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I often hear people talking about how hard it is to find time to get on the bike now that children have come along, but family isn’t necessarily a one way street to a cycling slow down. All you need to do is to get them in on the act by tapping into the fun of tearing around on bikes which has captivated generations of kids. Then all of a sudden family time becomes riding time, everyone’s idea of a great holiday spot is a cycling paradise, a bike race is popular viewing and, most importantly, you get to share a sport you love with those closest to you.
Family has always been a huge part of my time on the bike, right from the moment when as a three-year-old my mother sat me on a brown velvet cushion tied onto the rack at the back of her orange bicycle. So when my kids came along there was never any thought that this would get in the way of riding. In fact, for me, it was an opportunity to embrace the sport.
Until 10 years ago cycling had been an on again, off again interest. I took it up again when it seemed an appealing way to get fit again after a difficult pregnancy. Though, when I started cycling again this time, it developed into far more than just a passing phase. It quickly became entrenched as a part of life when the children got in on the act.
Long before my children could ride far themselves, cycling meant exploration and fun. Sitting in a trailer on the back of the bicycle was their preferred way of getting to the playground, to childcare, to play with friends or to ramble around the local neighbourhood.
The trailer was a great introduction to the enjoyment of being outside and seeing the world from a two-wheeled perspective ,but they weren’t content to only be passengers for too long. By the time they were in early primary school the once often-used trailer just became a way of carrying school bags or shopping. They were old enough and skilled enough to ride a reasonable distance without assistance.
Initially, the riding was mostly on footpaths to school and the shops or rambling down bike paths at a very leisurely pace and chatting as we went. The confidence levels quickly grew and the challenge of riding the mountain bikes on single track became appealing. It is amazing how, with a little guidance from their dirt-riding dad, the children quickly picked up how to roll over logs and pick their way through rock gardens.
At this stage, riding with the children started becoming more than just an exercise in slow pedalling and valuable time spent with the family. Watching my daughter negotiate a steep dip that I’d only just managed did more than fill me with pride. It made me realise that if I didn’t also focus on developing my own skills, the day would come far too quickly that it would be me who would be battling to keep up with the kids.
Now even racing the bike has become a far more regular event because the kids desperately want to go as well. In the words of my eight year-old son “riding around on the bike is fun, racing is very fun.” Cyclocross is one of the different disciplines my husband and I have embraced since the children came along and one of the biggest reasons is that it is fantastic entertainment for everyone. The variety of children’s, women’s and men’s events on the one day at a spectator friendly venue means the entire family has a chance to race, then watch and cheer each other on. At the races we go to, the children’s events extend right down to those on balance bikes, so not only do my children get the chance to race but their younger cousins also get to join in on the action.
I guess the next stage will be when my daughter and son are old enough to go for long road rides. We won’t be at that point for a while yet, but I sincerely hope that when we are, bike riding is still something we enjoy as a family … and as the kids get stronger and faster that they will remember to wait for me at the top of the hill.
In the past ten years or so of riding with children here are a few things I have discovered:
- A busy road isn’t where you want your beginner rider, so consider options like bike paths, BMX tracks, velodromes, or when they have learnt the basics, try an off-road riding style. Give cyclocross or mountain biking a go with your child as if you haven’t done it before it gives you the chance to learn a new skill together.
- Make riding fun, whether it’s the commute to school, a leisurely ride or a race. The number one reason children drop out of organised sport is that it isn’t fun anymore and a recent study by George Washington University put winning extremely low down on the list of what makes sport enjoyable. Some ways to add to the fun factor are to find other kids to ride with, or make the bike a way of getting to a favourite destination, like a playground.
- If you have a reluctant adult rider in the family, the lure of cycling with the children may be a way to get them out on the bike, and it gives the kids a chance to show off their skills to someone else
- Check out the race options for children or races that include everyone in the family. That way they get to experience the excitement of cycling as a competitive sport and hopefully see that there a whole lot of kids who enjoy cycling just as much as them.
- Always take food on your ride as well as water. Kids can have a tendency to go fast and then fall in a heap. It is amazing what a few jelly beans can do to perk them up for that last stretch home.
- Get your children to help with the maintenance of their bikes. Having to look after someone else’s bikes as well as your own can become very time consuming. It also means that when they are old enough to go out on their own they will be well-equipped to change a flat or deal with any basic mechanical issues.
Do you have any tips you have picked up for riding with children? Let us know about them in the comments section.
If you are right at the start of your family riding journey here are some tips on teaching children to ride from AustCycle.