“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” John F Kennedy
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.” HG Wells
Just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine yourself on your bike. The sun is shining, the gentle breeze is at your back, you’re moving, your body is propelling this clever contraption forward and you feel alive with possibility, ready for adventure. There is a smile on your face and you can feel tension draining away. The air is fresh and you are feeling good, really good. Hey, this is fun. Now that is cycling goodness, the rest of it: health, the environment etc, they are all good too, but really, we cycle because it is fun. And if that is all you need to get you going, then skip the rest of this chapter, you are ready, now all you need is to get set and go. If you (or someone close) need a wee bit more of a push then read on.
Many things change when we become parents. Perhaps since the birth of your kids your bike has been gathering cobwebs and dust, or has been sold to make room for kids stuff. Now you want to get back on the bike, and bring your kids along for the ride. You are in good company more families are getting on their bikes: getting active, getting outside and getting together.
Even for experienced riders, cycling with kids will be a new challenge. You’ll need new knowledge, skills, gear and, most importantly, attitude. This blog will help if you are uncertain and need convincing, help with motivation, or a compelling case to make to your partner. Read on to discover how riding a bike can benefit your health, your family and your community and what kids think about it. And the key benefit and reason to cycle? ……because it’s FUN!
Humans are made to move. We spend too much time sitting, and it’s not good for us. We are getting fatter and sicker.
- One third of adults are obese, and more more are overweight
- One in nine children are obese, and one in five are overweight
- Child and adult obesity levels are rising
- Half of all adults don’t get enough physical activity
- Less than half of kids use active transport (walking, cycling, scooting) to get to school
- Half of kids are watching more than the recommended amount of television (and that doesn’t count other ‘screen time’). Source: NZ Department of Health
Health experts urge us to move more and sit less. Active kids do better and their growing bodies and brains need lots of movement in order to develop fully and well.
Most of us know this, so what gets in our way of getting moving? For most of us, time and motivation are the main issues. The key is to do something you enjoy and which can become part of your day and fit into week. Riding with your kids means you can get active whilst having fun with your children, educating them on traffic safety, exploring your natural environment, and interacting with your community. In a later post you’ll discover how cycling can actually save you time.
Cycling for health
- 30 minutes of cycling each day could halve your chances of becoming obese or diabetic. (The World Health Organisation)
- Cycling is good for your brain, being the type of exercise that helps grow new brain cells. (University of California, 2001)
- Physical activity helps us feel happier and less stressed by releasing feel-good chemicals – endorphins – in our brains.
- Getting to school or work by bike helps our brains wake up and gets our blood flowing, helping us get ready for work and learning.
- The more we exercise the easier it gets; our bodies become more efficient.
- Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory and thinking skills. (Harvard Medical School)
- Cycling helps tone and firm up your leg and bottom muscles
- Being active in our early and middle years helps us be healthier, age better and live longer.
The author and researcher Richard Louv coined the phrase ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ and advocates that more time spent outside in natural environments boosts creativity and health. Even in urban streets we experience more of the world around us when we move through it slower without barriers of glass and metal. Once we go further afield on cycle trails – away from roads and build up areas – we get even closer to nature: rivers, bush, coast, wetlands.
Whether cycling in your neighbourhood, or on a bike path away from home, you’ll find yourself exchanging greetings with strangers and perhaps stopping for a chat. Closer to home you’ll get to recognise people who travel the same route as you; opening up opportunities to get to know your neighbours. Even a mishap provides the upside of interaction as people will usually stop and offer help. Cycling in your neighbourhood gives your kids a sense of belonging, and helps them learn their way around too.
Frequently when we start a family, exercise goes out the window. There are many demands on us, and we want to spend time with our families. At home there are competing demands and distractions: screens and devices, renovations, chores, obligations. Cycling as a family gets you out of the house, away from those diversions and gives you time to really focus on being together. Sometimes it is easier to talk when you are moving along side by side. Things you see along the way serve as excellent conversation starters; and opportunities to share experiences, tell stories, improve vocabulary and educate. When the kids are old enough to safely race ahead, you can savour a bit of couple time and have an uninterrupted adult conversation! Each outing is another chance to make memories. And it’s free and fun!
Most of us learn by doing. Kids who walk or cycle regularly are learning a lot about traffic safety. Recent research that surveyed driving instructors found that
- Cycling was the second most recommended activity for preparing teens to drive by driving instructors.
- 68% of driving instructors believed cycling is good preparation for driving.
- 88% of driving instructors believe when driving, young people who cycle demonstrate a better understanding of the road environment and 77% demonstrate a heightened awareness of other road users.
Childhood is meant to prepare us for adulthood, and as adults we will need to know how to get around. Unless you want the role of chauffeur, your teens and young adults need the skills and means to get around independently. Cycling together helps you teach your kids to find their way around, fix problems as they arise, ask for help and directions, prepare for the unexpected, dress for the weather, plan their journeys so they can be on time, eat for energy, secure their bike, and carry what they need (and not the kitchen sink). As they get older you could add bike maintenance skills and first aid training to the list……stepping stones to careers in engineering or health science perhaps?
Cycling can enable you to access places you can’t drive to, and for most of us it is easier than walking. Tracks through the bush and wetlands, rail trails, coastal paths and historical routes can all be discovered by bike. Getting off the beaten track and discovering new ways to see your country are great inspiration to get on your bike.
What do kids think about cycling?
Usually, when we talk about cycling with kids, we think about the questions and motivations adults have. What about the kids, what do they think? I thought their answer would focus on fun: simple pleasure. But kids will tell you it is more than just fun and games, it is about mastery, accomplishment and a sense of freedom. Let’s hear from some nine year old children writing about cycling:
Charlotte describes how she feels after a bike ride: “Puffed-out, blissful and energetic”.
Lucy describes her sense of adventure: “Vicious, unstoppable, powerful”
Arya and Ezra focus on the the sense of possibility, mastery and accomplishment
When I ride my bike I pedal to the top of the grassy, green hills and mountains
I race down the 90 Mile Beach
The sea and wind howl in my ear saying
“Go on, pedal on until you reach the end”
Maybe the day will come when I become a champion
Enthusiastic, Remarkable, Excellent
My New Bike by Arya
If I had a new bike I would zoom off in the breeze, conquer the nearest mountain.
My bike and I would go on dangerous journeys and explore the world of lands.
I would feel really fit and really sporty and never ever give up till I am at my 60’s
And Liam and Sophie describe the thrills and rewards of stretching their own limits.
I pedal , I push , I lean forward.
I look and stare at the mountain ahead.
I begin to wonder if I can make it.
To my left I see my wonderful dad.
He looks excited , I look disappointed.
We make it.
My legs ache , my back is sore.
I keep pushing.
My gear is on two , but says it’s on six.
I want to hop off my bike and walk up.
I stop the urge.
I’m zooming down now!
That was amazing!
Bike poem by Liam
Panting, pedalling, frostbitten,
Roaring, descending, steady, effortless
Jet-propelled, rapid, ace,