Wheeling through winter with a family in tow

It’s not impossible to ride bikes for transportation in the winter, even with 3 kids 10 and under. Meet the south Minneapolis family that proves it!

The Nafziger kids — Linus, 10, Freya, 8, and Arne, 2 — pile onto their family's bike trailer while dad, Adam, pedals and mom, Nicole, hitches a ride. It's just another everyday bike trip for this south Minneapolis family. Photo courtesy of Adam and Nicole Nafziger.

Nicole and Adam Nafziger thought they didn’t like biking.

The mountain bikes Nicole, 41, and Adam, 40, rode were clunky leftovers from college days and less than ideal for pulling a Burley. But when the Nafziger’s oldest child got placed into kindergarten — one too far away to walk to but too close to make loading two small children into a minivan reasonable — they decided to reconsider biking.

The Nafzigers borrowed a longtail bike with an electric assist from Perennial Bike Shop in the summer before school started and found that it was a pleasure to ride — and not just for them. Their kids loved taking trips on the bike.

“A lot of people don’t realize just how much you miss when you drive everywhere,” Adam said.

Once the Nafzigers realized it was the bikes they owned and not the biking that they disliked, they decided it was worth it to invest in a longtail bike, and they haven’t looked back since. In fact, they now own both a longtail and a cargo bike.

The cargo bike came about after the birth of their third child two years ago. They didn’t want to stop using bikes to get to school, the library and friends’ houses, as they were used to doing. But they needed a way to transport their new baby, so they added a cargo bike with an electric assist to the fleet.

The Nafzigers say they want their kids to grow up with the understanding that driving isn’t the only way to get around. Their family owns a minivan and they use it, especially during the months of January through March, to avoid icy conditions and also to help maintain the electric assist systems on their bikes. Still, Nicole said she hates it when she hears people say that you can only ride a bike three months out of the year in Minnesota.

“We don’t ride in icy conditions and we still ride nine months out of the year,” she said.

Their 2-year-old automatically gravitates toward the bike when they head out to the garage.

“He thinks biking is the best way to get around, and I do, too. But sometimes we have to tell him, no, we’re taking the van today,” Adam said.

This year, the Nafzigers were riding for everyday trips of 3–4 miles through December. They keep their kids toasty by bundling them up the same way they would for a car trip: coats and snowpants. Their cargo bike has a wind cover that heats up like a greenhouse when the kids are underneath, and they always throw in a blanket. They’ve found the key is covering up bare skin, which can be done by wearing a balaclava.

Getting ready can be a challenge, but Nicole said this has more to do with being a family of five than with the mode of travel. They have grown accustomed to prepping locks, helmets and snacks before going out for a ride. If the kids start to squabble, as siblings do, Nicole and Adam have found stopping and taking a walk can help.

Both their bikes have electric assist, which basically increases your pedal strength, so the Nafzigers can haul up to 450 pounds on each bike, plus the weight of the rider. In practical terms, the bikes have expanded the range of places their family can feasibly travel to by bike, from about 5 miles to 20 miles or more. This means they can ride to places like the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul.

A trip that would take 15 minutes in a car but is more like 50 to 60 minutes on a bike. The extra time is worth it to their family because, as Nicole said, “Half the fun of going someplace is the fact that you get to go there on a bike.”

Out as a family, the Nafzigers have been warmly received by other road users — to a much greater degree than when either Nicole or Adam are out as solo riders. People generally let their family go ahead, and they say they get lots of smiles and waves.

“Seeing a 10-year-old taking his trombone to and from school normalizes biking,” Adam said.

As does shopping by bike.

“Merchants don’t realize there are lots of normal people out there using bikes for shopping,” he said.

The Nafzigers have a large trailer that they use for big trips to Home Depot and even transporting things like lawn mowers and Christmas trees when necessary.

While the Nafziger family is out riding, Nicole and Adam have found they have near constant opportunities to teach their kids traffic rules. They also get to explain the unwritten rules: things people on bicycles or people on foot need to be aware of in order to travel safely.

Other benefits they have experienced riding as a family include the chance to help their kids develop a sense of geography. They feel like their kids have a better understanding of how to get places than they might have if they were zoning out in the backseat of a minivan.

The Nafzigers look forward to the near future when their oldest son will be able to bike his younger sister to school. They imagine their kids biking to the Richfield swimming pool on their own in the summers using the new protected trail.

To help make it easier for their kids to ride as they begin to travel independently, the Nafzigers hope to see more speed control and advanced road design on neighborhood streets, as well as on-street protected bike lanes.

“I’m still really disappointed that protected bike lanes weren’t successful on Minnehaha Avenue,” Nicole said.

While the new bike lanes are nice, she said, they are not safe enough for her eight-year-old to ride alone. Nicole said she really notices new construction now, and she always asks: What are they doing for people on bikes and on foot on this street?

The Nafzigers are glad they figured out how much they were missing, and as much as they hope their kids will keep riding, they also want to keep riding themselves.

Biking for transportation in all types of weather is now normal for the Nafziger family, but it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. For other families who want to give a try, Adam’s advice is to “start small.” Don’t pressure yourself to ride everywhere. Try a trip to the park. As you get comfortable, you can ride more.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misspelled the family’s last name.