Riding away: When can kids bike independently?

Oct 1, 2008 at 7:02 a.m. ET

One of my favorite memories of childhood is riding my bicycle. I rode my bicycle to school every day. I rode it to my friends' houses. I rode it to the corner store. My bicycle was my constant companion, and I had a fair amount of freedom with it on the quiet side streets in our neighborhood. When I go back to my old neighborhood now, I'm amazed at how small the neighborhood really was. It seemed to vast to me, but the farthest distance I ever rode was just over a mile. Most trips were half that at most.

Boy on Bike
Given my own childhood affection for bicycle riding as transportation, you'd think I'd be encouraging that same affection in my kids. It turns out to be a tad more complicated than that. The kids have bicycles, of course, and ride on our narrow road in our four house neighborhood. But that's about it.

A different neighborhood, and different times

We don't live in the same kind of neighborhood that I did growing up. Where we live now, there are no sidewalks. The roads are somewhat narrow and often curvy.  The roads are busier. Times are different. And for the kids the arrive anywhere they would want to go, a mile is the minimum ride. With some hills. At least that is what I tell myself. So when Alfs asked to ride his bike to the local ice cream shop, it was a much bigger deal.

The first time he asked, I said no. Alfs rides a bike just fine, but lacks experience on the busier roads that surround us. To remedy that, we did a couple of test rides to his friend's house down the road. That went just fine -- but it didn't mean I was ready to completely let him loose. As tentative as I was, Alfs was persistent.

Alfs really had to work on me on this one. On one hand, it was ridiculous that I not give him a little freedom. I like to claim I'm not an over-protective helicopter parent, but I was sure acting like it. On the other, given his lack of experience given our situation and how our town is laid out, it made perfect sense. Finally, Alfs' powers of persuasion won. He convinced me that he knew the rules of the road, knew how to be careful. And he was going with a friend. I think it was the strength in numbers idea that turned me in the end. I relented.

It's what they are supposed to do

Seeing him ride away that afternoon, though, was hard. It's what we raise our kids to do -- to go out into the world. But to be in one of those letting go moments and realizing the import of it - was hard. After he left, I decided to run an errand of my own rather than sit there, nervous for his return. I left my husband with strict instructions to call me when Alfs arrived home.

It was fine, of course. It was all fine. Alfs and his friend enjoyed their ice cream, their ride, their adolescent bonding. Though it was hard for me to let go like that, I'm glad I did. Now that that first ride is out of the way. Alfs wants to ride his bike to school some days. I'm not opposed to that in theory - but the school is three and a half miles away and he has to be there early enough in the morning that he'd be leaving before the sun comes up. So, not yet.

Eventually riding his bike to school will be fine, too. But for now, we'll keep things as they are. One step (ride) at a time, kiddo, for all our sakes.

Read More: