A common question parents ask cycling instructors is “how will my child become more confident on a bike?” Kiwi cycling instructor Marilyn Northcotte passes on her tips for parents to help them keep their kids cycling safely and confidently.
Riding a bike is like any newly acquired skill, if you want to get better at it, you have to do more of it. Encourage your child to ride their bike at any opportunity. It doesn’t matter what kind of riding, it could be BMX, or mountain biking, or riding around the park. Time on the bike is the main ingredient to lead to improved skill.
Spending time helping your child to develop and practice their skills is part of the solution, and can be fun. When parents or carers ride with their children and model fun, enjoyment and safe behaviours, and the kids learn along the way.
Handy tips for cycling with the family this summer
Make it fun!
First and foremost, when we ride bikes with our children, the bike riding must become less about us, and all about them. If you are new to cycling as a family or in a group, choose beginner rides that suit the children. These may include:
- Flat trails
- Off road to begin with (paved or unpaved)
- A short distance (you can extend the distance/terrain later on)
- A journey to a destination (ice cream is always a good one!)
- Keep a moderate pace suited to the least able ride: nothing knocks confidence (or interest in an activity) like a feeling you can’t keep up with older siblings or friends
- Stop when you need to with the children.
The goal is to have a successful outing with the children, one that ends well and leaves the child anticipating their next bike adventure.
Check your gear
Carry out a simple ABC (air, brakes, chain) bike check before your ride to ensure everything is in good working order.
- Air – make sure the tyres are pumped up and have good tread
- Brakes – make sure both brakes are working, and your child knows which one is which and how to use them
- Chain – make sure the chain is not thirsty – it may need more oil.
- Check that the seat height is not too high or low for your rider.
Conduct a 2-4-1 – helmet fit before you go out.
- Ensure the helmet sits squarely (and snug – many helmets have a dial in feature at the back of the helmet to help with this) on the child’s head and is about 2 fingers above the bridge of the nose
- Check the straps sit on either side of the ear (2 on each side = 4) and sliders (buckles) sit just under the ear
- And when fastened the child can fit at least 1 (or 2) fingers between the strap and their chin.
Ensure that clothes are light and bright, and wear close -toed shoes to protect your child’s feet.
Pack a backpack
At a bare minimum, make sure to bring:
- A small first-aid kit to patch up any minor scrapes
- A bike tool kit for changing a flat tyre – most supermarkets, bike shops and hardware stores stock these so why not grab one so you have it on-hand
- A spare tube and pump – available from most bike or toy departments
- A snack and some water
- Sun screen
- Money for ice cream or treats!
Keep instructions brief
When you are riding with your child, have your child go first and you follow closely behind looking out for them, and yourself, and talking them through various situations. For example:
- Move over to one side
- Change your gears
- Watch out for other trail users etc.
Encourage your child to look around and identify interesting features, watch for potholes, or others on the trail. Kids can only take in so much information at one time, so keep instructions short and to the point, trying not to overload them with information.