Other than the obvious well known health benefits of riding a bicycle, an additional one to add would be the benefit of cycling being a family activity. It’s interesting to note that most of the more traditional recreational activities for children, those such as soccer, baseball, and hockey etc, are more or less spectator sports for the parents. We go to watch our sons and daughters play. Cycling is different. We become active participants in the activity along with our children.
When our children are very young, we can tow them along behind us in child trailers. These trailers boast plenty of cargo space for diaper bags, teddy bears, extra sweaters and picnic baskets. There are infant slings that can be placed inside for families with young babies. Many trailers can be converted for strolling or jogging. Some have ski kits available for year round fun.
Trail-a-bikes are the next step in riding as a family. These are essentially the rear half of a bike that attaches to the seat post of the lead bike, creating a tandem bicycle of sorts. Since the drive train of a trail-a-bike is separate, the child can choose to either coast or pedal. The amount of extra push that can be generated by a small child when pedaling can be surprising. There have been some instances where the lead bike is pulling a trail-a-bike which in turn is pulling a child trailer. This makes for quite an attention getting passenger train!
It can be a very proud moment in the life of a parent when their little one moves up to riding their own bike. How time flies! It is important to bear in mind that the smallest bikes are only capable of moderately slow speed and short distances. For children that still require a bicycle with 12″, 14″ or perhaps even some 16″ and 18″ wheels, the trail-a-bike may still be the best option for longer family rides. For those on 20″ wheels or larger, this is where the fun begins. These bikes are more than ready to go the distance at a decent speed. BMX bikes are popular with most boys and while many parents voice concern over the lack of multiple gearing, rest assured that it’s usually the child on the single speed bike that is leading the way and setting the pace.
Speaking of pace, be sure to reserve a decent amount of time for the outing. Be prepared for numerous stops to pick flowers or look at squirrels, chipmunks, ducks and geese. It’s important to keep the mood light and the pace casual. Frequent rest stops allow for an “I can do it!” experience rather than a “I can’t keep up!” disaster.
Preparing to ride with children is much the same as riding solo, but with a few differences. Carry more water than you think you’ll need. Snacks satisfy hunger and give added boosts of energy. It’s especially important to make sure that you have inner tubes or a patch kit for not only the adult bike, but the trail-a-bike or child trailer as well. Mechanical failure on a hot day can be serious for a child. Don’t forget the tire pump.
Riding as a family can set the groundwork for future competitive or lifelong cyclists. Many dedicated riders start conversations about biking with the phrase “when I was a kid…” You can never tell where the next future winner of the Tour De France or world champion might come from. Maybe he or she is living in your house at this very moment!