Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Family on Bikes: Samantha, Andrew, and Little Ding

It's my pleasure to share this interview with Samantha, the blogger behind the informative and cheery family cycling blog Ding Ding Let's Ride.  Samantha's blog includes describes not only her experiences as a year-round bike commuter in Chicago, but also a wealth of resources for adaptive cyclists.  Samantha's blog is a new favorite of mine, and I hope you'll enjoy learning more about her family and their bike adventures in Chicago, just as I have.

Samantha, Little Ding, and Andrew
Who are you?  Introduce yourselves, please.

I am Samantha, aka Ms. Ding of the family cycling blog Ding Ding Let's Ride.  I write about the Chicago city biking adventure of myself, my partner Andrew (aka Mr. Ding) and his 6 year-old son, Little Ding. 
What is your family bike setup?  How is it working for you?  How has it changed as your child has grown? 

I've been riding a mountain bike for over 20 years and this past fall I bought a Dutch Workcycles Omafiets which is now my primary bike.  I made the switch because I spend most of my time these days riding around the city to work, on errands, to the grocery store, and on rides with my guys.  And when Andrew and I get in a “date night” now and then, it's usually via bike.  I wanted an upright bike that would be easier on my clothes (fenders, skirt guard, chain guard, etc,) that I could ride in more normal clothes, ride in dresses, and lug gear and groceries.  Andrew has a  hybrid and a cruiser bike.

We were carting Little Ding around in a Burley trailer, but he was starting to outgrow that last year so we looked around for a bike for him.  He has Cerebral Palsy, so finding a bike for him was difficult.  Luckily, we found a great place that adapts bikes for kids and we got him a very cool adapted kids bike that was not nearly as expensive as the $1000-$3000 that many adaptive bikes cost.  It's great to have him riding his own bike with us - he rides on the sidewalk right now, usually with Andrew behind him, and me on the street.  The downside of having him on his own bike now though, is that it does limit the distances we can cover as he is only able to ride about two miles total – generally a one mile ride to a place, then a break, then ride back.  This summer we'll be working on his endurance.  A cargo bike or family tandem would be nice, but we don't have the storage space for something like that. 

Ms. Ding and Little Ding.  Little Ding's adaptive bike is in the foreground.

Why do you choose to ride bikes together?

I got rid of my car when I moved to Chicago in 1996.  You don't really need a car in the city, I didn't want to deal with the hassle and expense of maintaining a car in the city, and I already had a bike.  When I met Andrew, he loved that I was car-free, and he dug out an old bike and started commuting and riding with me as much as he could.

When we all moved into our family 'tree house' (our apartment is on the 2nd floor, surrounded by beautiful, old trees), we wanted to keep riding as much as possible and include Little Ding in as many riding activities as we could, hoping he would share our love of being out and about in the city, on our bikes.  Andrew had a car, and though we tried to work out a way to get rid of it, we could not.  We have to run Little Ding to various therapy appointments around the city, and back and forth between his mom's house and ours, and even though we we live about 15 minutes away by car, it's not an easy quick bike-ride between the two homes, especially when we're lugging all his gear (bike, wheelchair, etc), so we've kept the car. 

What kinds of trips to you commonly make by bike?
  • Commuting to work, both regular 9-5 shifts and even Mr. Ding's on-call work, year-round
  • Grocery shopping 
  • Riding to the park/playground
  • The “Guys ride” to their favorite neighborhood hotdog stand
  • Andrew and I - out to meet friends for drinks, dinner, brunch, lunch
  • Weekend errands, shopping
  • Baseball games (the Cubs have a bike valet service, hoping the White Sox get one)
  • Because of his CP, Little Ding's feet get worn out walking in his braces. He can however, ride a bike a bit further.  We sometimes drive to places like a neighborhood festival or parade, park the car wherever, and let Little Ding ride to the venue or sometimes at the venue, saving some wear and tear on his legs.  We walk alongside or behind him, or bring our bikes too.  We've worked out  the same sort of strategy to go the beach or the Lincoln Park Zoo (both locations that we can ride to ourselves, but are too far for Little Ding to ride all the way from our house).   Andrew works near the zoo/beach, so we are lucky to be able to park at his office.  It's worked out well as a wheelchair alternative.
Are there other modes of transport your family frequently uses?

We take public transportation often as well, and Little Ding loves riding the bus.  Since we are only two blocks from a major bus line, he can walk to the stop if he doesn't have to do too much more walking afterward. 

Would you share a great moment in your family biking experience with us? 

Hmm...there've been some good ones. Perhaps the first time we hooked up the Burley to Andrew's bike and rode to the Zoo on a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon.

