Caterpickles Calls for a Consult: The Bicycling Edition

1897 advertisement for Elliman’s Universal Embrocation. (Image via Wikipedia)

Dear Readers,

I need your help.

When The Five-Year-Old turned five, we bought her a bike, which she adores. For the first week or two she was slow enough on it that I could simply walk along with, and then behind, her as she rode. Now she’s fast enough that I either have to run along or let her zoom ahead in her still somewhat teetery fashion until she gets to the end of the road, at which point she stops and waits for me.

This plan works moderately well, but let’s face it, the best part of riding bikes is NOT having to stop every five minutes for the walkers in the group to catch up.

So for my most recent birthday I declared that I also wanted a bike.

What I need is a basic bike so that I can keep up with The Five-Year-Old. It shouldn’t be fast all the time, because she isn’t fast now, but it should be fast some of the time, because she will be fast later. We are going to be riding around the neighborhood and on bike trails, maybe biking down to the store for milk, so I’m thinking about a hybrid/commuter style bike with the capacity to hold a picnic basket or maybe a bag of groceries on the frame.

When we popped into REI over the weekend to price their bikes out, I rapidly discovered that I needed a new shopping strategy. As Daddyo pointed out, my starting the bike shopping process at REI is a bit like a teenager saying they want to buy their first car and going to the Lexus dealer to see how much it would cost. Which is where you come in.

I write a blog devoted to a five-year-old’s curiosity, so I’m sure it will come as no surprise to any of you that I have lots and lots of questions. Here goes:

Biking down a dirt road in the late 1800s. (Photo: Father of JGKlein, via Wikipedia)

Cannondale vs. Schwinn

For those of you with more knowledge about this sort of thing, I assume that my projected usage makes me more of a Schwinn type of biker than a Cannondale one, but am I doing myself a disservice to ignore the Cannondales completely?

Gear Count

Why do some hybrid bikes come with 21 gears while other bikes only have seven? I’m inclined to think I need the 21 gears so that I can pop my bike into the lowest possible gear for maximum slowness while The Five-Year-Old is still learning, but do I really? In other words, is first gear on a 21-gear bike all that much different from first gear on a 7-gear bike?

Or am I looking at this all wrong? Is it not the speed of first gear that matters, but rather the ability to ramp up slowly to more precisely match The Five-Year-Old’s own progress?


For those of you who tote things while biking, do you have a bike rack on the back, a basket on the front, or do you just wear a backpack? If rack or basket, did it come with the bike or did you buy it and add it on?


Back in the day I had one of those metal U locks. Worked great but was a bear to step over all the time. I stuck with it because the chain locks were rumored to be crap. But are they still?

Couple seated on an 1886-model quadracycle for two. (Image via Wikipedia)

Tandem or Single File

I’ve heard from friends that it may be unrealistic to expect The Five-Year-Old to keep up with me at all. Should I get a tandem or trailer bike attachment for our trips to the bike trails? Does riding tandem help with the whole learning balance thing or is it simply a way to allow the adult in the group to get a reasonable amount of exercise at a reasonable pace without exhausting the child?

Car racks

Finally (for the moment at least), there are no bike trails within biking distance of our house. Which means that if we want to take a break from riding around the neighborhood, we’ll have to strap the bikes to either the Prius or the Camry. The last car rack I had scratched up my trunk rather dreadfully, so I’m desperately hoping the technology has improved over the past 10 years. I’ll need something that can carry two adult bikes plus a child’s bike.

For those of you who tote your bikes on cars, what kind of rack do you use? Any tips for installing/using it so your car doesn’t suffer?



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