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Back to School on Bikes!

By Adam Marsal

Do you work part-time as a taxi driver that brings your kids to and from the school every day? What about letting them cycle instead? Experts talk about the appropriate age and significant benefits of commuting to school on bikes.

While some parents would prefer watching Fifty Shades of Grey one more time to letting their kids cycle to school unattended, others consider also the benefits of daily commuting, like the improvement of physical fitness and enhancing mental performance. Despite statistics revealing that two in three kids would like to bike to school, in fact, only two per cent of European children do cycle. The most cited arguments against daily commuting are concerns about safety in morning and afternoon traffic as well as legal issues. In Austria, for example, kids are not allowed to cycle unsupervised until age twelve.

According to surveys carried out in several European cities, children that are ferried to school on a daily basis spend two and a half hour in the car every week. Not only does this make about eight per cent of the whole school time, but it also outnumbers the average weekly time devoted to physical training. Cycling, as well as other sports, improves bone strength and muscle tone, and contributes to healthier joints, increased alertness, and this all would be ensured just by daily rides to school.

When is the right time?

Even though kids aged around five can already cycle in a straight line, it would not be responsible to let them cycle in traffic. Experts say that the proper age when children can cycle unsupervised is not under 8 years. In Germany, there’s no legally given age, but most schools recommend to start cycling from third or fourth grade. Here are the most commonly cited reasons:

Why experts say that kids under 8 are rather unfit to cycle in traffic:

Up to 8 years of age, children have not yet grown to perform more than one task at a time.

They have difficulty recognising the direction from which different sounds are coming.

They still get distracted very easily, and it’s hard for them to systematically concentrate for a long time.

While adults perceive objects even on the periphery of the visual field, children focus only on the activities that occur in front of them, which makes them vulnerable to dangers coming from other directions.

Elementary school children find it difficult to estimate distance and speed accurately.

For slightly older kids, the benefits of cycling undoubtedly prevail because:

Cycling would teach children how to behave in traffic.

Daily sports activity would increase their health and fitness.

Decision-making about the journey would encourage their independence.

It’s a clean means of transport, which makes it a great alternative for the future.

It’s cheaper than travelling by car.

How to prepare your kids for their first ride to school?

Check the legal age in your country at which your kids may start to ride alone.

Find the best route and try to ride with them for a couple of days to make sure everything goes alright.

Test their road signs knowledge.

Revise traffic rules including behaving on the crossroads, the minimum distance to be kept behind the cars and indicating intended direction change by left or right hand.

Explain to them why it’s necessary to keep the distance from the cars parked in line.

Provide them with a helmet that fits them, some lights, and a bike lock.

Train their biking ability, fitness and skills to ensure that they’re sufficiently self-confident to make the trip unsupervised.