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Family Bike Rides

From infants to teens, there's family biking fun for everyone!

Where Do You Start? If you're a cycling parent who wants to get your kids into biking, start with an examination of your attitudes and expectations. If you ride for exercise, you won't get much on your family rides (unless you pull a trailer). And, if you ride for escape and freedom, scratch that as well!

What you WILL get is the great satisfaction of doing something fun and healthy (and that you love) with your family. Plus, kids who bike when they're growing up are a lot more likely to keep riding as adults. So let's take a look at how to plan rides for kids of different ages.

Do's and Don't's
First, some family biking do's and don't's:

  • Do make sure your kids have well-functioning bicycles, well-inflated tires and well-fitted helmets before you start.
  • Do feed and water your kids well before, during and after a ride. Frequent short breaks keep kids happy.
  • Do have as many parents as kids, less one. In other words, one parent can handle two kids, two parents can handle three. Break this rule and you're in for a long day.
  • Do practice your "patient voice." In a ten-mile ride, you may need to say, "stay to the right, please" 100 times. Try to sound just as patient the hundredth time as the first.
  • Do ride a little behind (6–8 feet) and a little "outside" (1–2 feet to the left) of your child. This allows you to keep an eye on their every move and "shelter" them from overtaking traffic.
  • Don't push your luck on distance. When you plan a route, always go shorter than you think the kids can handle. Let them talk you into going farther rather than begging you to quit.
  • Don't mix kids who can ride with ones that can't. Do your "how-to-ride" training one-on-one or stick to the trailer or trail-a-bike until the child can ride well on her own.
  • Don't mix kids of widely divergent age groups. Teenagers and six-year olds don't ride well together. You may have the patience to nurse your kindergartener along at 5 MPH; your teen probably doesn't.

    Different Ages, Different Plans
    Clearly, these age ranges will vary depending on the child. Some kids can ride at four, others don't get the hang of it until seven or eight.

    Ages One to Five: The pre-biking years. This is the easy part. A trailer (for under age three) or a trail-a-bike (for ages four and up) means you provide the pedal power and the kids get towed. They have the movement and adventure of a bike ride without the challenges. Child seats are fine for around the neighborhood, but for an hour or more of riding, a trailer is the only way to go.

    With a trailer, kids as young as you dare can be strapped into the trailer in a car seat. The child must be at least a year old so he can wear a helmet and support the weight of his head. Twenty or 25 miles is not too far to ride, because the child can always sleep.

    When your youngster is old enough for a trail-a-bike, keep the rides shorter at first (10 miles or less). See the "Don't push your luck on distance" principle above.

    Ages Six to Ten: The learning-how years. This is the true test of a parent's patience. Once they can balance and pedal, you need to teach them how to interact with other trail and road users. That means they need to pay attention, ride a straight line, and stay right. You will learn all these phrases well.

    Choose a "training route" that starts on a traffic-free off-street path, transitions to a quiet neighborhood street, and then heads onto a busier street with a bike lane if you think they're ready. They need to learn about traffic (pedestrian, bike and car) right from the start. At first, a half-hour ride is far enough for both of you.

    Ages Ten to Teen: Now they're ready for anything: off-road riding, longer distances, week-long trips. Kids who've grown through the first two stages can easily ride 30–40 miles a day or more.

    Just as you got them into traffic when they were younger, now is a good time to get them out of traffic. A rail-trail or other continuous off-road path allows them the independence to ride off on their own without any concern about cars or getting lost.

    Family bike rides can be the most challenging and satisfying pedaling of your life. With a little preparation and common sense, you'll ALL have a great ride!
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