By CYRUS LEVESQUE
MONKTON — Sam and Robin Kuhns’ morning routine differs from their classmates’ at Monkton Central School in one big way: over their winter clothes, the brothers put on bicycle helmets and safety vests. Nine-year-old Sam and Robin, 11, have biked three miles to school year round for about three years with their father, Buzz Kuhns.
The habit of biking to school began when Sam was in kindergarten, and Buzz suggested that they bike in one morning near the start of the school year. Sam was opposed to it at first.
“I was like, ‘Dad, are you insane?’” he said. However, Sam quickly warmed up to the idea.
Biking to school in the morning is the more practical option sometimes. The family lives on Bennett Road about three miles from Monkton Central. In good conditions, biking takes 20 minutes or less; Buzz said that their record time was 15 minutes, 25 seconds. Since the family lives near the start of the 45-minute school bus route, that’s less time than it would take to ride the bus.
While the Kuhnses say the ride itself is not very strenuous, the family’s dedication is impressive. Buzz said that they have only missed three days so far this school year.
“Sam has never ridden a bus more than twice or so (since we started biking),” Buzz said.
Falling snow has a few times prevented the Kuhns kids from biking, and they also don’t bike if the road has not been plowed, Buzz said. But low temperatures, wind and even rain have not been enough to stop them.
They need to take extra steps before getting on the bikes for school in bad weather, but frigid temperatures have not required all that much extra clothing because the exercise helps keep them warm. Buzz said they have biked on mornings as cold as 16 degrees below zero, and the only change they needed was donning ski goggles.
“For the cold winter, the goggles make a huge difference,” he said. “At that temperature, we have nothing exposed.”
Bike helmets are a must, of course, and they wear orange safety vests as well to be more visible to drivers. But according to Buzz, they don’t need to make too many changes for winter weather.
“It’s more wind protection than lots of layers of heat insulation,” he said. “We’ve learned what level of clothing we need for each temperature.”
Other than the concessions they have to make for the weather, the morning bicycle ride is a way to continue with a hobby that all three enjoy. Sam learned to ride a bicycle at an early age, Buzz said. “When he was in kindergarten, he just loved biking.”
According to Robin, Sam’s interest in biking was partly out of a desire to imitate his older brother.
“It’s always my fault,” Robin joked.
In the past the brothers biked home sometimes, but this school year they usually have been picked up by Buzz or their mother, Caroll Maxwell. Buzz said the change was because they now have after-school clubs and sports, so their schedules are more variable and they are often tired. Robin a fifth-grader, joins third-grader Sam and Buzz most of the time, but he said he gets a ride to school with their mother about a quarter of the time.
Both brothers lead very active lives in addition to biking. They ski and snowboard and play basketball, soccer and baseball, Buzz said. According to Robin, they often spend their free time around their home with equally active games, like “running around, building forts in the woods.”
Buzz said the family routine has become well known.
“People are great about giving us plenty of room on the road,” he said. “The drivers see us out there every morning, so they know we’re out there.” There are just a few exceptions; Robin mentioned a red pickup truck whose driver guns the engine when he passes them.
For the most part, though, the community has been impressed, and Buzz said that some may be following his family’s example.
“We’ve seen a lot more bikes at the school in fair weather than we used to ever see,” Buzz said. “It’s given people the idea that you could do it.”