Cycling is a great sport that can be enjoyed at any age and at any level. So where do you start when it comes to getting children cycling and what do you do with them then? Hopefully this may answer some of those questions.
Before they have their own bikes you may put them on a child seat on the rear of yours. This takes a little while to get used to balancing but the golden rule, as I have learned, is never give them ice cream when they are in a child seat or you will have more ice cream on your back and rear end than any ice cream van.
Learning to cycle
The best age is between 4 and 6, but don’t worry if they are older than that.
Stabilisers teach pedalling technique but don’t really teach balance.
The best way for a child to learn how to balance, is a balance bike with no pedals or to take the pedals of a regular kids bike.
With my own kids I took the pedals and stabilisers off Lauras bike at the same time and had the pedals back on within 2 days as the stabilisers headed for the attic.
With Kate, we had her on stabilisers first, then got a balance bike which really got her going so it only took 10 minutes from taking off the stabilisers on her normal bike before she was cycling by herself.
When they are starting off and you are helping, hold them by the arm pits and not the saddle. It’s easier for you as you don’t have to bend as far and it also gives them a better sense of balance. With practice you can even steer them whilst holding them this way.
Saddle height :
Their saddle should be high enough that the balls of their feet are on the ground but their feet should not be flat on the ground as this makes it harder to pedal.
Once they are able to pedal and balance they must be able to brake. A good way to learn how this works is for them to walk along with the bike and pull the brakes. This gets them used to the feel of braking without the risk of falling off or crashing into something.
Right from the start insist on them wearing a helmet. There will be times when they ignore you, as I know, but keep insisting. You must also wear yours and practice what you preach.
Hi-viz colours are also a good idea if they are out on the open road.
It is also important that over time they learn hand signals and good bike control. You can teach them the hand signals and bike control comes from practice. Many Cycling Clubs now also run kids sprocket rocket events which they enjoy and learn from.
Now that they are able to cycle what next ?
Some of the best days on a bike that I have had have been when I collected the girls from school and drove straight to Clonea beach and cycled along the greenway path into Dungarvan and back. The traffic free environment makes everyone more relaxed and gives the kids a chance to get used to riding their bikes in an unfamiliar environment.
This type of safe environment is a great way to build their confidence. Once they are confident you can bring them out on the open road. Bike paths are best if they are separate from the road but those afterthoughts on busy main roads are not ideal with young kids. I prefer to bring them off on quiet country roads and occasionally just get them to stop if I hear a car approaching at speed.
When taking them out on the road either ride outside them or behind. I normally ride slightly outside their rear wheels so that any cars passing out have to take a wider arc to pass me which allows for any wobbles the kids may make.
The distance that they can cover will amaze you, but be sure to bring water and money for ice cream.
Kids really enjoy family cycles that are part of a crowd. Many sportives nowadays have a family cycle as part of the event and it is really worthwhile bringing them along to these. They enjoy it, you enjoy it and the whole family get a sense of why Daddy or Mammy is off cycling every weekend.
The Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford had over 2000 for the family cycle this year and atmosphere was incredible. Some events may hove only ten or twenty in the family cycle but the kids enjoy these too as they just like being part of a group.
Long term this will create a sense of cycling being part of their daily lives and as they grow older the kids will use their bikes to cycle to school, to their friends and as a mode of transport. Even if they never take it any further than that, it can only be a good thing.
Cycling with your kids is something that lasts a lifetime. It can be a shared activity that you can do together at any age and at any level. Every Sunday morning I look around our group and see Parents and sons or daughters out doing 100k together. Speaking to friends with slightly older kids than ours, I have discovered that during the difficult teenage years, out on the bike can be the only time when the problems or concerns of the son or daughter will be spoken about and often they return with a weight lifted from them, and a closer bond with their parents created.
Cycle with your kids, it can only be a good thing.