8 Reasons To Bike Commute With Your Kids

The following piece is a guest post by Kathleen McDade. Kathleen usually blogs over at Techno Earth Mama, but given her expertise in family cycling, she is going to write a few posts for Utility Cycling on the topic. We look forward to expanding this important piece of utility cycling with Kathleen’s help!

Bicycle commuting alone sounds daunting enough. Taking your kids with you? Isnt that dangerous? Doesnt that just make it harder? Are you crazy?

Im sure some people do think Im crazy. Others treat me as heroic: Youre so good! I could never do that. Its just an everyday thing for me, though. This is how we get to work and school. My husband has our one car, so we dont even have another option, besides walking. I take one or two kids on my Xtracycle, and the others ride or walk on their own.

But why? Well, here are eight reasons why bike commuting with kids is a good idea.

Its fun. Mostly. Yes, sometimes its rainy and windy and we dont wanna. But other times, we cycle through the raindrops singing If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops, oh what a rain that would be! Or we breeze along in the sun, soaking up the vitamin D.

It saves money. We dont need a second car in order to get the kids and me to school and work. So, no car payment, no insurance, no gas, no maintenance. Well, less maintenance. Bikes need maintenance and repairs too, but its generally cheaper and often you can do it yourself.

It reduces oil consumption. Oil is getting scarcer and more expensive. The less we use on short, daily trips, the more we have for when we really need it.

It reduces air and noise pollution. Think about all those cars idling outside the school. Theyre exposing both the schoolchildren and the neighborhood to exhaust fumes, as well as creating extra noise in the area.

First dibs on free boxes! says car-free parent Sarah Gilbert. You know, the free stuff out by the curb? If youre on a bike, its easier to see whats there and make a quick stop.

It sets a good example for your kids. Do you think non-motorized transportation is a good idea? Want to pass that value along to your children? Theres no better way to do that than to involve them in your commute.

It encourages others to ride and walk. People who see others riding and walking to school are more likely to try it themselves, which will multiply several of the benefits above!

It makes the streets safer for everyone. State Representative Mitch Greenlick, here in Portland, Oregon, recently proposed a bill that would make cycling with children under age 6 (in a child seat, trailer, Xtracycle, etc.) illegal. He cited an Oregon Health Sciences University study, which found that Approximately 20% of bicycle commuters experienced a traumatic event and 5% required medical attention during 1 year of commuting. Traumatic events were not related to rider demographics, safety practices, or experience levels.

Yes, that sounds bad. But this study counted any and all injuries as traumatic events, from a scraped knee on up. Research over the years has shown that as bicycle ridership goes up, the crash rate actually goes down (Elly Blue has a great article on grist.org about this, and page 11 of the 2009 Portland Bicycle Count report shows this trend vividly in a chart).

Im on the bike with my kids five days a week. But it doesnt have to be an all or nothing proposition. Can you take one day a week to bike and/or walk together?

Kathleen McDade is a writer, mama, Xtracycle rider and bicycle commuter in Portland, Oregon. She blogs about bicycle commuting and more at http://technoearthmama.com.


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17 thoughts on “8 Reasons To Bike Commute With Your Kids”

  1. KevinW says:

    I wonder what percentage of motorists have a “traumatic event” due to an accident, or the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

    The problem with banning one way of doing something is that people still need to get that thing done, and the alternatives aren’t necessarily any safer.

    1. Good point, Kevin. I hear a lot of people ask if cycling is safe, but it is all relative. Accidents happen on bikes, on cars, and just about anywhere else. Overall, cycling is probably much better for your health (and the health of your kids) than driving, even if the “risks” are somewhat different. So hooray to all the family cycling advocates out there!

  2. Dave Krentz says:

    I’d be interested in seeing the “traumatic event” and “medical attention” stats for motorists.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kathleen McDade. Kathleen McDade said: Hey — I'm on @UtilityCycling today! http://bit.ly/iaFXuN […]

  4. Chris says:

    Americans are too easily “traumatized.” We need to get beyond our comfort-oriented lifestyles and live a little anyway.

    Here’s what I think, even if you opt not to ride with your kids on days when it rains or snows or is cold as long as you opt to ride on optimal days you are still making a change, making a statement and making the world a better place.

    In a perfect world we would all ride every day. And I think sometimes those of us that DO ride every day make it sound like if you’re not giving 100% all the time you’re not doing it right.

    I think its also important to emphasize that for many people, going from an auto-centric lifestyle to a bike-centric lifestyle is a process, and not a 180 degree change.

    So you have small successes, riding with the kiddos on days when its a warm drizzle or in the 40s and dry, and then you gain a little confidence and the next time when the rain is coming down a little harder or its a little colder you know it won’t be quite so bad.

