By: Liz Reid
If you live in the Bay area, you may have already seen hundreds of cyclists taking to the streets one Friday night each month; maybe you've even been one of those cyclists. This is Bike Party, complete with costumes and dance music. Like most parties for adults, it's not quite suited for children. So a handful of Bike Party parents decided to create a kids version of the ride.
It's a perfect, sunny Sunday morning at Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek, about 15 miles East of Berkeley. I'm here on my bicycle, ready to ride with the East Bay Bike Party's family friendly spinoff ride, called Geared for Kids.
Stephen Thompson used to volunteer with the Friday night Bike Party, and while he really enjoyed the atmosphere of the ride, he wanted something he could do with his step-son Aiden, who was just six at the time.
"We tried to ride the East Bay bike party a few times as a family, which worked out kind of okay, but it was a little bit too late, too long of a ride," says Stephen. "It was past our kid's bedtime."
So, in April of last year Stephen and some other parents started the Geared for Kids family ride.
The group ranges in size from just a few families to 60 or 70 riders, depending on the weather and the location. Today there are about 25 people out to ride, and half of them are kids. Most are on their own bikes, but a few are pulled in trailers or ride on their parents' bikes.
Tracy Randolph has been riding Geared for Kids with her two children and her husband for five months now, and said it's the highlight of their month.
"Everyone has a really positive attitude, and is just really up for having fun together. Some people you know, some people you don't, and you meet people along the way," she says.
Randolph's daughter Luna is two years old, and rides along with Mom. Matthew is 5 and a half, old enough to ride his own bike.
"My son, Matthew, has been picking up so much on all kinds of safety things. Being able to ride in the streets and understand how the rules of the road work with cars and with pedestrians," explains Randolph.
Organizer Stephen Thompson's main concern is also safety.
"Traffic, normal car traffic, is seeing that families are out there and wanting to share the road with them," says Thompson. "I think it really helps bring awareness to biking and to safety."
Usually, Geared for Kids winds through regular neighborhood streets, alongside cars, but today we're taking advantage of the network of regional multi-use trails in suburbs east of San Francisco.
As the group gets ready to ride, Stephen attaches speakers to the back of a rider's bike, and shortly thereafter, we're off.
We ride through Heather Farms Park, around the pond where a mother duck is leading her ducklings into the water, and soon we're on the Contra Costa Canal Trail.
As we ride, we see lots of other cyclists, as well as runners and walkers. A family hanging out in a park along the way hears our rhythmic Latin music before they see us, then they all turn to smile and wave.
Eric Wong is a regular Bike Partier, and has been bringing his 4-year-old son Joaquin to Geared for Kids since the very beginning.
"He went from a scoot-bike, or a balance bike, without pedals, to the smallest bicycle for kids with sprocket and chain, and he learned how to ride within a week," says Wong.
Unfortunately, Joaquin had a little spill on this ride, which, as any cyclist knows, just comes with the territory. He told me that he crashed into 'Papa' and, showing me his arm, said he was okay because he wasn't bleeding anymore. Then he ran off to play Transformers with Tracy Randolph's son Matthew.
Parents like Randolph say that Geared for Kids has inspired them to bike as a family more often
"A lot of times, families, they worry that oh, their kids are gonna be too slow on the bike, or they're not going to be able to make a certain distance. But the first time we went, we went about 5 miles, we went up some hills, we went everywhere," she says. "And at least for my child, we were done and he was like 'I wanna keep going!'"