10 Things Cycling Teaches Kids

Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Chances are you do: it was scary, exciting and a big deal.  Mastering your first two-wheeler is a big milestone.  Teaching your kid to ride a bike is a huge gift that lasts a lifetime.  When you ride with them, you get to teach them so much more than the technical skill and physical coordination needed to avoid falling off…. in fact without even realising it you are teaching them some great life skills.

1. Resilience

Put simply, our resilience is our ability to bounce back and persist even when things go wrong.  It is the ability to get back on and keep riding, even in you fall off.

2. Overcoming Fears

When you’ve had the security of a trike or training wheels, it can be a scary experience to try and balance on two wheels.  Other challenges along the way might be a bigger bike, a particular trail or hill, or learning to ride on the road.  Providing the challenges are age appropriate and the child is ready for them, they can be a positive experience of overcoming fears, and enjoying the satisfaction of ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’.

3.  Sharing

Whether it is passing a too-small bike onto a younger child, or sharing a path or trail with other users, using a bike is all about sharing.  Especially about sharing space safely.  That means learning about other peoples different needs and about respect.  Wouldn’t our communities be even better places if we all learned these lessons well when we were young.

4.  Adaptability

Going on a bike ride, whether it is around the block or bigger adventure, will toss up some surprises along the way.  We can’t control the weather, the roadworks, or the odd tumble.  Chances to practice adapting to life’s curve-balls helps adults stay mentally flexible.  For kids, it gives them a chance to see that even when things don’t go as expected, we can modify our plans and approach to make the most of the situation.

5. Persistance

Falling off and getting back on; again and again.  That’s how we learn to ride a bike right?   And unless you’ve got an e-bike, you can’t get to the top of a hill without a fair does of persistence too.

6.  Independence

As kids our parents do so much for us.  Being able to safely and confidently ride a bike opens up a world of independent mobility for a child.  If you can also teach them basic repairs and maintenance then they are literally ‘set for life’: a lifetime of active transport, adventure and fun.  And you won’t be playing ‘taxi’ to your teens for years.  Increasingly, young adults are turning their backs on car ownership, and fewer are gaining their drivers licenses.  They’ll love being able to ‘cycle instead’.

7.  Road Sense

Even as bike passengers, kids are exposed to the world of roads and traffic.  They learn by observation.  As you add in age appropriate instruction, their knowledge of road safety, etiquette and ability to keep themselves safe around traffic will continue to grow.  It is no coincidence that a survey of Auckland driving instructors found that kids who cycle regularly make better drivers.

8.  Self Confidence

When I wanted to know more about how kids feel about riding a bike, I asked teachers at my kids school if the students could do some writing on the topic.  The results were awesome, and one of the repeating themes was the sense of mastery and accomplishment they felt when they pushed their limits, such as tackling a tough hill or track, or just keeping up with Dad.  Biking is an activity where kids can participate on a fairly equal footing with Mum and Dad, especially as they get older.  And because you can tailor it to their age and abilities, they can enjoy the thrill of achievement and the resulting boost to their self confidence.

9. Self care

Using bikes for everyday trips help develop healthy habits of regular physical activity.  Longer rides emphasise the importance of good food and adequate sleep.  And on all rides, taking proactive personal responsibility for staying safe is a skill we want our kids to have.

10.  Risk Taking / Consequences

More and more we are realising that we don’t do our kids any favours by ‘wrapping them in cotton wool’.  Put it this way, would you rather a seven year old experience the consequences of riding at speed and losing control; or a seventeen year old experience it behind the wheel of a car?  So much of learning is experiential, and as parents we have the balancing act of keeping our kids safe whilst teaching them how to keep themselves safe (so they can do the job when we aren’t around).  I’m not talking about putting your 7 year old on the main road to learn to ride; but am suggesting that blatting around the local school bike track at break-neck speed will soon teach them a thing or two about the laws of physics and the consequences.

What would you add to the list?