We parked our bikes and locked them up, and converted the trailer to a stroller and headed into the zoo.  It was awesome.  We took our time strolling around the zoo because Little Ding could hop back into the trailer and be quite comfortable when he needed, and we had all our gear there and it did not feel cumbersome.  There was a kids concert that day that we did not know about that was cool, and then we discovered the kids fountain.  Little Ding took his socks and braces off and hopped around in the water spray with all the other kids and then climbed into the trailer and went to sleep on the ride home.  It was such a great day and it was the day we realized we could really make biking around the city as a family work.  

Do you have any tips or tricks to pass on to other bike-riding families?

Get a Burley or cargo bike!!  Kids love being toted around...who wouldn't?  Bring some water, and some sort of toy for the younger kids, it helps them get used to it when you start out.  If they are anything like Little Ding though, they'll love the ride and fall asleep at the end.  He loved napping in the trailer.  We pulled him around in the trailer in the fall and winter too – just bundled him up and grabbed an extra blanket and wrapped it around his legs and feet.  I've got a great picture of him in the trailer a couple of years ago after we stopped at the grocery store on the way home in February.  We stuffed all the groceries around him – it was kinda funny. 

I love all the adaptive cycling resources on your blog!  Where did you start your search for the best adaptive bike for Little Ding?  What advice do you have for other families interested in adaptive cycling?

We started researching adaptive bikes last spring. Little Ding got an adaptive trike to use in physical therapy (we had been trying to figure out how to adapt the one we had) and he took to it immediately – it was exciting. That got us looking for bikes, or something to get him riding with us beyond the Burley.

We found a used trail-a-bike and took it to The Bike Rack, out in St. Charles, Illinois – they're a bike shop we discovered that sells and maintains adaptive bikes as well as standard bikes (mostly Trek and Gary Fisher).  They were not fond of trail-a-bikes for special needs kids, or at least one with CP, and as they showed us how they were going to adapt it, we could see how there would be a balance issue with Little Ding.  We didn't think we could afford one of the types of adaptive bikes we'd seen, but they showed us a regular kids bike that they had adapted for another customer, and Little Ding tried it out and it worked! We thought it would be the way to go.  We didn't have to buy a new bike from them to adapt, but we did.  They had a cool orange bike in stock, and that being his favorite color, it seemed like a no-brainer.  There's a post on my blog with all the details of his bike, if you want more information.

Doing the research for his bike, and watching how happy he was on his bike, got me motivated to start the blog.  Once we talked to the people at The Bike Rack, and got his bike, I started doing a lot of research online, and trying to talk to people about kids adaptive bikes.  It was realyl hit or miss.  You really have to look hard to find the bikes beyond the one or two brands that come up in every search.  That's one reason I started my resource pages.

Some communities around the country have great programs for adaptive cycling, others not so much.  You really need to check with your local park district, as well as with the hospital or rehabilitation clinic that you are familiar with.  You have to ask around sometimes.  I didn't feel like it was easy for me to find groups and events.  I try to keep up with what's out there, so that other people can find the info and resources more quickly than I did.

Little Ding and Samantha's brother
Are there any changes (to path or wayfinding systems, auto speed limits, bike boulevards, lighting, etc.) that you would you like to see to make bicycling more convenient, accessible, and safe for families in your area?  Are there particular types of infrastructure that improve access for cyclists on adaptive bikes?

Separate cycle tracks, and slowzones , as well as good bike parking are the things that I'm most interested in.  More people will ride bikes as transportation if it is seen as safe.  Not everyone thinks riding in traffic is safe.  Adaptive riders , with unique styles of bikes, benefit even more from separate bike lanes.  So many adaptive riders can't drive themselves, but can ride a bike.  Just think of the independent mobility they have if they can ride their own bike to work or school.

Good bike parking of course follows.  That means the right kind of bike racks, placed so that there is room for multiple bikes of different types to be locked up in a secure fashion. 

What else do you think we should know?

I am trying to put together a family bike ride for any family AND families with adaptive riders, this spring or summer, here in Chicago.  I hope to coordinate with the local Kidical Mass folks.  I'm looking for interested families as well as adaptive bike manufacturers who want to demo their bikes.  I have a couple already lined up.  Any ideas, interests, thoughts are welcome.

Little Ding, where is your favorite place to ride your bike to?

The Zoo, closely followed by the park/playground. 

Thank you, Samantha!  It was a pleasure to get to know your beautiful family.

*All the images in this post belong to Samantha of Ding Ding Let's Ride.  You can find more of her photos on her blog.


  1. Thanks for featuring us! Nice post! It was quite fun going through our pictures and selecting a few to send to you. In fact, looking at our photos from last summer has only made us more anxious for spring so that we can get out and do some more family rides.

  2. Thank you for this fabulous interview! I really enjoy seeing how different families make cycling work for them. I am grateful to you and your blog for providing not only some excellent resources for adaptive cyclists, but also so many encouraging stories about how your family gets out on rides.

    I hope that some warm weather is on its way to Chicago soon!

  3. Love seeing our trailers in action! Great interview!