Research Shows Benefits of Biking

You likely have a pretty good idea that biking is good for kids (and the adults they share the world with). But it may surprise you to learn just how good it is and in how many ways—mentally, emotionally, physical, socially, and academically. It may also surprise you to learn who typically rides in the US (and who doesn't)—what groups we need to focus on to close those gaps and ensure all who want to can safely access the many benefits of cycling. During summer 2017, German researcher Katja Siepmann interned with Audacious Foundation, SBBIKE and COAST's partner in bringing cycling education to schools across Santa Barbara County. Her well-referenced research into the benefits of bicycling is here:

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PHOTOS BY JODY NELSON

 

BIKING FACT SHEET

by Katja Siepmann

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GOALS OF BIKE PROGRAM

  • Assist schools in the creation and operation of a physical education bicycle riding education module, which ultimately will be fully operated by each school’s physical education department, with minimal to zero ongoing assistance by outside nonprofit support services.
  • Address childhood obesity and improve kids’ health and fitness
  • Promote active transportation
  • Educate students (and parents) about safe routes to school
  • Make cycling “mainstream” and create awareness about the environmental, public health and communal value of biking
  • Stimulate learning
  • Reduce the gender gap in biking

 

STATUS QUO: KIDS, BIKES AND TRANSPORTATION TO SCHOOL

 

  • Kids in the United States are moving less and less, with 2 out of 3 kids being inactive today. [1] While in 1969 50 percent of kids walked or biked to school, this number dropped to 13 percent in 2009. [2]
  • Modern America has become a car-dependent community. Vehicular traffic not only contributes to environmental degradation and obesity, but also has a profound impact on the way children see and experience the world.[3]
  • Car driving diminishes kids’ connection to community and their understanding of home territory (e.g. how do streets connect) and the landscapes around it (e.g. knowledge of local plants and animals).[4]
  • Kids who walk or bike to school have a much better understanding of the geography of the place than kids traveling to school in car.[5]

 

HEALTH BENEFITS OF BIKING

 

  • Active transportation, i.e. walking and cycling, significantly improves general health (e.g. it reduces the risk of cardiovascular events, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and adiposity).[6]
  • There is a strong positive relationship between cycling and cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular fitness, favorable body composition, improved bone health, and improved cardiovascular and metabolic health biomarkers for children and adults.[7]
  • Learning how to ride a bike is a life-long (and life-enlarging) investment for every kid: Biking increases longevity, lowers blood pressure, promotes vascular health, and strengthens the heart.[8]
  • Cycling significantly improves the functioning of the whole body and has therefore been recognized as an important means to promote public health.[9]

 

TRANSFORMING THE SELF…ON A BIKE

 

  • Learning how to ride a bike brings happiness, confidence and self-fulfillment through the experience of competence mastery. [10] In other words: Bikes empower kids! Cycling is a source of feeling successful and a way for positive self-transformation.[11]
  • Children gain esteem and self-confidence on the bike through the experience of freedom, autonomy and independence. (Sloan Wilson: "The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride [a] bicycle. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard."[12]
  • Cycling in the outdoors not only stretches kids’ bodies, but also their imagination.
  • Biking is a way for kids to relief stress and relax. There are meditative qualities to pedaling on a bike.[13]
  • Navigating freely on a bike stimulates children! Kids love the feeling of adventure.
  • Kids gain intellectual enrichment and have fun exploring new places on a bike.

