Now that the heat and humidity have departed and the colors are starting to change, it’s a great time get out for some family biking in the neighborhood — and beyond. In this column I’ll make a few recommendations for fun fall family rides, but before hopping on your bikes, here are a few things to help you stay safe and be prepared.
Everyone in the family should wear a helmet regardless of the route or distance. This means Mom and Dad, too. Even a low-speed accident without a helmet can be deadly. Tracy Farr at Now Bike & Fitness in St. Paul recently told me that during peak biking season roughly two customers a month come into his shop with badly cracked helmets and tell him the helmets saved their lives.
Kids in bike trailers and attached seats should have helmets, too, while infants under 1 year old should not travel on a bike or in a bike trailer.
Consider the temperature shifts that can occur over the course of a fall day. Mornings can be 40 degrees or below with afternoons over 70, so layering is important. Be sure to check the weather forecast and note the wind speed and direction. It’s best with kids to come home with the wind at your back.
Bright clothing and reflectors will make you more visible. I wouldn’t recommend family biking at dawn or dusk but if you do, make sure you have flashing taillights and white headlights. Bring a backpack to hold jackets, gloves and other items when you get warm.
Plan your route
It’s one thing to get lost or find yourself on a busy road when you’re out by yourself. It’s another matter altogether with kids. Look at route maps (the city has some decent ones online) and plan a shorter route than you think you can handle for your first family outing.
Kids under 10 should stay on trails, wide bike paths or quieter residential streets. If you’ll be on the road at all, remember to ride with and not against traffic.
Check your equipment
Before pedaling off, make sure tires are adequately inflated (look for the pressure range on the sidewall), brakes are functioning properly and the chain isn’t skipping. If any of your bikes have “quick release” wheel skewers, make sure they’re snugly closed. Take a short test ride, check the shifting, and look and listen for anything amiss.
Finally, make sure you have a backup plan in the event someone in the family can’t ride any further, and be sure to carry something to drink and eat!
With that, you should be ready to ride. Here are a few of my favorite family-friendly routes. There are many, many more, so ask staff at your local bike shop or other cyclists for recommendations.
• Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun: Cruise the trail around one (3 miles) or both lakes (7 miles). Pop into Linden Hills for ice cream, catch a concert at the band shell or take the kids on a trolley ride.
• Midtown Greenway (east): Pick it up north of Lake Calhoun and head east through Uptown. Stop at the Midtown Bike Center (between Chicago and 10th avenues) for coffee and a tune-up (3 miles). Lock your bike and walk up the stairs to the Midtown Global Market for lunch, or keep going east and cross over the marvelous new Martin Olav Sabo Bridge (another 1.5 miles).
• Midtown Greenway (west): Head west on the Greenway from Lake Calhoun (it becomes the “Southwest LRT”) for a quick trip into Hopkins (5 miles). Stop at the Depot coffee shop, or carefully cross Excelsior Boulevard (at 5th or 11th avenues) and head to Main Street for lunch.
• Mississippi River Road (east or west, they’re both great): Don’t forget to stop at the scenic overlooks. This is a great fall color ride (3.5 miles from Ford Parkway to Franklin Avenue).
• Minnehaha Parkway: Cruise the winding trails east to Minnehaha Falls Park (5.5 miles from Lake Harriet). Grab a tasty seafood treat to refuel before heading back, or if you’re feeling ambitious, head south to historic Fort Snelling (another 2.5 miles).
• Stone Arch Bridge: Ride over the bridge into St. Anthony Main (1 mile). Head west/northwest on Main Street to Boom Island Park (another half mile). Circle back for a stop at the Mill City Museum or watch a boat pass through the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam.