Remember summer days pedaling along the Rivershore, feeling the cooler air near the water or creating your own breeze? The kids were outside for hours, wearing themselves out, getting exercise, and even enjoying it. With winter break blessing us with the kids off school while I still have to work from home, I need that back… in the middle of winter. The more kids who are outside, the more time my kids will spend outside, so without a scintilla of altruism, here are my secrets.
Keep Fingers and Ears Warm
Who doesn’t have a child who wants to wear shorts and a T-shirt to play outside in 30-degree weather? Once they get moving, all your entreaties to don a coat will be in vain because their core will get hot, and they will strip it off.
Focus your efforts on extremities: fingers, ears, and toes — in that order. Once the mercury drops below 40 degrees, the cooling effect of riding 10mph is enough to make their fingers and ears so cold they hurt. Toes are fine until it’s below 30 degrees and you add wind. It’s an issue for Middle Aged Men In Lycra (MAMILs), but children are much more resilient.
Don’t spend a lot of money on gloves because they are sure to lose at least one a month. Dollar store gloves aren’t going to cut it below 30 degrees, but they are a good compromise between freezing fingers and having to survive the protests when you try to send your child back out to find an expensive glove. I’m pretty sure that is one of the challenges Poseidon threw at Odysseus.
There are many options for doodads that keep ears toasty. Ski masks, headbands, earmuffs, and dollar store beanies for starters. If you’re crafty, you can whip up a piece of fabric to fit over the helmet strap where it makes a V on either side of their ears. Bottom line: a helmet only does any good if it’s correctly fitted. If you can’t fit a helmet correctly over whatever’s keeping their ears warm, put down your sword.
It may be sacrilege, but given the choice of my kid riding in a beanie and no helmet or not riding at all, I’m going to choose a beanie every time. (Editor's note: Wheelhouse Community Bike Shop encourages everyone to wear a properly fitted helmet while riding. Watch one of the many YouTube videos on the subject if you could use a refresher.)
From November through March, it’s a good idea to always ride with a red taillight. Our days are gloomy, and it makes a huge difference for visibility. In my opinion, a red light is more effective than dressing your children in fluorescent yellow from head-to-toe, and they are a thousand times more amenable to it.
My kids are 10 and 14, and I still take responsibility for keeping their lights charged and turning them on as they leave the house. They are not great at turning them back off again, which means they often spend the day bringing a little festivity to the school bike rack.
You can pick up a set of USB rechargeable lights for under $15, or go for a battery option and buy the batteries in bulk.
When the leaves turn, we trade our water bottles for thermoses of hot apple cider (0% apple juice). Thermoses are easier to find than gloves, and kids are more attached to them, especially if they’ve personalized them with stickers.
You need to strike a balance between cost (you’re going to lose one a season) and ruggedness (they are going to become a projectile one way or another). In a pinch, you could use something uninsulated, and put it in one of those koozies you still haven’t thrown away.
Kids don’t travel light. Even if they don’t take anything with them, they are sure to bring home treasures. Heavy treasures. Also known as rocks. But more to the point, you are more likely to convince them to go out if the ride is just how they get to the destination. You’re also more likely to have the gloves, earmuffs, and jacket come back home again if there’s a backpack, front basket, or rear rack with a pannier.
Your kid won’t put the gloves on? Put them in the backpack; they will put them on when their fingers start to hurt. Your kid won’t eat before they go? Put a snack in the backpack. (Someone will eat it.) Throw in a soccer ball, Top Trumps deck, Pokémon cards, sling shot, etc., and you are buying yourself more and more time. Worried it might rain? Add a dollar store emergency poncho.
The real key is to point your kid in a direction. Any direction will do: the library, Amethyst Creamery (bonus: Howard Amon Park is right there), the school playground, the nearest park with a soccer field. Send them out to pick up their friends; their friends’ parents will thank you for getting them off a screen and may even invite them into the back yard or feed them!
Sending your kids out on their bikes is certainly a mixed bag. They lose stuff. They crash. Neighbors overhear their tweenage conversations: “Your kid just rode by on his bike, and he was talking about people who were drinking too much tequila, and I just want to say I hope you are doing okay” is an actual post-Thanksgiving text message I received. (They had watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with their dad the night before.)
On balance, it’s worth it to get some work done, connect to your community, and help your kid collect more material for the personal narrative piece they will have to write when they go back to school.
Main image by Francesca Maier
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