There’s a group of kids that have an unfair advantage over your children. They do better in school, are more social, and have fewer health problems in childhood and adulthood than all their peers. Who are these overachieving stars? They are the kids who bike to school.
For many adults, the idea of biking to school seems like a quaint memory of a bygone era, but the families whose children are pedaling to the classroom each morning know different. They know that daily dose of biking improves their kids’ academics and attitude, and makes up for the lack of physical activity they may experience at other times.
The benefits of biking are so powerful, in fact, that a regular bike ride has actually been proven to help ease the signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder! A study by Specialized Bikes Foundation and RTSG Neuroscience (a team of physical education consultants) explored whether or not children diagnosed with ADHD could benefit from a bike ride. What they found was incredible.
For children with attention issues, the study found that a bike ride actually changed the neuro-electric activity of their brain to a more “normal” pattern. Study participants had a better mood and were better able to process feelings after they biked.
A separate study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology discovered that regular exercise improves self-esteem in children, and research shows that kids who bike regularly are less likely to be overweight in childhood and nearly 50 percent less likely to be overweight as adults.
With schools devoting less and less time to physical education and sports, one in three children in the U.S. is dangerously overweight or obese, and 6.5 million kids living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it is more important than ever for parents to take control.
One of the most affordable and practical ways to make sure your children are thriving and getting the daily physical activity they need is to bike them to school. It’s easier than you think. If you live within five miles of your child’s school, getting there by bike may actually take you less time than getting there by car.
Once you have your prep down, it’s a breeze, and you’ll enjoy the added benefit of getting some exercise yourself! To start biking your kids to school, just remember these tips.
A little prep goes a long way towards making your bike ride to school a smooth and pleasurable experience.
Invest in a good floor pump and make sure you have everyone’s tires properly inflated. Also, have a secure bike lock for each of your kids’ bicycles and practice locking them up properly together. U-locks and cables are an effective combination and lightweight enough that your kid can probably tote them in a backpack without a problem.
Not sure how to lock up a bicycle? Visit mycitybikes.org/bike-to-school for step-by-step instructions.
The scariest parts of biking to school are intersections. What better way to know how to deal with traffic than to drive in it? Think about your family’s route from a car’s perspective. Where are the blind spots? Where are the crosswalks? Use this knowledge to map out the safest route, and keep in mind that you may be one of the very lucky people who can incorporate a bike path into the commute. Bike paths are separated from traffic and have fewer intersections with roads and the cars that drive on them than riding on the sidewalk or bike lane.
Make sure everyone has their safety gear on. Including you. Properly fitting helmets, front and rear blinking bike lights, and bright-colored and reflective jackets, vests or accessories will keep you safe and visible on your ride.
You are your child’s example, so save yourself the hassle of an “I’m not wearing that” tantrum by showing your kids how you strap on your helmet, turn on your bike lights, and wear your safety gear. What’s normal for you will become normal for them.
When you share the responsibility of driving your kids to school with neighbors or family members, it’s called “carpooling.” Do the same by bike and you’re “bike-pooling.”
Plan your route and safety protocols together with another trusted parent.
Do all the steps above together at least once, so you make sure you’re on the same page.
Not only will this make everyone’s life easier, but you’ll be more comfortable knowing that your surrogate bike leader has the same expectations and plans as you do. Sharing the responsibility will free up some of your mornings while ensuring that your kids are getting the best possible start to every single day.
To build up your own confidence on the bike, consider taking a maintenance class or joining a group ride hosted by your local bike shop. For example, 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn hosts regular city riding clinics to teach less-experienced riders how to maneuver their bike and handle biking in traffic scenarios.
Many shops like 718 Cyclery have free, scheduled maintenance classes where you can learn basics like changing a flat tire, adjusting the seat height, or keeping a bike’s moving parts clean and lubricated. You’ll feel more confident and in control when you learn how to save the day in the event of a technical mishap.
Jennifer Warner is a beginner biking advocate and outreach director at My City Bikes, the first and only public health campaign dedicated to supporting beginner cyclists.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Can cycling help manage ADHD in kids?
Children who ride a bike two or more times a week are less likely to be overweight.
Dudas, R., and M. Crocetti, 2008 – Association of bicycling and childhood overweight status, Ambulatory Pediatrics, 8, 392–395
Adolescents who participate in bicycling, in-line skating, or skateboarding more than four times a week are 48 percent less likely to be overweight as adults.
Menschik, D., et al., 2008 – Adolescent physical activities as predictors of young adult weight, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 162, 23–28
Nearly two-thirds of children 9–13 do not participate in any organized physical activity outside of school, and 23 percent don’t engage in any free-time physical activity at all.
Duke, J., et al., 2003 – Physical activity levels among children aged 9–13 years: United States, 2002, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 52, 785-788
Participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children.
Singh, A., et al., 2012 – Physical activity and performance at school: A systematic review of the literature including a methodological quality assessment, Archives of Pediatrics &
Adolescent Medicine, 166, 1
Regular exercise reduces depression and improves self-esteem in overweight children.
Petty, K., et al., 2008 – Exercise effects on depressive symptoms and self-worth in overweight children: A randomized controlled trial, Journal of Pediatric Psychology