Riding with your children is fun and Terence Heuston has been sharing this pleasure with his blog, L.A. Bike Dad.
His site has been an instant hit blending a combination of insightfulness, honesty, and humor with his adventures of riding around Los Angeles with his four-year-old son.
As a working actor, photographer, and award-winning filmmaker, cycling provides a balance of spending quality time with the family while juggling an unpredictable work schedule.
We catch up with Terence as he shares his thoughts and stories on how the bicycle has become an honorary member of the family.
Were you raised an L.A. guy?
Unfortunately, no. I am intimately familiar with Midwestern winters which are great fun until you’re old enough to shovel your parents' driveway. They still practice child labor over there.
What is it about Los Angeles you love?
Since a large percentage of Angelenos, like myself, had no family in L.A. prior to moving here, we end up relying on our friends much more than if we had stayed “home.” I’ve found that interdependence creates a deep bond amongst our adopted families in this city. Ironically, it’s the exact opposite of the media’s portrayal of L.A. friendships.
Of course, that was before I “ghosted” all of my friends once I had a child. At this point they’re ready to put my face on a milk carton with the caption: “Last seen entering the Maternity Ward of Huntington Hospital.”
That’s not completely true. Once a year I show them I still care by nodding off in the corner of their birthday parties. Simultaneously, I am paying a teenager fifteen dollars an hour to watch TV while my child sleeps.
You may recognize Terence from this Fed Ex commercial.
Did you do a lot of biking before you became a parent?
I bought a used mountain bike after my first big acting gig in my early twenties. I chose a mountain bike even though I used it for commuting on roads 99% of the time because I was insecure and wanted a bike that made me look butcher to the ladies. I should add that I was driving a royal blue Miata at the time, so I don’t think the bike was fooling anyone. . .
The only people who knew I was a fraud were roadies who waddled through Starbucks like penguins auditioning for a tap-dance competition; I didn’t care what they thought. I now care a great deal about what roadies think of me.
On that old mountain bike I fell in love with biking for transportation. Biking saves money. It helps save the planet. It saves my sanity by not sitting in gridlock. Cycling saves time by incorporating my workout into my commute time. It’s fun as heck. What’s not to like?
Eventually, my wife and I moved from the Westside to Old Town Pasadena where almost all of my errands were walkable, so my bike spent those years mostly gathering dust. Following the birth of our son, our family moved to Silver Lake where shops selling “cruelty-free shoes” were walkable, but obtaining a jar of baby food was not. After sitting in traffic for twenty minutes to buy a gallon of milk, I started scouring the internet to figure out how to bike with a kid.
What was the biggest adjustment to having a newborn?
Forfeiting your dreams.
I think the biggest adjustment is the re-balancing of your marriage. I think it’s easier to anticipate the infant screaming and the sleeplessness because that’s what everyone talks about. What is often discussed amongst parents themselves on playgrounds, but rarely trickles down to expectant couples is: Modern relationships are like a basketball team with two guards who share the ball - both of them giving assists and scoring. Following the birth of a kid, usually one guard has to focus on assists while the other one has to take on the scoring load. Each position has its own challenges.
Prior to having a kid, when one spouse commits time to work or takes time out for themselves, they’re not taking time away from their partner’s work or free time. A child changes that equation. It requires a new equilibrium that takes a while to find. Then you lose it. And find it again—it’s a constant negotiation. Due to my wife’s medical residency, our marriage may be an extreme example of re-balancing, but it happens in every single relationship when a baby enters the picture. It’s as universal as changing diapers.
It's easier to find a place to park when you're biking to places like the Bradbury Building.
How are you able to balance your life being a parent and working actor at the same time?
I love that you’re asking this question. It’s the question that all working moms get daily, but it’s the first time I’ve heard it asked of a dad. It shows that we’re progressing, right?
The honest answer is luck. Acting in commercials gives me far more unstructured time than virtually any other profession, which is the luckiest kind of career a working parent can have.
I should also mention that although I earn the majority of my income through acting, prior to having a child I was also a professional filmmaker. I haven’t been able to work behind the camera since my son was born. I can’t spend 12-hour days on set for months in a row with a wife in residency and raise my kid. Work/family balance is simply not possible for me (yet?).
What made you decide to try cycling with your son?
The traffic and cabin fever. There’s no cabin fever like newborn cabin fever.
