I just got back from a lovely bicycle ride with my 11-year-old daughter. We rode the Farmington Canal Trail in Cheshire, Connecticut, a wide, flat paved path that travels along a scenic water passage. Since in New England, we just suffered through something like 26 days of rain in June, the recent streak of three – count ’em – three sunny days meant getting outdoors was mandatory for the afternoon.

As a TravelingMom, cycling is one of the outdoor adventures I’ve been looking forward to enjoying with my children. We carried our children in seats mounted on the backs of our bikes while they were still babes, and as they’ve gotten older they’re now riding their two-wheelers like pros. Our plans are to explore the different bike trails in Connecticut this summer, and work up our mileage to tackle the 14.5 mile East Bay Bicycle Path in Rhode Island sometime in late summer or early fall. As my daughter said after two miles today, that will be quite a challenge!

One thing I like about riding on the bike trails is that it offers the chance to teach the kids proper etiquette when riding. For example, when approaching other cyclists, walkers, runners, or bladers, it’s polite to give a verbal warning, “coming up on your left,” or right as the case may be.  Not only do I use this command and instruct my children to do so as well, I always make sure they hear me reply “thanks” to someone else who offers the warning. Making this a habit is really important so those enjoying the trail can more easily watch out for each others and avoid collisions (by the way, the same etiquette works wells on the ski trail!)

Another thing I’m able to train them on is crossing intersections. Bike trails often have pedestrian walkways where the roadway intersects;  however, I make sure my children stop, look, listen, and then cross. I see too many cyclists and bladers whizz through without hesitation, assuming the cars will just stop because of the striped white lines. The reality is that many motorists don’t know, or think about, the fact that pedestrians have the right of way at these crossways and easily zip through without slowing down. I teach my children to be cautious and in control. Better to pause a moment than to get into an accident. I also always wave a “thank you” to the motorists who do slow down and stop, just to reinforce the correct behaviors to my children and to emphasize that both motorists and cyclists have obligations to each others safety.

All kids like to experiment with their bikes; that is, self-test their “risk” behavior. A bike trail, particularly when it’s less crowded, is a safer place to do this. By “risk” behavior I mean coasting above the seat, pedaling fast, as well as taking tight turns. On the trail they have less likelihood to get distracted than on a busy road or narrow sidewalk.

In addition, I’m probably pretty conservative about the use of iPods or other devices when on the bike trails. While I’m not against them, I point out to my children that such listening devices block their ability to listen for oncoming people, dogs, cycles, cars, or other sounds. I will not let my children use these when they cycle. Besides, how could you enjoy the sounds of nature with the Jonas Brothers in your ears?

Cycling is a wonderful sport but even more enjoyable when you know that travelingmoms and their children will reach their destinations safely and with two wheels each intact.