Get Into the Cycle

Bicycling is a great sport to encourage family bonding and develop lifelong fitness goals. The Natural State is full of great resources to help get your family into the cycle. 

By Dwain Hebda

family bicycling
 

Misty Murphy, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance, has been a cyclist as long as she can remember, is a former cycling racer and even worked in a job that built and maintained cycling trails in northwest Arkansas. A self-described mountain bike junkie, she’s also discovered the sport is a great bonding activity with her son, Crey.

“I love it because it’s a lifelong sport,” she said. “You can do it when you’re a kid, and it’s not like basketball or football where you stop once you graduate high school because you don’t have the talent to continuing doing it. This is a fitness activity that I know Crey can take with him for the rest of his life.”

Cycling is big business in Arkansas, so big in fact that the Arkansas Department of Tourism devotes an entire section of its website to cycling adventures in an attempt to lure natives and out-of-staters alike to the Natural State bike trails. The site highlights 22 mountain bike and 10 road bike routes and links to a calendar of cycling events throughout Arkansas.

Murphy said organized events merely scratch the surface of the cycling culture that’s grown up in recent years. Residents can find an abundance of local biking trails in virtually every part of the state, with a growing number of communities even reshaping their street system to include bike lanes.

“[Cycling] is a huge quality-of-life component around the state,” she said. “Arkansas as a whole is just a wonderful natural environment, we are so blessed with the natural beauty that we have here and all the green spaces. It’s really gratifying to see that a lot of our cities are taking advantage of that now, and recognizing that they can provide this quality-of-life amenity for residents.

“It’s also an equitable activity; you don’t have to pay to use the trails, everybody has the opportunity to get out there and experience the natural environment while doing something fun and family-friendly.”

A particular benefit that Murphy experienced when she started biking with her son, now 10, was the way the activity helped him improve his development.

“Specifically for him, it’s been really good because he had some motor skill delays,” she said. “He came to cycling a little bit later than some people did because it was difficult for him to learn, but since then it’s been really helpful to him with his motor skills issues. It also helps with his attention because cycling is something you really have to focus on.”

Her advice to other parents who want to incorporate a family cycling regimen is to tailor the ride to fit the child and let it build from there. When she and Crey started riding together, Misty was still a gung-ho competitive mountain biker and she quickly learned she had to scale back to match his ability and gradually increase the ride from there.

“Most kids can bike better than their parents, but you do have to kinda go with their pace until they get used to it,” she said. “I was used to mountain biking 15 or 20 miles at a time, and there was no ‘Hey we’re going to go five miles and then we need to go home.’ So you do have to slow down.

“But that was really one of the great things about cycling with him, too. That became our time to just kinda hang out and remember why I enjoyed cycling in the first place. Because it’s fun, right, it’s not all training and work.”

Murphy also recommends seeking out the expertise of local cycling advocacy organizations to find beginners training before heading out on a family bike ride. These groups, such as Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas in Little Rock and the statewide Bike/Walk Arkansas, among others, provide trails etiquette and cycling safety courses to help youngsters learn proper rules of the road and off-road.

And, depending on where you live, there may be other resources for the beginning cyclist as well. 

“Many schools in northwest Arkansas now have a fleet of bikes that were donated in part by the Walton Family Foundation and they’re integrated into the local P.E. system,” she said. “Our schools are actually teaching our kids how to ride as part of their P.E. curriculum and are teaching them best practices on the bike like where you need to stop, these are the signs you have to obey, here’s your trail etiquette. We’re lucky that’s coming through the school system and we also have great advocacy organizations to help fill in the gaps.”

SAFE CYCLING IN THE NATURAL STATE
As the number of bicyclists in Arkansas continues to grow, it’s essential that riders learn basic bicycle safety and rules of the road, whether on public roads, trails or just riding around the neighborhood. Most bike accidents don’t include a motor vehicle, the majority involve falls or hitting fixed objects.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Arkansas State Police and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department have compiled these into a handy booklet, Bicycle Safety in Arkansas, available at arkansashighways.com. The manual details various guidelines and regulations broken into basic principles, which become even more important when riding with children or beginners:

• Maintain control of your bicycle, starting with having a bike that’s the right size and going the correct speed for the conditions. Adults should never ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

• Ride on the right, with traffic. Signal your intentions when riding and don’t change lanes, turn or enter intersections suddenly. You don’t have the luxury of electronic turn signals to let motorists know where you are going next.

• Be visible and ride alertly at all times. Plan a route that avoids road construction whenever possible and when on main thoroughfares, pick your times for recreational rides when traffic volume is lower where feasible. Take special precautions during early morning or evening rides before it’s fully light out.

• Protect yourself: ALWAYS wear a helmet to reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a crash or fall. Keep your bike in good working order.

• When riding on paths, ride on the right and yield to pedestrians, using caution when passing other path users. Pass on the left and announce your intentions or alert them with a bike bell. Be especially careful crossing a road, driveway or street by slowing down to be sure drivers see you.