With another National Bike to Work Week upon us, we have once again worked on events to celebrate pedal-powered commuting at the Patagonia D.C. in Reno, Nevada. Every year we reward dedicated bikers and try to inspire more people to begin burning calories instead of fossil fuels. This year we are even more excited than usual because we now have on-site child care. While the children are, for the moment, too young to actively participate in Bike to Work Week, we look forward to including them in future years. In the meantime, we are stoked to be contributing to an environment that makes cycling the norm rather than the pastime of a few MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra).
Most of us remember riding bikes as kids. Our first bike is a rite of passage. It is the freedom to roam and explore, to hang out with friends and become autonomous. And it’s fun. A lot of fun.I remember being taken to the bike shop when I was 6 or 7 years old and getting my first bike. I wanted the brand new shiny silver one, but my parents opted for the second-hand bike. In their defense, it was the better bike. But I still remember how excited I was to have a ‘racing’ bike that had curly handlebars for going fast and gears for going even faster. It was a blue bike with white grip tape.
Later, as a teenager, I went to a high school that was more than a walk away. There was a school bus but my parents preferred that I ride to school. I don’t remember their reasons, but I’d guess it was because cycling was cheaper and better for me (this was before most of us were aware of the environmental benefits). So, I got my first mountain bike. Suspension forks didn’t exist yet but I did have thumb shifters and a bright yellow Trek helmet. Mountain biking was cool and because I rode a mountain bike and lived in England, I read Mountain Biking UK magazine. I never actually went mountain biking though.
The bike shed at school, however, was packed year round (it got pretty cold and wet!). But I’m guessing that is no longer the case. Now I live in Reno, a town that receives an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. While temperatures in winter can drop below freezing and soar over 100°F in summer, the average temperature in December is 35° and 79° in July. On the whole, this makes for fairly easy cycling conditions for most of the year.
Unfortunately, I see very few bikes around school zones. Instead, I see a plethora of unnecessarily large SUVs and pickups belching toxic fumes next to the school’s play areas. I try to hold my breath and avoid the doors that open without warning as I ride past.
A friend and colleague in the warehouse takes his 22-month-old son to day care by bike. He is the exception to the rule, even at Patagonia. Nevertheless, I was intrigued. Why does he ride and not drive? Given his son’s young age, nobody would question him if he chose to drive. Is he part of the vanguard of new parents that decide to set a better example for their children? His son loves riding to day care. He waves his arms around, points out other bikes and has a huge grin the whole time. In the car, his son squirms and is grumpy by the time they arrive.
But (there is always a ‘but’) the only reason he rides to day care is because he can take a safe route through light traffic and low-speed zones. If his son came to Patagonia Reno’s child care, he would have to drive every day because there is no safe route. He cannot trust that drivers will pay attention, that they won’t text or call or swill their coffee while steering, or accelerate to beat the changing lights because they can’t wait a few minutes longer, not conscious that they are at the wheel of a fast-moving, potentially dangerous hunk of metal.
In a moment of blissful optimism, I hoped that the situation back in Britain was sunnier (even if the weather isn’t). My brother has cycled around London on his fixie for years. On the weekends he goes mountain biking. He’s a pretty good cyclist, even if he’ll never win the Tour de France—especially now that he has a 16-month-old son. His son’s day care is just a few streets from home in a residential area of London. Yet I was a little surprised to hear that he walks my nephew to day care; he doesn’t ride. I figured that his reasons were due to safety, and I cannot argue with that. However, his full response was more surprising than I anticipated.
“I have no concerns about [my partner’s and my] ability to ride in a safe and careful way with [our son], but I’m not willing to take the chance on how other road users behave and use the road. Aggressive driving, speeding and turning left across you are some examples. If I get hit so be it, I will take my chances and can evaluate the risks and accept them before I leave home. [My son] can’t make that choice and it is a risk point I’m not happy to put him in. His life is far too important.
It is not the cycling with an infant that is the issue, but other road users. I have a child seat for my MTB, which I plan to take [him] on. This may seem a bit mad, with the perceived greater risk of riding off-road where there are rocks, roots and slippery mud. But these things don’t move, you can see them and accurately guess how to avoid them. I trust my ability on a bike far more than the abilities of drivers and road users I don’t know. For this reason, I will be taking my son mountain biking. And yes we will both be wearing helmets, and [he] will be strapped and between my arms so in the worst case I can take the impact and wrap myself around him. When confronted by a bus I’m not sure I would be sufficient armor. Against a tree or thorn bush, I’ll take my chances to get out with my son.”
It’s a real shame that there seem to be fewer children out riding bikes. Growing up and learning to ride a bike is a milestone we all remember. But what is the point of learning to ride if it is only to do laps in the yard? Bikes are a form of transport—an exhilarating form of transport—that give us some independence. Riding bikes allows us to explore and make friends. It is exercise. It is fun.
It is time to see the return of the full bike shed at schools.