Max Poletto with daughter for a spin in the country Photo: Max Poletto
Destination Photo by Max Poletto
Rider Ready Photo by Max Poletto
BIKE NOPA and Bikes And The City spin out a new collaborative series this week, Dads On Wheels. Every Tuesday we will feature San Francisco dads who bike with their kids for transportation and fun.
I first met Max Poletto and his wife, Kara O'Keefe, at a neighborhood mixer sponsored by the SF Bicycle Coalition last year. They readily agreed to help with NOPA's first BIKE THE BLOCK party: Max at the repair stand and Kara at the bike decorating station. They've both found the North Panhandle an ideal neighborhood to be car-free bicyclists. Their 3 1/2 year old daughter has been riding with them all her life.
When did you start biking with your daughter and what led you to it?
She started riding in a trailer when she was a couple months old, nestled into a car seat that was suspended in the trailer with a system of bungee cords, like those engineering egg-drop challenges you do in college. She also did a fair bit of riding when she was inside her Mom, including the final pre-birth trip to the hospital (on a recumbent tandem).
We ride because it is fun, practical, healthy for us and the environment, and economical.
How often do you ride with your daughter?
Several times a week: to music class, to pre-school, to local attractions like the Randall Museum, Academy of Sciences, and the Exploratorium, and also just for fun. We have gone bike-camping a few times too on Mt. Diablo (BART to Pleasant Hill, then bike up the mountain), in the East Bay hills, and on the Marin Headlands. Mt. Tam or Point Reyes is next.
How did you get your daughter started biking?
She started on a Skuut when she was about two. I inverted the top part of the frame (concave side up) so it would fit her better. Now the convex side is up and she is about to outgrow it. I'm in the market for a bicycle with 16" wheels that has a decently light frame, functional hand brakes, and no pictures of Barbie.
What's the best thing about biking with her?
Sharing something I love, and being outside with her. Also, when we are climbing a steep hill and she leans forward from her bike seat, pushes on my butt, and says, "Go, Daddy, go!"
What do you say to relatives or friends who think the streets of San Francisco are too risky for kids on bikes?
It doesn't come up too much. Mostly people are surprised that we don't own a car, but the big issue is convenience more than safety.
What makes a route or street OK for taking your daughter out biking?
Low traffic and low speed limits make for the best roads. Bike lanes are good too, but a bike lane on a busy road is more stressful than a quiet road with sharrows. In my opinion, Grove Street and Page Street are both great examples of child/bicycle-friendly urban streets. And wide sidewalks are great for small children to ride their own bike. That said, there are relatively few streets in San Francisco that I categorically avoid with my daughter on my bike: Van Ness, Division, Fell and Oak, and most of Masonic, a few other obvious ones.
Is it even harder getting a kid ready for trips if you're traveling by bike?
Not really. Getting out of the house is the most difficult part. The overhead of actually putting my daughter into the seat on the back of my bike is comparable to that of strapping her into a car. It helps to have a system (handlebar bag and panniers) for carrying cargo on the front. After awhile, it becomes second nature.
How often do you bike on your own?
Daily. 60 to 90 miles for my weekly commute (depending on how much I use transit and my employer's shuttle), and an average of 100-150 miles on Saturday or Sunday, often leaving early in the morning so I can spend the afternoon at home. I especially enjoy timed long-distance unsupported cycling. The French call this randonneuring. You can find out about our local club here or read some ride reports on my web site.
Any advice for other dads thinking about biking on their own or with their kids?
If you're just starting, think of cycling as practical and efficient transportation, not sport. If you like it, it will gradually become sport. Ride in normal everyday clothes, unless you really want to exercise. Carry a snack for when you get hungry. If you're buying a new bike, get one that can fit reasonably wide (28-32mm) tires and fenders, and avoid fancy pedals. Don't let salespeople talk you into a Lance-like bike as your first bike.
As for kids, take them out for rides frequently and accept that all they might want is a one-mile loop in Golden Gate Park. I have trouble with that one myself, but I'm learning to go at her pace.
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"Cycling makes me happy. It is a means of transportation, a sport, and a way to see the world. It gives me a way to meditate, to relieve stress, and to appreciate nature. It is a simple and elegant thing in a world that sometimes seems too complex." Max Poletto, from his website.
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Dads, moms, kids: go the distance with your bikes on car-free Sunday Streets this summer. Next up: Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway, August 22; and the Western Addition, Sept. 19, with 11 blocks open through NOPA. More info on Sunday Streets here.
Dads don't have all the fun. Check BIKE NOPA's Women Who Bike series. And more women on wheels at Bikes And The City. And check this family who rides together on Streetsblog.
To see other stories in the Dads on Wheels series, check here.