Every so often I abandon common sense and go on a family bike ride.

Getting the bikes rolling is a several-stage process for our family. First there is the declaration of the intent to go cycling. That is followed by the installation of the car's bike rack, the hunt for helmets, the search for a working air hose. Next there is the drive to the bike trail, with several stops along the way to readjust the slipping bike rack.

Finally, upon arrival at the bike trail, there is the issuance of the inevitable parental admonition: "Behave yourselves! This is fun."

The time that elapses between the announcement of the intent-to-cycle and the bicycles actually pedaling down a path is usually about two hours.

At virtually all stages of the outing, I tote tools. I carry pliers and screw drivers. They don't weigh much and can tighten loose chain guards, rearrange dented fenders, and attach the handlebar bells that are required on paths.

I bought my handlebar bell, adorned with an image of Popeye the Sailor Man, at the ranger station on the Gunpowder Falls State Park trail near Monkton.

Now, whether I am pedaling along the Patapsco River or coasting through the wildlife refuge at Chincoteague, I ring Popeye to announce my arrival to my fellow cyclists.

My wife and I have old, battered bikes. An advantage to owning battered bikes is that you don't worry about them being stolen. A disadvantage is that such bikes often have tired tires. Air slowly seeps out of these tires, the way the spring slowly disappears from your step.

So, before taking these bikes out for a spin, I always put air in their tires. Usually I pump the air in with the bicycle pump I keep in the basement. But the other day when I went looking for it, the pump was missing. I questioned the main fan of "the pumper," the resident 6-year-old. He routinely uses "the pumper" to PTC explode piles of dirt, or make bubbles in the sink. "The pumper" was missing in action. So I loaded the two old bikes on the bike rack and headed to a gas station.

Not every gas station has a working air hose, but I knew of one, a Crown station on North Avenue, that not only had an air hose but had an air hose that dispensed air without demanding a quarter.

I got to the station but couldn't get near the air hose. Two cars were parked smack dab in front of the air hose. When I investigated, I saw the air hose was out of commission. It looked as if it had been run over by a tank. After wasting 15 minutes at the first gas station, I drove to another. This one, the Amoco station at St. Paul and Mount Royal, had a working hose, but it cost 25 cents. I've never understood economics, but it seems to me that paying for free air is the definition of inflation.

Reluctantly I coughed up my quarter, put fresh air in the old bike tires, drove home and finished loading the kids' bikes on the bike rack. We were off, almost.

As we started down the alley I looked out the rear view mirror and saw that the bike rack was falling off the trunk of the car. I said bad words.

There are two kinds of removable bike racks for your car. There are the folding ones designed for people who got A's in geometry. Then there are those racks with few moving parts, designed for people who wouldn't know a parallelogram if it passed them on the highway.

I have owned many kinds of bike racks, but the only one I use is the keep-it-simple-stupid model. The guy who sold it to me, at the Brooklyn Bicycle Shop, correctly sized me up as geometrically impaired. He didn't just tell me the rack was easy to install, he put it on my car for me.

The other day when the rack slipped, I thought back to that show-and-tell session we had near the bicycle shop parking lot. And after a little unasked-for advice from my wife, who pointed out, correctly, that the straps holding the rack to the trunk lid had to be shortened, the rack was back on the car, the bikes were back on the rack, and we were off.

We ended up going to the bike path around Loch Raven Reservoir. It was a good idea, an idea that about 1,000 other families also had at the same time.

It wasn't tranquil, but we were outside, and it was a beautiful day, and the bikes were rolling. As I coasted along a sylvan path I saw that one kid's bike had a flat tire. Then I saw that the pedals on the other kid's bike weren't working the way they should. But the kids didn't notice, and I wasn't about to tell them.

When you go biking with your kids, they often tell you about their big concerns.

Like the time my 10-year-old and I were rolling down the bike path near the Gunpowder River. It was a golden afternoon. The trees gently swayed in the wind. Birds chirped. We had just spent several lazy minutes skipping stones over the water.

As we pedaled back to the car, my son pulled alongside me to bare his soul.

"Dad," he said, "on the way home, let's get a video."

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