Last Spring, Sharon and her daughter, Anna, started biking to school. Anna had a new bike and wanted to ride it everywhere. Sharon wanted to find a way to spend a little more time together so they hit on the perfect compromise – a morning commute to Anna's school. Sharon shares gear tips and some resources for biking to school.
Put on your helmet* and we are ready to go – it’s the first day of school!
Last Spring, my daughter and I started biking to her school. She got a new bike over the winter and wanted to ride it everywhere. I wanted to find a way for us to spend a little more time together so we hit on the perfect compromise – a morning commute to her school.
That’s her in the picture above, ready to go for the first time this fall, school uniform skirt and all.
This commute is about mommy/daughter time but it is also about health and energy awareness. More than 25 million school kids are obese. Biking to school and encouraging schools to figure out ways to help bike and walk to school is an important part of raising health awareness in the US and combatting the problem through simple steps like a walk or biking. Plenty of great programs like Walk/Bike to School Day (coming up on October 3rd) encourage kids to walk or bike to school and teach them (and you) about how biking or walking save resources as well as improve health.
Now it’s about 5.5 miles from our house to her school. It takes about 10 minutes, door to door, to drive the route. For us that means, driving down neighborhood streets, a quick jaunt on a highway and then several stop lights until we reach her school. By the time I drive there and back, I’ve used up the better part of 45 minutes.
Fine spring days suggested that maybe biking to school was a better use of our time.
So we thought up a game plan:
First, I mapped out our route here on the Pedal MN and (folks, I am embarrassed to admit this…) thought, “Wow, this thing works great.” The map showed us the best way to reach local bike trails from our house and how to ride to school. It gave us an alternative route and told us how long it would take to ride there.
So mapping the trip was step one. Step Two was: how do we get there safely? If we were going to commute, I was going to make sure that Anna had a really safe helmet, properly fitted. Our local bike store guy did that for us and promised to refit in the future if the helmet got too loose.
Her bike was new, over the winter, so we knew it fit her properly and she knew how to use the brakes and gears. We also tightened up her backpack so it wouldn’t slip as she rode and put on a metal basket to transfer heavier items (like books) that can make riding uncomfortable. We also got her an easy to grab water bottle.
I have to admit that the hardest part for parents who want to bike with their kids is this: safety issues. We worry, we wonder what they are doing on their bikes and we want to drive along behind them as soon as they round a bend in the road.
Tim Blumenthal wrote a terrific article for Huffington Post on exactly this subject. He says,
“I believe that most parents know that bike-riding is a good thing for their kids. They also know that today’s obstacles are more daunting than those of the late 20th century. As I mention above, more cars and trucks are now on the road almost everywhere. What was rural is now often suburban. What was suburban remains suburban — and much of it wasn’t well-designed for bike-riding in the first place. Many schools have been relocated from the heart of in-town neighborhoods to the outskirts of communities. School buildings and parking lots have supplanted farm fields, and the average distance between the home and the classroom has increased. This has made bike-riding to school more difficult. Other factors? Nearly all of our cities are more crowded than ever. We all know about the perils caused by distracted drivers as they text, drink coffee, fix hair in a rearview mirror and fail to pay full attention to the road.” ( See the article here.)
But just like driving a car, there are plenty of terrific bike navigation classes for kids and adults alike that teach biking safety. Anna has attended several through school or outdoor groups and I think they really help children to become more aware bikers, and even, more defensive bikers who pay attention to signs and signals.
I’ve listed some resources at the bottom of this article to help you find places or get ideas about teaching safety on bikes to your kids.
We filled tires and tried out the route on a weekend. Wow, it only took 20-25 minutes to pedal to her school. And NO car line! I saved 10 minutes and a gallon of gas not waiting in line to drop her off at the school door.
That Monday, we awoke to cloudy skies. Not just cloudy – ominous, puffy big clouds. The air smelled like rain.
When I suggested that maybe we should drive, Anna said “Wow, Mom..don’t you work for Pedal Minnesota? No, let’s go, Mom. We’ll bring rain gear.” So we did.
The next day we left a little early to grab a muffin at a coffee shop along the way and so on and so on. It became our “thing” to do.
And that’s how we started biking to school. Which led to biking to swimming and flute lesson and then biking to donut shops (but that’s another story…)
* I don’t care what the current controversy says about wearing helmets…kids and the adults who ride with them should.
Gear for Riding to School:
1 – Know some good bike resources (see the list below)
2 – Helmet that fits properly*
3 – Water bottle and a small snack
4 – Properly fit backpack
5 – Panniers or a good metal basket that can’t slump and touch the front wheel
Resources for Biking with Kids
Walk/Bike to School Day – October 3
Info on how to start a chapter and how to get involved as well as reasons to bike and walk
Teach Kids Bike Safety
A good article from the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hosptal on teaching bike safety to kids
Bike Classes for Kids
Our Pedal Minnesota partner, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, holds a series of bike rodeos and bike education and safe cycling classes every year.
Bike Safe, Bike Smart
A Guide on How to Hold Your Own Bike Rodeo – great info for parents to teach their kids and to practice themselves as well