On a sunny, breezy spring day, a group of children, 4 to 7 years old, sit on their bikes, helmets and gloves on, ready to start their biking lesson. Their moms, standing nearby, watch them closely, feeling proud that their little ones are learning how to ride.
Instructor Rachel Varn is also excited about making biking a part of their lives. She still remembers how she felt, riding a bike for the first time. It was an amazing “I can" moment. Now, her job is helping other kids to experience that moment.
“It’s probably the biggest confidence booster. It gives kids such a sense of independence and agency,” she said.
Basics of biking
Rachel Varn quit her job as a salesperson in the bicycle industry last year, to become a certified cycling instructor. She founded PedalPower Kids to teach bicycle education.
Before hitting the road, she has the group review the basics of the bike maintenance, what she calls “the ABC quick check.”
“A” is for air, she explained. “We have to check our tires before we ride. B is for brakes. We want to make sure our brakes work before we find ourselves on the top of the hill about to go down. And C is for chain. We want to make sure that our chain doesn’t have any junk in it.”
They also work on biking skills, from balance and pedaling to turning, starting and stopping.
And they need to learn and remember some basic rules. The first one is eyes up and forward.
“A lot of kids struggle with their eyes on the ground, looking for their pedals, but obviously that doesn’t allow them to see what’s going on around them, and it also doesn’t allow them to turn properly,” Varn said.
That's because watching where you're going helps you steer.
“Sometimes people think that you turn your bike using the handle bar. You see little kids going like this, steering," she said as she demonstrated, turning the handle bar back and forth, "and they fall over. But we really turn by leaning. So, when we look, then our body leans and then our bike leans.”
Biking changes lives
Being able to ride a bike opens a whole new world to children. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and freedom. They become more aware of their surroundings, learning to make safe, smart decisions going from one place to another.
Varn’s goal is to get more kids on two wheels. That, she says, will help make the world a better place.
“That’s really a great way for kids to be active and develop healthy habits,” Varn said. “It helps reduce pollution and just keep families and communities connected.”
Since starting PedalPower Kids last year, Varn has helped around 250 new riders. An active community network of satisfied mothers is her best advertiser.
“Moms are pretty magic,” Varn said. “If the mom is happy with something, if [having their child learn to ride] made their lives a bit easier, then they tell their friends. So my business has grown almost entirely through word of mouth.”
Julia Roeling is part of the moms' network. She says biking is a great activity for their kids to be outside and not to stay home playing video games all the day. But since she had neither the time nor comfort level to teach her kids how to ride, she enrolled two of her three kids in Varn’s bicycling class.
“They love working with Rachel,” she said. “She knows what to say to motivate them. Now, they can do it safely. And they know how to get around the community and stop at the stop signs and be together on their bikes.”
The kids in the classes are happy and excited about their biking experiences. They name their bikes and take pride in being able to do the bike maintenance themselves. They have fun biking with their friends.
Having fun is important to teach these kids a sport that will keep them active for life. As Varn observes, “We probably wouldn’t be playing lacrosse when we are 75 or 89, but we certainly can be riding a bike!”