There are few things I enjoy more than biking with kids, and so it’s something we tend to do both at home and on the road. All four members of our family have our own bikes, but even when we travel by plane we often end up renting or borrowing bikes at our destination. Here are just a few reasons why biking with kids brings me so much joy:
New perspective. I’m always surprised by how different places look from the back of a bike. In London I rode through Admiralty Arch into Trafalgar Square and saw, for the first time, a replica of Lord Wellington’s nose protruding from the arch’s wall where generations of soldiers on horseback have rubbed it for luck. Our bike ride in Paris was no less thrilling; like so many famous cyclists before us, we had the chance to ride into the Place de la Concorde, a large public space I had previously only ever circled in a bus.
More recently we were in northern Wisconsin and rode our bikes along country roads that we had covered in our car at 50 miles an hour. While the area seemed pretty from our vehicle, on our bikes we smelled the pine trees that stretched as far as the eye could see like a million Christmases, saw a deer step across our path and contemplate us, stopped to dip our feet in cool lake water, and admired the myriad dragonflies who dipped and darted around us.
Street smarts. Teaching my children to ride bikes safely feels like I’m handing them a valuable set of skills including basic traffic principles and how to pay attention to their surroundings. Plus, they are learning about alternative forms of transportation and about loving our Earth and husbanding its resources, lessons they are likely to carry into adulthood and share with their own children.
My children have had enough experience riding in both city and natural environments that I feel comfortable letting them take their bikes and ride independently around our suburban neighborhood. They love having this freedom, and I love knowing that they are savvy enough to stay safe.
Family time. My children always talk to me when we’re out riding. When they were little, this came in the form of constant commentary about what we saw around us. I loved how being on a bike together allowed me to see what they saw and to answer questions or respond to their opinions in the moment.
Now that eleven-year-old Tommy has entered that nebulous world of tweendom, I find that bike rides seem to allow him to open up to me about his friends, school, and everything else that’s on his mind.
Ice cream. (Or beer. Or cheese dip.) Going for a long ride eases any guilt I might have about the inevitable treats that seem to accompany it. It’s a workout without the work.
Perhaps the ultimate reason I love to ride bikes with my children is that doing so makes me feel like a child myself. I love feeling the rush of wind, the way the gears click into place, the stretch of my legs pumping to take me where I want to go. Few things make me feel as free, and I love to think that I’m passing along that freedom to my boys.
- W e didn’t start cycling together as a family much until my oldest was able to ride his own bike. That’s partly because he hated riding in a bike trailer as a toddler and that was what was often available when we rented bicycles. So when we made a financial commitment and geared up to ride with my younger son as a baby, we bought a seat for my bicycle instead. He never complained, I think because it was so much easier to look around. (Your child needs to be at least a year old and able to hold his or her head up before you can use a child seat on a bike. And if you’ve got two little ones, it is possible to put a seat on the front and back of your bike and ride with both at the same time.)
- I highly recommend the purchase of an attachable tandem for children whose legs are long enough to reach the pedals. This is a great way for your child to gain confidence and start to learn how to ride without having to balance or steer. And while I don’t have any scientific confirmation of this fact, I believe that it makes learning to ride independently later an easier task. Plus you’ll get a great workout – I found that Teddy always stopped pedaling as soon as we headed uphill. It’s been two years since I rode with him attached to my bike and I still can’t get over how light I feel.
- Both of my boys learned to ride bikes without training wheels when they were four. I can’t take any credit for teaching them, as my husband Matt did it all. But I think there was less resistance and fear because they were so young.
- Make sure you have the correctly sized bike for your child and that the seat is at the right height – both of these things make it easier to ride and will thereby increase pleasure and willingness to go for rides. The staff at any bike shop can help you if you aren’t sure about what size bike your child should ride on.
- I bet your kids can bike farther than you think they can, especially if the terrain isn’t too challenging and you stop regularly. When Tommy was six, we once did a 20-mile ride with three-year-old Teddy riding in a seat on my bike. Now that both boys can ride independently, we routinely cover anywhere between 15 and 25 miles.
- Wear helmets! All you you! Even when you are renting! (Yes, this is worth three exclamation points.) I can’t believe how many families I’ve seen where the adults in the party wear no helmets. Sure the kids are protected, but is that really the message you want to send your children? Because you can bet your bottom dollar that the minute you aren’t around, if they’ve seen you riding without a helmet they’ll do it too.
- Keep a small bike repair kit and first aid supplies with you – nothing ruins a family ride faster than a tire fail. And kids do fall off their bikes.
- Want to learn more about cycling with kids? There are some real experts out there including Nancy of Family on Bikes who spent three years riding from Alaska to Argentina with her two sons.
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This post was written in conjunction with my relationship with Vacation Roost as one of their ambassadors.