In celebration of Walk to School Day on October 6, 2021 my 13 year old son Asa and I decided to share our bike-to-school story.
For the parents reading this blog, remember the first time you put your infant daughter or son into a car seat and drove home from the hospital? Remember how strange it felt to figure out how to get the 3-point safety belt system around your baby and for those who drove how scary it was to get behind the wheel and start your car? Do you remember having to work up the courage to back out of the parking space to head home? I’ll never forget the tremendous responsibility I felt driving home with each of my kids for the first time.
Teaching Asa to ride a bike was a very similar feeling if not even more intense because it meant relinquishing the responsibility of transporting my most valuable passenger by getting to a place where I was comfortable trusting him to navigate the streets of Los Angeles under his own power. To this day I haven’t been as terrified and proud as when Asa found his balance and started riding down the street for the first time.
So when Asa asked me about bicycle commuting to school, I felt those same familiar fears mixed with pride. As with every other “first time,” setting Asa up for success on his path to become a bicycle commuter took some soul searching and research. I hope sharing our journey helps you in your process to get your kids riding to school.
From the time Asa was just starting out at six years old until he was ten we only rode where there were no cars. This meant we generally had to throw the bikes on a rack and drive to protected bike infrastructure or make our way by public transit to open street events. As we gained experience and confidence we began to ride protected bike lanes and made sure we only crossed major intersections that had traffic signals. Then this summer when he turned thirteen, we decided we were ready to try and ride to school by again riding on bike lanes or at the very least on calm surface streets. While it has taken a lot of planning and practice, the extra effort was well worth it. Read my interview with him below!
Eli: How do you feel after arriving at school in the morning when you bike and when you don’t? How is it the same, how is it different? The good and the bad.
Asa: I feel more awake and focused when I ride my bike to school in the morning. I think it’s because when I ride I am in control of where I’m going. I have to pay attention to what’s happening on the street. I have to watch out for cars and pedestrians. I have to avoid obstacles like potholes and broken glass. But all these challenges make riding kind of fun. When I’m being driven to school I’m more spaced-out and just passive. I’m totally not aware of my surroundings. I wake up faster and more completely when I ride to school so by the time I get there I’m more ready for the day. Besides it’s really fun to ride to school
Eli: How long is your commute?
Asa: +/- 5.5 Miles depending on whether or not we take a more scenic route!
Eli: What would you say to other students your age who are curious about biking to school?
Asa: I would say you should try to ride to school because it is really fun. It’s not only better for you because you won’t be as groggy when you get to school, but it is better for everyone because by riding a bike you’re not in a car which runs on fossil fuels and pollutes our air.
Eli: What advice would you give them?
Asa: For advice, the first thing you need to do is make sure your bike is road worthy - meaning you need to check the air pressure in your tires, make sure your brakes are working and check to make sure your chain is in good condition. It’s called the ABC Quick Check - Ahhh I made this video with my dad when I was a youngling.
My dad and I did a few practice rides on the weekend before we decided we were ready to bike commute on a school day. We used the Google Maps bike function to find the best route. We ended up discovering a slightly longer and slower route that took quieter streets because it is more fun and safer to ride on quiet streets than streets with a lot of traffic.
Before you get on the road make sure you have the following:
A riding partner or partners. It’s always safer to ride with others. I ride with my dad, but you can ride with friends or a neighbor or really anyone you know is responsible and can help you out.
Your helmet. It’s the law for anyone under 18 years old.
Front light and rear light (make sure they are bright)
You want to wear clothing that is comfortable and easy to move in like a T-shirt and shorts. But layers are important too, because it can be cold when you first start so I bring a sweatshirt that I put in my backpack.
You may want to get a slightly bigger backpack to carry all your stuff. If you get serious about commuting you may want to get panniers - REI has a good selection.
Bring an ID (I use my school ID), your phone, and some money for a snack
Finally, don't forget your lock! Even if you park your bike in a secure school bike parking corral or bike rack, you need to lock up your bike. There is nothing worse than having your bike stolen.
Eli: What have you learned from this experience?
Asa: Getting to school can actually be fun, and not boring, if you ride a bike.
My advice to any parent thinking about bicycle commuting to school is first to take a deep breath and to take the time to talk it through with your entire family. Next, there are a ton of amazing resources available to you! I've listed a few below.
If your kids are already bicycle commuting to school please share your experiences in the comments.
Walk 'n Rollers - Walk ‘n Rollers was founded to encourage children to walk and bike to school more frequently. The perfect resource!
Safety & Education - Includes Metro Bicycle Education Safety Training (BEST) Program where you can learn how to ride predictably, follow the rules of the road, and becoming aware of the door zone.