If we lure parents to bikes, will kids follow?

fiets of parenthood PDX School has been out for a week and we’re just starting to get into our summer groove.  Swimming, beach time, garden time, cleaning the deck, you know, all that fun summer stuff.

And of course, getting around on bikes.

I didn’t blog much about Bike to School Month this year (our 3rd year organizing and promoting it at our local elementary). Despite the record-setting rainy and cold month in Seattle, quite a few parents and kids got to school on two wheels in May. Of the 550 or so kids at school, 105 kids participated in Bike to School Month. Not a terrible statistic, but definitely has room for improvement.

Last summer Tim read Pedaling Revolution, by Jeff Mapes. I didn’t get a chance to read the whole thing but I did read Chapter 9: Bringing Kids Back to Bikes.Parents give all sorts of reasons why their kids don’t ride or walk: traffic, fear of abduction, weather, crime.

A few of the stats from the chapter resonated with me:

  • In 1969 87 percent of all kids who lived within a mile of school walked or biked….By 2001, only about 15 percent of kids were getting to school under their own power
  • A 1999 survey of parents by the CDC found that 55 percent listed distance as the major barrier preventing their child from walking of biking to school That was followed by traffic danger (40 percent). adverse weather (24 percent) and fear of crime (18 percent)
  • The odds of a child being abducted are about one in a million, according to Cox News Service story that compared the risks of different activities. The risk of dying playing youth football is one in 78,260

So how do we bring kids back to bikes?

IMG_2017This is a subject that I’m passionate about…I think about it a lot. It’s also a question many people all over the country are asking. And while I have hope that kids will eventually get back to bikes, it’s not going to happen overnight.

Because kids are not the problem.  The parents are.

Kids love riding bikes: bikes are fun and they give kids a rare sense of freedom that they just don’t get much these days (kids don’t have a lot of freedom in general).

This wasn’t an issue when I was a kid a long time ago. My sisters and I roamed the one, two, even three-mile radius surrounding our house by the time we were 9 or 10. I remember the feeling of being free and easy on a bike, wind whipping through my hair (pre-helmets), riding no handed and barefoot, slogging back up all the hills after a day at the beach. We went everywhere on bikes.

Kids aren’t left to roam on their own any more. (including mine). If we want to get more kids on bikes, we also need to get more parents on bikes and riding with their kids.

I’m not sure how to motivate and inspire parents to ride. Anytime a parent asks me about biking or tells me they just rode a bike for the first time in (insert a lot of years) I get excited.

Have any ideas about how to inspire more parents to ride?

– Anne

16 responses to “If we lure parents to bikes, will kids follow?

  1. That is a great question. I have been asking that question for a while where i live in suburb of St. Louis. It comes down to access and safety. We live 5-6 blocks from my kids schools. Most of the distance is without sidewalks or narrow sidewalks right on busy streets. Having to cross busy streets with a crosswalk because of incomplete sidewalks. So biking to school is not really an option.

    I would love to ride our bikes into our downtown 10-15 blocks away but the same issue comes up. None or incomplete sidewalks, busy streets. Make it safe to bike to these areas with bike lanes, sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks, safe wide sidewalks on busy streets, bike parking.

    Our town and area are really pushing bike trails and bike routes. Those are great and we do need those but we really need Safe Complete Bike and Pedestrian Streets.

    There was a great article recently about how we do not need more cyclists but we need more bikers. We need both but all we really ever hear about are the cyclist on all the websites. The people that want to ride there bikes to work, the people who ride in the street for longer distances for exercise. We do need that but the bigger issue is how do we get people to ride there bikes for 1 mile to go to the store, school with their kids, to get ice cream, to a park, to a restaurant, etc. That is want is going to make the biggest difference.

    • Chris, what STL suburb are you in? Because I know what you mean. I grew up in Crestwood, and I biked everywhere as kid completely safe and free (except that none of us wore helmets…). But my parents have since moved to Fenton, and I could not imagine a kid riding a bike around there, at least not far from the suburban culs-de-sac.

  2. In my neighborhood, most parents and kids are on bikes (or at least it seems that way to me). Lots of parents of young kids have child seats or trail-a-bikes or bike trailers. But how did it get that way? We live near a bike trail, some streets have bike lanes, and we live in a neighborhood with some quiet streets, yet there’s lots close by. All the kids in neighborhood (my 4yo included) also ride scooters everywhere.

    Oh, and we’re organizing a kidical mass in a few weeks for parents and kids to ride together! I agree that getting parents on bikes is key, and doing education for parents and kids around bike safety.

  3. We’re facing an interesting dilemma here. We live in a city, New Haven, CT, that is not particularly bike friendly. While my husband & I have grown quite comfortable commuting on cargo bikes with our kids, we are at a crossroads. Our older two, twins, will turn eight next month. They are very proficient on their two-wheelers and can ride 3+ mile distances. However, there is absolutely NO safe route for them to ride from our house to school. We must go directly through downtown where there are no bike lanes and plenty of car commuters eager to get to/from work. When we let them ride somewhere, we have them ride on the sidewalk while we ride parallel on the street, but this won’t work with this route (plus, crossing streets is a nightmare). And now they are growing out of our bakfiets cargo box. So what? We stop biking?

