Cycling With My Kids on Biking Across Kansas

You might be asking yourself right now why on Earth would I want to go cycling with my kids on a 500-miles bike ride across the State of Kansas. Well, I have a very good reason for not only taking them with me but actually requiring them to go. I know it sounds crazy. Trust me, my kids thought I was crazy too. But then a few years ago I took my oldest daughter and she loved it and this summer I took my son. Not only is not crazy; cycling with my kids on a ride like this is actually something others might want to consider doing with their kids as well.

My Dad and my daughter with some typical Kansas weather in the background from BAK 2015 (Image by Skip Owens)

Biking Across Kansas (or BAK for short) has been going on now for 42 years and this year’s ride was my 4th time doing it. The ride starts at the Colorado border and seven days later it ends at the Missouri border. The ride covers anywhere from 45-100 miles a day depending on the day and that year’s route. There are about 850 riders that participate every year. The overnight cities change from year to year with the route, and we stay overnight at local schools (riders will either camp outside or sleep in the school gymnasium).

A normal view first thing in the morning when camping on BAK (Image by Skip Owens)

BAK transports your gear from town to town in trucks, so all you have to do is get yourself to the starting city near the Colorado border (either by taking a chartered bus or getting someone to drop you off) and then you are responsible for cycling from town to town. BAK also provides drinks and snacks at what they call SAG (Support And Gear) stops. If you were to have some kind of medical issue that prevented you from finishing all the miles on a given day there are people who can come pick you up but that is only to be used as a last resort. You need to be able to ride the miles, which means you have to train and ensure your legs can keep going for 500-miles in the sometimes rather harsh Kansas conditions.

So how do I go cycling with my kids for over 500-miles? For starters, I don’t require that they ride all 500-miles. I only require that they ride as many miles as they are comfortable riding (so far I haven’t had to enforce a minimum number of miles with that caveat because both my son and daughter rode as many miles as they physically could). The reason they don’t have to ride the entire 500-miles is because my Dad drives his truck from town to town. So we always have a vehicle that can come pick up a set of tired legs and drive them the rest of the way to the next town. My Dad and I will switch off driving duties so we all get some miles in and that way we both get to spend some time cycling with my kids.

Kansas is definitely NOT entirely flat! (Image by Skip Owens)

So why do I go cycling with my kids on BAK (and furthermore why do I require them to do it)? Technically they don’t have to, but if they want me to teach them how to drive so they can get a driver’s license then I require them to ride. Why? I’ve been riding out on the road for over 10 years now and truly believe if everyone was required to put some miles on a bike out on the road we would all be safer drivers. They reason is that when you are on a bike there is nothing between you and the road or between you and other road users. In a car you are traveling at high-speed inside a steel cage and have an altered sense of reality. On the bike you feel the wind and you hear all the noises out on the road and most importantly you feel the speed at which you are traveling. Once you have spent time traveling by bike you learn to appreciate just how dangerous it is traveling at high-speed by car (even with all of today’s amazing safety features built into cars). Basic physics says you still have a lot of energy to dissipate when traveling that fast and then encountering another object. Safety features in cars can only protect you so much, and they don’t protect bikes at all. So another reason go cycling with my kids is so that they learn to appreciate how important it is to give cyclist on the road a safe distance when passing them.

Two years ago I did my first BAK with one of my kids (my oldest daughter when she was 16 years old). She was not looking forward to it. I tried to get her out riding as much as I could before we went on BAK, but wasn’t able to get her on any rides longer than about 5 miles at a time. So I wasn’t sure just how many miles she would be able to ride in a single day. She ended up riding 45 miles her first day on BAK! In total she rode over 200 miles of the 500-mile ride that year and she wants to come back and ride BAK again. My son (who was 15 years old) trained a little bit more for BAK this year then my daughter did but he chose to ride a road bike while my daughter rode a light cruiser bike. My son did well, but again he needed more miles on the bike (especially on a road bike) because it takes a while to get used to how it feels to be clipped into your bike pedals. His feet just got too sore, that is when his legs didn’t give out first due to the hills we were riding up.

My son taking a little break from cycling up all the hills (Image by Skip Owens)
My son and I taking a much-needed break from cycling at a lunch stop (Image by Clark Owens)

Now I know that it isn’t practical for everyone to do this kind of cycling with their kids before they teach them to drive. But if you are an experienced adult cyclist you might want to consider getting your kids some experience on a bike (even if it isn’t a long organized ride like BAK) before they start learning how to drive. Not only does cycling get them some exercise, it also gives them another perspective…the perspective of a vulnerable road user. Who knows, you just might find out they really like riding a bike.

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A rocket-scientist, father of 3, amateur astronomer, piano/keyboard player and soon to be sci-fi author who wears his geek badge with pride.