10 Reasons to bike with your kids

Do you need a bit of motivation, or some well reasoned selling points up your sleeve?  Here are my top 10 answers to the question of “Why cycle with kids?”:

  1. It is fun.  Kids know it, and just to convince the grown ups…. have you noticed how many bikes are used in advertising these days.  There is a reason for that: bikes are a symbol of fun, freedom and adventure.  Biking is about simple, un-rushed pleasure.
  2. It is slow.  Huh?  Aren’t we too busy to be slow? Well, yes, exactly!  Sometimes we just need to slow down and see what we are missing when we rush through our lives.  Biking with your kids means really experiencing the world around you, stopping to explore or chat, and moving at a more child friendly pace for a while.
  3. It is time.  Of all the gifts we give our children the ones they remember most are time and shared experiences.  Getting out on our bikes and sharing some time together, undistracted by chores, devices or interruptions is a precious gift indeed.
  4. It is learning.  Some of the best learning of all comes so well disguised that we don’t even realise it is happening.  Biking together is an opportunity to learn new skills, impart knowledge and tell family stories.  And not just about cycling: about the world around us, perseverance, courage, trying new things, respect, tolerance, navigation, self-management…. the list is huge.
  5. It is sharing.  Paths, tracks, footpaths, road space – when you are out on the bike you are sharing space with other people.  People on foot, cars, other bike users, farmers, disabled users, dog-walkers, etc.  Learning to share with care is a life skill worthy of it’s own mention.  Our kids will be much better and safer drivers from having been coached in this skill from an early age.
  6. It is healthy.  1 in 9 Kiwi kids are obese and plenty more are overweight.  We are not moving as much as we should, and are surrounded by lots of yummy treats that are just a little bit too easy to get hold of.  So have your cake (ice cream, chocolate…)  and eat it too: food is energy in, cycling is energy out.  My kind of maths!
  7. It is green.  Using a bike instead of a car for some of your trips is a worthy goal to have.  The vast majority of our car trips are less than 3km.  With kids that might seem to far to walk, but definitely not to far to cycle.  When you start out cycling for fun on the weekend, it may give you the confidence you need to use your bike for other trips too, and then we all win: you, your health, and our planet.
  8. It is outside.  ‘Nature deficit disorder’ is a term coined to describe the challenge that we are not spending enough time outdoors.  Research is increasingly showing just how much we benefit from time outside.  Beyond the exercise benefits, it is a great stress-reducer.  In our busy lives that sounds just the ticket!
  9. It is a life skill.  The world is changing, our lives are busier, our cities are more populous and congested.  The worlds best thinkers are struggling with these challenges.  Many agree that riding a bike is a good way to address some of those problems: encouraging us to live closer to where we work and play, and reducing the amount of traffic pollution and congestion.  Riding safely and confidently is a key to independent mobility later in life.  And it might even mean you aren’t signing up to be your kids taxi driver well into their teen years.
  10. It is fun.  Is it cheating to mention fun twice?  No surely not! ( I have many more reasons I could put in instead).  Fun gets a second mention because it is the top reason to bike with your kids.  And who doesn’t want more fun in their life!

There you have it, motivation sorted.  Just remember the saying “the hardest part of going for a run is getting your shoes on”.  Sometimes getting started is tricky, but we get going when we focus on just how great it will be once we are on our way and doing what we enjoy.  Now you’ve got 10 things to focus on, so grab your bikes and get out there!

Bubs on bikes

In-between between cycling whilst pregnant and your chid’s first bike sit a few more options for getting out and having fun on bikes with your kids.

For babies and toddlers the options are:

  • a child/baby seat on your current bike
  • a trailer attached to your bike
  • a special bike that accommodates kids

Each option provides different levels support and protection.  Here are some considerations as you work out what is best for you and your child. Continue reading “Bubs on bikes”

The Cycling Mum

I’m pretty noticeable around my local area, as I wear a high-vis vest with “mum” on it, and ride a long orange bike. Here I will answer some of the questions I am often asked.

That is an unusual bike, did you make it?  Is it electric?
I didn’t make it.  It is a Yuba Mundo cargo or utility bike from the USA.  You can get electric ones, however my bike is chocolate-powered.  We call it ‘Rocket’.

Where did you get your bike?
Daryl, from Maungaraki imports them and sells them from a cycle store in Upper Hutt.  I found his website, cargobikesnz, on the internet when I was researching my options.

