Keen cyclist Chris Hale shares with us why it’s such a brilliant thing to get your kids on two wheels from an early age.
Cycling has always been an important part of my life. I ride to work, for pleasure and spent most of my childhood cruising around on bikes with my mates. It was natural therefore for me to want my kids to experience life on two wheels – not least to give them that sense of freedom and independence that can only come from being on a bike. I’ve got three boys, 8, 6 and 2, and the two older ones are now loyal and regular cycling companions. As well as the joy of whizzing along under their own steam, I think their enthusiasm for cycling comes in part from it being an everyday part of our lives. It’s our main forms of transport and when they were younger spent hours on the back of our bikes going back and forth to their nursery (four miles each way).
We live in London, but are fortunate to have a good network of quiet cycle, park or traffic free routes near us that also link us up to the Thames river path. Country lanes are great, but urban adventures around old abandoned docks, railway tunnels and admiring the graffiti is equally brilliant. The Thames also provides endless fascination; we’ve seen tall ships, an aircraft carrier, and many wrecked old rusting boats.
“when on the bikes they are (mostly) good at focusing – it’s probably the only time they listen to me without having to repeat myself ten times.”
The best bit for me is the time together and chats along the way. Kids that age have a great way of developing theories and ideas about what they see and cycling is a good way of observing what is around you and mulling on it, rather than speeding past. The eldest’s latest suggestion is that we could create more space on the roads by making cars thinner and longer, with passengers sat in a row behind the driver. Interesting concept!
We try to stick to the quiet ways, but I’ve always been conscious of the risks associated with taking them on any kind of road with cars. Having said that, risks aren’t a reason to not do something and can be understood and mitigated with some sensible precautions. We’ve set some clear ground rules and when on the bikes they are (mostly) good at focusing – it’s probably the only time they listen to me without having to repeat myself ten times. I also have the view that when you ride with kids you should take up most of the road and let the traffic wait. Having kids has made me think that we have given up to too much the motor vehicle and occasionally reclaiming some space for children to enjoy the pleasures of cycling doesn’t seem unreasonable. We get the odd grumble but I think most drivers get this and are happy to wait until there is space to pass.
From my own experiences of cycling with the kids, a few random tips:
• Don’t use stabilisers you’ll be weaning them off them for months – get them started on a balance bike and they’ll be up and running in no time
• Take plenty of Haribo for the longer rides it will help get them home
• Make bikes a part of your everyday life from a very early age – they won’t be interested if you aren’t and the more they ride the more confident they’ll be
Of course, there are some days when they really don’t feel like it, or the little brother wants to come along, which is when dad’s legs take the strain…