Family Biking isn’t always a smooth ride. It’s not like those carefully curated Instagram feeds. In real life, it can be bumpier, messier, and full of tears. We had one of those days recently.
I wanted to jump back into biking now that I’m not pregnant, but I might have had delusions of grandeur about my athleticism. I chose our most ambitious bike ride so far, mostly on roads with painted bike lanes, but a bit heavier traffic than we are used to. It was a longer distance and it had a hill. The hill surprised me, and because I drive this route often I never even noticed it had one. But pedaling four children I discovered there is indeed a hill!
As we tackled this hill on the bike, I was huffing and puffing. Then suddenly I wasn’t going anywhere. My bike chain fell off! I had to get off, walk the bike, and pull over into a cul-de-sac. This is embarrassing, because I know nothing about bike maintenance (it’s on my to-learn list this year), and now I am confronted with a dangling chain, and my five children staring at me to see what I’m going to do about it. Like any damsel in distress, I called my husband.
Hubby: “Well, you have to put the chain back on.”
Me: “Okay, I guessed that, but it’s stuck.”
Hubby: “Well, you have to get it un-stuck.”
So much for my knight in shining armor! I took it as a vote of confidence in my complete non-mechanical abilities. Hubby wasn’t racing to my rescue. He seemed to think this was a problem I could fix. Mumbling that chivalry is clearly dead, I began stomping, wriggling and tugging, until I get the stuck part of the chain free and put back on the gear. This left me feeling as proud as any five year old princess who just tied her shoes for the first time: I fixed it! I did a little test ride around the cul-de-sac, and we are good to go. But I had a hunch we’d outrun our luck, so I turned us around and head for home.
As we were riding back, my eight-year-old boy, on his own bike, called for me to wait up and that he needs a rest. Considering how slow I ride, I found this a bit odd, but am happy to pull off onto a neighborhood street to take a break. When I did, I noticed my son’s back tire was totally flat. Now what are we going to do? I had a replacement tube for my tires, but not for his. I didn’t see a way to tow his bike. I could have left it behind with an obliging neighbor to pick up later, and added him as a passenger on my rear bike rack, but that would have been more weight to what I was already struggling to pull. Mulling it over, I checked on my kids in the trailer and find my daughter near tears, complaining of a stomach ache. She was motion-sick! I hadn’t considered that she could get “car sick” from riding in a bike trailer! That did it. At the end of our wits, I called hubby again, this time to ask if he’d come rescue our son and his flat-tired bike, along with our nauseous bike-sick daughter.
At that very moment, to crown our broken-down ride in the fullness of defeat, and in spite of a clear weather report, it started to rain. And my four year old needed to use the bathroom.
A short while later, my husband pulled up in the van, and loaded the flat-tired bicycle into the trunk then collected the kids, who have all decided to take the sure ride home with dad. After two mechanical problems and an unexpected shower, they were done. And I was too.
I finished the ride home, with just baby still in the cargo box. After feeling victorious for fixing my chain, feelings of defeat set in for having to call my husband. It sure hadn’t been the happy bike ride I had been hoping for. And it definitely underlined some glaring weaknesses that I had been planning to remedy… but hadn’t gotten to yet: Pack a tire pump and spare tire tubes – for all bikes and the trailer in our convoy – and maybe even a small bike repair kit; and learn how to change bike tires and do basic bicycle maintenance.
As for that second point, I was excited to learn WashCo Bikes has free beginner maintenance classes every month. I can even take my son, as they welcome participants ages 8 and up (I love that!). However, I think I am going to send my boy with his Dad, so that I can attend the Women-Only class…because I am terrified of maintenance, and definitely need an extra-supportive woman-encouraging environment.
Keep your eyes peeled for bike maintenance classes in your neck of the woods (PBOT has a list here), because you can’t always get to a shop and it just might help you avoid a major breakdown.
Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org