 

WHY BIKERS ARE THE SMARTER LEARNERS

 

  • Biking has a positive impact on brain development and learning.
  • There is a deep connection between the functioning of the body and the functioning of the mind, i.e. between pedal and brain power[14]
  • Biking increases students’ ability to concentrate: Research indicates that the effect of exercise on concentration is greater than the effect of diet on concentration[15]
  • The brain processes information better after exercise.[16] Hence, movement in the classroom enhances cognitive learning.[17]
  • Children with higher fitness levels activate more of the brain regions responsible for cognitive control[18], display greater cortical activation and corresponding cognitive performance, than kids with lower levels.[19]
  • Cognitive scientists describe creativity as “fluid thought”. Creativity can be influenced by certain types of physical movement.”[20]
  • Biking is cognitive superfood! Exercise “charges” the brain’s neuro-electrical workings and leads to better cognitive functioning![21]
  • A number of studies suggest that the effect of exercise on cognitive abilities and academic performance is stronger for girls than for boys. In other words: Girls benefit from a greater improvement in cognitive abilities through exercise compared to their male peers.[22] 

 

CONNECTING THE COMMUNITY—SOCIAL BENEFITS OF BIKING

 

  • Cycling is an inclusive sport. Almost everyone, including overweight and disabled kids, can learn biking. There are bikes for students with special needs.[23]
  • Being together on bikes creates a sense of belonging.
  • Bikes are a means for kids to explore their neighborhoods and to make connections with other community members.
  • Biking saves money and enhances the health and air quality of the community.

 

‘RIDING IS MY RITALIN’—BIKING BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS AWAY

 

  • Exercise can help children with behavioral disorders (e.g. ADHD) to increase attention, self-regulation and classroom functioning.[24] Cycling helps them to put the brain and body back into hormonal balance, which also regulates mood and behavior.”[25]
  • Cognitive improvements after biking were observed for students with ADHD on both the Simon and Trailmaking tests.[26]
  • The neural functioning of the brains of ADHD-diagnosed kids resembles more those of children without the disease after physical activity. [27]
  • Prominent ADHD cyclists confirm the findings about the benefits of biking to cope with behavioral disorders, e.g. Adam Leibovitz (‘Riding is my Ritalin’) à A daily dose of exercise instead of a daily pill
  • “For children with attention disorders, cycling helps to put the brain and body back into hormonal balance, which also regulates mood and behavior.”[28]
  • Longer term, biking leads to an increase in positive mood and children’s ability to understand their own feelings.[29]

 

BIKING FOR THE PLANET—SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION FOR KIDS

 

  • Communicating the environmental value of biking enhances kids’ ecological literacy and environmental awareness/responsibility.
  • Biking reduces traffic and pollution.
  • Bikes are sustainable! Human energy moves the wheels. 

 

TRANSFORMING CULTURES AND CLOSING THE GENDER GAP

 

  • Bikes create opportunities! Bikes act both as a metaphor and means to move young people forward![30]
  • Learning how to bike (and how to fix bicycles) can empower young people to learn/fix other things in their lives.[31]
  • There are significant differences between boys and girls using these opportunities in the United States: Boys bike to school two to three times more than girls. (In turn, there are few differences in the prevalence of walking to and from school by children’s sex.[32])
  • On an adult level, male cyclists outnumber women cyclists almost four to one in the United States.[33] In other industrialized nations men and women bicycle at relatively equal rates (e.g. Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark).[34] What is the reason for the difference? A belief in gender constructs such as ‘Biking is only for boys/men’ or ‘Biking is too dangerous for girls/woman’?
  • Introducing cycling programmes to schools helps to challenge gendered attitudes towards biking and promotes cycling as a male and female/gender-neutral activity, which contributes to the larger goal of promoting equity and gender equality.
  • Biking and girls/women empowerment: Girls/young women who feel confident in traditionally male spaces/practices [e.g. bike shop, biking] are more likely to explore other traditionally male spheres with more confidence. Bikes make girls independent as they can go to places without a driver. It also allows them to wear less restrictive cloth suitable for being on a vehicle (which also changes the way girls move, feel and explore).[35]

 

BIBILIOGRAPHY

John D. Cowden: Pedaling Away from Behavioral Problems in School. In: NEJM Journal Watch, January 9, 2017. Online: http://www.jwatch.org/fw112428/2017/01/09/pedaling-away-behavioral-problems-school

 

