Cycling is a great way for kids to get to school. Yet, because they're concerned about safety, many parents pile the kids into the SUV and drive every day. In fact, it's estimated that an amazing quarter of all rush-hour traffic is from parents driving kids to school. Unfortunately, this only adds to congestion and air and noise pollution making it more dangerous for everyone to cycle.
Equally troubling, there are alarming statistics regarding the rise in childhood obesity, including that the number of overweight children 6 to 17 years of age has doubled in the last thirty years. And that more than a quarter of children aged 6 to 11 are obese. Obesity is actually so common today that it's considered an epidemic.
What's caused this change in obesity rates? The Center for Disease Control cites physical inactivity as the major cause. Experts blame getting everywhere by driving, and television, computers and video games, which promote inactivity.
And the inactive lifestyle leads to serious risks besides being overweight, such as low self-esteem, depression, increased risk of Type II diabetes (also known as adult-onset diabetes), high blood pressure, bone and joint trouble and sleep disorders. And all of these are worse when suffered by children.
A Simple Solution
Fortunately, there's an easy fix: getting your kids to bike to school. Even if you only live a few miles away, they'll burn hundreds of calories, feel better and be more alert when they get to school, and have much more fun getting there, too.
Admittedly, there are real challenges, such as busy roads, dangerous intersections, bike theft and even darkness if kids have to bike early or after sports practice.
To help, this article offers tips and tricks for cycling to school. We hope it motivates and helps you to kick the car habit and get your kids pedaling safely to school.
Children love bicycling. It gives them a sense of freedom and it’s a lot of fun. By the time a child is entering third grade, it should be all right (and legal) for them to ride alone (or with friends) to school. Your child should have a comprehensive knowledge of traffic safety, the skills to ride on the street, a correctly adjusted helmet (it should fit snug and sit squarely on the head) and a proper fitting bike in good working order.
To safeguard their bike, they should also carry a good lock (we recommend U-locks) and know how to use it (always lock by the frame and wheels to an immovable object). And, they should have money or a cell phone for calling home, or an alternative plan should it rain or should something necessitate a change of plans. You might coordinate a phone tree with other parents for "pick-up duty" when the kids need a lift with their bikes, for example.
Kids can have flat tires, too. You can reduce the chances by ensuring that they're riding on reliable tires with good tread. They can carry a spare tube, tire levers and pump if they know how to repair the flat. Or we can help reduce the chances of flats even more with puncture-resistant tubes and sealants.
If you have questions about any of these things or need a bike-safety check, just ask and we'll help. We love bikes, cycling and want your kids (and you!) to be safe.
Find A Safe Route
One of the best ways to ensure safe rides is planning a safe route, which is usually not the way you'd drive to school. Look for lightly trafficked side roads, bike paths and other quiet streets. It's often safest to ride on sidewalks, which in many places is legal when the roads aren't safe. Even if your custom route adds time to the trip to school, the kids and you will enjoy a quieter, safer trip. If you're not sure how to safely bike to school on alternate routes, ask us.
Intersections often create hazards on even the safest routes. Scout these out in person to determine the safest approach. Often, it's best to walk in the crosswalk using the button to change the light. For left turns, rather than risking crossing the through lane, they can use the crosswalk to reach the other side of the road and proceed straight through when the light changes.
For more information on safe routes, you might also enjoy getting involved in the National Safe Routes To School Program. This popular program is spreading across the U.S. and Canada to decrease traffic and pollution and increase the health of children and communities by promoting biking and walking to school.
Safety Skills And Guidelines For Biking To School
Go over the 10 guidelines below with your children to make sure they understand how to ride safely around cars, have the skills to control their bikes in all conditions and realize that safe cycling comes from careful cycling.
A great way to start teaching kids is in a car pointing out what's required while driving so they realize the important rules and recognize how crucial it is to remain alert and pay attention at all times. You can then bicycle with them working on the skills required around traffic and at intersections.
Practicing on grass is a safe way to learn quick stops and control over bumpy terrain and obstacles. You can set up cones to improve maneuverability. And, you can have them work on signaling their turns and looking over their shoulder while riding a straight line so they're comfortable with this when riding on the road.
- Always wear a helmet that fits properly and is correctly positioned.
- Always ride with traffic (never against).
- Get lights and use them when it's dark.
- Ride in a smooth, straight and predictable manner.
- Be in control of the bicycle at all times.
- Be able to stop quickly and remain in control.
- Understand and always obey traffic signs and signals.
- Wear bright colors; light ones at night.
- Bike with friends (there's safety in numbers).
- Ride defensively avoiding dangerous roads and drivers, and always leaving yourself an "escape route."
You Can Do It!
Not long ago, most Americans traveled to school over hill and dale on foot or by bike. These small adventures taught us much about ourselves, our friends and our immediate surroundings and they kept us healthy and happy. With a little preparation, bicycling to school can still be safe and rewarding. And it's a wonderfully practical cure for childhood obesity and the congestion and pollution choking our world today.