5 Reasons Why Bike Touring is a Great Activity for Teenagers

Over the past ten years, I have led many trips for Teen Treks. Some of my favorite trips have been the Pacific Northwest Trek, 1,000 Mile Trek and Maine Coast. I now have the pleasure of working behind the scenes as Teen Treks’ Program Coordinator. My work is focused on recruiting teens and leaders through relationship building, creative content and communication strategies.

I’ve been dedicated to Teen Treks for a long time because I have seen the incredible ways bike touring impacts teenager’s lives. In my time at Teen Treks, I have made lifelong connections with the teens I’ve led. This has given me the good fortune to see how their bike trip helped shape their future for the better.

I’m going to share the 5 Reasons Why Bike Touring is a Great Activity for Teenagers. This information has been gathered from personal experience, leader surveys, trekker surveys, parent feedback and general oversight.

1. Freedom in an Organized Environment

One of our 1,000 Mile Trekkers originally wanted to take a solo bike trip before heading off to college. His parents felt more secure if he joined an organized biking group. After completing his 30-day trek from Chicago to NYC with Teen Treks, the trekker said he was grateful to bike with an organized group which allowed teenagers the freedom to exercise their skillsets and take ownership over their trip experience.

“Taking a Teen Treks bike trip in an organized but freedom-inducing setting was the ideal training for being able to self-manage responsibilities while enjoying the freedom of college.”
– 1,000 Mile Trekker

A strong value within Teen Treks bike tours is giving teens the opportunity to drive their own trip experience. Trekkers do this by taking ownership over responsibilities and driving the group’s daily activities.

Trekkers rotate through assigned daily leadership roles that enable them to take self-directed and peer-directed accountability for responsibilities. This helps teens practice the freedom to assume responsibilities, while leaders can take a more hands-off approach.

Leaders encourage trekkers to bring their interest to the table each day. Maybe the group would like to stop at more swimming holes. Maybe they would like to make a point of checking out museums in a big city. Or perhaps they might find an interesting attraction when strolling into the city. Trekkers are able to voice their interest in leading the group to experiences that add quality to the trip. It’s the leader’s job to facilitate a fun, safe environment for teens to explore their freedom and independence.

2. Teamwork and Self-Reliance

Teen Treks’ leaders take a hands-off approach that enables trekkers to grow in leadership, self-reliance and teamwork skills. Leaders oversee trekkers as they assume assigned roles. They facilitate conversations and reflections to help trekkers understand their contribution within the group. Teen Treks has found this enables teenagers the opportunity to exercise independence, take ownership for responsibilities, and learn to receive peer-to-peer direction. 

Daily, teens take on roles in which put them in a position of leadership within their peers. Roles include:

  • Points of the Day (navigator/map holders)
  • Safety Manager (bike maintenance lead)
  • Hype Person (fun activity instigator)
  • Health & Hydration Manager
  • Team Boss (the one who makes sure everyone is fulfilling their roles)

These assignments allow trekkers to exercise leadership, independence, and accountability in a supervised setting. 

On a typical Teen Treks day, trekkers are split into two separate groups. One group is the cooking and grocery shopping team, the other is the cleaning and tent-set up team. Trekkers rotate each day through these team assignments. These groups give trekkers practice in many group dynamic and individual skills, including:

  • grocery shopping for a group on a budget
  • cooking for a group while differentiating dietary needs
  • following recipes
  • setting up/tear down of campsites
  • meal clean-up
  • serving the needs of an entire group

The approach is for trekkers to assume their daily roles without prompting from supervisors, rather using peer-direction or self-direction. This teamwork and self-reliance development is paramount in teens development into young adults. We often hear from trekker parents about positive effects at home, in school, and in extra-curricular activities after their bike trek.

3. Discovery

Teenagers have fresh and eager eyes to see the world around them. And bike touring is a form of travel that is very immersive and fosters discovery. It is slower than a car, faster than walking, and enables travelers to see their surroundings up-close. There is not a glass window or plastic door keeping the bike traveler from the space around them. The open-air and movement found on a bicycle allows sight, smell and hearing to be activated, making the possibility of discovery even greater.

You might find a hidden trail off the side of the road. Or maybe you will roll into a city, have a conversation with a pedestrian and find out the best place to get food in town. You might hear music and follow your ears until stumbling upon a festival. 

The opportunity for discovery is why we love bike touring so much. And with the openness to new opportunities teenagers carry so well, the combination of teens and bike trips couldn’t be better aligned for an incredible, life-changing experience.

4. Confidence Booster

A former Across America trekker said he went back to high school after that summer with a newfound sense of confidence. He accomplished daily physical and mental adversities and persevered until the completion of the 3,000+ mile trek.This boosted his sense of confidence in his own independent abilities. 

We’ve seen bike trips boost teens confidence too many times to not believe it. Our leaders cheer on trekkers facing physical and mental challenges, and watch as they become stronger bikers every day. Teens often leave not wanting to get off their bicycle, no matter how much they struggled in the beginning.

Teens carry this self-confidence and newfound awareness of their strength as they return back to school. Their sense of accomplishment translates into confidence in their studies, sports and extracurricular pursuits.

“Sometimes I go back to look at the map when I need a confidence booster. I remind myself that I biked from one end of the country to the other. If I did that, surely I can do anything.”
– Across America Trekker

5. Open-Mindedness

Bike touring in a group setting is a great way for teenagers to grow in open-mindedness. 

Teen Treks trips consist of about 10 teenagers and 2 leaders. Teens come from all around the United States, and often from other countries. They work together to accomplish:

  • daily biking goals
  • cooking logistics
  • camp set-up
  • activity planning
  • role assignments within a group setting

All this enables teens to learn to work together with peers from many different locations, backgrounds, lifestyles and personalities.

As they work together, teens are also sharing many special moments together. Campfire chats, beautiful roadside scenery, frisbee, swimming, and many other fun activities work to foster positive relationships through a group of diverse peers.  

Another way bike touring in a group setting helps teenagers experience open-mindedness is through food! Let’s face it, nothing makes you more hungry than a long day on a bicycle. Teenager’s appetites are greater on a bike trip than in their every-day life, which makes them more open to eating what is in front of them. This often helps kids break out of picky eating habits. Trekkers work together to decide what kind of meal they are going to cook each night. The emphasis on home-cooked campfire meals encourages trekkers to cook and try new foods for the first time. They often realize they enjoy new foods they never thought they would until they tried.

And of course, travel itself is a great vehicle for stirring open-mindedness. As bike groups travel from one destination to the next, they are seeing new places, meeting new people and having meaningful interactions along the way. Nothing opens you up to new perspectives better than interacting with people, cultures and ideas in many different parts of the world. But first, we must get on our bike and travel there!

-Katie Hennessey

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