How do you instill lifelong habits in kids? I believe this happens when they have a great time doing an activity and they gain confidence with the task. That was my goal with my first adventure camp: Spokes and Jokes. I wanted kids to experience what I felt as a kid about biking and what I continue to feel about biking.
Biking has always been a source of great pleasure and accomplishment for me. I remember my first bike like it was yesterday. It was a gold two-wheeler and I have vague memories of learning how to ride it. I was about 6 years old and was living on University Avenue across the street from St. Bernards Church. My dad ran behind me on the sidewalk as I peddled. I’ll never forget the moment I got balance. It was so exciting. I was free and could move so fast on my own. I could go places.
My second bike was a blue one-speed coaster bike with a blue fender and a blue and white seat. It was a full sized bike and I was very proud of it. It had tassels on the handlebars. I got it for Christmas the year after my dad died. I remember seeing it by the Christmas tree and feeling like I should be jumping up and down for joy. But I didn’t. I felt lonely and sad. It was a nice bike, but it was a sad Christmas. It was a bitter sweet gift.
My third bike was was a white three-speed bike with hand brakes. I put baskets on the back and used it hard to deliver newspapers during high school. I rode that bike all year long in all kinds of weather and I loved the feeling of not being cold while riding a bike. I had a face mask and really warm mittens. I felt invincible after riding on a snowy or really cold day.
With the money I earned from my paper route, I bought my first 10 speed.To me, this bike was a speed racer. I bought it at Middleton Cycle. It had racing handlebars and more speeds that I thought I could use. I could ride faster than ever on this bike. It was red and took pride in keeping it clean and shiny. I would use window cleaner to polish the chrome and apply touch-up paint whenever I got a nick.
By now, I was certainly hooked on biking though I didn’t have a name for it. I started riding longer distances and discovered touring. All I knew is that I couldn’t live without my bike. I took this red bike with me to college. During my first summer at the UW, I rode back and forth to campus on my bike. I worked at the A&W rootbeer stand on Allen Boulevard and commuted to my Henry Street Apt a few times a week. The ride was about 7 miles one way and again I loved how my body felt after a ride and how much freedom I felt about that.
I would have a series of bikes through college, each one a little bit newer. A few were stolen due my carelessness. In college, I discovered road biking and started riding longer distances. I had a few friends that like to tour and this added another dimension to riding. Now, it was all about exploration and less about function, though I still used my bike for transportation to and from campus.
Since then I have continued to enjoy biking. I bought a 15 speed Panasonic Touring bike in the early 1980s and used to travel all over the state. I loved riding long distances with a top daily mileage of 115 miles. I worked in a Girl Scout Camp for a summer and led bike tours for kids just before returning to graduate school. I used biking throughout grad school to manage stress and keep fit. It worked.
I now own a Bianchi Volpe, and continue to ride between 25-50 miles a week. I ride my Fuji City bike to work. I’m lucky to have two bikes and all the gear to make biking really enjoyable such as helmut, lock and light. Because so many kids do not have even the basics, it will be important to provide kids with a bike, helmut and lock.
Then, all that is required is to provide activities that instill that feeling of freedom and joy. With any luck, a life-long habit will result.