box store many years ago. They were fine, but we didn’t have a good place to store them inside, so they were rained on a lot.
Receiving new toys is always a lot of fun. That’s what the bikes felt like at first: toys. It’s shiny, it’s bright, and it’s new. These new bikes reinvigorated us and we turned our office space into bike parking. We soon learned that biking as two adults is very different than biking as two adults with a 25-pound toddler who loves to wiggle and point at birds, trucks, people, cats, dogs, rocks, flowers … you get the idea.
At first, riding with a toddler wasn’t very fun. It was hard. It was slow. But then things changed.
So what changed?
Summer swim season made all the difference. The half-mile walk to San Pedro Springs pool suddenly felt incredibly long when compared to a three-minute bike ride. Our son began to prefer riding on the bike to every other mode of transport. Riding bikes became a more exciting event than even the red wagon – which is saying a lot. So we rode our bikes to the pool on a daily basis. The pool staff got to know us by name and every day someone asked us about our child bike seat mounted on the front of my bike. It became clear that families were looking to ride bikes with their little ones, but weren’t aware of the options.
As we became confident riding together as a family around downtown we started reading about biking. We found that there are lots of great blogs out there about biking, biking to work, and biking with kids (like Bikes And The City, Lovely Bike, and The Family Ride).
What we didn’t see was a family biking blog dedicated to San Antonio’s urban core – to downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. This is where we hope to help you find your way with some tips and insight from what we’ve encountered along the way. Basically, we are testing the family biking journey for you in San Antonio, to make your ride simpler and more fun.
Riding Adventure #1: Biking in the Rain
Our latest travel adventure was riding in the rain. No, this wasn’t a chance occurrence of getting stuck in the rain. Instead it was a premeditated adventure. The weekends are the best times for us to spend time together as a family, and this particular weekend called for rain, all day, on Saturday and Sunday. Similar conditions may exist today. So we prepped ourselves and planned our route. We don’t usually map out our route so specifically, but for this trial we felt an extra step was warranted.
The first feat was convincing our toddler that the rain would be fun to ride bikes in. He doesn’t like the rain in general. It usually means we don’t get to go and play or ride our bikes and it means that what you are wearing gets wet. We explained to him where we would be going (to a restaurant and then to the mall), that we would be getting wet, and that we would be taking our bikes on a bus.
From that point on, we were all excited to go riding.
We packed an extra change of clothes for the little one, put on our rain jackets and other accompanying riding gear (reflective vests/anklets, helmets, rain boots), grabbed our panniers (bags that attach to your bike rack) and stuffed them with snacks. We were off!
It was raining when we left the house. It was invigorating to feel the droplets of rain as we rode. “Like an outdoor shower” we told our son, and he smiled and giggled. Our ride took us from around San Pedro Park to Boneshakers right next to the Hays Street Bridge (this was before the tavern’s closure). Traffic was incredibly light and we took back streets all the way. We savored the fried chicken, waffles, spinach and bacon prepared just right as we dried off and listened to live music.
After brunch, we rode to San Antonio College (SAC) to await a bus to take us to North Star Mall. We don’t tend to spend a lot of time at the mall, but on that particular rainy weekend, it seemed like the perfect indoor place to let a toddler run around. We found a newly-renovated covered bus stop on the edge of campus on San Pedro Avenue, and only had to wait a few minutes until the next bus arrived. The bus stop gave us all a chance to stretch our legs and let our little one play a bit, climbing around the bus stop and splashing in the puddles.
When the bus arrived, our toddler’s excitement was palpable. We had explained to him that he would wait on the sidewalk as we put the bikes on the front of the bus, and then we would scoop him up to help pay the bus driver. For a total of $2.70, that’s $1.20 per adult plus $0.15 each for a transfer that allows you to ride the bus for a second time within the next two hours, we were able to ride the bus from SAC all the way to North Star Mall, window shop, play at the Lego Store, and return home.
So how does the rainy story end?
Before having a toddler, our rainy days tended to focus on staying indoors, tucked in with some tea watching a movie or reading a book. But our two-year-old is not into staying in one place all day. So we got out of the house and enjoyed the day – the outdoors, exercise, local food and music, sights around town, rain and all.
Tips for Bicycle Riding in the Rain, with a Toddler
- Wear lights and reflective gear. Before we would ride in the rain, the first thing we made sure to do was to make sure we could be seen. This meant finding lights for the front and back of our bikes. We recommend bringing your bike into a local shop (like Bike World, S.A. Cycles or Blue Star Bike Shop) to test out the different lights. You can expect to spend about $45 for basic lights, depending on the quality, of course. We also found light-weight reflective vests that we wear regularly.
- Bring a small towel. We didn’t think of this until we had already left. This can come in handy to wipe off your child’s seat (and yours) if you have to park your bike in the rain. Our little one didn’t mind his seat being a bit wet on that particular day, but sometimes the slightest hint of something out of place, like a droplet of water, could be cause for concern.
- Bring snacks and perhaps some little toys. We find that having a particular snack that is only for bike riding is a nice treat. We try to always keep a few organic Cliff Bar kids in our bag. The toys for this trip were two little figurines, a turtle and a lion. Just keep in mind, anything that is in the hand, can fall out of the hand. So be ready to stop the bike to go back and pick it up.
- Take your time getting your bike on the bus. I often feel like I need to rush to place my bike on the bike rack on the front of the VIA bus. However, I’ve learned that this isn’t true. The bus isn’t going anywhere. There is bike rack on each bus that has room for two bikes, and the bus driver will wait for you to put your bike on. It’s a simple process and takes under two minutes. Just remember that if you leave anything on the bike, it might fall off as the bus wiggles its way through town.
- Be willing to stop and change direction. We change direction when we find a street with less traffic. We stop when our son sees something he enjoys watching, like construction trucks or a cat.
- Have fun.