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Looking for a fun activity that the whole family can participate in? Look no further, bicycling is an exciting way to get the whole family moving and build some lasting memories. After the initial cost of purchasing a bike, it’s also a frugal activity and arguably pays for itself in health benefits down the road.
I have an 8 and a 3 year old and we average over 700 miles a year on the bike, most of that in commuting to and from school. That’s 4200 miles in the last six years!
Getting Ready for Biking as a Family
Now before we get into what sort of equipment you’re going to need to get the whole family biking, riding with kids may require a paradigm shift in your biking habits. When my wife first suggested that it would be fun to be able to go on a family ride, I naturally agreed. Accustomed to all-out rides of over 50 miles with a few 6% graded climbs followed by white knuckle descents, it would be great to have someone to ride with, that’s what ran through my mind. I happily tuned-up my wife’s mountain bike and attached the trailer to my ultra-light racing bike and off we went. It wasn’t fun — largely because of my expectations.
First, when riding with kids or a significant other who is not a serious cyclist, start out slow and keep the distances short. This was my first mistake. I planned an invigorating ride along the river, a
Plan your ride around a destination your kids want to visit. For us this usually means a park or the beach. We bring a lunch and snacks, plenty of water and make a picnic out of it.
We began our family bike rides when my son was about two, so that meant having toys in the trailer and snacks to munch on. Now he’s eight and he’s riding his own bike. At this age, perhaps the most important thing you can teach your young rider is — predictability. My son has figured out how to do powerslides, jump curbs and how to dart around like a dragonfly. But on the road or bike path, it’s predictability that we preach. Of course he wants to do all the tricks he’s learned so the best thing is to include a part of the bike ride where he can practice his new moves safely. If he knows he’s going to get a chance to ride reckless, he’ll ride predictable when we need him to.
Let your kids set the pace. It’s usually not a good idea to let them ride in front, but letting them set the pace is crucial. If you keep looking over your shoulder only to find them falling behind, slow down. On the other hand, if they keep trying to pass you or edge ahead, pick up the pace.
Plan your route so you can avoid busy streets and try to include as many bike paths as possible. We ride just about every Saturday; traveling almost the entire way along quiet residential streets that run parallel to the big, busy commuter arteries. People expect kids and bicyclists and drive slower.
Finally, increase mileage slowly. Counting on kids to keep you informed about when they are tired or hungry or thirsty is asking for trouble. When you get to your destination, make sure they eat and drink before they run off and play. Increase mileage only when your kid gets home from a family ride and has plenty of energy left. That’s when you know he/she is ready to ride a couple of extra miles. Using this process, my son has gone from 10 mile rides about five months ago to our most recent 20 miler.