    Well, we’ve just decided to invest in a Yuba Mundo (we have an Xtra that my husband uses with our youngest commuting to preschool) & we’re hoping the Yuba will extend our bike commuting with kids for some time (very sad about selling the Bakfiets but we hope another family will enjoy it as much as we have). However, what if kids are just TOO big for cargo bike options YET the community where they live is not a place where they can truly ride on their own? Yes, we have a park close by where they can ride up and down by themselves perfectly safely, but commuting to school & music lessons & camp on their own two wheels– no way.

    So this seems to be another issue from what you’ve asked here. We are two parents committed to biking with three sons who love being on their bikes. Yet, we live in a city where our guys simply can not safely ride themselves most places.

    • Sara – that’s a tough one – having 2 at the same stage must be really hard! I can’t think of a solution for you.

      We recently got a tandem with a kid crank set up on the back for our 7 year old. Works great for going longer distances etc. But that doesn’t really help you! Unless you get a triple…

      I guess the best you can do is not look too far in the future. The Yuba as an interim solution sounds great. Let us know how you like it.

    • Anne,
      I actually was in contact with the Bike Friday folks about their triple/tandem and spoke with a friend-of-a-friend who owns one. The best I could figure is that the triple could work as a road bike for two of my boys and me. However, it didn’t seem like it may be a great option for everyday city commuting. I’ve never ridden a triple so cannot say for sure. I am hoping the Yuba works for a couple of years at least….

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  5. this is a good question!

    I have been thinking a lot about this too- and about Sara’s issue when the kids grow out of the cargo bike. My daughter who is near 7 likes riding a bike- yet she is not interested in riding for distances. She just learned to ride a two wheeler this spring and just got a bigger bike to fit her but it’s been a relearning experience for her as now she can only touch on tip toes and she is less nimble. But she can go faster and maybe farther? Anyway- I am hoping her stamina will increase and with a bigger bike she’ll do more than a few laps up and down the block. But she is the kind of kid who when middle school comes along I can see her not wanting to bike. I think a lot about how to get her to want to ride distances to places on her own and hope it will come.

    to get more parents out there- I’m not sure. I’d say my biggest issue is time. Need to do five errands in the 3 hour preschool time and I’ll never make it on bike. but at the same time I see more and more families biking.

    I don’t know the answer. I feel in a way more cargo bikes avail for parents of young kids. Things like the madsen or bakfiets or sorte. I can’t tell you how many parents with two young kids swarm me saying that the thing is brilliant. And it is- having the box bike has been great and I feel the kids are safe and contained and I can carry several kids. I went to the pool the other day with my two and the neighbor kid. Her mom was going to make her bike on her own but honestly I rather them all contained for now as I’m constantly shouting instructions that aren’t heard. She can go faster at parts on the sidewalk while I go next to her on the street and I feel nervous at every crosswalk. I’m not sure how old is old enough to ride to know the rules well, but at 7 she’s still unpredictable. My own kid is all over the place herself. My 4 yr old is too.

    this was a long ramble. does it make any sense at all?

    • We’ve introduced our kids to riding on their own gradually, letting them ride their own bikes on short trips and gradually adding distance and more busy roads. This is a lot easier when we all ride together and we can sandwich the kids between 2 adults. Riding on busy roads with just one adult and 2 kids is tricky…

      Like anything else, this is how kids learn. baby steps, baby.

      Also, kids are all different. You know your kid and can best gauge when they are ready. An 8 year old is much more aware than a 7 year old, and a 9 year old is leaps above a 7 year old. And my girl is way more focused than my boy…

      And while I, as a parent, find myself looking far into the future and not being able to imagine the kids crossing busy roads on their own and going places by themselves, they will eventually do this and they will be fine. Our 9 year old is getting close. She is traffic aware, she has experience riding with us in traffic and she does just fine. At this point, I really think she’s ready, but I’m just not ready to let her go yet :- )

  6. Just as a practical matter, I’ve had the most success by offering to do basic maintenance and be a guide to bike culture.

    The big thing you have to do is get past the “bikes = toys” model and into the “bikes = less car maintenance” model. Once you get there, people start making rational decisions.

  7. When I was growing up, we were all “free range” children. Depending on our age, we weren’t suppose to wander beyond a certain distance and some roads were off limits. By 10 years old we traveled quite good distances on foot and bike. By 12 we were allowed to go anywhere we wanted if we thought it was safe.

    I can’t tell if we are simple more risk-adverse than our parents were or whether the world has actually gotten more dangerous.

    I live in a small urban town with really quite safe streets. Much safer than where I grew up and wandered freely. All the streets have a 25 mph speed limit. Yet we were fearful to let our child ride about alone on a bike. In fact, it would have been socially unacceptable to do so. So some of this is changing social standards.

    • Hi Peter,

      I don’t think the world is more dangerous, we just have more access to information today and we _think_ it’s more dangerous .

      Good point about it being socially unacceptable to let kids roam. I agree that we need to change social standards.

      I have a friend who lets her 5th grader and 2nd grader ride their bikes home from school alone. They are seasoned riders and have spent many hours pedaling in traffic with their parents. They are capable of crossing busy roads and making smart decisions in traffic. My friend said that several people have stopped her to comment about how dangerous it is for her kids to be riding around the neighborhood alone. She knows her kids….and they are just fine.

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