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Family Biking: We are the 80%

In our Winter 2015 American Bicyclist magazine, we looked at the “Big Ideas” coming out of the bike movement. Megan Odett, founder of Kidical Mass DC wrote a story about the “80%” in bicycling. Want American Bicyclist in your mailbox? Join the League today!

Big ideas are a lot like children. They’re unpredictable. Challenging. A little scary. Each one has the potential to change the world. And like children, big ideas grow and grow and grow.

Members of the U.S. bicycling community have been asking themselves lots of hard questions lately. Who are we really serving? Who’s been included — and who’s been left out? And most importantly: how can we do better? We have just scratched the surface in examining how our work can better reflect the communities we serve.

So let’s talk about those communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13 percent of Americans self-identify as black, 17 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent as LGBTQ. Oh, and 80 percent of them are or will be parents.

That’s not a typo: U.S. Census data reveals that 80 percent of Americans age 44 and under have at least one child. Additionally, 23 percent of the entire U.S. population is 18 years old or younger. Currently, nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population—228 million people— either have or are children.

Parents who bike with their kids are the next frontier in the bike movement.

These families have the potential to transform the face of bicycling, to flip it from the problematic “scofflaw” and “hipster” stereotypes to the ultimate reflection of Americana: lawn-mowing, tax-paying, PTA-attending citizens.

People. Just like us.

What are we doing to remove barriers for these young families? Right now, they’re not finding what they need within traditional channels. Would-be family cyclists laboriously search online for the few dealers that stock the equipment they need and order fancy electric-assist cargo bikes, or they scour Craigslist for thirdhand bikes because their reasons for biking include the need to save money.

Then they find each other. They form Kidical Mass rides or Family Bike Parties. They talk about their bikes at the school dropoff, on the playground, at church. The information spreads almost in secret, like a cult.

But what if parents had the equipment, information and infrastructure so that they didn’t have to expend so much effort seeking out ways to bike safely with their children? What if having a baby didn’t mean a 10–20 year sentence of car dependence? What kind of leaps could the women’s cycling movement make if we got Mom out of the minivan and onto a bike?

Here’s my challenge to our movement: don’t just settle for safe routes to schoolbuild safe routes to everywhere. Think younger than 8 (and older than 80, for that matter). Give families the equipment, information and infrastructure they need to bike together.

In return, these families will spread their love of cycling throughout their communities and become the best ambassadors bicycling has ever had.

The real big idea is that we can make biking a viable transportation option for every age. It’s an idea that’s growing up fast—but it’s going to take a village to raise it right. 

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