(Photo of Fern Zedel by Len Zedel)
One of the most common concerns we hear about cycling in St. John’s is that it’s too dangerous. Zedel proves that with a little planning, some common sense, and a couple helmets, commuting by bike in St. John’s is very possible.
So, you use a bike trailer to cart your kids around?
That’s right. I have two kids and my Chariot Cougar trailer takes two kids! In terms of weight though I’m getting to the point where technically we can’t put them in the trailer anymore. The kids are four and six and the trailer only safely carries just over a hundred pounds. But we’ve had it for six years now, it’s been going strong for six years. We’ve put a lot of miles on that thing.
How do your kids like it?
They love it! They own it! [laughs] They prefer it to the car. It’s their limo.
Do you take them to preschool in it every day?
The only thing that stops me is snow, and that’s just because the snow piles up and makes the roads too narrow. But yeah, I take the kids to preschool (or school now), drop them and the trailer off there and then continue in to work (at MUN) on my bicycle. That’s a normal day for us. Sometimes I’ll be able to go pick them and the trailer up again, sometimes my wife has to take the car to go get them. But it avoids at least one commute with a car.
My season usually goes from March to November. In the fall, I’m riding in the dark, so I put flashing lights on the trailer and on my bike. And I always, no matter what, have the kids wear a helmet. And of course, I don’t go too fast or anything like that. Just common sense.
And you feel safe taking them on the city streets?
We live in the West End, so we’re cutting through there. I’m very cautious about where I ride with them. I’ve been riding bikes in cities for about 30 years or so, so I’m generally cautious and aware of the common problems. When I have the kids, I’m doubly so.
But here, most of the traffic is very accommodating. St. John’s is both good and bad for cycling; good for its size and bad for its hills. Some of the city’s geometry is awkward, some of the streets are not planned for bikes. So we take a carefully planned route consisting mostly of residential streets parallel to LeMarchant, which would be the more direct street. I adjust the bike route to accommodate the street. It’s not necessarily the busyness of the street that you need to weary of when pulling a kid trailer, but the available space in the street.
Do you find you can get most places you need to go by mapping out alternative routes?
There are almost always alternative routes and you just have to bite the bullet and take your time and plan your route.
What are some the biggest misconceptions about biking with a kid trailer in St. John’s that you encounter?
The perception that a trailer is a toy or a recreational device. You know, on a sunny day, how nice, let’s take the kids out, but on a rainy day, no way. But no, it’s a mode of transportation, and a very underused one at that.
Most people don’t realize that it’s a viable option, it’s cheap, and it’s great exercise for free. We never have to look for parking, so events like the Regatta are fantastic.
But yes, it’s not a toy, it’s a tool, and it should be used more.
Any advice for people looking into it?
I don’t know. I really like the trailer. You could do a behind-the-seat system, but I don’t think that’s quite as safe. The trailer is not as wide as you might think, because it’s being pulled a bike, which needs width for the handlebars.
When the kids are really young, you can just pile junk into it! [laughs] When you go shopping, you can carry big sacks of flour. You name it!
Also, don’t get a cruddy trailer. Again, it’s not a toy. You need it to work and be safe. Ours has been working perfectly for six years.
The kids will fall asleep in the trailer too. So I’ll get lots of exercise pulling them, but they won’t get any. So when you get to where you’re going, you’re tired, but they’re just up and ready to go. So you don’t want to go very long distances.