What do you use it for?
I originally got it because I was sick of pushing a buggy around! I’d been doing it for 6 years and would estimate I was covering over 1000 km a year.  That is because I prefer to use active transport, like cycling or walking, for short trips.  I didn’t expect my young children to cover the distances I was, so needed something for them that I could power.  We have also used a kiddy bike trailer, but I have found the cargo bike much easier to use and park.  My kids mostly cycle and scoot themselves now, but I still use my cargo bike and love the fact that I can put so much on it, and thus use my car even less.

Why did you choose that bike?
It has room for my youngest child plus cargo like bags, shopping, etc.  Or I can take two kids on it.  You can hear us coming when that happens, as my son gets very very excited!  It is easier to use, maneuver and park than a trailer, although we did like the trailer for safety of toddlers and adventures.

How far have you cycled?
I mostly use this bike locally because it is hard to manage a puncture on the rear wheel.  But on other bikes I have had many cycling adventures in NZ and overseas.  I’ve cycle-toured in NZ, Australia, Slovenia, Scotland, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Vietnam.  That was before kids!  With kids, we’ve done the Central Otago Rail Trail and the Hauraki Rail Trail, and recently I did the Nelson Great Taste Trail on my folding bike.

Where do you cycle?
On this bike I cycle around the Hutt.  I use my bike for school runs, errands, appointments, library trips, and my market shopping.  On my own I use the road and river trail.  With kids I will often use the footpath, depending on traffic and destination.

Why do you cycle?
Because it is good for me and for the planet.

Do you have a car?
Yes I do, but I prefer to keep it for longer trips and occasional use.  For short trips I like to use my feet or bike.  It is great not to have to bother with parking!  Plus I get fresh air, exercise and a greater sense of community.  I find it a bit sad when really little kids ask me “Don’t you have a car?”, it is like they have no concept of getting around other than driving/being driven.

Is it safe?
I’ve certainly had my moments, but mostly it is fine.  It is important to cycle confidently and be visible.  I wish there were more cyclists and more facilities for cyclists.  Anytime a motorist gets angry, aggressive or impatient, I just wish they would vent their feelings by campaigning for more facilities for cyclists.  If they don’t want me on the road then get me a cycle path!  There is a six-times return on investment for any amount spent on cycling facilities, so we all win!

Do you cycle on the footpath?
When I am with my kids I often cycle on the footpath.  I really don’t like doing this, but must put their safety first.  I’d like to invite anyone who doesn’t like cyclists on the footpath to send a letter to the council requesting safe, connected, separated cycle paths, especially around schools, train stations and the CBD.

What would you say to anyone who wants to try cycling more often?
I’d say get the right gear and give it a go.  There are great ‘Cycle Ready’ skills courses you can do.  You have nothing to lose and so much to gain!  And if cycling doesn’t appeal, just try walking more.  It is so good for you and your whanau.

What questions do you have about cycling with kids?  Please leave a reply comment with your question and I will endeavour to answer it.

This post first appeared on: organised-ok.blogspot.com

My Cycling Story

It is hard to imagine now, but my relationship with cycling got off to a very slow and rocky start.  I inherited my sisters Raleigh-20 when as a teen she decided she was too cool to ride.  It sat in the shed rusting as I could not ride a two wheeler and had no one to teach me.  Occasionally I’d take it out and push it around the footpath.  That was until – at the advanced age of ten – a kindly friend of my Mum’s took pity on me.  It was probably my knees knocking against the tricycle handlebars that inspired her.  That was my first taste of freedom – I could ride to school, around the neighbourhood and to the shops.  It felt like flying.

I didn’t get too cool for my bike (I never got cool), but I wasn’t allowed to ride in high school.  Years later I borrowed bikes, but had no idea how to change gears, and the riding position of the racing bikes popular at that time (10-speed no less!) terrified me.  In my early twenties, my partner and I were given a ‘hybrid’ bike by a friend moving overseas.  We lived opposite a cemetery, and it was there that I slowly gained confidence and learned how to change gears.  When my husband discovered mountain biking, the hybrid became my bike.  I hardly rode it.  I was more interested in riding horses and driving powerful cars; I was a rev head.

We lived in Sydney, starting point for the popular Sydney to the ‘gong [Wollongong] charity bike ride, raising money for Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  When my Mum was diagnosed with MS I was inspired to take part.  My training for it was minimal – mostly riding to cafes.  Upon completing the short version of the ride I was exhilarated and inspired….. I had the bug…. the cycling bug!  

