Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How Not to Bike to School on National Bike to School Day

In honor of Bike to School Day on Wednesday our school bike train will take an extra trip this week. A friend emailed me today asking for suggestions for a video she is doing with a company here in Chicago to promote cycling to school. Her note put me in the mind of how annual bike weeks and days can encourage new riding and I must admit made me a little grumpy. Grumpy, because every day should be bike to school day. Except that no one will make a commitment to change the streets to create a place for children to actually ride to school. I think that any company or entity promoting Bike to School Day should be putting their energy into creating safe separated infrastructure for children to use in Chicago and everywhere else. 

Failing that happening this week here is our list of ways to begin to bike to school if you are out for your maiden voyage this week. If you are not really prepared consider taking your first ride a day or so after Bike to School Day and make it your own personal holiday. You will see our tips involve simple but purposeful planning ahead a few days. 

Don’t take a broken or untuned bike out yourself or put your kid on one to go to school.
Instead, in the days before heading out, check all bikes fit and are tuned.

Don't take out a child who has unpracticed riding skills

Children biking to school should have a decent command of stops and turns and basic bicycle handling. Practice in an non trafficked park or campus to give your child a chance to practice. Practice street riding before taking a school trip on a weekend to time and anticipate any problems with your route.  See below!

Don't strike out with your child on a totally untested route to school

Instead, take the time to create a safe and realistic route. 
Here are our tips for organizing a good long term safe route to your child's school:

  • Choose a quiet less trafficked route to your child’s school and test it out on a couple of rides without your child. 
  • Note that traffic can vary and you want to scout out potential hazards before you go.
  • As you create a route choose crossings that have stoplights and four way stops to optimize safety crossing the street
  • Keep your eye on places that might have broken or choppy pavement.
  • Spots with lots of parked cars can be more apt to have people in them getting out in the mornings so be on the lookout to prevent dooring.
  • Note that the best route home may be totally different in terms of traffic. Try to test your route both ways.

Remember that sidewalk riding has its own hazards and that children are unexpected in intersections as they come off of the sidewalk onto the street. We have a tidy little post on sidewalk riding that has lots of information about ways to safely move from the sidewalk to the street.

We usually ride behind and slightly to the left of our children so that we can see them ahead of us and can be aware of cars passing before they pass our kids.

Don't ride with your kid's backpack straps hanging in their or your wheels

Organize a packing strategy in the day or so before heading off
When packing up school bags, mind hanging straps and close packs so everything doesn’t fall out
Prepack the night  before and have a good plan for breakfast (maybe pack those lunches too)

Don't park your bike poorly  
Create a locking strategy a few days ahead of taking your bikes to school. Get a solid lock and make sure you have your key, plan how to safely lock the bike to prevent theft, and practice a few times. Don't let you or your child lock a bike through a wheel or outside of the frame of any bike.

Don't forget to stay out of the door zone and have fun

Taking the first ride can be a little nerve wracking but hopefully with good planning you are ready for the best ride possible. Have a great and safe time. Bon Voyage

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