Can a young family commute to school on two wheels instead of four?
By Hollace Schmidt
The challenge:Ride bikes to school instead of driving for three weeks (without racking up a pile of tardy slips).
The family: Michelle-Nicholle and Jeff Calareso, of Longmont, Colorado, and sons, Paxton, 6, and Rivers, 4
Getting motivated: It’s only a half-mile from the Calareso home to school—but that’s a long way for little feet and a tired mom. Michelle-Nicholle and the boys tried walking it a few times last fall, but the journey took at least 20 minutes, depending on how many sticks and other treasures the boys found along the way, and Michelle-Nicholle had plenty of other uses for that time (sleep, coffee, no nagging the boys to get moving). The car trip took only three minutes—and was much warmer once the first chill hit the air. "We fell into the routine of hopping in the car, and it was hard to break out of it," Michelle-Nicholle says. But she felt like the drive was a waste of gas (and a little bit lazy), so she and Jeff signed the family up to take the KIWI Challenge last spring.
A new routine: Michelle-Nicholle and Jeff decided that bikes would motivate the boys to get going in the morning better than walking would, and they’d travel faster. They set alarm clocks 15 minutes earlier, and Jeff, who works from home, checked his e-mail and schedule before the kids got up, to make up for the time taken up by the ride. The first day was a revelation: "After we tried it, we were like, ‘This is totally doable,’" Michelle-Nicholle says.
Twists and turns: Still, the slightest glitch could get the family off track. One day after hunting for River’s misplaced shoes, Mom and Dad decided he would have to ride in the bike trailer so they wouldn’t be late. Michelle-Nicholle avoided a disappointment-fueled meltdown by asking, "Would you like to put these toys in the trailer or should Mommy?" and agreeing that he could ride his bike home after school. Other days saw wipeouts (thankfully no blood) and kids pooping out. Eventually there was even a tardy slip: Paxton was slow to leave some new toys one morning and though the car would have made his pokiness a non-issue, Jeff and Michelle-Nicholle resisted. Paxton was upset and embarrassed to walk into school late, but they considered it a good life lesson. "He learned that we’re there to support him, but there are consequences for his action," Jeff says.
Challenge success: The Calaresos met their two main goals: more exercise and fewer trips to the gas station. Rivers’s stamina grew—by the last week he was asking to go around the block on his bike even after riding home from school. Plus, Paxton learned about bike safety and gained some new skills: He went from sometimes running into curbs and bushes to mastering how to balance, turn, and brake. Another unexpected bonus: Bonding time: The leisurely afternoon rides home gave Michelle-Nicholle and the boys a chance to unwind together in a way that quick car rides don’t allow. With newfound confidence that a car-less trip to school is possible, the family plans on riding again this school year—though Michelle-Nicholle says she’ll draw the line at snow, rain, or strong winds.
Smart advice: For others ready to roll, Michelle-Nicholle says to build plenty of extra time into the morning routine so it’s not stressful when the inevitable snags happen. After all, the goal is not only to get the kids to school, but for the whole family to enjoy the ride—as the Calaresos did. "We had a lot of fun working together as a team," Michelle-Nicholle says.