I rode more: 5 km to the shops, 10 km to a favourite cafe, 15 km to a scenic spot.  By joining rides organised by my local Bicycle User Group (BUG) I found new places to ride, helpful advice and great cafes.  I did the full ‘gong – my first 100km ride.  As I rode further I got fitter, and as I got fitter I was able to ride further and discover more scenic places to ride and yummier cake.  Yes, cafes are a huge part of social riding!

I was ready to try cycle commuting, and a fellow BUG member showed me the best route from home to my workplace.  It was such an eye opener: via back roads and cycle only routes I was able to get to work faster by bike than by train or car.  I arrived fresh headed ready to start my day.  No need for gym membership or lunchtime jogging.  It began to dawn on me that bikes could really take you places (other than cafes).  

My next goal was to complete a cycle tour. An organised and supported one seemed like a great option for a beginner.  Despite an overuse injury to my knees and about a year off the bike with my knees taped; I made it back onto the bike and focused on a training plan to get me ready for touring.  In 2004 I completed Bicycle Victoria’s Great New Zealand Bike Ride, around New Zealand’s south island.  We were a mobile tent city of 1000 cyclists.  It was the ultimate way to travel.  Listening to my fellow riders exclaim over the scenery  I felt like I was seeing my home country for the first time.  I quickly signed up for the Great Tasmanian Bike ride in 2006. 

2006 turned into our big year for cycling.  Together with my husband and four other guys we organised and completed our own cycling adventure in Vietnam.  Cycling meant we could explore the country slowly,  off the beaten track, and interact with wonderful locals.  We found that a bicycle starts conversations even if neither party can speak the others language.  We loved the immersion of touring without the barrier of glass and metal.  Later that same year – when my husband was made redundant – we took an extended trip to Europe.  We bought folding bikes and toured in Scotland, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Slovenia.  By the time we reached Slovenia we were ready to become ‘real’ cycle tourers and carried a tent and bed rolls so we could camp.

In Europe we saw how bicycles were just part of everyday life.  People didn’t put on lycra to go cycling.  Instead of panniers they strapped their little suitcases to the rear rack or used a basket for their shopping.  Children, dogs and groceries were carried by bike.  The bikes they rode were sensible, comfortable, and functional.  When I got back to Sydney I was inspired to cycle for everyday tasks such as shopping, visiting the library and friends.  Whilst pregnant I kept cycling, inspired by accounts of women who had done just that, (and with the blessing of my obstetrician).  My husband joked that I should cycle to the hospital for the birth.

At seven months pregnant with my first child, we made our ‘big purchase’ for our baby.  Everything else for baby was begged, borrowed or second hand; but not our cycle trailer!  After careful research we purchased a double Chariot CX trailer, and a baby sized helmet.  We were ready for parenthood!

For most of our son’s first year the chariot made an excellent buggy and stroller (we’d bought both kits, of course!).  Once he was able to sit independently we strapped him in, popped on his helmet and took our maiden voyage.  We took a weekend away with the bikes and trailer, exploring new places. We were ready for adventure…..  Of course life has its twists and turns…. I went back to work, we moved back to New Zealand. For a while, life became about survival rather than adventure.  We used the Chariot to take our son to and from his caregiver, and I continued to do so right up till the birth of our daughter.  

Once number two was old enough we slowly began to get out more and explore further with both kids in the Chariot.  My son moved onto two wheels and could be towed on his own bike using a TrailGator.  We took our towing aids to Napier and explored the amazing trails there.  After hearing about the Central Otago Rail Trail, we teamed up with cycling friends from our Sydney days, who now also had two kids, and completed the Otago Central Rail Trail. Our son rode on the TrailGator and daughter on a hired WeeHoo.  Finally we were touring again, with kids!

Now, via this blog I will share advice, tips, and stories from my experience of cycling with kids.  Welcome aboard, enjoy the ride.

As well as this blog I am working on a book about Cycling with Kids in New Zealand, I have started a Charitable Trust called Bikes Welcome, and I am advocating for the law to be changed so that children can cycle legally on the footpath.  I am passionate about getting kids active and giving children the opportunity to enjoy the fun and freedom of riding a bike as part of their everyday lives.  I also am a keen advocate for active transport and everyday cycling.