    It’s that first pedal stroke that is important.

  5. […] Reason #5 to bike commute with kids: First dibs on free boxes! […]

  6. Paul says:

    I ride to work everyday but haven’t made the switch for the kids. They take a bus to school most days though so that is a pretty good option.

    For people reading this who might be looking at home purchases or rental locations, you might want to think about bike access to schools, work, groceries, etc. It would have made a big difference in my case if I had. If we had bought our house about 3 miles south of where Iwe did, we would have been right on a bike trail to work as well as middle and high schools.

    The route to my kid’s schools now has some hairy spots that are not bike friendly. I avoid them like the plague. Sustainable commuting options are very important to me now but were not even on my radar when we bought our house.

  7. BikeBike says:

    Great article and inspiring to see another family riding together!

    Happy Cycling!

  8. tim says:

    Great post!

    I don’t know about the US, but according to Transport Canada statistics beetween 60 – 70 cyclists die every year. According to Health Canada about 60-70000 die of heart disease. So tell me which is more “dangerous” riding a bike or NOT riding a bike…

  9. Sara says:

    Kathleen,

    I so appreciate and love that your first reason to ride is that “It’s fun!” This is what we try to explain to folks when they ask us about our family bike commuting or make comments about how we’re ‘so good,’ etc.

    We ride for a lot of the reasons you’ve listed above, but the most wonderful benefit of all the wonderful benefits (staying a one-car family, interacting more closely with our community, saving money on gas, ideal parking, etc) is definitely the FUN we have as a family getting to the place we need to go. Cheers!

  10. Woj says:

    The statistics you mention are interesting, but useless for making a decision. Not everyone cycles so the very low rate for the whole of the Canadian population is not reflective of the danger to cyclists. Also, hart disease is not only caused by lack on exercise and even if everyone is fit that number would not be zero. If you want to use stats as an argument for cycling do it right. The problem is that that is very difficult to do and takes a lot of time and knowledge. I commute by bike, because I think it’s good for you and your environment. Ultimately I ride, because it makes me feel good. I never feel good after driving in traffic or taking the bus. I probably would ride even if it was shown to be worse then diving. As for safety, educate yourself of the common dangers and how to avoid them. Ride safely and be happy.

  11. KYouell says:

    I love that you have emphasized that people don’t have to jump in 100%, they can start simply and maybe that’s all that is good for them.

    Also nice comment about looking at the neighborhood from a bike-viewpoint before buying are renting. That’s what we are doing and it’s one of the reasons it’s taking us so long to find the right place. I’m sure it will be worth it tho. I’m very much looking forward to switching from walk/bus/train with kids or biking alone to being able to add biking with kids as an option, but our priority is to move before investing in a bike rig that will haul the kids as well.

  12. Jed says:

    I think an important related point was touched on in the below Ethicist post, that by never taking your children on a bike, you’re teaching them that the only way to not be afraid of getting around is by car. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/magazine/12FOB-Ethicist-t.html) And of course the numbers don’t bear this out at all. Recent CDC and NHTSA numbers show that cars are by far more risky, followed by being a pedestrian and then followed by bicycle, (http://bikeportland.org/2011/01/24/a-quick-look-at-nhtsas-latest-traffic-safety-facts-data-46554, http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/childpas.htm). Raising children with bicycles increases self esteem, reduces car/taxi/mom dependence, and increases the independence, compassion and responsibility of your children. Understanding how risky traffic is also makes them safer drivers. And wouldn’t you love to save up for a new bike for your child’s graduation–rather than a new car?

  13. chip says:

    here in spain ive been taking my daughter to school every day by bike this year. Its been amazing. Having a car here is a lot of trouble, not enough parking, fees, taxes, gaz, biking is the best option, and the most enjoyable.
    peace

  14. […] out Utility Cycling’s tips for riding in the rain, or reasons to bike commute with your kids, or about how a Portland, OR, bicycle delivery service is helping combat hunger in and very local, […]

  15. Rodney says:

    I started commuting (biking) to save on fuel costs only. I have to admit, it was a chore at first. Learning the nuances of transportation cycling helped me move to cycling with my kids in tow (child trailer). We go to the parks and local shopping by bike. Much more fun and enjoyable.

    For me and my area, a bike is more efficient to use. Using the kiddo chariot or my flatbed trailer really rocks!

  16. Hi Utilitycycling,
    Maybe a little off topic, however, If you are imagining of cycling to give good results then it can be a reliable strategy to inquire your agency what provisions they have for staff members cycling to labor.
    BTW great blogpost

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