The virtues of urban cycling (with your kids)

My daughter began to think of Atlanta in terms of bikeable distances before she could even ride one herself
Bicycling with kids Atlanta BeltLine
The writer and his daughter Marley

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

When I used to commute to a job in the suburbs, I’d often speak with people whose impressions of the city itself were still tainted by experiences they’d had in the 1970s and 1980s. One elderly woman condemned me for living in such a “hellhole.” Try telling that to my daughter Lola, age four, whose blossoming sense of awareness informs her that Atlanta is a vibrant, cultural wonderland. Her appreciation for the urban landscape is indebted—hugely—to the handlebars of my bicycle.

I’m no Lance Armstrong or even a Lycra-wearing avid cyclist, but I’ve always loved exploring cities, and doing so by bike is more efficient than walking or running—and infinitely more visceral than driving. When Lola was just a chubby nugget of a girl with a headful of peach fuzz, my mom bought me a strange, neon-green contraption that changed our lives: a handlebar-mounted bicycle seat for kids, replete with a seatbelt, faux steering wheel with a smiley face, and a helmet with rubber kitten ears.

I remember our first ride, down busy Highland Avenue, and her amazement at the rush of wind and new perspective on the city. You’d think I was the first parent in Atlanta with such a bike seat, as Atlanta BeltLine patrons, Piedmont Park picnickers, and Atlantic Station shoppers would stop what they were doing, point at us, and emit a gooey “Awww.” Lola devoured the attention. Even before she had much of a vocabulary, she would not stop talking about what she saw, smelled, and felt. Beyond its safety attributes, the genius of the front-mounted seat is that it allowed us to easily talk to each other on rides, which sometimes spanned two hours (and multiple King of Pops pit stops).

It wasn’t long before the girl developed favorite routes through various neighborhoods (Inman Park’s hills and “haunted” Victorians were a particular delight). She became something of a connoisseur of public playgrounds (the sand-scooping kiddie bulldozer in Cabbagetown earned high marks) and street art (explosively abstract Hense murals are her favorite, with Peter Ferrari’s twisty pipes a close second). In a traffic-choked city that aspires to be a bicycling powerhouse—webbed with protected bike lanes and projects such as the BeltLine and Buckhead’s PATH400—it was encouraging that my daughter began to think of Atlanta in terms of bikeable distances before she could even ride one herself.

And then one sad day, her feet stretched beyond the seat’s footholds. Her helmet started crashing into my chin as I pedaled. Lola had outgrown the seat. Mommy declared it unsafe.

Luckily I had reinforcements.

Lola’s baby sister, Marley, still an impressionable butterball, can’t get enough of BeltLine rides. So far she doesn’t care that these adventures are glimpses into urban redevelopment’s human impact and a once-neglected area’s metamorphosis. She just likes the dogs and popsicles and how people on the BeltLine always say “Awww.”

This article originally appeared in our May 2016 issue.

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