For kids in their teens, the notion of driving a car feels like a legitimate offer of freedom in an otherwise confining world. As adults we realize: riding bikes was our first true taste of independence.
This summer in Boulder County, there are myriad ways to give kids of any age a license to ride. From “learn to bike” programs designed to get little kids pedaling to skills camps for more experienced riders. Scientists, psychologists, parents and teachers all agree: Cultivating a child’s relationship with a bike is a worthy investment in their health and happiness.
“Biking is one of the few sports that kids can do almost anywhere they live, and it is an incredible way for kids to stay active outdoors,” says Ileana Street, senior vice president of new business at Avid4Adventure. “Unlike team sports, biking doesn’t require tryouts, it is non-competitive, kids can bike with friends at almost any time, and they can continue to do it for the rest of their lives.”
In many ways, riding mirrors the very experience of being a kid – first and foremost, it’s fun.
“You should see the kids take over the bike path!” says Jamie Ridgway, senior program director at the Boulder YMCA.
Biking presents a scenario that will likely recur throughout in life: A child is presented with a new experience that might seem either scary or exciting. They gather the courage or channel the confidence to go for it. Sometimes, they fall and scrape their knees. Other times, they make the jump on the first try. The most empowering feeling comes when they make the jump after scraping their knees. The bike is as good a place as any to hone these important life skills.
Jessie Vogt, director of Singletrack Mountainbike Adventures (SMBA), knows well the power of learning confidence on the bike at a young age. As a SMBA camper in the ’90s, Vogt went on to compete and coach as a professional mountain biker.
“Kids may come into camp having ridden very little or never before and leave with a love of the sport,” she says. “Many of our riders ride with SMBA from the age of 7 all the way to 17. Kids really love the adventure of finding new trails and exploring new places. They leave with a great sense of accomplishment because they have come and conquered fears, challenges and mountains.”
Furthermore, there are benefits to spending time on the bike that manifest long after the helmet and shoes are put away.
In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.
Conversely, evidence is mounting that “screen time” is detrimental to mental capacities like memory and the ability to focus. Our senses heighten when we’re outdoors, which helps us stay in the present moment; being physically engaged while biking or hiking the bike over obstacles also requires mindful attention.
“It’s super important to get the kids outside and not on screens,” says Ridgway whose Y Riders programs offer camps for beginner to advanced riders. “No one is allowed to have a cell phone or any screen time during camp. Actually, the kids don’t even ask for them, they don’t even think about them. That’s the importance of these camps.”
Having fun, building confidence and improving mental fitness? If you need another reason to believe that biking is beneficial for kids, don’t forget the emotional benefits. Exercise is proven to elevate mood, relieve anxiety, and depression and clear mental fog.
“Kids tell us that SMBA gives them a chance to get away from all their worries and issues,” Vogt says. “Riding gives kids a place to belong and a life-long sport.”
And perhaps the best thing about learning to ride or improving your skills on a bike? No license and registration required.