Thursday, 6 June 2013

Girls, Bikes, Fear and How We Need to Change

We're alike in so many ways, I just hope I pass on my
passion for riding to her in the years to come
We all love our daughters. We want them to grow up to be strong, independent women, capable of meeting every challenge head on. Not to be scared, not to doubt themselves and never to think there's something they just can't do. Mother's are particularly aware of this, knowing first hand what challenges await their girls as they go from being adorable little princesses and rough and tumble tomboys to awkward teenagers, to young women trying to figure out what it is they want from their lives, and possibly even becoming mothers themselves. So why is it, when we want all these positive things for our girls, that we keep going on about all the things they need to be afraid of?

There are certainly veritable dangers out there that all kids need to be mindful of, like talking to strangers, walking through dark alleys and so on. But as I watch my daughter and her friends grow, I have become aware that there is a lot of other so-called dangers that perhaps we need to take a step back from and realize that if we give them credit, our girls will prove that they are capable of taking responsibility for their own safety.

Let's take cycling for example, just because that's what my family is, a bicycle family. My daughter has now been riding solo for almost two years, and doing so on the road for well over a year. Each time we ride, I take the opportunity to teach her how to ride defensively, to be aware of the cars and pedestrians around her, and to always follow the rules of the road. While I have had my moments of panic, I have tried my hardest to not make riding a bike a terrifying experience for her. Because it isn't. Yes, cars are dangerous two-tonne weapons, but if I tell her that every time she sees a car it could mean she's going to get hit, she would never get on a bike. I want her to enjoy riding, not be afraid that every time she gets on her bike there is a high probability of injury or death.

Just last weekend, while out for a ride, my husband and I passed a family that was so stressed about their kids being on the road that they kept manically telling their kids to stay to the side, watch what they doing, keep control, hurry up to get through an intersection when they had plenty of time and so on. Don't get me wrong, these are all valid concerns when you're riding with children, especially young ones still finding their legs. However, if, as an adult, you had someone constantly spouting dangers at you while you tried to do something confidently, would you not be prone to think, "Why the heck and I attempting to do something so dangerous?! Clearly, I should stop trying."

Let's face facts. It has been discussed time and again that women are generally more averse to taking risks. As a result, the ridership numbers for women are drastically lower than men. I also recently read a report from discussing how by the age of thirteen to fourteen, many young girls are likely to stop riding their bikes. One of the reasons they stop is because they are afraid of getting hurt while doing something physical. The thing they seem to forget is that riding a bike is so easy, and the chances that you will get hurt just riding to and from school or to meet a friend are very slim. But then, maybe they've spent their childhood being told it is dangerous, and when you're a thirteen year old girl, the most important things to you are that you fit it, you feel good about your body, and that nothing will stop you from getting together with your friends. Thinking that sitting down on a bike may result in a broken limb or worse, making it harder to achieve this, gives them all the reason in the world not to ride.

It's about time we start talking less about the dangers of riding a bike with our girls, and more about how great it is! Learning to ride a bike is the first step to gaining independence, and the act of riding a bike is the ultimate in freedom, creating so much joy for nearly every rider I know, young and old alike. For a child, they no longer have to hold their parent's hand while they're riding a bike, and only they can steer, slow down or stop their bike. If you think about it, that is a huge sense of responsibility for a child, and I'm sure it makes them feel so proud that they are able to accomplish all this on their own. 

Not from yesterday, but my daughter having
FUN on her bike
In fact, I know it does. Just yesterday, I let go and gave my daughter one of the ultimate milestones in independence for a child. I let her bike home from school...on her own. I know, GASP! After having to run an emergency errand by car right after school, we had to figure out how to get her bike home that she had ridden that morning. Being that I also had my son with me, and dinner to make, going home, dropping off the Zipcar, getting my bike and trailer and going back to the school seemed so time consuming and unnecessary. So, after speaking to her about being responsible, walking across our dreaded crosswalk, and obeying all the rules of the road we had talked about before, I dropped her off at her school and watched as she got on her bike and headed home...solo. When I saw her again, safe and sound at home, the grin on her face after succeeding to take such a big step into independence made me so happy for her. She felt STRONG, INDEPENDENT and most of all, NOT AFRAID to do it again.

Ladies out there, we all know we're strong enough to do just about anything. It's about time we start passing on that confidence to our little girls. We need to stop teaching our girls that danger is waiting for them around every corner. All we're doing is raising our daughters to doubt themselves and their abilities. We need to teach them to be safe, but in a way that is preparing them to be independent. For those with daughter's that ride, we need to maintain that joy they feel as children all through their growing up, so that when they reach their teens, they keep riding because they know it's no more dangerous than walking to meet their friends, and in fact, a lot quicker and good for their health. The best way to start fostering that, keep riding with them, give them moments of independence, and share your joy on two wheels with them every chance you get!

A little video of my daughter mastering yet another bike related skill...the graceful Dutch dismount. (Video c/o @cbruntlett)


  1. Melissa, that was a great post. I cycle with both my son (almost 11) and daughter (9), and it is hard, but i try to let them just enjoy the rides. we practice safety and hand signals, etc., but I am consciously trying to zip up and enjoy with them, instead of constantly nagging about safety. Today the 11 year old had it in his head to diverge from our usual path to school and rode 1/2 the ride alone, and was waiting for us at school - looking mighty pleased with himself. i'm sure the time when the miss does this is not far off, and i will endeavor to just enjoy her freedom with her! Thanks!

  2. Great post Melissa! I'm with you on the idea that we need to give our girls the same freedoms and encouragement as our boys. The funny thing is, at our house my daughter is the daredevil on her bike, and my son is a little scared:)

    Pink Chai Style

  3. im all for riding bikes- i trust myself and my senses. what i dont trust are the drivers. I've been in a bike accident when i was a kid, and got hit by a car while on my bike as an adult (no major injuries) ..the driver was driving out to enter the big street and not paying attention. grrrrrr! it's really put a damper on my outlook. since my son is not biking age yet, ive got plenty of years left before he wants to take on the road...and from the day when my arteries start hardening from the stress hormones :op