A Guide On Riding A Bike With Your Family
There are few moments quite as thrilling as watching your child pedal down the sidewalk on their own for the first time. It brings a huge sense of accomplishment and thrill to your child, and it opens the door to a whole new world of fun and adventure for the entire family. Here are some tips to make cycling safe and fun for all:
ONE TRAINING WHEEL AT A TIME
Learning to ride a bike typically starts on a tricycle, then progresses to a child’s bike with training wheels. The sidewalk, driveway or soft grass in the backyard are all safe places to get started. But no matter the locale, when teaching your child to ride, don’t rush to remove their training wheels. When the right time does come, hard-packed sand or a smooth dirt trail can make perfect launch pads for their first two-wheeled attempts — and inevitable falls. Whatever happens, be supportive and encouraging.
Even before your children can ride by themselves, you can still introduce them to the joy of cycling and get a workout for yourself. There are two primary options for carrying young children, trailers and child seats. Just remember that most pediatricians suggest that a child should be at least a year old before they can safely deal with the jarring motions of a bike or trailer.
Bike trailers provide a safe and efficient way to include young children in family bike adventures. They mount to the rear of an adult bike, allowing the pint-sized passengers to take in the scenery (or fall asleep, as most eventually do). Most trailers provide enough room for two children, plus the basic gear that accompanies your kids. Cloth or plastic flaps shield them from road debris and rain. Many trailers also convert to strollers by attaching a small wheel to the front. Trailers require a wider turning radius, so make sure to practice a little before heading out on a long journey.
These lightweight seats are usually plastic, and mount to the back of an adult bicycle’s frame. Child seats are great for children weighing less than 35 pounds, as they keep them close to you, allowing for easy communication. Most have shields to protect little feet from moving wheels. Models vary by amount of padding, straps, weight and max load limits.
Balance or “scoot” bikes are a great way to teach basic balance and bike handling skills to children. These are essentially fully-functioning bicycles, with the exception of a drivetrain. That means no pedals, chain or gears. Instead, they allow children to learn to ride a real bicycle without the anxiety that can come with pedaling. You child just sits on the saddle and pushes with their feet to propel themselves along. Once they gain confidence and a little momentum, they can lift their feet off the ground and start cruising. When they want to stop, just put a foot down. This method greatly eases the transition to a traditional bike.
Once a child has gained a little experience, he or she may be ready for a “third wheel” type bike. This is a kid-sized “half bike” that attaches to and trails behind an adult bike. This allows kids who aren’t quite ready to ride on their own to still come along for the ride. The adult provides the primary balance and momentum, while the child can choose to pedal or not. These bikes are great for teaching kids about teamwork, basic bike handling skills and the important rules of the road.
BASIC SAFETY CHECKLIST
Safety and visibility are priority No. 1 when cycling with the family. Everyone should wear a properly fitted helmet, even those riding in trailers. Also ensure that you can be seen by wearing bright clothing, and attaching flags or safety lights if there’s even a chance you’ll be out after sundown. Choose safe routes such as neighborhood bike routes, paths and trails. And remember that many kids bikes do not have gears or great brakes, so avoid steep hills. When in doubt about mixing kids and traffic, choose the sidewalk or pick another route. Carry food and drinks to keep little muscles going and little minds motivated.
Getting the family out on the road may involve very different levels of ability. One way to maintain family bliss is to let more experienced riders head out with an adult before or after the main ride to burn off excess energy. This way, the main ride can proceed at “family speed.” Change up your routes and ride to places you might not normally drive to in a car. Also bring bikes along on family vacations. Today’s car racks are more secure and easier to use than ever, enabling any road trip to become a family biking adventure.
OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS
- Carry a first aid kit in your bike bag or trailer. While it’s more likely that you’ll need it at a destination than on the road, better to be safe than sorry.
- Teach kids about bike commuting early. If they’ve been riding with you to the pool all summer, riding to school will be a piece of cake.
- Create a destination. “Let’s go for a ride!” may not be as inviting as “Let’s all ride to get ice cream!”
- Stop frequently. Little legs and little lungs need many short breaks. Even that ride to the ice cream parlor may include a stop at the playground.
- Kids like dressing up. Look for child-sized jerseys, shorts and gloves to help with comfort and create excitement around bike riding. And don’t forget the helmets. They should be mandatory no matter where you’re riding.
- Get the seat height correct so that your child gets proper leg extension, but is not so high that they can’t stop quickly or put a foot on the ground.