Some people think children biking on the road is unsafe, but it's one of the best things I do with my kids
- Growing up, I found biking to be an exciting adventure.
- When my oldest started riding his bike, he felt the same and could ride for hours.
"Do not use in traffic," I read from a label on the side of my 8-year-old son's bike. "We'll be ignoring that one," I thought. My kids and I bike to their school almost every day, crossing busy streets, riding in bike lanes, and pedaling through the downtown area of our small city.
As a kid growing up in a car-dependent suburb in upstate New York, biking meant adventure. My family would pedal past fields to a nearby sandwich shop that featured pie and old-fashioned candy. We'd ride on a path that wound through mountain foothills, past decaying amusement parks and a tacky tourist heaven. Zooming along on my single-speed, hot-pink bike, I knew I'd rather get around on two wheels than sit in the car.
As I grew older, my bike became less exciting and more ordinary. But that sense of adventure reemerged when my older son was learning to ride.
He loved riding his bike
He approached it with the stubborn passion generally reserved for avoiding bedtime. Circling around our park's basketball court, he fell down and got back up again and again. Day after day.
Once he finally stayed up on the bike, his face showed more than pride; it emanated peace and calmness. Every lap around the park was like a big breath in and out.
As he became more comfortable, our list of destinations expanded. Because we're a one-car family, biking gave him more freedom. We started riding all over the city — to the library, a friend's birthday party, the ice-cream shop. Or if it was a tough day, we'd take loops around the neighborhood.
During these trips, he learned how to maneuver through our town, anticipate drivers' actions, and follow the rules of the road.
We bike to school now
So when in-person school started after a year of COVID remote learning, I knew I'd bike in with the kids. My older son rode on his own bike, while my younger son sat on the back of my brand-new cargo bike. Every day from September to early November — as long as it wasn't raining — we pedaled the 1.8 miles each way. We took a break for the winter but started back up in the spring.
The ride to school grounds my older son. It provides an outlet for his before-school wiggles and helps him focus once he gets there. On days when school doesn't go well, the ride home provides a safety valve. It's a place for him to get out excess energy and frustration.
Every day, he's becoming a little bit more responsible, like looking behind him to know when a car is approaching. Every day, he gets a little bit stronger, pushing more steadily up the massive hill next to the school. And the three of us get to spend this special time together.
My kid isn't the only one who experiences the benefits of biking for transportation. Research has found that biking is associated with lower levels of stress, and children living in places that are more walkable and bikeable have more positive attitudes about their neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, biking for transportation isn't available to all families. Many areas — urban, suburban, and rural — simply aren't safe enough for kids to ride in the street. While our city is far from perfect, features like bike lanes make it possible. They only exist because bicycle advocates — including myself — have fought hard for them. Getting children access to the benefits biking requires valuing all forms of transportation, not just driving.
Yes, my kid does bike on the road — even in traffic. And I'm so glad that we ignore that well-intentioned, but wrong for us, sticker on his bicycle.
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