It’s super challenging to get exercise with a newborn. As soon as you get the stroller moving at a decent clip, their heads start bouncing around like a pinata. So instead, you try a Baby Bjorn, which is great until you move fast enough to get your heart rate up, then your body heat starts roasting them like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Eventually, you just give in to getting fat. Then you add being fat to the list of things you can blame on your spouse.
Is biking with a child a trial-and-error process?
I’m hoping the website will help parents have more trial and less error. A great, family transportation-centered bike shop like The Flying Pigeon on the Eastside or Aika on the Westside can make the process much smoother. We’re also lucky to have Lane Kagay building CETMA cargo bikes by hand right here in Venice.
I have a link on my website on how to get started biking with kids, but the basic kit consists of a child seat, wide tires like Schwalbe Big Apples, and a two-footed kickstand. I have a bias toward Dutch-style bikes and accessories since they’re the experts on transportation and family cycling.
In terms of how to get around, I’m slowly mapping out family friendly routes in new blog posts. At the moment, our adventures posted on the blog have been Silver Lake/Downtown focused, but I will be writing up blog posts for routes through the Westside and Pasadena soon. My son and I have regularly biked in almost every neighborhood between downtown and the ocean. We’ve also repeatedly traveled from Silver Lake to Pasadena by bike. I have an obsession for trying every possible path, so my routes are pretty rigorously tested. If you find a better route, please post it in the comments. I’d love to see it.
CICLE and Vanessa Gray are great resources for calm bike routes.
Terence's Short Film MADDOGGIN'
What did you discover traveling with your family by bike instead of by car?
It transforms “carpooling” from drudgery to joy. Toddlers LOVE bikes. My 3-mile commute to daycare with my son changed from him staring at the backseat of our hybrid SUV, to a bike ride past the Silver Lake Reservoir and checking in with the great heron nests, sharing a “good morning” wave with the kind ladies who exercise every morning in the park, admiring fire trucks and construction trucks, watching snowy white egrets hunt in the L.A. river, talking about numbers on the buses and crosswalk countdowns, discussing letters on the street signs, etc. We also would stop and smell the flowers, literally. It took us a whole extra five minutes cycling versus driving through traffic on the same route.
I attribute my son becoming a fluent reader before he turned three in large part to our riding a bike. Yes, there were other factors, but riding our daycare commute was an extra forty minutes a day roundtrip of singing songs and talking about the phonics behind street signs that he would’ve just been staring at the backseat of my car. Toddler brains crave nourishment. Their brains aren’t getting it in a car seat.
Where are some of your favorite places you've ridden as a family?
The splash pad in Grand Park is pretty great. I love Vista Hermosa Natural Park near where Glendale Blvd turns into 2nd street. On the Westside, the Marvin Braude Bike Trail from Culver City to Marina Del Rey is completely separated from all cars and is mostly flat. It’s a great way to acclimate a “concerned” non-cycling spouse into the idea of bike riding with your kid. he Orange Line bike route through the Valley is great too.
One of the photographs Terence is most proud of is this selection opposing Prop 8.
Why did you start the blog?
I’m hoping to contribute to the conversation about what type of city L.A. will be. If you ask most people what the biggest challenges L.A. faces today are, they usually answer traffic and housing costs. There is a wrestling match going on between people who want to double down on the mistakes of the past and people who believe, like myself, that urban infill development and a city designed for walking, biking, and public transit will drastically improve the quality of life here while simultaneously taking pressure off rents. One common refrain by the forces against pedestrian and biking infrastructure is: “You can’t raise a family in L.A. without driving everywhere.” I’m hoping to refute that argument through our example and encourage others to join us.
On a personal level, the blog is an outlet for my desire to tell stories within the constraints of the time I have to tell them as the primary caregiver.
What advice would you give to parents just starting out?
I’m going to not-so-humbly quote my blog entry following our first bike ride to the park:
“As parents, this phase of our lives is obviously fleeting. We are all intimately aware of the disadvantages of parenting a toddler, but we also get to experience the indescribable blessings of this time. Our trip to the park would've normally been a car trip with him in his rear facing seat or forty minutes roundtrip of stroller wrestling over crappy sidewalks with him hidden under the sunshade. By carrying him on my bike instead, I felt like I had immediately expanded the reservoir of magic possible during this time…”
You will love it. Your kid will love it. That are you waiting for?