Family cycling – what you need to consider when starting out

A guest post by Catherine Bedford, Dashel

You only have to look around to see how many people have been bitten by the cycling bug.

First people started digging old bikes out from garages and sheds to make their daily exercise more varied during lockdown and then many people decided that cycling was a far better option for their commute to work than public transport.

Plus, with many popular family activities having been limited by lockdown and subsequent restrictions, cycling has filled a gap for many. If you’re thinking of taking up cycling as a family, here are some things to consider when getting back into the saddle after a long time:

Which bike is best for you?

The best way to decide which bikes are best for your family is to think about what you’ll be using them for and where you’re likely to be cycling.

If you are looking for speed, then a road bike, or racer, is probably the right bike for you. They are lightweight and designed for speed. A tourer is similar to a road bike but is slightly sturdier so if you are likely to use your bike for longer journeys where pannier bags might be useful, for example if you are fishing or camping, this is worth exploring.

Alternatively, if you’re considering something a bit more adventurous and fancy taking your bike off-road in your free time, perhaps on forest trails or over hilly paths, then a mountain bike is probably what you need. These have better suspension and thick tyres designed to grip in muddy or loose terrain.

If you can’t decide or fancy a bike that you can commute to work on but ride off-road with the kids at weekends, have a look at the hybrid bikes. They are lightweight but also sturdy and comfortable and a good all-rounder.

If you’re not confident with your children riding independently yet but they are too big for a child seat or trailer, consider a tag-a-long or trailer bike. These are essentially like a tandem but obviously the rear bike is smaller. This is a great way to get your child used to cycling and teach them all they need to know but you are in control of the bike and they can rest on longer rides.

Stay safe

First off, there is safety gear that you need to invest in. This doesn’t need to cost the earth but do make sure you have the essentials. Helmets are not actually legally required but I do feel it’s important because, in the unfortunate event of an accident, it is there to protect the head! If you think helmets mean looking silly, think again. There are some really stylish helmets on the market these days which means you can make a fashion statement while keeping safe.

What you must have on your bike is lights on your bike and, if you’re likely to be riding in traffic, consider one you can wear on your (stylish) helmet too. This will make you even more visible to vehicles such as 4x4s. Even if you’re not planning on riding after dark, it’s wise to carry something reflective with you at all times. Who knows, you might enjoy your ride more than you thought and want to go for a bit longer. A simple sash that can be easily carried with you is enough to be sure you are seen.

Do make sure the kids’ helmets are correctly fitted to their heads and put on knee and elbow pads as appropriate, plus ensure they’re wearing brightly coloured clothes at all times, even if it is a bright and sunny day.

Until children are fully competent, I advise keeping them off roads or sticking to safe, quiet routes. Let them gain their confidence and mastery of their bikes. Make sure they have a bell and that they know how and when to use them. Teach them hand signals and relevant points of the Highway Code.

When you do decide to take them on the roads, they will be lower down than adults in the group and, therefore generally less visible. Children are also liable to be wobbly on their wheels and drivers should be aware that they need to give them a wide berth. If the roads are too busy and it doesn’t feel safe just walk the bikes along the pavement and try another time when it will be quieter or another route.

Finally, I’d also recommend you learn a little bike maintenance so you can ensure your bikes are fit for purpose on a regular basis. Make sure you know how to check the air pressure in your tyres, test your brakes and ensure you have sufficient lube on your chain.

Find the right route

Consider sensible routes when starting out. You don’t want to begin your new pastime weaving in and out of traffic, especially not if you have children in tow. Try some rural off-road routes to start with. When riding to work or school, ask about and find some quieter routes that go through parks, for example, or beside the river. It may take a little longer but it will be safer and far more pleasant. Also consider the difficulty of your route. Children and novice cyclists are unlikely to enjoy hilly rides initially and would be much more sensible to opt for easy terrains and low gradients. You can always build up as you gain confidence and fitness. Best of all, use your early days cycling to explore local routes and find some you really enjoy.

Remember not to get overambitious with your early family biking adventures. Start small and build up according to your child’s age and ability. There’s no point putting them off by asking them to do too much in the early days. I’m certain that, as their confidence and ability grow so will their enthusiasm for new, different and longer routes. You may find you’re the one asking whether you can go home soon!

Catherine Bedford is Founder of Dashel. Dashel offers a range of slim, ventilated, lightweight cycle helmets manufactured in the UK. With a distinctive urban feel Dashel Helmets are made from recyclable materials – ensuring that they are low impact at the point of manufacture and produce very little waste at the end of life.

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