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Navigating parenthood in the bike lane

By Ellen Schwartze, Founder of KC Family Bike Ride

I became a parent in June of 2020 (which now feels synonymous to “the day the world changed”), and I quickly discovered how parenting comes with a lot of mental gymnastics. 

There are the surface-level logistics of child care, family meals, and healthcare. But underneath those are bigger, more nuanced questions. Is my kid fulfilled? Are they kind when I’m not around? Am I raising a climate-conscious kid?

I’ve been cycling for most of my adult life. What started as training for a 150-mile bike ride morphed into what I call functional cycling; I’m not riding for exercise or recreation or tracking progress or saving maps. I’m riding for utility: to the grocery store, to work, to the library. Any trip under a couple of miles my default mindset is, “bike.” 

Realizing that bikes can significantly lower my carbon footprint was also very motivating. Being pregnant (and now, being the parent of a 40-lb 4-year-old) amplified that motivation. Like I was eating—and saving the planet—for two. 

So I made a commitment to cycling in Kansas City. And yes, that commitment came with a few new accessories and investing in an e-bike, but it also impacted my parenting for the better. 

Plus, it opened my eyes to the role that parent advocates had in transforming cycling cities like Amsterdam, which is what led to starting KC Family Bike Ride as a gentle introduction to cycling as a family.

Ellen is the founder of KC Family Bike Ride that hosts inclusive weekly family bike rides across the metro.

Four ways cycling changed my parenting for the better

1. Better connection with my kid

My kid rode on a front handlebar seat when he was a year old, and it might have been my favorite stage. When riding, I could constantly point things out, explain what things are, teach directions and rules of the road, and encourage him to wave at passers-by who were not expecting an adorable bebe on a bike.

2. Increased patience, better time management, and reduced anxiety

Fun fact, kids aren’t prompt, efficient, or good at telling time. After the third time of preparing the bike, adding helmets, and negotiating which stuffed animal would come with us, it dawned on me to just take a breath. Now, I start the process much earlier and allow for patience and grace. And, if all of my plans do go sideways, the riding itself provides an outlet for my anxious energy. By the time we arrive at our destination, I’m much happier.

3. Reduced dependence on our car (and fewer car seat battles)

But replacing short car trips has also reduced our gas use (and therefore spending). Plus, how many times have you avoided an errand because the car seat battle loomed large in your mind? Riding there lets you advertise the errand as a fun activity from start to finish. My kid is far more enthusiastic to ride the bike than to get in the car.

4. More time spent outside and active

I won’t lie to you, I do not work out. I prefer to find a way to move my body that matches my interests and is easy to incorporate into my schedule and mental space. Cycling is that for me. 

Along with all of these things is pride in teaching my kid about the impact we have on the planet, and how we can be contributing to the solutions. I hope you can join me (and my kid!) for a family bike ride this summer! 

Ellen is a KC native, cycling advocate, and avid traveler. She founded KC Family Bike Ride in 2023 as a way to build community and encourage more families to ride no matter their ages or abilities. Her professional background is in nonprofit and SaaS marketing. 

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