IN WHICH maybe four people in the world go ohhhhhh! once or twice, and the rest of you close the browser after two paragraphs.
MY SEVEN-YEAR-OLDS and I ride our bikes to school and the greenmarket. We’re not political about getting around on two wheels; we just like it. No matter how much we’re pissing each other off when we leave home, it’s smiles and hugs when we get where we’re going: It’s hard to stay pissy riding bikes with your kids (or your dad).
- Stay right.
- No racing.
- Watch out for the people, and go waaaaay around them.
- Look where you’re going, not down.
Come to think of it, #3 might work better as “No buzzing.” I’ll try it out this week.
There are also two locations where I stop them and say, “What are the rules?” That means the rules for those specific locations.
- THE BUS STOP is forty feet from the subway entrance, on Broadway, and we’re usually through there at rush hour. People streaming from the crosswalk, from arriving buses, and toward the subway. (We live in a neighborhood that people leave in the morning.) The rule is: Go slow and watch out for the people.
- ELWOOD STREET is a descent along a row of apartment buildings. The rule is: Stay left (this keeps children on bikes away from people exiting blind doorways) and stop at the end of the buildings, NOT at the end of the sidewalk. This is because if someone steps out from behind the building, they could get hit. On the second block of the descent, the rule becomes “Stop at the end of the red metal,” which is a railing against some vegetable bins.
Now that they’re better and safer riders than last year, I’ve started riding in the street while they’re on the sidewalk. Which allows the additional fun of little boys cackling and blowing past Daddy at T-intersections when he gets stuck at red lights.
THEY’RE AWESOME LITTLE bike guys, and they use bike club chatter correctly (“Bike up!” “Car back!” “Hold your line!” “Clear!”) and know lots of rules for responsible cycling in the city—
And for that reason, I find myself yelling too much, because all it takes is giving 30 seconds of my attention to the slowpoke, and the zippy one will be a couple of hundred yards ahead, doing something he’s not supposed to do. Like, on the greenway, he’ll be over on the left. I have no love of rules for their own sake, but if you’re a seven-year-old going the wrong way where giants are known to whiz around corners, you need your little butt moved to the right. Like, now. So there’s lots of STAY RIGHT! STAY RIGHT! THAT’S NOT THE RIGHT! STAY RIGHT! YOU’RE NOT STAYING RIGHT! GET OVER TO THE RIGHT! Which not only sounds like anger just because it’s YELLING, but starts feeling that way, too.
And then if he’s so far ahead he can’t hear me (or is ignoring me, not an unreasonable response to somebody who yells at you all the time), I have to leave the other one and go sprinting up there to correct his position.
And then I don’t know what’s going on behind me with the slowpoke.
I STILL HAVEN’T solved that particular problem—but when I learned that one of the boys’ teachers was making little books of rules with him, to help with his focusing, I asked whether they could start one about being a responsible cyclist, and I could review and adjust it to fit how we do things.
They did a great job with it together.
Today he and I sat down in the dining room and added to it.
I didn’t coach him on the lane-marking diagrams, except to remind him what the sharrows on Dyckman Street look like. He doesn’t like sharrows, though, so he declined to include them.
None of us like sharrows.
CROSSING THE STREET
STRICTLY SPEAKING, THIS caption isn’t true.
It’s Daddy’s job to check for cars. It’s a kid’s job to listen for what formation we’re going to cross in, get his bike positioned, and walk when it when Daddy says WALK ’EM. That all sounds like this:
“SCHOOLBUS! CHILD B IN FRONT!…AND…WALK ’EM!”
These formations are my main reason for this post.
Crossing a busy street with two kids and three bikes, the potential for a very fast cascade of errors is frightening. You can’t hold their hands, you can’t let go of your bike, the WALK signal is blinking and the livery cabs are creeping. You can’t stop in the crosswalk, and you can’t patiently explain anything.
Our basic crosswalk formation is SCHOOLBUS:
We get more or less in formation while we’re waiting for the green, and no part of a bike is allowed in the street until I say WALK ’EM. If I have to skip a red/green cycle because somebody’s being sloppy with his front tire in the gutter, I do. We don’t go until it’s right.
When I say WALK ’EM, front boy keeps his front wheel lined up with Daddy’s. Back boy stays close behind him, not allowed to bonk tires.
Those are the only rules. It has to stay simple and unambiguous; we’re in a New York City crosswalk with the seconds ticking down.
Commands like “SPEED UP!” or “SLOW DOWN!” or “YOU THERE, THE ONE WITH THE HAT!” would be confusing—which boy am I talking to? To what degree are they supposed to execute the concept? Does a helmet count as a hat? Without exception, the wrong child will hear and follow the order—and now I’ve got two problems, and both boys are confused. So unless there’s an emergency, the only thing I need to say in the crosswalk is this:
I have to say it a lot, because little monkeys have forgotten, but everybody knows what to do.
AN EXPLANATION HAS just been demanded for why there’s no trailer attached to the parent’s bike in that diagram.
If you would like, you may add a trailer.
THE OTHER TWO formations are used less often.
- LINE FORMATION is all three front wheels aligned, and is really just for not making anybody take up the rear.
- SINGLE FILE is for when the available space is too narrow for walking abreast—most recently when we had downed trees from storm winds.
THE DAD I had in my head, before I became a father, might have worked out if it hadn’t been twins. He listened more than he talked, he was available and patient, he probably dressed well. I’m not him. I bark orders and wear five-year-old clothing that sort of fits.
But as long as that’s what it is, these barked orders work pretty well.