What you need to consider when starting family cycling is a gues post by Catherine Bedford, Dashel
Have you been bitten by the cycling bug?
The increase in take-up of cycling over recent months has been phenomenal! 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.
What you need to consider when starting family cycling
If you are thinking of taking up cycling as a family, here are some things to consider when getting back into the saddle after a long time:
Keep yourselves safe when starting family cycling
First off, there is safety gear that you need to invest in. This does not need to cost the earth but do make sure you have the essentials. Starting at the top, 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. You can also buy helmets made of recycled materials, that can themselves be recycled at end of life.
Visibility is also key. You must have lights on your bike and, if you are 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. You don’t have to be clad head to foot in day-glow; 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 that they are 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 that their bikes have a bell and that they know how, when and where 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. As ever, you need to avoid cycling close to parked cars. Children are also likely to be more wobbly on their wheels and drivers should be aware that they need to give them a wide berth. I’ve found that children can brake unpredictably if scared by traffic revving past them, which could cause other cyclists to collide with them. So, 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. Councils need to be lobbied to provide safe, segregated cycling now more than ever so that families don’t need to use cars to travel with social distancing.
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.
Which bike is best for you?
The best way to decide which bikes are best for your family is to think about what you will be using them for and where you are 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.
Your bikes will be an investment so take the time to research what will suit you best. You can look online but I’d also suggest talking to the staff at your local bike shop to find out what will best suit your needs.
Look the part when starting family cycling
To start off with, you can ride in your everyday clothes, up to a point, although you should avoid heavy shoes or loose laces and baggy skirts or trousers which could get caught up the pedals or chain. Wear light and comfy clothes and avoid things like jeans for long cycle rides as thicker denim can chafe after a while.
If you are thinking of using your bike to commute, as well as go out with the family, look out for cycling gear specifically designed to transition between bike and office. Not only can you get helmets that don’t cause ‘helmet hair’, there are stylish jackets which look great in a meeting but glow at night when you’re riding home. Similarly, there are some amazing shoes out there, perfect for cycling in that really look the part when you are sitting at your desk. There are even pannier bags available that you can take off the bike and hide the clips so you look like you bought from a local designer boutique. Similarly, this gear is great if you are cycling to meet friends for a pub lunch, cream tea or picnic.
Do invest in some rain gear – after all, this is England. Lightweight jackets and over-trousers are good to have to hand and a poncho is great for showery weather too.
Avoid discomfort if you can
As an adult, taking up a new physical activity will almost always leave you with some aches and pains, where you are using muscles that haven’t been worked for a while. Unfortunately, cycling has some additional potential discomforts.
You may find that you are saddle sore to start with. Check your saddle is in the right position and, after a while, as your muscles and tendons get accustomed to it, this ‘pain in the bottom’ will abate. In the meantime, you should stand on the pedals at regular intervals to give you some relief. It may also help to invest in underwear with minimal seams or even some specialist shorts. If the discomfort does not improve you might need to think about a different saddle.
You can also find you have discomfort in other parts of your body; neck, lower back, hands, feet and legs. These are almost without fail due to your position on the bike and the handlebars and seat not being in the optimal position. Again, it is worth asking the shop that you buy your bike from to help you get this correct in the first place or ask advice from friends who have cycling experience.
Find the right route when starting family cycling
Consider sensible routes when starting out. You do not 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!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR of What you need to consider when starting family cycling
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. The new Re-Cycle helmet will be ground down into new helmets at the UK factory when it is finished with. The helmets are portable, sold packaged in a handy rucksack that means there is no superfluous packaging. They come in an array of classic colours. Choose from black, blue, sage green and red. Dashel helmets are £79 and available from all good cycle shops and online at Dashel.co.uk
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