We all know that kids are healthier and happier if they ride or walk to school, right? Well, cycling is good for us adults as well and, if you can combine a school run with your commute to work, even better. So, let’s get the new school year off to a good start with a resolution to ride to school with the kids more often. Start with Pedal Power’s ride-to-school tips.
Set a goal
It’s not always possible to ride every day. After-school cello lessons could make the school commute far too challenging or a meeting with a client a few suburbs away may mean you have to take the car. However, there are bound to be days during each week when you can ride your bike to school and even on to work. Have a look at your schedule. What are the patterns? Can you arrange out of office meetings or cello lessons for the day when you have to take the car anyway? Consider how cycling to school can work with your schedule. Set a goal, tell the kids and stick with it.
Check the bikes
If the family’s bikes haven’t seen any action for a while, you may need to get them serviced at a local bike shop. Once they’re in good working order you should be able to maintain them with some basic skills.
Regularly check the tyres and pump them up to the recommended pressure (this can usually be found on the tyre). Spin the wheel and make sure it’s still true and check the brakes, especially if the bike only has hand brakes. The chain is the most important part of the bike and even that will only need cleaning once every few months.
Make sure each rider has a helmet that fits properly. The chin strap should secure firmly and your child should not be able to get it off without undoing the buckle. Check for cracks in the outer and inner linings of the helmet and, if you find any, buy a new one - it's a good investment! Every helmet worn in Australia must meet Australian Standards. Look for the sticker.
Make sure each bike has a working bell or horn. There are some great novelty noise-makers out there for kids’ bikes. Teach your child to use it often, especially if they ride on footpaths to get to school. A nice loud noise is a good warning to motorists that a bike rider is approaching.
Does the bike fit the child? A bike that is too small or too big may not only be hard to ride but can be unsafe. Your child should be able to straddle the bike with their feet flat on the ground then, with a slight tilt of the bike, be able to sit on the seat with one foot still grounded and the other on the pedal.
Adopt some safety rules
- Try to dress in plain, bright coloured clothing. Make sure motorists can see you and your children.
- Teach your children to stop at roads, check for traffic and cross on foot.
- Instruct them to brake hard when you yell STOP!
- Develop one or two word instructions that you all understand, eg. car back, pedal hard, turn left/right, stay left, slow down.
- Teach them to watch for pedestrians and give them as much room as possible.
- Make sure they watch for car reversing lights and listen for car engines as they ride across driveways.
Choose your route
We are so lucky in Canberra. There are some great shared paths we can use, bikes are allowed on footpaths, it’s relatively flat (in many suburbs) and there are very few school commutes that are more than a kilometre or two long.
- Take time to think about the best route to school from your home;
- Choose bike paths over roads and footpaths;
- Choose paths through or beside parks rather than footpaths in front of houses. It may be the longer option but it also may be the safest;
- Which way do other families ride? Join other groups as there’s safety in numbers.
Sort out security
What sort of security is offered at the school? Is there as lockable shed or secure area where students are encouraged to keep their bikes? It’s a good idea to get a combination lock for your child but make sure you choose a number they will remember. Teach your child how to secure the bike and helmet but don’t forget they need to also know how to unlock it!
Is your school registered for "Ride or Walk to School" program?
Over the past few years Pedal Power has been in partnership with the Physical Activity Foundation, the Smith Family, ACT Health and other organisations in implementing Ride or Walk to School (RWTS). There are already 20 ACT schools registered. If your school is part of RWTS encourage the school to be active in planning travel routes, providing security for bikes, running maintenance programs and conducting a host of bike-related events to encourage kids and parents to get on their bikes. Contact your school to find out what can be done. If your school is not part of the program, get them to contact Pedal Power to help them improve their ride-to-school numbers.
Spend a few days preparing for a school commute, check your gear and put some simple safety measures in place and you’ll soon realise that riding to school is fun and healthy... and it may even be faster than driving!