I sat down with Sarah Tschida and her daughter, Willa, to talk about her role on the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition’s board, her experience of biking as a parent, and how we can support new parents and encourage them to bike with their kids.
Biking in Mpls: Tell me a little about how you got into biking.
Sarah: I have worked at the University of Minnesota now for over 11 years. At the time we were living in Prospect Park and I had a coworker who would bike into work all the time. He would bring his bike into our office. He would always say, “Sarah, you should give biking a try.” Every day my excuse was, “Well, I don’t have a way to carry my stuff,” or, “I’ll show up too sweaty,” or, “My bike isn’t tuned up and I don’t have the right gear.”
One day I finally decided, “I’m going to give this biking thing a try.” I had biked around for fun but had never bike commuted. I gave it a try and it only took me about fifteen minutes. I remember going into my coworker’s office and saying, “I did it! I biked to work!” He was super happy, I was super happy. From then on out I was hooked on being a bike commuter. It’s been a huge part of my life for the last eight or nine years.
How did you end up serving on the board of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition?
A few years ago I was looking for ways to get more involved in our community. I was excited about all the cool things happening in Minneapolis with small businesses, the breweries, new parks, and infrastructure. I happened to see a post come across for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition seeking board members. I had no experience in the bike world or active transportation besides the fact that I did it myself. I went for it and I feel like they took a huge chance on me.
When I first joined the board about two years ago, I thought it would be about how we just need more bike lanes and that would be the extent of the work. It’s been so inspiring. The people that I work with on the board have been super inspiring. It’s made me think about our community and how we can each contribute to making it strong. Making sure our spaces are safe for people biking and walking contributes to people being out, getting out of their cars, getting out of their houses, and meeting people. It’s a way to reclaim the city from a more car-centric design.
How did you end up deciding to bike with your kiddo? Was it a natural progression?
Yes, I would say it was a natural progression for the most part. I biked a lot while I was pregnant. I’ve always had this attitude, ‘I can do it, I can do whatever!’ I felt that when I was pregnant. There’s so much fear that comes from articles, from physicians, even midwives. Luckily I had some strong women in my network who were moms and who were good role models. They told me to carry on my daily life and, yes pay attention, but still keep up with it. I took that mentality for biking and continued to bike throughout most of the pregnancy. At the end it was a lot easier to bike than it was to walk. I was just so huge and so uncomfortable. I was having lower back pain and being on a bike helped quite a bit.
I figured we’re going to be the kind of family that biked around. Willa’s going to grow up on a bike and whatnot. I had these visions that I’d be on maternity leave for four months and Willa and I would to bike around and it’s would be grand. Then I started to read more about biking with kids, and there’s a ton of fear around that too, especially with babies. The American Medical Association recommends that you wait until your kid is at least a year until biking with them. That was a really tough realization right around the time that she was born. I was going to bike on my maternity leave with her! But then I was told that I couldn’t do that.
One of the things I kept reading about was about how when your baby doesn’t have neck control, being on a bike and going over bumps can be damaging to their little bodies. That got me thinking about about how I was walking around the neighborhood with her in a stroller and she’s bouncing around quite a bit and I’m driving her in a car and she’s bouncing around there too. Why is there this notion that it’s okay to walk around with your baby in a stroller but not put them on a bike?
I didn’t bike with her right away. When she was about six months we put her in the Burley and took her out. She had her carseat bungeed in there and was all bundled up because it was December. We biked and it was great. It was really tough in the beginning coming to the realization that I was going to put off biking for at least a little bit. That was the right choice for me at the time.
Now, it’s great. She enjoys it almost all the time. I want her to be able to get around safely herself when she’s old enough to ride a bike. I want to be able to get around with her now. I want her to be able to bike and walk to school safety. That’s propelled me with the Bike Coalition work and working here in this neighborhood with the Kingfield Neighborhood Association to advocate that we can do better. We can take some easy measures to make traffic calmer, to make it easier for people to get around with kids.
Have you talked to other parents about biking with kids? Do you know what the main barriers are for them?
I think there’s a lot of fear and gear can be a barrier because it’s expensive. Like everything with a kid, they grow out of stuff. It can be a big investment. One of the things I would love to see is a network where you can swap and test gear. Out in Seattle there’s a family bike organization that holds a gear fair where families can bring their gear so you can try out different gear and talk to about what it’s like to bike with that gear.
The amount of logistics you have dealing with a kid, it’s incredible how long it takes us to get out of this house any time we need to go anywhere: did you grab the diaper, did you grab the bottle, did you grab an extra set of clothes? That’s already so intimidating in general, so to add the bike helmet, and sunscreen, and a blanket, it can be overwhelming.
What I’ve found is that biking might take me ten or fifteen minutes longer to get there, but it’s going to be much more enjoyable for the two of us if we go by bike. That extra fifteen minutes helps me get some exercise in. I don’t have time to work out all that much, so that’s where biking for me is like killing two birds with one stone. I can bike to work and get my workout. I can bike to daycare and pick her up while getting a little exercise in and getting her some fresh air.
If you look at the big picture, going by bike is very beneficial.
What do you think would help new parents decide to bike with their kid?
Seeing more people do it and celebrating biking with kids. I haven’t been the direct recipient of parent shaming, [when people say] “Oh I can’t believe you’re putting your kid on a bike, it’s so unsafe.” But I know that’s out there. The more of us that can own it, like, “Yes we bike and we’re biking with our kids and we’re going to be okay.”
Having a place to connect with other people. This past summer I wanted to go to ArtCrank in Northeast. Nick was out of town. What I really wanted was to meet up with someone in my neighborhood and bike over together. I tried to look online to see if there was any way to connect with other parents who might be biking. It got me thinking, we have so many niche bike groups in the cities but as far as I know, I don’t know any specific group that’s for moms biking. I don’t know that there’s anything for parents biking in general. Being able to easily connect with people to meet up for rides as well as to talk about gear and getting tips could really help with some of the barriers.
I feel like everyone I’ve talked to who bikes with kids has a big community of people who do it.
I think it’s really necessary. Becoming a parent can be isolating in some ways especially if there aren’t a lot of kids in your friend group. I think biking is a great way to find a community. It’s important to support one another and to not feel like you’re the only one out there being a crazy biker with kids.
What’s your favorite thing about biking?
There are so many things that are my favorite thing. I think it comes down to the connection. The connection that I feel to getting exercise and getting fresh air. The connection that I feel to having a quiet moment to think. I feel like that’s where I come up with some of my big ideas. It helps me to reflect on things that happen at home or at work or life in general. My bike time is my thinking time. That connection to my body, that connection to my thoughts. The connection to the community and talking to people and interacting with people I would have never interacted with had I been in a car.
I think about all the time I was biking when I was pregnant. I distinctly remember this guy yelling out, “You go, mama!” And I was like, “Yeah!” We would’ve never had that interaction. It made me smile and I think it made him smile too. When the Blaisdell protected bikeway was finally finished, Willa and I were biking on there. The pure joy that was probably on her face was so apparent to people that were walking around. There was this guy walking his dog he said something to the effect of, “I bet you feel so great biking on this street now!” And I was like, “Yes I do!” That human interaction that you don’t always get. It’s so easy to walk around and put your head down and not interact with people. You notice things more [on a bike]. You miss so much by not getting out of your car.
Sarah Tschida is a cyclist, parent, and board member of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner and daughter.