When you have young children, it can be a battle trying to find activities that both children and adults can enjoy together, especially those that don’t cost a fortune.
Since the start of the pandemic, finding ways to exert some energy and get some fresh air means there has never been a better time to get the bikes out of the shed! You might also like to check out our Riding with Children article if you are just getting started and want some tips.
Riding with the family is a great activity that is not only free, a great way to stay healthy, explore your neighborhood and local surroundings, but best of all a nice way to connect and have fun together as a family.
The trick to having a great fun-filled adventure is to plan ahead. One key aspect of your planning should be finding an appropriate bike route.
Platforms such as Google Maps have been working on their bike routes function, so that can be a good place to start. Here we will go over some useful tips to make the journey as enjoyable as possible.
How far you go will depend on the age of your child/children and their stamina. So it’s definitely a bit of a test and see situation. When you take them out initially, stay fairly close to home the first few times. Choose a block around the home so you know that you are close to getting back at every turn. You could always go around again or increase the block size with each ride.
Keep checking frequently to see how your kids are coping, remembering that things may change from happy to sad really quickly. The idea is that it is enjoyable for everyone, so don’t push them too hard in the beginning. Better to get home and the kids want more, than to completely wear them out and they never want to get on their bike again!
Where to ride
Although it’s nice to think that when riding with kids “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, being able to take in the surroundings and stop whenever they see something interesting is great, but it doesn’t hurt to have some incentive to reach a certain point.
If you can, plan an interesting turning point into your route, a lake or playground for example. Or even a nice place to stop and get ice cream or refreshments will always go down well for a little extra motivation.
Let the smallest set the pace
Letting the youngest ride ahead not only means that you can keep a good eye on them, but also lets them set the pace as they will be the one that will tire the quickest. So it’s important to go at their pace and stop to take breaks whenever they need to. If you are one adult and one small child, riding slightly behind and to the right of them will offer more support.
(positiong yourself for support helps the experience)
How to communicate on the road
If your kids are too young to be able to understand left or right and react quickly try adding colored tape or string to the handlebars so you can call out ‘Go red!’ instead of ‘Go right!’ for example.
Make sure they understand any instructions you might have for them so they can respond appropriately. You can practice communication and instruction as outlined in our Riding with Children article.
Map it out and check the elevation
There are many platforms around that offer the opportunity to check out routes or plan your own. On the Ride Nation website, a link to Bikemap allows you to search routes by state that may suit your needs.
Also, functions on platforms like google maps make planning a route much easier for bikes.
The great thing about that is that it also shows the topography so you can avoid any steep hills on your adventure, until the family is feeling ready for these.
(You can plan routes on digital platforms that allow you to see details such as elevation!
If you have the time and inclination it’s not a bad idea to ride the route first to really get a good idea of what you are in for ahead of time (plus adds kms to your own health and wellbeing regime).
Sharing family-friendly routes with friends and families, particularly those with similar age children, means that you’ll build up your knowledge and library of go-to adventures.
Be aware of services en-route
When you are planning a bike ride, you should be able to easily see any bike shops, service stations and other support places along the way, just in case of any mechanical issues or simply to buy a drink for some motivation.
Include some games
‘I spy’ doesn’t have to be reserved just for long car rides, you can play it on a bike ride too.
Or turn your trip into a treasure hunt, have everyone find pretty leaves or rocks to show and tell when you get home.
You can play the ABC game, finding things in turn that start with the letters of the alphabet in running order. For example airplane, bicycle, chain etc.
My personal favorite is the turtle race, where you pick a point ahead and the idea is to get there as slow as possible without touching the ground! It’s really quite challenging and great for practicing balance.
Some risk planning doesn’t hurt
Preparation is key here.
Turn back early if need be: It’s worth just cutting a trip a little shorter to avoid a tantrum and your child refusing to get back on a bike. So keep it short until you know your child’s limits.
Pack a small first aid kit, with band-aids, disinfectant wipes and necessities. It’s good to have sunscreen and insect repellent at hand too. Cut knees happen, so it’s good to be prepared.
What if the weather doesn’t go to plan? Well, it’s always a possibility that the forecast is wrong! You may have started out with appropriate gear but it can be handy to pack some plastic bags you can put over little feet to stop them from getting drenched. Rain is not going to hurt you, but it will make paths slippery, vision more difficult etc.
Absolute worst case – remember that service station en-route? Take some shelter and wait it out. Or if that’s not an option, lock all of the bikes up in a safe place and get a lift home. You can go back for the bikes at a better time.
So get home in the best way you can and try and make the light out of the situation. If the kids don’t see you getting stressed by the occasion, it's likely they won’t either.
Now you are fully prepared with all the information you need, relax, and inspire those kids to have a lifelong love of bike riding – with all that planning done, it’s time to get out and enjoy yourselves!