During the recent pandemic we’ve seen lots of people look for fun family activities to do outside. With fond memories of bike riding from our own youth, now as parent’s rediscovering this joy with our own kids has become popular. If you’re keen to get out and about on your bike with your children, we’ve got some key tips to help you get started.
Riding a bike is a great form of exercise, an amazing way for children to interact with their environment, and a fun and free way to spend quality time together as a family (of course within local lockdown guidelines!)
Riding with a baby or toddler
There are no official guidelines for exactly how old you can start to ride with a baby, but it is important that they can hold themselves up, are stable, and that you as a parent feel comfortable.
There are great options nowadays to make riding with babies and toddlers as convenient as possible. From a bicycle trailer to a front or back fitting bike seat depending on your level of comfort with the equipment and riding routes.
When I was a child I (like many) learned to ride with training wheels, and I distinctly remember falling off a lot when I tried for the first time with a ‘grown-up’ kids bike with no stabilizers. My dad patiently pushing me off time and again until I could control my balance.
Nowadays there is a better option for toddlers - the balance bike. With no pedals, they use their feet to propel them and learn very quickly how to control their balance.
What I love about these is I can take my nearly two-year-old out and cover some distance on the footpath. She loves it because she feels more independent which as we know for a toddler, is a great motivator. The transition from this to a bike with pedals is so much smoother as they have their balance sorted.
For more information on the best bike for your child’s age check out The Ultimate Kids Bike Buyer's Guide.
Teaching your children how to ride and how to ride safely is teaching them an important life skill.
Once your child has mastered the art of riding a bike independently and you are ready to go out on a more adventurous ride, there are some ways to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
Dress for the occasion
Aside from your clothing, you can dress your bike for the occasion:
• Put reflectors and lights on everyone’s bikes, make them as visible as possible
• Attach a bottle holder with a favourite drink, which may help with motivation when needed
• If your bike doesn’t already have one, attach a bell and teach them when and (importantly) when not to use it
• Helmets are compulsory, so make sure to always set an example by always wearing yours as well
Modelling good practices are an important part of the teaching process.
A good way to check if helmets are fitted correctly is the 222 method –
Make sure your child’s seat is at a good height, roughly the height of their hips when standing, and once on the bike they should be able to almost completely straighten their legs, once in 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock angle.
Practice makes perfect
Find a safe place for your kids to practice and gain confidence before hitting the footpaths! An empty carpark is a great place to start and also a great place to try out making turns and stopping.
This is also a good place to practice how and when to signal. You can have some “stop” points and turn points to ensure these skills are part of the practice routine.
When you are on a bike path, it is good to make it a habit to communicate intentions, so learning signaling from a young age enforces this.
Children don’t have the same spacial awareness as adults or the same peripheral vision, so it is good to keep that in mind when teaching them how to stop safely.
Have them prepare the feet at a 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock position, then to focus on a point ahead, smoothly pull the brakes back with both hands.
Riding at a slower pace that allows children to practice their signaling and stopping skills helps to keep reinforcing this practice (it may also help with your balance as it might be a bit slower at first!).
There are different ages in each State for when children can ride on footpaths, so you can check which is relevant to you via your State’s Department of Transport website.
Let your child ride in front of you, or ideally, if there are two adults, in between. This way you can keep have a forward scout, as well as someone looking out if anyone is falling behind.
Point out what and how you are checking so kids get used to doing the same, such as driveways or blind corners. If need be, you can always get off at major intersections and walk bikes across, there’s no rush.
Once they get a little older a cycling proficiency course is a great way to ensure your children get to know all the rules and it will give them, and you, the confidence to let them ride further afield. There are programs that may be appropriate to the skill level on the Ride Nation website. You can search and discover programs and activities appropriate to your location, skill level and time frame at ridenation.com.au
But until then, you are their best teacher and guide.
Enjoy your riding!
Sita Carr-Hill Mum and bike rider