Since moving to California, we have been trying to interest our middle-school-aged son in riding his bike to school. In Massachusetts, I’d been the Walk to School coordinator for years while my kids were in elementary school. I became familiar with International Walk to School Day in early October, when we would have major events. One year I guest-blogged on Free Range Kids about it: Non-Sanctimonious Blog about Today: WALK TO SCHOOL DAY! Even on regular days, I would walk with my kids, drop them off, and then catch the bus to work.
But biking has been another story. It’s been an uphill battle, metaphorically, if not literally (our area is quite flat). When we lived in Massachusetts, our kids never really took to cycling either, for various reasons. We lived on a hill, the streets around us weren’t all that quiet or car-free, it was cold and/or snowy a lot of the year, you had to find your helmet, and, most distressing to me, the culture around biking had changed.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s I remember riding my bike alone or with friends at a surprisingly young age. For example, when I was in elementary school, my next-door neighbor and I rode our bikes alone, without adults or helmets, to Carrols, a fast food restaurant a little less than a mile away and collected the Looney Tunes glasses that you could get with the purchase of a large Pepsi. Today’s eBay listings for these glasses say they were made and sold in 1973, which would have made me 7 or 8 years old when this was happening. Yes, at age 8, I helmetlessly rode my bike almost a mile each way with only a similar-aged friend for company, in order to purchase and consume a large sugary beverage in a commercial tie-in glass. The horror!
Even more horrifying to me is the fact that neither of my children, born in 1999 and 2003, respectively, have ever done anything like this.
When we first got here I had high hopes. California culture seems a lot more conducive to biking in many ways: there are bike lanes all over the place, the weather is always good, and the school district heavily promotes biking to school. In fact, just last Tuesday, I spent a half hour handing out raffle tickets to all the bikers, walkers, and skateboarders for “ABC: Anything But a Car” day at my son’s middle school. But that school is too far for our son to walk, and he was not enthusiastic about biking, at all.
He finally did it for the first time a few weeks ago when he had to get to school early and I had to go to work even earlier, so I couldn’t drive him. But it was not without a lot of foot-dragging and whining. He biked for ABC day last week, and now he has a new bike to replace the old one that he might have felt was too small and embarrassing to ride to 7th grade. At least the helmet is a non-issue: everyone wears them and he wouldn’t even be interested in trying to go without. The latest challenge is that it’s now so dark in the morning that the sun has barely risen by 7:20 when he has to leave for school. If we can just get through this week to the fall back, he’ll have some daylight again for biking.
I am trying to get used to using my own bike for errands too. Here we are in the land of the endless freeways, hopefully riding our bikes!