Tips for Biking, Bonding, and Safety this School Year
Are you interested in promoting an active, healthy lifestyle in your children where they can learn independence while becoming safe and responsible young people? Biking to school can be a great way to start and it is never too early to get your kids riding bikes!
If you are new to commuting by bike or you do not know many other children who bike to school, the idea can be a little scary. Liv is here to help. We have enlisted the guidance of Liv Ambassador Moms Jessica Downing and Nadine Davis for a little insight on how to get started, bicycle safety and the benefits of biking with your kids to school.
Getting Started: More Kids on Bikes!
More kids on bikes means more FAMILIES on bikes and more fun bicycle bonding adventures! Why not start out by making every day an adventure by biking to school?
To begin with, discover the best route to your child’s school on your own. How long is the ride? Are sidewalks, greenways, bike paths or bike lanes available on the route? What is the traffic like during the time of day your child goes to and returns from school? Are there steep hills on the route to school?
After finding out what kind of ride you are working with, evaluate your child’s ability. How long has your child been riding? How much control do they have over their bike? What is their current fitness level?
What about equipment? Is your child’s bike in good working order? Does their bike still fit if they have been growing? Making sure your child has the right size and type of bike for the ride to school could make the difference between a pleasant experience and a difficult one.
Our two Liv Ambassador Moms ride to and from school with their daughters, age four and eight. They both agree that the younger your child is when they begin riding to school, the easier it is to keep up this heathy habit. Jessica says daughter Lucy (4 years old) does not know any other way to get to school, “Before she started riding a pedal bike this summer, she would ride her balance bike. Before she did that, we took her to preschool and daycare on a bike seat or the Chariot, so she's really never known any other way.”
Nadine rides with daughter Reece (8 years old) less than a mile to school via bike path and recently upgraded her to a bike with 24-inch wheels that helps her roll a little faster and makes the ride more enjoyable. In the mountain town near Vail, Colorado where Nadine and Reese live, they are disappointed that more classmates do not ride their bikes to school. “Reese has noticed that she is one of only 3 children who ride bikes to school. This is different that her last school where a lot of kids rode bikes. At 8 years old, she wants to do something to get more kids on bikes. Gotta love it!”
Bicycle safety is the most important part of helping your child ride to school.
First of all, make sure they have appropriate gear:
- Helmet that fits! Your child’s helmet should fit level on the head, tight enough that it doesn’t move around and straps pulled snug under the chin.
- Closed toe shoes. Flip-flops, untied shoe laces or strappy sandals are not appropriate for riding because they could get caught in the chain or other parts of the bike.
- Bright clothes/ reflectors. Wearing bright clothes or having reflectors on your bike will make the child more visible to other riders and vehicles on the road.
- No loose clothing. If your child has baggy pants or loose articles of clothing (like a jacket tied around the waist) it could get caught in the chain. Instruct your child to roll up their right pant leg (the gears are on the right side of the bike) and pack unneeded jackets into a backpack or basket.
- Lights. If your child goes to school early or returns late (if in an after-school program), make sure they have bike lights with working batteries.
- Bike Lock. Some schools now have “bike lockers” for safe storage of bikes at school. If your child’s school has bike racks, make sure your child has a sturdy bike lock and he/she knows how to properly lock the bike to the rack.
Teaching your child how to inspect their bike prior to riding it and the rules of the road is going to make them a more independent, knowledgeable and safe rider.
- “ABC” Safety Check: Before every ride, check your tires for proper AIR pressure, squeeze the BRAKES to make sure your brakes are working properly and check the CHAIN to make sure it shifts into every gear. As you perform routine maintenance on your bike, tell your child what you are doing and why. They will pick up on it and will feel super confident knowing how to work on their bikes.
- Yield to Pedestrians: If riding on the sidewalk, bike path or greenway, yield to pedestrians and communicate. When riding up behind a pedestrian say, “Rider back.” If passing say, “On your left.” When riding with your child practice communicating with pedestrians.
- Ride in a Straight Line: Nadine says her and Reese talk about riding in a “predicable line” on the way to school and being aware of other riders and vehicles.
- Ride on the Right: If riding on the road, you and your children should ride on the right hand side and follow the same rules of the road that cars would. Obey traffic signs and signals, look back and signal before turning.
- Take caution at intersections, crosswalks and driveways: Using sidewalks, bike paths and greenways are the safest ways to get your children to school, especially if they are young and less coordinated on the bike. Make sure to take extra caution at intersections, as motorists don’t always expect to see bikes (moving at higher speeds). Tell your kids to make eye contact with drivers to make sure they are seen and communicate “all-clear” when it is safe to cross.
So, when is it safe to let my child ride to school by themselves? This all depends on you, your child, the length of the ride to school and the amount of traffic on the way to school. Some areas organize group rides to school that allow your child to ride with other kids and moms. Generally, one parent will be the leader and another will sweep, picking up kids along the way to school. This is a great way to get your child used to riding in groups, following the wheel of the rider in front and making predictable line choice. As the children get older, more confident and aware of safety, the parents duck out and the kids will form a “bike bus” where they ride together as a group and look out for one another.
Benefits of Biking to School
1. Bonding over Bikes
Liv Ambassador Moms, Nadine and Jessica treasure the time they spend with their little ones every morning and afternoon. Being able share something that is so important in each of their lives with their daughters is priceless. Plus, as Nadine notes, “It is a fun way to start the day and so much better than doing drop-off in the car!” Jessica shares drop-off duties with her husband, but is grateful on days where they can all make the trip as a family. As all parents know, there is no exact science to building a better relationship with your child. Jessica says, “When I just asked Lucy if she likes to ride with me to school, she said, ‘No, just with Dad,” so, apparently we need to work on relationship building!”
2. Increased Health and Fitness
Kids who walk or ride their bike to school benefit from that extra activity before a day of sitting at their desks. Not only have they used up some of their energy, but they are on their way to leading a more fit and active lifestyle that will translate to all aspects of their lives. Nadine says her daughter’s cycling addiction has gone above and beyond just riding to school. “Reese loves riding bikes and has attended the local Vail Mountain Bike Camp for some great experience riding on dirt. We have also ridden RAGBRAI in Iowa for the last two years together on a tandem. The RAGBRAI experience has been amazing and I can tell Reese is proud of riding big miles and being a part of this epic ride.”
3. Independence and Love of Bikes!
Children who learn how to ride their bikes to school have more confidence in the ability to take care of themselves. By giving children a little adventure on their bikes every day, parents are cultivating a love of bikes that will lead to good habits and an enriched future!
Share your photos and stories of commuting with your children by bike by tagging us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter! @livcycling #ThingsWeCarry #LivBeyond