Sarah Goodyear: The Link Between Kids Who Walk or Bike to School and Concentration. In: Citylab, February 5, 2013, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2013/02/kids-who-walk-or-bike-school-concentrate-better-study-shows/4585/

 

Sarah Goodyear: Kids Who Get Driven Everywhere Don't Know Where They're Going. In: Citylab, May 7, 2012, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2012/05/kids-who-get-driven-everywhere-dont-know-where-theyre-going/1943/

 

Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. In: Bicycling, February 4, 2013,

http://www.bicycling.com/training/fitness/its-all-your-head

 

Molly Hurford: More Over Standing Desks: Kids Learn Better with Pedal Desks. In: Bicycling, September 1, 2015, http://www.bicycling.com/training/health-injuries/move-over-standing-desks-kids-learn-better-pedal-desks

 

Michael Anderson: Race, ethnicity, class and protected bike lanes: An idea book for fairer cities. In: People for Bikes, March 4, 2015, http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/race-ethnicity-class-and-protected-bike-lanes-an-idea-book-for-fairer-citie 

 

Can Cycling and Exercise Create a Better Future for Children with ADHD? Blog ‘For Care, For Cure, For Kids’, Stanford Children’s Health, June 1, 2016,

http://supportlpch.org/blog/can-cycling-and-exercise-create-better-future-children-adhd

 

Specialized Foundation Research:

https://www.specialized.com/us/en/specialized-foundation-research

 

Specialized funds biking research, programs for kids. In: Bicycle Retailer, March 25, 2015,

http://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2015/03/25/specialized-funds-biking-research-programs-kids#.WVZ_EMbMzUI

 

Slepian, Michael L.; Ambady, Nalini: Fluid movement and creativity. In: Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 141(4), Nov 2012, 625-629. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0027395

 

Jenny Herbold: Mountain Biking: It’s Good for Your Heart. In: Singletracks, January 7, 2017,

https://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-training/mountain-biking-its-good-for-your-heart/

 

Oja (et al.): Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. In: Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2011:11, pp. 496-509.

 

Phillip D. Tomporowski: Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement. In: Educational Psychology Review, June 2008, 20:111.

 

Davies, d. g. (et. al): Attitudes to Cycling: A qualitative study and conceptual framework. In: Crowthorne, Transportation Research Laboratory, 1997.

 

Chaang-Iuan Ho: Beyond environmental concerns: using means–end chains to explore the personal psychological values and motivations of leisure/recreational cyclists. In: Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 23, No. 5, 2015.

 

John Ratey: Spark: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little, Brown and Company, reprint edition 2013. In: Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. In: Bicycling, February 4, 2013,

http://www.bicycling.com/training/fitness/its-all-your-head

Sarah Schlichter: The Art of Slow Travel. In: Smarter Travel, June 19, 2017, https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/06/19/art-slow-travel/

Nike Active Schools, http://about.nike.com/pages/active-schools

 

Slow Movement, http://slowmovement.com

 

Catherine Emond (et al.): Explaining Gender Difference in Bicycling Behavior. In: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Vol. 2125, 2014.

 

Elizabeth Jose: Strong women start on a bicycle: How girls-only bicycle empowerment programs can help urban girls grow up to be strong women. Thesis at New York University, 2012.

 

Noreen C.McDonald: Is there a gender gap in school travel? An examination of US children and adolescents. In: Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 20, Issue 1, January 2012, pp. 80-86.

 

 



[1] Active Schools, http://www.letsmoveschools.org

[2] Sarah Goodyear: The Link Between Kids Who Walk or Bike to School and Concentration. In: Citylab, February 5, 2013, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2013/02/kids-who-walk-or-bike-school-concentrate-better-study-shows/4585/

[3] Sarah Goodyear: Kids Who Get Driven Everywhere Don't Know Where They're Going. In: Citylab, May 7, 2012, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2012/05/kids-who-get-driven-everywhere-dont-know-where-theyre-going/1943/

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Oja (et al.): Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. In: Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2011:11, pp. 496-509.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jenny Herbold: Mountain Biking: It’s Good for Your Heart. In: Singletracks, January 7, 2017,https://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-training/mountain-biking-its-good-for-your-heart/

[9] Ibid.

