Riding is Life


How to be a parent and still (hopefully) ride your bike

Since manifesting more hours in a day isn’t an option, we’ve got some other ideas that you might find helpful.

Without question, becoming a parent has been the best thing I’ve ever done as a human being. I can think of nothing else that’s brought such joy, accomplishment, and sense of purpose to my life. It’s also true that nothing’s been harder, but more than ten years in, I’m amazed at how it somehow still manages to get better with every passing day. Best damn seat in the house, bar none. 

But as a cyclist? Yeah, having a kid maybe hasn’t been so great. 

I remember calculating soon after my daughter was born that I instantly lost upwards of fifty hours of free time per week. Leisurely weekend group rides with late-morning roll-outs followed by carefree drinks and dinners? Evenings spent tinkering in the garage after work just because? The luxury of passing on a chance to ride just because the weather wasn’t perfect? 

Uh-huh, right. As much as I absolutely would never trade my current life for my past one, those days are over. 

Yet for parents who are also cyclists, that burning need to get out on two wheels never goes away; it just continues to simmer inside, steadily building up steam until it has nowhere to go but out of your ears. And what if your partner also rides, like mine does? The competition is no longer a playful one for checkered flags or county lines, but rather a more serious one for time. 

It’s been quite the journey navigating both of those things, and looking back, there have certainly been a lot of mistakes made, as well as a lot of lessons learned. And while I was one of the earlier ones in the Escape Collective family to start a family of my own, it’s been fun to watch as much of the rest of our staff have since embarked on similar adventures. 

Hey parents, you know that annoying thing how other people always seem to want to offer unsolicited advice on how to be a parent? Well, consider yourselves forewarned that what follows is going to be sort of like that – only hopefully far more useful, and without the visceral desire to slap someone. 

Without further ado, if you’re struggling to figure out how the hell you can be a parent and still ride your bike, here are a few things we’ve all learned along the way. 

Get creative with your routes, and think more one-way instead of round-trip. We’ve squeezed out a bunch of extra rides over the years by having one person ride to a destination while the other one drove with the kiddo. We’d then spend time as a family, and then swap for the way home. It usually only ate up a few extra minutes per side (and only for one person), and introduced us to some new routes we otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with, too. Also think about waking up earlier. The early bird gets the worm, right? At least in summer months when the days are longer, I’ll regularly be out the door right as the sun is coming up, and can still be back home in time to get the kiddo ready for the day. – James

Both while pregnant and while adjusting to a newborn I found riding the trainer to be my only escape. The only time I felt like my old self again. After my daughter was born gaining fitness was the least of my worries but it definitely felt good to get my body moving in a familiar pattern. It wouldn’t have been possible without a trainer setup and a virtual world to ride in. Something like Zwift offers training plans (one specifically for pregnancy and postpartum written by ex-professional women who have had babies) and goals like discovering new roads. Both of these tools help encourage you to get on the bike even when you’re sleep-deprived and can’t tell up from down. – Abby

Consider getting a cargo bike or trailer so you can start incorporating riding time with family time. Because do you know what’s better than riding on weekends? Riding the other five days of the week, too. Sure, those rides may be different, but it’s still time in the saddle that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and I promise that when you’re running late for pick-up time at day care (and they charge late fees by the minute), towing that trailer behind you – even when it’s empty – will be one of the best intervals you’ve ever done. And the cargo bike? Best bike I’ve ever bought, without question. No more fighting with car seats or struggling to find parking, and lots more giggling and experiencing the world with your kid. It’s 8,000 miles I wouldn’t have gotten in otherwise, and it’s not at all unusual for me to rack up 20 miles in a day just from shuttling the kiddo around and running errands around town. – James

If I’ve only got time for a short ride (most of my rides these days) I quite enjoy some Wandrer-led exploration. I’ll head out to an area I haven’t ridden yet, explore some new roads, and get some Wandrer points for my troubles. Gamifying riding in this way isn’t for everyone, but it’s helped me feel like I’m achieving something on the bike, even if I’m not riding for as long or as hard as I’d like. – Matt

When it comes to just maintaining or building fitness, there’s nothing more time-efficient than riding the trainer. Try to put together a dedicated indoor setup so you’re not wasting time getting a bike mounted or removed, and if you’re going to ride in the morning, get all of your gear ready the night before so you can just hop on and pedal furiously to nowhere. It may not be as enjoyable as riding outside, but it gets the job done, and it’ll make the time when you do manage to get outdoors for real a lot less of a bummer due to lost fitness. – James  

Accept riding less. Reset expectations. I know this is a bummer, and not the top tip anybody wants to hear, but stressing about riding less only snowballs, because it’s an unfixable problem with little kids. Why stress about the unchangeable? Why extend that stress to your partner and new kid? You have less free time, accept it.

