How to cycle as a family
Seven steps to get you and your family riding together confidently, from Girona Cycling's Fiona Smart.
Spending time as a family is more important than ever and it is our responsibility as parents to teach our children how to lead happy and healthy lives.
So what better way to accomplish this than to have great days out as a family biking through the countryside or around a local park?
Some of our best family days are biking to the local lake or alongside a nearby river, splashing through streams, bouncing over bumps and of course enjoying a mid-ride picnic or café stop.
Biking gives the whole family the obvious health benefits of being active and getting outdoors and it also enhances family togetherness and camaraderie.
Here are seven steps, taking you from starting out to riding confidently together...
1. Finding the right bike
Toddlers can start on balance bikes around the house and garden to enhance their balance and motor skills. They just scoot themselves along as there are no pedals. Just beware of stairs and other obstacles, so make the area safe first.
From balance bikes children will progress to real bikes. However bikes with stabilizers on bumpy terrain can be more dangerous, as they can still fall over as the stabilizers are not that widely set and they do not teach the child how to balance. So better to go from a balance bike straight to a bike without stabilizers and you can be their safety net, getting you fit in the process, more on this below.
We would recommend hybrid or cross bikes. Worx, Frog and IslaBikes have a great reputation for specializing in children’s bikes. Other bike manufacturers also produce good kids bikes. Prices for new bikes start from £250. But you can find great second hand ones - for example Frog and Islabikes on eBay start from £50. We do not recommend front and rear suspension on children’s bikes as this makes them much heavier. It is better to get lighter bike that they can easily lift and control.
Many of the specialist children’s bikes can be used on and off road without the need for suspension. For example our nine-year-old daughter can do many off-road bike trails on her Worx bike with road tyres. Riding road and cross bikes off-road builds skills including balance and handling. Have you ever watched the cyclecross racers? They have an amazing level of skill and have a lot of fun too.
Obviously if there is a good mountain bike club and circuit close to your home then buy a mountain bike for your child. But if not then buying a hybrid/cross bike gives you and your family a greater variety of options and the bikes will be lighter and easier for your child to control and also for you to carry should the need arise.
2. Setting up the bike
The gears on children’s bikes are all easy, so that they learn to spin from an early age to get good technique and also so they do not put excess pressure through their knees.
It is better to always buy the correct size of bike, so that they are more in control and are more likely to become confident and have fun. Buy secondhand or chat with your local bike club as children are always growing out of their bikes like their clothes.
When buying a bike you can change the height of the saddle but they do not need both feet flat on the ground when they are sitting on the saddle, as then the saddle would be too low and riding will be harder. So a saddle height where they can be on tip toe or they can lean the bike slightly to one side and put their foot on the floor.
They should not be too stretched out, their weight should be shared between saddle and handlebars, so not all of their weight is on their bum. Comfort is important. You can buy children specific saddles, for example the “SMP Well” saddle.
3. Essential kit and equipment
Always make sure the helmet fits correctly, never too high at the front. Check for British standard in the labeling. Never use a helmet that is second hand or has been crashed. So buy a new helmet that fits perfectly and that they feel confortable in. Helmets start from £15.
Start off with flat pedals. Then you can add toe clips and then move onto bike shoes and clip in pedals when they are ready. Slowly progress as the child is ready.
Lights and reflective gear are always important. In the Winter it can get dark early and you can have dull days. So fit lights and reflectors and usually children love to help brighten up their bike.
4. The first few rides
If you have a large enough garden you can start riding there, even setting up a small course. If not, a local park or field, where riding is allowed, or an off road bike route is great to practice on.
When you start your child biking you can have a parent either side to catch them. We found putting them in a good strong jumper that you can get a good hold on mid back works well as you can hold them up as they get used to pedaling and balance.
One amazing parent has developed a harness (Crikey Bikey) for the child to wear and the parent to grab hold of.
You will find your child will forget to look where they are going, forget to pedal to maintain the speed required to balance or get otherwise distracted by a pretty stone or balloon, so suddenly without warning you will have to take control. As they get going and get faster you can run alongside and they can control the bike and pedal and you can be there as their safety net. This is great family time and you are getting fit too!
5. Teaching the basic skills
Once they are riding well you can teach them to use their brakes. Always teach them to use both brakes together. Using the back brake only is used in an emergency when you need to shave off some speed when entering a corner too quickly. Always brake before a corner with both brakes, as braking straightens a bike and stops you going around the corner.
For cornering, the outside pedal should always be down. If the inside pedal is down on a corner they are more likely to catch that pedal on the ground and it also unbalances them.
Teach them to fix a puncture, check their brakes, gears, steering. Make sure nothing is loose. Explain how the gears work. Children love learning how things work.
6. Finding a route and safety issues
Once they are riding well look up your local bike and horse riding trails and get out there as a family. Bike routes can be found on Strava and other smartphone apps. We would recommend keeping children off real roads until they are able to understand road safety rules. First teach them the rules and how to ride safely in a safe environment.
If they bang their head even if they are wearing a helmet they should still be medically assessed and the helmet should be binned. If it's a small accident with no bang of the head and the child is okay, get them straight back on the bike.
7. Take your time and get some coaching
Do not force children. Children will do things when they are ready. Our son learnt to ride at four and then was not interested for over a year. So the bike was there and then he was off again on his own and we were there to encourage him. Try other sports, learn other skills and then they can come back to biking again later. Children should be taught as many sports as possible at a young age to help with their motor skill development.
If you feel this it too difficult on your own, book a family biking holiday with coaching. You can even book a family bike coach just for a few hours one weekend, to get you all riding better as a family. Then you will be ready to have amazing family trips together.
Find a local cycle ride for the whole family - search by date and region