Teachable Moments on Two Wheels

Does anyone else out there wish they could use their car less? I have a feeling that given the choice, many of us wouldn’t mind parking the car and saving some cash. For those of us living in suburban North America, however, that is easier said than done. According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends 63 minutes (roundtrip) commuting to work every day. Few of us live within walking distance of a grocery store, and quite frankly, our kids’ activities keep us on the go as we shuttle them to and from swimming/music/dance lessons.

Contrary to what we might think, however, we do have a measure of control over our use of the car, especially in the summer months. During these precious snow-free months, I want to put out the challenge to get creative about how we chose to get around with our families. Walking is an obvious choice (at least for our family…), but how about that ca. 1984 Supercycle in the garage? ‘Tis the season to park the minivan and get the family saddled up on bikes! With a few accessories and a bit of creative planning we can promote the bike from simply being a leisure activity to a feasible mode of transportation from point A to point B for the whole family. All it takes is a bit of thinking outside the car-shaped box.

Our three children range in age from 2 to 6, and only the 6-year-old can ride a bike. A few years ago we invested in a two-kid bike trailer which cost about $120 and has more than paid for itself in gas savings as we have biked hither and yon with our younger children inside. The great thing about the trailer is that it continues to be useful even as the children grow out of it, because it can haul a load of groceries!

As the children grew old enough to sit on a two-wheeler (but not yet accomplished enough to keep up), we attached their little bikes to one of our adult bikes via a bar called the “Trail-Gator” (handed down to us, but available at Walmart for around $85). The great thing about this bar is that it attaches the child’s regular bike to an adult bike quickly and easily, and can just as easily be removed again.

The final accessory I find useful as I do errands on muscle-power is a good-quality bike lock, available for $20 – $30. This past week I have locked up my bike at Shopper’s Drug Mart to buy toilet paper, the Medical Lab to take care of blood work, and Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary on a picnic with the family.

The total price tag of about $225 for all of the above may seem a like a lot, but consider how much it costs to fill up the gas tank on most minivans ($60 at least). By the end of the summer you will have easily spent $225 on gas alone. Compare this to the number of years you will be using your bike and your accessories, and you may find it worth your while. My bike, for instance, is over 15 years old and hasn’t needed a single repair or drop of gas. I’d like to hear anybody say that about their car.

When it comes down to it, choosing the bike over the car, for most of us, is a matter of convenience. We would rather drive to the gym and work out than hop on our bikes to go buy milk at the Avondale. If we are serious about calling on big industry and government to cut emissions, then we must be willing to change our own attitudes about the things that are in our power to change.

I’m not sure how much money I saved on gas this week, nor how many emissions were not emitted from our van’s muffler. I don’t know how many calories I burned riding my bike to places I would normally drive to. What I do know is that our kids are learning something as they see our family choosing the bike over the car whenever possible.  As we sat on the picnic blanket at Happy Rolph’s we couldn’t help but notice the canopy of beautiful trees overhead. We began explaining to the children how God made trees, animals, and humans to co-exist in a beautiful balance – how we are dependent on one another in so many ways. We found ourselves explaining to them how the destruction of global forests is affecting our climate, which caused some obvious distress. The teachable moment was right; our kids are beginning to understand the significance of small choices like walking to school or riding their bikes. Let us be intentional about instilling these common sense attitudes in our little ones while they are still under our influence.

*Note: To read a related article I published in the St. Catharines Standard on September 9, 2008, please follow this link.

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Wendy S said,

    I LOVE biking and used to bike to work. We tried biking with the boys. We got a double bike trailer and a trail-a-bike. Unfortunately, sitting two little boys with jaws for teeth closely beside each other does not bode well. By the time we reached our destination, the boys had both bitten each other several times, insisted on pushing and shoving and yelled the whole way there. We had to go slow enough for the oldest one to keep up. In the end, the boys bike (I run) to the parks in our neighborhood or to school and drive to anywhere outside our neighborhood. One day our horizons will expand, but will most likely not happen until the youngest ones can ride their bikes with confidence … or stop biting each other – what ever comes first!

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