Biking with Kids
I feel like summer is one of the most active times of the year. Kids don't have school, the days are long, and the weather is warm and usually sunny. In our family, biking is one of our most popular pastimes. Just the other day my 7 year old told me, “Mom, biking is my favorite thing to do. I want to practice my skills so I can get better than you.” I think you already are, kiddo! It warmed my heart to hear that!
For me, biking started fairly young. I think back to my own childhood, and since we lived in town, my parent's would reply to our requests to be driven places, "Why? You have bikes." So starting at maybe 9 or 10 years old, I biked year-round with my siblings all over town--to school, the ice-cream store, paper route, friends houses, etc. I loved the freedom it gave me, the confidence it fostered in my own abilities, and it sure beat walking everywhere!
Perhaps times change and biking all over town as a kid solo is a thing of the past, but biking itself has not changed! And I watch in amazement as now my own kids grow up and learn to ride their own bikes. Our three older girls learned to ride solo on their bikes (no training wheels) when they were 3, 4, and 5 and that gave them a new freedom to cruise! Now we bike all over town together as a family (I pull the trailer behind me with the littlest ones), and in the summer we rarely use the car!
WE like to go on longer bike rides as a family on the Confederation Trail here in PEI, rip down the mountain bike trails, or bike to a friends house or the library. Our kids are far from setting out on the roads on their own, but it is never too early to start teaching them how to be safe and responsible when riding. The following are some tips for teaching your own kids the basics of biking safely and confidently!
Always wear a helmet! Although we haven't had too many spills, it only takes one hard fall on the head for serious injury, and a helmet can help prevent that. Our littlest sprout started wearing a bike helmet at 9 months and it didn't take long for her to ask to wear it! She knew when the helmet was on, some fun was going to happen! It is a habit now for the kids to put on their helmets every time they ride, and it is no big deal. I also wear a helmet every time I hop on a bike, setting a good example to the kids. We recommend a full-face helmet if your kids get into downhill mountain biking at the higher speeds as well.
Start small. When your kids can ride their own bikes (either with or without training wheels, or balance bikes) start taking them around the yard, on the driveway, then in parks, and on sidewalks. If you live in a rural area, start riding on the driveway and on the sides of the least-travelled roads.
Be highly visible. It is a great idea (and the law in some places) to have a white flashing light on the front of your kid's bike, and a red flashing light on the back. There are many different LED light available (battery or USB rechargeable) for sale, and it is much more visible than reflectors even in the daytime. That said, reflectors mounted on the bike and a reflective vest or jacket can make your child and bike more visible to cars as well.
Teach directions to your kids. This includes 'Right', 'Left', 'Forward', 'Stop', Move Over', and to listen and obey commands right away. We have been teaching our girls to obey immediately, even if they don't see the reason why I told them something. Sometimes I have the kids ride in front of me so that I can keep an good eye on them, and other times I need to lead so I place the oldest child in the back of the pack and we ride single-file. I have a good mirror on my bike so I am able to watch them behind me even when I lead.
Teach kids to be aware. It is our responsibility as parents to protect our children but it is never too early to teach your kids to be aware of their surroundings in order to protect themselves as well. We teach our girls that they need to stay on the shoulder of the right side of the road. We are teaching them to look around them, and farther ahead so that they can anticipate and prepare for things they may encounter (a car, pot-hole, dog, loose gravel).
Communication. Just as us parents need to communicate directions clearly to our kids, the kids need to learn to communicate with the others they are riding with. There have been many times when one of our girls have seen a squirrel, bird or something pink and have slammed on their brakes. Then the kid riding behind crashes into them. So they are learning to call out “Stopping!” when they are going to stop or pull over so the others (including myself) can be prepared to stop and “Passing on your left/or right” when they pass from behind another rider or someone walking. They have bells on their bikes and are learning to use them to make others aware of their presence as well.
Pride of ownership. Teach your kids all about their bikes and how they work. Let them help air up the tires, adjust the seat, grease the chain, and check the hand brakes and pads. Make their bike something they are excited about and proud to take care of.
Keep it fun! Make your bike rides fun times, and go to neat places sometimes! We have a little lighthouse and beach we can bike to, or we sometimes ride to Tim Hortons for a snack of Timbits! You could bike to the ice-cream store, park, library or a friend's house. We enjoy mountain biking and testing our skills on the outdoor skate park as well.
I love seeing my kids being active and having a blast as they learn to ride their bikes. I have seen their confidence in their abilities grow, their body coordination increase and the conquering of many fears. I have seen them be more responsible in taking care of their possessions (their bikes) and treating their bikes as 'tools' and not simply toys. I am seeing them become more responsible as they learn to follow directions, make decisions, and communicate with others while biking.
I am so glad I can share my love of biking with my children, and spend that time with them. These are the memories (among many others!) that I will cherish when the kids are grown up and biking with their own families!