Family Bonding: How Bicycling Parents can Nurture their Kids’ Love of Long Rides
Eight-year-old Jaanya Teli was a media darling of the 2022 Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic presented by Alaska Airlines, completing the 206-mile ride as one of the youngest finishers.
Her secret? A patient, devoted, and bike-loving father.
It was a picture-perfect moment that captured the joy of completing STP: eight-year-old Jaanya Teli with her fist raised in the air as she pedaled across the finish line.
With her big smile, Jaanya was a media darling of STP 2022 who appeared in multiple newspaper and television stories.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without the coaching of her devoted father, Parthik Teli, who trained with Jaanya for more than a year, riding patiently behind her the entire way.
With the opening of registration for the Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic presented by Alaska Airlines, some parents may wonder whether their kids have the ability to complete the 206-mile, two-day ride on July 15-16.
Parthik Teli and his wife, Ankita, provide an example of how bicycling parents can nurture a love of bicycling in their children.
Cascade Board Member Kai Shih and his wife, Ingrid Chiang, are another example. Last year they rode STP with their 9- and 11-year-old sons, and Kai says completing STP as a family is totally doable–with proper training and parenting.
We asked Parthik to pass along some tips for parents who want to prepare for STP, or just do long rides, with their young kids. “Every kid is different, and every parent is different,” Parthik says. “This is what worked for us.”
Start Young and Keep it Fun
Jaanya learned to ride a bike in 2019 when she was five, and when the pandemic hit a year later, the Telis began riding every weekend as a healthy outdoor activity.
“We started with four-mile rides and a year later worked up to 35 miles,” Parthik says. “We tried to keep it fun, stopping to rest, watching the ducks on the Sammamish River Trail. Riding 35 miles this way takes a long time, but our goal was always to have fun.”
By the end of 2021, “Jaanya started to really enjoy biking,” Parthik says.
He offered these tips for getting children interested in bicycling:
Start slowly, and choose safe routes. The Telis, who live in Sammamish, typically rode on the 10-mile-long Sammamish River Trail that connects in Bothell to the Burke-Gilman Trail, which travels onward through Seattle.
Ride behind your child. That way, you can talk to and watch them until you are confident they can ride safely in a straight line.
Take photos of your rides to share with your kids.
Make bicycling a dinnertime conversation topic. “We sometimes watched Tour de France video clips. STP was a hot topic in our house.”
Choosing the Right Bike
Jaanya learned to ride on a one-speed bike with no derailleur. As her skills grew, her parents bought her a bike with a rear derailleur and a small number of gears.
When Jaanya decided to do STP, the Telis bought her an 18-speed road bike with front and rear derailleurs. “Buy a bike that works, with lots of gears,” Parthik says. “Many times, I saw kids trying longer rides with bikes that were not appropriate.”
Parthik says he bought Jaanya used bicycles, which kept the price down.
Food and Hydration
“Talk about the importance of proper food before long rides,” Parthik says. “We ate oatmeal before our long STP training rides.”
He offered these other food tips:
Brings snacks. When Jaanya was learning how to climb hills, they would reward her with gummy bears at the top. “This made her look for hills to climb so she could get gummies,” Parthik says.
Use a hydration backpack. This is safer because your child can easily drink from the hydration pack’s tube without reaching down for a water bottle while pedaling.
Bring water bottles for drinking when stopped.
Taking it to the Streets
Once Jaanya could ride confidently on the Sammamish River Trail, the Telis taught Jaanya hand signals and began doing road rides on loops they considered safe. They started with the Sammamish Lake Loop, a 22-mile route that incorporates the East Lake Sammamish Trail.
“We rode very slowly the first time. I stayed behind her and made sure she was on the right side of the road,” says Parthik, who always rode behind Jaanya.
“At some point you have to start talking about the dangers of riding on roads with cars,” Parthik says. “This can be scary, so as a parent you have to figure out how to talk about it. Jaanya was a little scared initially but she got comfortable because I was always behind her so that cars must go around me.”
Increasing Mileage and Joining a Bike Group
Parthik knew that Jaanya would benefit from riding with a group–for inspiration and camaraderie. He and his wife support the nonprofit Asha for Education, which organizes STP training rides and fields a team of riders who use STP as a fundraiser to support education in India.
The Asha rides started at 10 miles and increased to 100 a few weeks before STP, when they rode the Flying Wheels Summer Century, which serves as an STP tuneup for many participants.
“While riding, everyone would say hello and talk about bikes,” Parthik says. “That was really helpful to motivate Jaanya.”
As a parent, however, you must set aside your own fitness goals and be prepared to ride slower than you normally would when training a child. Parthik always rode behind Jaanya at her speed, which means they sometimes finished last on training rides with adults.
Discuss Your Rides
After every training ride, Parthik took Jaanya to a restaurant to share a meal and talk about that day’s ride. They chatted about what they did well, what could be improved, whether they made any mistakes, what was boring, and what was exciting.
Parthik tracked all their rides on the Ride With GPS app, which shows a map of their route and other data including their time, how long it took to climb hills, and more. “We looked at total riding time and rest time. When the rest time was high, we would laugh,” Parthik says.
Parthik recorded most of their practice rides and edited them to create 10- to 20-minute videos that the family watched together.
For daily inspiration, Parthik printed and laminated a map of the STP route and hung it in the bathroom alongside a map of their latest training rides. “In front of the toilet,” Parthik jokes, “where the morning starts.”
Sacrifices, and Preparing for STP 2023
Devoting weekends to STP training meant making sacrifices. For Jaanya, this included skipping some of her friends’ birthday parties. However, Parthik and Ankita made sure to schedule fun time with Jaanya and her friends.
“Overall,” Parthik says of training for and completing STP with Jaanya, “this was a nice experience and a good bonding time.”
This year, Parthik plans to ride STP with his 14-year-old daughter, Jiya. Jaanya, who is now competing in swimming, will decide in April whether she wants to ride STP again. If she does, Parthik’s wife, Ankita, will ride and train with her.
We look forward to seeing them at the finish line in Portland again this year.