It’s challenging to raise children in a society whose ethos is at odds with your own moral code. The Amish must shield their offspring from the corrupting influence of abominations such as selfies and Velcro. Vegan parents quickly change the channel whenever a McDonalds’ commercial comes on the TV. (Just kidding, vegans don’t own TVs.) And fans of perennial underdog sports teams imbue their children with the false hope that they will one day get to celebrate an important victory, despite overwhelming evidence that this will never happen because their team sucks.
While you may not immediately identify with any of the groups mentioned above, if you’re a cyclist and a parent you’ve got more in common with them than you realize. After all, you too lead a lifestyle that the average person probably thinks is crazy. Therefore, you too must figure out how to pass your own values onto your child while simultaneously equipping them to operate in a culture that is often hostile to those values.
So how do you teach your child to have a positive relationship with cycling in a country that hates bikes?
When it comes to being an on-the-bike role model, lots of well-meaning people will tell you to wear a helmet at all times when you ride your bike so that your kids will too. I disagree. If anything, you owe it to your child to let them see you riding a bike like a normal person every once in awhile.
If you’re a “serious” cyclist, odds are your child has seen you clomping around in your cycling shoes while encased in foam and Lycra plenty of times. Why not at least temper this horrific image by occasionally hopping on a bike while wearing flip-flops and letting the wind blow through your hair? Strapping on a helmet every time you get near a bike is like putting on one of those padded suits every time you approach the family dog: a great idea if your goal is to scare your kid shitless, but most of the time it’s simply not necessary.
Hey, if you’re really worried about them seeing you doing something dangerous, then make sure you never let them see you drive.
Audit Their Education
Many religions operate their own schools, which allows pious parents to protect their children from zany ideas such as “evolution.” Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for cyclists, and while you can always home-school your child, this will seriously cut into your riding time. Therefore it’s up to you to regularly sift through the kitty litter box that is your child’s brain and scoop out the clumps of misinformation.
If would be nice if you could sit back and trust your kid’s teachers until at least middle school, but in a car-centric society the brainwashing begins almost immediately. For example, somehow the “vehicles” portion of the preschool curriculum, while heavy on big trucks and choo-choos, never seems to include bicycles. Also, thanks Richard Scarry’s Busytown books, by age three your child will be conditioned to think that a cityscape dominated by reckless motorists is not only normal but delightfully whimsical.
So while it may be a bit early for them to understand that Officer Flossy vainly trying to stop the scofflaws on her bicycle is a tragic metaphor for the futility of traffic enforcement in a post-automotive hellscape, using a bike instead of a car to get to school once in awhile helps plant the seed that getting around doesn’t have to be a complete shitshow.
Don’t Overthink It
If you ride a bike, chances are you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of obsessing over equipment. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re in there at this very moment, wondering if it’s worth it to upgrade to the ceramic bearings. Of course, it’s never worth it to upgrade to the ceramic bearings (they’re the extended warranty of cycling components), but you’re going to do it anyway—which is fine, but there’s no need to apply this same anal-retentiveness to setting up your kid’s bike.
People will tell you it’s crucial to start your kid out on good cycling equipment, otherwise they might get discouraged. And sure, you can buy them a $900 balance bike, but why? Because it’s a bargain compared to the $2,000 balance bike? Come on.
Youth is wasted on the young and so is money. Kids don’t know quality, which is why all they’ll eat is hamburgers and chicken nuggets. Pick a bike, any bike. Do the wheels spin freely? Does it have functioning brakes? If so, the kid’ll be fine. If they’re a cycling prodigy you’ll know it right away, regardless of whether they’re riding a Pinarello from Treviso or a pink Huffy from Target.
Of course, you should buy from your local bike shop if at all possible, but besides that don’t even think of getting them anything seriously nice until either they’ve stopped growing or they’ve acquired enough sophistication to appreciate sushi, whichever comes first.
Comport Yourself with Dignity
We all love cycling, and we all love our children, so for the most part riding together means basking in the glow of filial pedaling. Invariably however a dark cloud will arrive in the form of a driver who does something selfish or stupid. And while what you should be doing is rummaging through your Suitcase of Courage for some restraint, you’ll be far more tempted to plunge your fist into your Satchel of Invective and grab the filthiest insult you can find.
This is the hardest part of being a cycling parent. Bad driving is exponentially more infuriating when you’re with your child, and yet being a parent requires utilizing only the best parts of your character. It’s like you’re a web browser in safe search mode, and drivers keep typing pornographic search terms into you.
As someone who’s switched the safe search toggle to “off” more times than I’d like to admit, all I’ll say is it’s never worth it to let loose on a driver. Instead, take the opportunity to teach your kid what the driver did wrong. That way they can expect it when they start riding themselves, or at the very least not pull the same crap when they get behind the wheel one day.
Also, you’ll spare them some foul language—though they’ve probably heard that from the back seat of the car anyway.