The excitement of a Christmas or birthday present can quickly become a fear or frustration without the right amount of parental involvement. Once your child has unpacked their bike, it is time for an older sibling or parent to help setting the ground rules and teaching them to ride. The active balance learned on a bike teach children innately that a moving object (them) is easier to balance than a perfectly stationary one. The next phase is developing riding boundaries, learning the rules and how to critically think about times when the rules must be bent. An example may be that your child always rides on the road, except where there is a bike path that provides greater safety. In a busy shopping centre, you might insist that they dismount and head to the footpath walking their bike. When you are not there, they apply the same rules because, “It is safer” or “I can look at things in the shop windows and not crash into someone.” With so many advantages cycling is one of the few transportation modes that improve the environment, just by more getting more people out of cars, trains, boats and planes. It is not only about the ability to ride for the rest of your life, it can be recreational, Olympic racing, getting to work, BMX, mountain biking, holiday adventures or local competitions. Your bike can be your path to childhood or teen freedom, an opportunity to explore your city, town or get to work feeling pumped from a good round of environmentally friendly exercise. The environment loves bikes. They don’t carve up bushland, pollute the air or cost fossil or electrical fuels to operate. You are the energy source. The rhythmic action is great for your knees and legs in general, your heart and lungs and provides your brain with the internal stimulation of increased blood flow getting your brain ready for thinking. Kids showing up as school on bikes arrive with a greater sense of independence, confidence and ready to learn. It is faster and more efficient than walking. In many cities crowded peak hours bikes provide faster travel times that busses or cars.
Bicycles and Rules in Society
Children on bikes learn road rules early. They are forced every peddling trip to consider others, improving their awareness. It is a perfect way to teach kindness and courtesy without even mentioning the words. This is true whether you are on the 2 or 3 wheeled phase.
Its like riding a bike, you never forget. -Anon
The Creative or Entrepreneurial Child
All kids are crazy after bicycles and love owning their special one. It may be the first major thing they can ‘make their own’. When you next walk past your child’s school bike parking zone, be sure to check out some of the creative personalisations the kids with or without their parents help have developed. When your child want new lights, tyres or flashy stickers, use it as an opportunity to reinforce their maths and financial skills by reinforcing their saving/spending knowledge. Don’t buy their item, plan with them how to save for it, budget their spending and even take them shopping to buy things for themselves. Learning how to fit or attach a new pack-rack is something they can learn under your supervision. The more of the modification they do for themselves, the more they value the final outcome. What a great story for ‘Show & Tell’. Watch for the little entrepreneurs in your brood – the child who wants to add value to their bike and sell it for a profit, or the tinkerer who wants to ‘do up’ an old bike, lovingly restoring the rusty frame under your guidance. Sometimes a new coat of paint creates a bike others envy, making a profitable sale much easier!
How It will Benefit Your Child
Putting aside all the social benefits, the life skills and the confidence, patience, self esteem and discipline, your child develops by cycling is road safety and endurance. The physical benefits, however, outweigh the social benefits. Their cycling improves leg strength, flexibility, coordination, awareness and reflexes. Of course their balance improves and burning calories controls body weight. The humble bicycle builds aerobic or cardiovascular fitness. High school students, developing independence are able to socialise without parents having to drive them to their friends, to sports training, the beach or even going to an after school job or the movies. Early independence brings social responsibility and understanding of regulation of behaviour through the rules that govern what happens on the road. Some kids love bikes so much they want to train in one of the many cycling disciplines: road or track racing, combination events such as Run/Swim/Cycle or even Ironman, BMX or trick cycling at a skateboard rink or adventure mountain bike cycling.
The Long Term Cyclist
Yet perhaps the greatest of all benefits is the use of bicycles for the rest of your child’s life. European countries, in particular Holland or the Scandinavian bloc have made the bike the most popular transport mode in many cities. Amsterdam has replaced roads with cycle highways, after designated cycleways became overcrowded during peak periods. Simply, everyone rides. Everywhere. Old, young, workers, students, migrants, politicians. Denmark and Hollands, Germany’s long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel all get around on bikes. Not limousines, every day shopping is done on their favourite bike at their local market or supermarket. Elderly people who cycle maintain balance and independence for longer than those who are driven around. They are fitter, more mentally adept and coordinated. When you help a child get started on their own bicycle, there is a high chance they will explore during their holidays – on bike tours. They will be fitter university students who are more independent. Their lives will be more active and you help their social awareness, environmental consciousness and consideration for others, especially cyclists. Doesn’t your child deserve a bike?
From the author My dad rode bikes his whole life. When he was in the Migrant Camp at Bonnegilla near Wodonga, he rode an old ladies bike with a basket on the front and a home made backpack (Potato bag with ropes) to Morwell and back several times. My older brother made the journey with him once in the basket on the front. He took a few building tools and started building his house with his brother who was a carpenter.
When I was 7 I had a splinter in my leg, just below the knee. It became infected and we couldn't get it out with needles or a kitchen knife. Dad took me to the hospital 7 km away on the central bar of the bike, the splinter was cut out, stitches in and we rode home the same way.
In his late 50s he rode to work, a 120km round trip, leaving home at 05:00 to be at work by 07:30.
When he was in a nursing home in his late 70s, we put a gym bike in his room. He rode every day enjoying the garden view. His path took him to the uncluttered bike paths in the sky.
Ryan Williamson is a gymnastics and movement expert. His personal experience of slipping through education's cracks gives him an unmatched passion to ensure his 3 young children learn in using methods that suit them. He has developed gymnastics based programs to improve academic test scores, numeracy, literacy and creative thinking. Read Ryan's story - above *My Story*