If you’re the type that likes to train for personal performance goals, and enjoys that process, make the challenge instead about finding a maximum level of fitness given time constraints. How fast can you go on four, five, or six hours per week? You’d be shocked at how efficient you can be, but accepting the limited time needs to come first or else you’ll spend all those hours wishing you had more of them. The peak watts might drop but the optimization process remains. – Caley

Ride with your kid! As much as many of us would love to have every ride be an epic, that’s just not realistic, especially if you’ve got a young family to tend to. Bikes are fun, and if you’re careful to keep them that way for your little one, it’s easy to turn a 1-2 hour recovery ride for you in the park into a 1-2 hour adventure for your child. Plan for lots of stops, bring lots of snacks, and save the pressure for when they’re 16 and land that pro contract with Jumbo-Visma. And if you’re worried about hills, do yourself a favor and buy a Tow-Whee. It’s a life saver. – James

Tow-Whee tow straps being used in the woods

Communication is key when trying to divvy out time for outdoor rides. Chat with your partner, and find a time that works for both of you. Maybe it’s 5 AM but hey, it’s better than nothing. Stress the importance of having some free time, a happy wife is a happy life. – Abby

First and foremost, you need to adjust your goals, ambitions and expectations. If you want to hold onto a high level during this time, you’re going to sacrifice so much to make that happen. Looking back now, the years between 0-5 are so incredibly special and go by so quickly; savour it with every ounce of energy you have. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that cycling and fitness comes and goes through life. Once you accept that, it’s easier to let go of. – Wade

Try running. It’s so efficient. You just throw your shoes on and go. And then you’ll run and run and somewhere around day four, you’ll remember you don’t like running, your knees hurt, a side stitch won’t go away, and it’ll make you appreciate your limited ride time even more. – Caley

Embrace the night. I used to be all about riding in daylight hours but there just never seem to be enough of them most days for me to squeeze work, parent things, house things, and bike riding in. During COVID lockdowns I discovered the joy of aimless rambles at night after the kids went to bed – when the summer air is cooler, the roads are quiet, and the glow of bike lights make familiar streets feel wholly new. These rides come closer to meditation than exercise, and give me a new appreciation for both bike and environment. – Iain

Encourage your little one to love riding so when they get bigger they want to go with you! My 16-month-old has a Scoot & Ride – the perfect bike intro, in my opinion. It’s stable for little ones who aren’t quite stable on their feet yet and it’s adjustable as they grow. She is absolutely loving it, to the point where every morning she wakes up and makes a bee-line for it. We will see how it goes, but hopefully, it’s a gateway to a tiny mountain bike in the future. –Abby

Echoing James, get a cargo bike. Get one with a cover for your kid, put studded tires on it in the winter, use it all year. I have to get my kid to childcare anyway, I might as well get a 30-minute spin in. – Caley

Gravel riding or MTBing is a good thing to embrace, because they don’t depend as much on the road safety considerations of road riding. It’s a good option if you have a spare hour at 1pm on a Saturday while your child is napping and you can get out to ride. As said above, indoor training can work even better if you’re also on childcare duty and your partner wants to go out. – Wade

Practically speaking, what worked well for me was integrating my riding into my work commute. That gave me two hours a day, and it was as much about clearing my head as it was about physical exercise. – Wade

Another +1 for the cargo bike. We bought an e-cargo trike when my eldest daughter was aged two, and have used it for everything from shopping to school drop-offs to aimless rambles over the five years since. Since she started school it has been a genuine time-saver of about 10 minutes each morning, gliding with a smile past the long queue of cars waiting to drop kids off. It’s not a long ride but it’s an important reset for me at each end of the work day – and it’s a transport mode that both of my daughters are really into, regardless of the weather. – Iain

There is no doubt that my riding changed when having kids (I have two daughters, aged 8 and 10), but while I expected deep down to resent the change in my riding habits it’s been quite the opposite. A wise EC member with older kids told me years ago that the spare time will come back, and to instead focus on enjoying this time with the kids. When it comes to heading out on longer rides I generally like to stick to the adage of “not taking the Mickey” with my family. That means heading out (and getting home!) earlier, riding out to a location the rest of the family is driving to, and being present post-ride when really all that I feel like doing is crashing on the sofa. I would happily trade some solo time on the bike for heading out for a ride with the kids any day of the week, and I’m fortunate enough that both my daughters love cycling, so that opportunity presents itself all the time. As a final tip – I wish I knew about Shotgun-style saddles for the MTB years earlier. Seeing the world through her eyes during the short year that my youngest still fit on one was easily the most enjoyable cycling I’ve ever done. – Andy

Schedule specific times with your partner in advance to give yourselves time to keep doing the things you love. It’s a difficult time, but I feel like it’s important to be able to keep your own passions alive, and step away once in a while so you can be present while you’re at home. Disclaimer – it will go pear-shaped often. – Wade

100% what Wade said above. When both my wife and I were going through some post-natal depression stuff in the wake of becoming parents for the first time, a maternal health nurse suggested we get more rigorous about scheduling time for ourselves and time together – in our case one night off a week each, as well as one morning on the weekend. That communication and negotiation saved a whole lot of resentment in both directions when my wife would take time for her own activities or I’d go out for bike rides, because there was equality rather than one person being stuck home with the kid the whole time, and we were both better parents as a result. Guilt-free riding is the best kind of riding. – Iain

In general, I put a great importance on being a fit father. I want to be able to play my kid, interact with him and keep up with him, for as long as I can. That doesn’t mean that I need to keep a 400W FTP, but I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines looking at my phone while my son is playing at the park, riding his bike, or playing basketball. I’m a believer that it’s the little things your child sees that will rub off. A lifestyle of being fit is a good one to lead by example with. – Wade

Got any experiences (or mistakes) of your own you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.

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