After the Women’s Cycling Forum on Wednesday, I posted about how some of the messaging made me rantier and more cranky than usual. There have been posts from people who attended who summarize some of the positive stuff said there, most specifically this post by new mom Tanya Snyder of StreetsBlog DC.
Because she’s a new mom, she refers to the issues of biking with a baby. I’ve certainly posted my share about biking with babies, because I have two kids under age four. As ever, some people bring up rigging a carseat into a trailer and other mayhem — something that makes carseat experts wince in horror, for the record. And it got me thinking.
Seriously: The only people who want to bike with infants are the already-converted. You are not going to address the “more women on bikes!” problem by focusing on the problem of biking with infants. The only people who ponder such shenanigans are people who bike regularly already, with a healthy side dose (from the ladies) of worrying about the recovery of both the abdominal muscles and the lady bits. (Both take a beating in pregnancy.) Yes, I know ladies (and gents) in Copenhagen and Amsterdam take very young children on bikes. These fine places are constantly cited for cycling bliss. But these places also have full cultural acceptance and infrastructure. We do not. Let’s stop pretending this is apples-to-apples.
If we want to talk about reasons more women aren’t riding, we should skip over the whole infancy stage of child care. Let’s skip straight to “kid is big enough to walk, use a sippy cup, and learn naughty words from drivers screaming at the bikers.” Why?
- Babies are fragile. One of the reasons for conservative advice on when to put a kid in a helmet and trailer is because kids are born with flexible skulls. Most natural-childbirth kids have coneheads for the first week, and the skull doesn’t just go round then harden up BOOM. It actually takes a while. It also takes a while for the neck and spine to really be able to support the head. Parental instinct is to protect small humans, because small humans are pretty useless at doing anything but eating, sleeping, and pooping.
- Ladies with very young children also tend to be fragile. I don’t care what celebrity ladies in gossip magazines are able to do to regain their figures after childbirth; they have personal trainers and nannies. Real women who have just output something the size of a large melon via their ladyparts have healing to do — their ladyparts need some recovery time, and their abdominal muscles have to re-merge — they kind of separate during pregnancy. And let’s not mention if the nice lady had to have two c-sections, okay?
- Equipment and prep for going with a kid tends to cost less. After a certain point, for short rides, the kid may even be self-propelled and not on a tagalong or in a trailer.
- As kids get bigger, there are more practical, trips-under-2-miles, applications of putting caregiver woman on a bike with the kid — sport practices, to and from school, off to playdates, etc.
Given that women are known to be more risk averse in general when it comes to biking, pushing cycling with an infant (her infant!) is simply not a productive approach for a woman already hesitant to ride. It’s not a good use of energy directed at what’s a real gender divide. Tackle the ladies who have bigger kids with energy to kill. These women take the majority of car trips under 2 miles, often with kids in tow. Estimates say that 10-14% of morning traffic in many residential areas are parents getting kids to school. Get them to do even some neighborhood trips by bike, and you have a huge increase in bike activity — and tons of traffic calming. It’s a goal that can be made realistic for the audience. Biking with a baby? Probably less realistic, and lower overall impact.
Let’s reframe the discussion. Let’s look at Safe Routes to Schools educational packages as not about parents letting their kids bike solo, but trying to get the parents — who are generally moms, let’s be honest — to ride WITH the kids. Let’s recruit the children of non-biking mothers as active partners in getting ladies on bikes. The resources already exist for all this. Seize ’em. And roll.