These past couple days I have had the privilege of escorting these cheerful children to school by bike. Here are 10 thoughts that just might change your life!
1. Commuting by bike is cooler and more socially accepted now than it has been in probably a century. While riding the paved bike path toward the school, we passed numerous bicycle commuters of all ages. This brought me great joy. H.G. Wells says it well: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” The adults were all heading toward important jobs downtown, and several children were pedaling the opposite direction to the neighborhood school. When we arrived I was stunned to find 20 bikes already there, the bike racks were all taken, and more were coming! We quickly laid claim to a light pole before that was taken too. My son was momentarily nervous to carry his bike helmet into school to place it in his locker. This slight anxiety was easily extinguished by pointing to the great throng of bikes of all sizes and saying, “Don’t worry about it. Biking to school is cool. Look at all these other bikes!” When I was a kid, people didn’t bike to school. In high school, especially, this was taboo. Now it’s rather common. Amazing….
2. A little bit of infrastructure pays big dividends. My city, Duluth, is experiencing a major increase in enthusiasm for biking. Much of this is due to infrastructure that has been expanded and improved in recent years (paved bike paths that are separated from car traffic, the addition of bike lanes and routes, bike racks reliably spaced throughout the city, etc). “Build it and they will come,” definitely has proven to be the case. Nearly ever biker I see is wearing a great big smile. Just five years ago I was a regular commuter to a large office building that housed 1,000 worker bees. The only other bike I’d reliably see parked out back was ridden by a janitor. Not a single “professional” was biking to work regularly.
The common sighting of other bike-commuters is noteworthy these days. Now I’m seeing these people everywhere. It’s remarkable to see such a change in only a few years. The grumpypants among us will balk at these investments, but they need to see the bigger picture apart from the simple bean-counting. Things like joy being spread throughout a community, a LIFETIME OF BETTER HEALTH, greater connectivity with real people in your own town or city, enhanced productivity, a dramatic decrease in stress, cleaner air, less traffic from fewer cars on the road, etc, are absolutely priceless. My child that struggles with anxiety reported back that there were absolutely no struggles with this on these days (the first time in months). Strenuous exercise has the potential to keep us off a path that could lead to medication otherwise. This, in and of itself, is more than worth the small amount of effort involved. We’re actually enjoying breakfast together before school again!
3. Kids that bike to school are happier. The same applies to adults. Anecdotally, I can share that my productivity at work absolutely increased when I started biking every day. Prior to this I was sinking into a work-related depression. After selling the 2nd car and using the bike exclusively, I actually looked forward to going to work. I enjoyed the morning ride immensely, and arrived at work in a spirit of joy and with a sense of accomplishment. The influx of positivity transformed me into a better employee and a better friend to my co-workers. This is impossible to quantify, but it was huge. After a hard day at work, I relished the cleansing ride back home that enabled me to be more fully present with my family the instant I stepped through the door. I have to say that when the biking stopped after I began working from home as a telecommuter, not only did relationships dry up, my reservoir of positivity was also consumed eventually.
My kids actually looked forward to going to school these past two days. Most days are not like this. In fact, at times we have had a virtual forced march to the bus stop. Biking absolutely had something to do with the change in attitude. One of them in particular has had a difficult time in maintaining motivation. I believe regular biking is a part of the solution to this problem.
4. Since kids are forced to sit through much of the day, biking to school is a fantastic method of flaring off some of their excess energy before the day begins.
5. Research proves that kids are able to learn more effectively after engaging in exercise. By the way, I’m fully aware that each of these statements are “Captain Obvious” in nature. However, most people have yet to grab hold of this simple wisdom.
6. Kids want to bike to school. They actually do. This isn’t just for children of hippies. I was pleased to observe children from families across a variety of socioeconomic situations and political persuasions. This isn’t about politics. It’s about happiness and common sense.
7. At one point I watched from the distance as the kids raced out ahead of me with abandon. They were filled with pure, childlike joy. And remember, they were on their way to school! This was far more satisfying than standing around waiting for the bus. By the time they got to school they were already infused with a sense of accomplishment.
8. Start with whatever is realistic for you. Life isn’t perfect, so we all fall short of the ideal constantly. For example, one of the neighborhood kids has been biking to school for weeks as a part of 30 Days of Biking. Rather than wallow in inadequacy, because we hadn’t done this until now, I used their example as motivation. Guilt never works. Follow the path of joy, rather than guilt and duty. If biking to school isn’t realistic, perhaps run some of your errands on the bike with your kids, etc. Be creative. There are opportunities to build this practice into your family’s lifestyle.
9. This has the potential to solve another problem that has vexed us all year. Backpacks are too heavy, and have been for years. Wearing their own backpack helps the kids to only pack what they really need.
10. You, and your kids, will feel a greater sense of connection to your community.