When I was a child, biking meant freedom. I could bike within my neighborhood to a friend's house or to the playground without any parental supervision. These days, children are rarely allowed to roam free, but the spring air is enough for me to taste the sweet freedom of biking from my childhood again.
As an adult, I bike for exercise but also as a fun family activity. When our kids were babies, we stuck them in the bike carrier and took them for rides along a nearby rail trail. They always complained in the beginning, but enjoyed the ride as soon as we got moving, and often fell asleep.
As my son got older, he was able to bike along side us, with his baby sister in the bike carrier or trailer.
Now my 8-year-old son loves his bike and flies up and down the driveway any moment he can get. Unfortunately, we don't live in an area where kids can bike on the roads unsupervised, but he is perfectly happy making donuts in our driveway.
This spring before the snow even melted, my 5-year-old daughter couldn't wait to ride her bike.
Before you bring out your bikes, make doubly sure that you are safe! Here are some rules that we always follow:
- Wear a properly fitted helmet. Kids' heads grow, so check their helmet fit every year.
- Inflate tires properly. A bicycle is a vehicle just like a car, and when tires are not properly inflated, accidents can happen.
- Check your brakes. Brake pads dry out over the years and are cheap to replace.
- Always ride with the flow of traffic. This is the opposite rule from walking.
- Always stop at intersections and follow traffic signs. Never assume that cars can see you!
- When biking alone, carry a cell phone. In the days before cell phones, I also carried a spare inner tube, tire irons and a portable pump. I still carry these things because I'm a throwback and like to remember the time when I successfully fixed a flat on the way to work.
- Carry water to stay hydrated.
We are also fortunate to live near a rail trail. A rail trail is a stretch of unused railroad tracks that has been paved or otherwise converted for biking, walking, inline skating and horseback riding as well as cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winters. It provides a safe and often scenic route away from cars and traffic. The best part of a rail trail is that it is often straight and not very hilly, ideal for beginning cyclists. When I bike alone on the rail trail, I can almost forget that I am exercising and get lost in the music, podcast or audiobook from my MP3 player. And when I'm not engrossed in music, I take in the sights of the nearby river, farms and wildlife. I've seen horses, cows, birds, rabbits and even snakes!
To find a rail trail near you, visit TrailLink, sponsored by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy. Don't forget, biking is one of the greenest ways to get around. Happy Earth Day everyone!