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Biking to School: One pedal stroke at a time!

Fall is here! School has begun!!! The weather is cooling off and the mosquitoes are beginning to die off…and finally we can go outside again anytime of the day!

But many of us are busier than ever too. Busy with chores, work, life and ready for the election to be over for some sanity.

Parenting
Parenting

Some of us are lucky enough have an opportunity to commute by bike to work whereas others may not and reluctantly hop in the car or on the bus for the commute.

With all that is going on sometimes the last thing we think about is how we get to school but just actually getting the kid(s) to school. But the way we get the kid(s) to school can have a profound impact on their success at school, overall health, and outlook in life. As if we did not have enough pressure as parents, huh?

So, how do your kids get to school? By bus, car, bike or on their own two feet? Maybe you really want an opportunity to have them bike to school or walk. Maybe you feel they are attending a school that doesn’t have an option for alternate modes of transportation because it is too far or not enough time.

As parents we want dearly to share the love of biking and the outdoors. Time seems to limit us so often. Many of us are busy however with work and daily chores that it gets easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of working to get to school by biking. But maybe just a first baby step would help make a world of difference.

First step, figure out how much time you can dedicate to the alternative commute. Maybe one day a week is all that can be managed given all of life’s constraints. That one day is enough to make a huge difference so take it!

Second step, figure out how much of the commute you believe you can make initially by bike. Do you think the kids could make a 15min ride or 10min or could they do a full 30min ride like champions of biking!?

Third, and probably most important, find a ‘safe route‘. This can be tricky. The safest route for less experienced bikers is a residential road with lower speed limits (25mph and under) or dedicated bike paths. Alternatively bike lanes with physical barriers.

In finding a safe route however not all communities have the bike friendly infrastructure desired. You know your neighborhood and environment best. A safe method to finding the right route is rather pragmatic. Find a local bike map or local bike advocacy group. From the available bike map you should be able to see lower speed roads (essential) and bike friendly roads. Also highlighted on a bike map are crosswalks enabled for pedestrians and cyclists. Some more advanced crosswalks maybe highlighted in these maps to give you an even safer crossing.

Kids on Wheels: Crosswalk Capture
Kids on Wheels: Crosswalk Capture

One very cool tool put together by the city of Brisbane helps put together a safe commute and maybe a useful tool to familiarize yourself with building your own route.

Once you have mapped out an opportunity to bike to school with the kids. DO ride this on the weekend first. Try a nice Saturday and Sunday morning when traffic is light and see how the kid(s) do. Is the distance too much? Do you need to choose a different street or maybe hook up to a bus route to finish the ride and if so, can bike go on the bus? Would it be better to drive 2miles closer, park and bike from a safe location? This is still a good choice as with time you will get stronger and more confident.

Once you have this ALL worked out and feel like the kids AND you are emotionally and physically ready to tackle it- give it a shot on a nice Friday morning or so- I promise although it is nerve racking initially it does get so, SO much easier. And ultimately EVERYONE has a better ‘ride’ to school!

Fourth step, figure out the needs of your equipment. Always have a helmet, lights and a flag and/or bell for the kids on whatever bike your choose. For a choice of bikes, many younger kids may prefer to use balance bikes or bikes with training wheels. This definitely limits the distance and increases safety concerns.

If your child(ren) is (are) ‘ok’ on these types of bikes but you have a fairly long way to travel, consider a trail along bike. You can also buy a tandem trailer bike for multiple kids needing some assistance.

These are amazing at getting your little one used to biking the distance without solely relying on their ability. Have a little one to tag along that can’t quite reach the pedals- NO Problem! Haul your trailer behind the tag along bike OR consider having a friend join to help with pulling the trailer.

Our Ride to School!
Our Ride to School!

We bike 3 miles to and from school daily and my daughter recently got her trail along bike and she loves it! She actually looks forward to going to school and the pedaling definitely works her legs- she sleeps much better at night for it too!

So you have the tools and the knowledge – get out and ride. Whether it is one day, two days, one morning or all week back and forth just starting is the key to laying the foundation for future success. You can do it and you have help I promise!

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Commuter Profile and Commuting Stories: Thomas Brock

Thomas BrockMy name is Thomas and I commute about 3-5 times a week by bicycle in Jacksonville, NC. It’s home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (where I work) and isn’t known for it’s advanced urban or transportation planning.

My daily commute is between 10 and 11 miles (one-way) and is from the deserted urban area of Downtown Jacksonville to Camp Lejeune’s Main Side area and back. I can make the trip in about 50 minutes without too much effort. My preferred course is mostly on a paved multi-use path, but includes about two miles of on-road (sometimes with high-volumes of traffic) travel.

I ride a 2007 Trek 7.3fx that came stock with disc brakes. I’ve since switched from platform pedals to Shimano M324 combination pedals with a platform on one side and clipless on the other. I’ve also swapped out the stock handlebar/shifters/brake levers for a set of drop-bars, bar-end shifters and ergo brake levers. I use a rack with trunk and sometimes a set of cheap Schwinn panniers from Wal-Mart. I’ll get deeper into my setup in later posts, but for reference, that’s my ride.

Riding on-road in Jacksonville is…exciting at best. The majority of motorists are 18-22 year-old male Marines in sports-like cars (think Ford Mustangs) and lifted 4-wheel-drive trucks. They’re hormone-driven, multi-tasking (cell phones, iPods, shaving; I’ve seen it all) living-embodiments of death for bicyclists. The drivers that aren’t military are often older folks that don’t think bicycles are anything other than a child’s toy and definitely don’t rate to use “their roads.” I’ve had my share of run-ins with drivers and you’ll hear about those in future posts.

In addition to commuting, I work to advocate for bicycle and pedestrian access in Jacksonville. I have served on the City of Jacksonville’s Trails and Greenways Commission and the Recreation and Parks Commission. I’m currently chairman of both groups. I’m also fairly active in the local bicycle club, the Down East Cyclists, but the club does not participate in advocacy.

That’s me. In upcoming posts we’ll discuss the equipment I use, the stuff I want, how I survive in Jacksonville and how we can all make a difference through bicycle advocacy.

This guest article is by Thomas Brock. Thomas will be an on going guest writer, bringing his own commuting stories, gear reviews and other helpful tips to Commute By Bike.

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Commute by Bike – Carson City

Bike in the ParkHello and welcome to my first post on Commute by Bike! I have been a full time bicycle commuter since I moved back to Carson City, Nevada in November of 2007. For the past several years, I lived in the town to the south of Carson City, and had a 16 mile commute (32 mile round trip) by car. I was only successful bicycle commuting these long miles a few times. By the time I rode around at lunch, I would log 50 miles on some days. While it was a great adventure to ride these long miles, daily bicycle commuting just wasn’t practical for me. And these were the fair weather days!

In October of 2007 I decided I was done being a slave to my car, so my family and I moved to Carson City, just 2.5 miles from where I work. I immediately began bicycle commuting, and it has changed my life.

A friend of mine has a saying, “Live Free or Drive“. I have found this to be true. My snowy, bumper-to-bumper, white knuckled car commutes have been replaced by pleasant slow rides through the park. An hour spent in the metal cage has been replaced by cycling, my passion. I once figured out that I spent a whole 11 days out of the year sitting in my car commuting to work! I’d much rather spend those days riding.

I don’t claim to be an expert at commuting by bicycle. In fact, today I forgot to pack underwear! I’ve learned a lot over the last couple months though, and I keep learning something new each commute. I will share with you my stories and lessons learned on Commute by Bike, and perhaps you will learn something new or be inspired to start bicycle commuting yourself!