[10] Chaang-Iuan Ho: Beyond environmental concerns: using means–end chains to explore the personal psychological values and motivations of leisure/recreational cyclists. In: Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 23, No. 5, 2015.

[11] Ibid., and Jessica L. Fraser-Thomas: Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development. In: Journal for Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, Vol. 10, 2005 - Issue 1, pp. 19-40.

[12] Quoted in: Elizabeth Jose: Strong women start on a bicycle: How girls-only bicycle empowerment programs can help urban girls grow up to be strong women. Thesis at New York University, 2012.

[13] John Ratey: Spark: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little, Brown and Company, reprint edition 2013. In: Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. In: Bicycling, February 4, 2013,

http://www.bicycling.com/training/fitness/its-all-your-head

[14] Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. In: Bicycling, February 4, 2013,

http://www.bicycling.com/training/fitness/its-all-your-head

[15] Ibid.

[16] Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. Loc. cit.

[17] Molly Hurford: More Over Standing Desks: Kids Learn Better with Pedal Desks. In: Bicycling, September 1, 2015, http://www.bicycling.com/training/health-injuries/move-over-standing-desks-kids-learn-better-pedal-desks

[18] Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. Loc. cit. Relating to the research of Charles Hillman, Neurocognitive Kinesiology Lab, University of Illinois.

[19] Phillip D. Tomporowski: Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement. In: Educational Psychology Review, June 2008, 20:111.

[20] Slepian, Michael L.; Ambady, Nalini: Fluid movement and creativity. In: Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 141(4), Nov 2012, 625-629. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0027395

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Special needs trycicles and bicycles for children and adults, https://www.especialneeds.com/shop/mobility/special-needs-tricycles-bicycles.html

[24] John D. Cowden: Pedaling Away from Behavioral Problems in School. In: NEJM Journal Watch, January 9, 2017. Online: http://www.jwatch.org/fw112428/2017/01/09/pedaling-away-behavioral-problems-school

[25] Molly Hurford: More Over Standing Desks: Kids Learn Better with Pedal Desks. In: Bicycling, September 1, 2015, http://www.bicycling.com/training/health-injuries/move-over-standing-desks-kids-learn-better-pedal-desks

[26] Specialized funds biking research, programs for kids. In: Bicycle Retailer, March 25, 2015,

http://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2015/03/25/specialized-funds-biking-research-programs-kids#.WVZ_EMbMzUI

[27] Bruce Barcott: It's All in Your Head. In: Bicycling, February 4, 2013,

http://www.bicycling.com/training/fitness/its-all-your-head

[28] Molly Hurford: More Over Standing Desks: Kids Learn Better with Pedal Desks. In: Bicycling, September 1, 2015, http://www.bicycling.com/training/health-injuries/move-over-standing-desks-kids-learn-better-pedal-desks

[29] Specialized funds biking research, programs for kids. In: Bicycle Retailer, March 25, 2015,

http://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2015/03/25/specialized-funds-biking-research-programs-kids#.WVZ_EMbMzUI

[30] Elizabeth Jose: Strong women start on a bicycle: How girls-only bicycle empowerment programs can help urban girls grow up to be strong women. Thesis at New York University, 2012.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Noreen C.McDonald: Is there a gender gap in school travel? An examination of US children and adolescents. In: Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 20, Issue 1, January 2012, pp. 80-86.

[33]  Elizabeth Jose: Strong women start on a bicycle. Loc cit.

[34] Catherine Emond (et al.): Explaining Gender Difference in Bicycling Behavior. In: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Vol. 2125, 2014.

[35] Elizabeth Jose: Strong women start on a bicycle. Loc. cit.

 

Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition
P.O. Box 92047, Santa Barbara, CA 93190
506 E. Haley Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
805.845.8955