When I was a kid, we lived in a block of townhouses with its own network of private roads that saw very little traffic. What cars there were left first thing in the morning and didn't, for the most part, return until the late afternoon.
My friends and I learned to ride our bikes by riding all over that townhouse complex. Once we mastered basic riding skills, we moved on to the more technical skills of no hands, no feet, doubling each other and a sort of free form dance we called ballet on a bicycle.
We were just messing around. But in the process of playing on our bikes, we learned some fantastic bike handling skills in a fun, carefree, kid-centered environment.
The highlight of this summer's adventures was a week of family mountain biking in Vermont's North East Kingdom. The kids are 6 and 9, so we weren't sure how much mountain biking we'd be able to do. Turns out there's a huge, well-maintained network of trails for cyclists of all abilities. Built on land generously shared by at least 50 landowners, the trails are stunning.
The kids and I found smooth single track trails that challenged us. We rode our favourite trails -- like Old Webs -- over and over, figuring out which gear we needed to nail a certain uphill and enjoying taking the downhills faster as we learned where the turns were. While we hung out playing at a creek in East Burke in the afternoon, my husband ripped it up on the more technical trails.
In just a few days, the kids were able to climb steeper hills, navigate tricky turns, brake on sharp downhills without falling and handle small jumps. As the routes became familiar, the kids enjoyed riding on ahead -- something they don't have the opportunity to do when we're on family rides in the city. I loved being away from cars and out in nature. And I loved watching the kids get to know their bikes really well by playing with them in the woods.
Out of necessity, especially if the vast majority of our biking with kids takes place on city streets, a lot of our conversation around kids and bikes is about safety. So it's a real treat to spend time with kids and their bikes when the focus can be on fun.