By Paul Norman
There are few better family activities than cycling. And there are even fewer activities that every age can enjoy just a much as riding a bike.
Cycling gives everyone fresh air; it allows us to explore new places, ones that are close to home and others that are far away. Cycling is an adventure - taking us away from the parts we're acquainted to and opening new land for us. Cycling as a family - at home or on holiday - is a byword for new memories.
To enjoy it all, though, preparation is key, and we run you through everything you need to enjoy a bike ride as a family.
Planning is everything
Before anything else, you want to choose where to ride. Don’t be too ambitious - a 50 mile ride on a balance bike is not going to work and even older kids won’t have the stamina of cycling parents.
Too many ups and downs are likely to be hard work for kids. Their bikes may not have the gear range to tackle hills, plus their bikes are likely to be heavier, relative to their weight. Thus, accelerating and cycling up gradients is harder, while a long uphill walk will probably generate groans. They might be spooked by steep descents, too.
So try to choose a flat route that’s not too long, at least to start with. And look for rides that have a minimum of on-road riding.
Bike trails on disused railway lines are a great option, although you may need to use the car to get to them. They’re usually relatively well maintained, any ups or downs will be gradual and the surface should be fairly even and dry even if they’re not tarmacked. Plus many have seating, shelters and old stations along the way to add interest to the ride.
Another off-road option is a canal towpath or riverside trail. It will certainly be flat between locks - which are another source of added interest. But riverside paths can be muddy and narrow and the closeness of the deep water might be intimidating for a nervous youngster.
Larger parks and country parks will often have traffic-free loops through them and forests are an option too, although forest rides can be churned up by machinery and many forests are planted on hills.
It’s worth checking Sustrans or local authority websites to see if there are recommended routes near you. Sustrans also has a marked up map with the National Cycle Network which shows where there are off-road routes or cycle lanes segregated from the main carriageway. There are some recommended routes on Frog’s blog too.
Head for a destination which will enthuse your kids to ride, like a play park or pump tracks. Planning and making Strava art is a great incentive to ride and explore - although probably not on the scales of these examples. Even going to spot fish or ducks in a river or seeing a view from a hilltop will be motivation to keep riding.
Make sure you take everything you might need
More preparation is needed to make sure that kids will be comfortable on a ride. More than anything, there has to be enough to drink and eat - kids get thirsty and hungry quickly and will let you know about it! Take a picnic to eat once you reach your destination so that everyone has a rest and is ready for the return leg.
Enough spare clothing to keep kids warm is also important. Take layers so they can adapt to the conditions and won’t be too cold if you stop for a break. Waterproofs should also be packed if there’s a chance of rain. Likewise, in the summer make sure they’re not going to be too hot and apply sunscreen before and during the ride. There’s lots of kids’ cycle clothing available that’s as technical and comfortable as adults’ cycling kit and much less expensive.
Always make sure that your kids wear a helmet and if you’re riding on roads, even for a short time, fit a blinkie and wear hi viz clothing. You could even fit a mirror to your bike to make it easier to see how everyone is doing.
Mechanicals and punctures can happen too. You can avoid the worst by checking everything and pumping up tyres before you start out. But take a puncture repair kit, tyre levers and a pump - kids have a habit of riding over thorny branches.
If your kids want to ride with you but younger ones find it too tiring, you can fit a tag-along or trailer to your own bike.
Lashing one of Frog's Tadpole balance bikes to your backpack is another option. Pull them out on a tag-along then let them ride back on their own.
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