My father likes to jokingly retell the story of when he taught me how to ride a bike and how he questioned if I would ever learn. We both remember the skinned knees, him running behind me holding on to the big banana seat, and his letting go without my knowledge (until he yelled, “You’re doing it!”, which caused me to turn my head, panic, and promptly crash). Learning to ride a bike was an expectation in our house, and the countless “let’s try again” frustrations on both of our parts are embedded in our memories. My sister and I started with big wheels before graduating to bicycles with training wheels and eventually to two-wheelers. We biked for exercise, pleasure, and freedom, and I rode my bike to school every day as my mode of transportation.
How Bike Riding Benefits Young Children
Years later when I became an educator, I learned that those young years of bike riding not only provided me with fun and independence but also awarded me many other benefits. Research now tells us that bicycling improves cognitive functioning with advantages to memory, logical reasoning, and attention skills, plus improved motor coordination and balance. Further, when children operate a bicycle, their brains decipher between right and left, the same directionality skills needed for reading – with research indicating that preschoolers who bike ride have an advantage when they later learn to read.
Bike riding also provides children with the opportunity to practice and apply critical-thinking skills in which they are forced to make decisions quickly, effectively, and with immediate outcomes. When maneuvering on two wheels, kids do not have time to ponder multiple options and instead must quickly decide and react. Navigating around potholes, following a curved path, mapping out a route, and having to stop quickly require immediate problem-solving and fast thinking. These authentic opportunities to apply their skills build self-confidence and resiliency. Every bike rider knows that at some point, despite all of our best efforts, we will fall. However, what we do after the fall is what matters: We must brush ourselves off, climb back on, and resume our ride. To put it simply, we persevere. Bike riders learn not to give up, to try again, and to learn from failure. These skills cannot be taught unless they are practiced and applied.
Bike Day at Dawson
Each spring, Dawson’s Early Childhood program hosts a Bike Day during our annual Week of the Young Child events in which students bring their bikes and helmets to school for a bike parade. It is always a day filled with joyful laughter and squeals, with our entire community cheering on our youngest Bears as they trek through campus.
I’ve been participating in Dawson’s Bike Day since 2007, and in recent years, I’ve noticed a decline in the number of students who own bikes and an increase in the number of children needing to borrow school trikes. This informal data makes me wonder if bike riding is losing its place as a priority among families. Unlike when I was a kid, children don’t need their bikes as a mode of transportation, and many parents don’t feel safe letting their children roam the sidewalks as my sister and I did. I worry that, as a result, children are not learning the important skills that are attained through this activity.
Bike Riding Promotes Quality Family Time
Along with brain development benefits, bike riding facilitates family connections and allows for time spent together without distractions. Not only are the physical and mental health advantages important, but perhaps even more valuable is the time spent away from technology.
When children are engaged in physical activity with their parents, they are more likely to talk about their day and share their feelings. More than ever, carving out time for parents to build strong connections and communicate with their children is imperative. Today’s young children are bombarded with digital media and games, which pull them away from family time and isolate them from taking part in important family conversations. Family bike rides increase the mental and physical health of the entire family and allow parents to model the need to wean from screens.
Eventually, I mastered riding my two-wheeler and successfully looped the block without my father jogging alongside me. It was such a powerful accomplishment that I still remember it to this day. The sense of pride and freedom I felt during that first independent ride could not have been achieved without that specific lived experience.
As our world becomes more and more digital and the need for bike riding as transportation lessens, I hope parents continue to place value on the benefits of biking. As John F. Kennedy said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”
Suggested Bike Riding Resources for Parents:
Director of EC-1