Twelve Tips for Bicycling with kids
By Dan Sheridan
Originally Published in Marion Star May 24, 2009
Squirt gun battles, covered bridges, sidewalk chalk, and canal boats are among the golden memories that my sons have of our bicycle trips together.
One of our first family bicycle adventures was the 1994 Roun’da Manure tour in Sharon, Wisconsin. This 15 mile ride in dairy country included a snack stop at a farm with goats and pot-bellied pigs, and an ice cream cone near the finish.
In 1996, my son Alex (then 9 years old) joined me for our first Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA). Starting in Mansfield, 3,000 bicyclists spent a week in late June riding a 300 mile loop north to Port Clinton.
Alex is now 21, and GOBA is an annual tradition for us. While my wife and two daughters have never joined us, my younger son Ryan has ridden in a bicycle trailer for three of these journeys. Ryan is now six, and has outgrown the trailer, so he rides a one-wheeled cycle that attaches to the back of my bike.
These twelve tips can help you create great bicycling memories with your children or grandchildren.
1) Don’t start too young: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not ride in a bicycle seat until they are at least one year old. Younger children may not have sufficient muscle strength to control sudden head movements.
2) Require a helmet: Children should always wear helmets while riding. A 1989 study showed that bicycle helmets prevent 88% of serious brain injuries.
3) Don’t put a child seat on your bike: Clamp-on child seats raise the center of gravity of the bicycle, making falls more likely.
4) Consider a bicycle trailer: When Ryan was a toddler, I’d put him in his trailer with some toys and go for a 20 mile bicycle ride during his nap time. He’d quickly fall asleep, and I’d get some enjoyable exercise. When Ryan woke up, we’d stop at a playground or pause to toss pebbles into a stream.
5) Traffic safety: Before Alex’s first GOBA, we practiced traffic safety. He learned to stay near the right edge of the road, and to signal all stops and turns. We also tried to stay on quiet roads, when possible.
6) Choose family-friendly rides: The Hot Tamale tour (www.hot-tamale.org) offers 8 and 16 mile “family fun routes” that are ideal for families with children, as well as 32 and 64 mile routes for more experienced riders. Kids aged 10 and under ride free.
7) Ride with other families: Children love having other kids along on their bicycle journeys. GOBA has hundreds of children, so there’s almost always someone to play with at each stop. Squirt guns make a perfect toy at rest stops on hot summer days.
8) Slow down and explore: Adults often focus on getting to their destination quickly, but our best cycling memories are of the adventures along the way. We often pause to explore covered bridges or to enjoy a beautiful view. On hot days, we sometimes carry swim suits on our bicycles and stop at beaches or swimming pools.
9) Offer encouragement: A few words of encouragement can give a child the energy to finish a challenging ride. I try to praise each child that I pass on a bicycle tour. On Alex’s early GOBAs, several of our friends carried sidewalk chalk and wrote encouraging messages to him on the road.
10) Train: Children need to gradually build up to a longer bicycle ride. Kids with many training miles will be much happier on their bicycle journeys.
11) Destinations: When I ride alone, I’m content to wander on country roads. If I’m riding with Ryan, I try to plan on some fun destinations. Ice cream shops and playgrounds are great choices.
12) Water: Take along plenty of water. One hot afternoon in 1998, Alex and I arrived at a GOBA snack stop tired and with nearly empty water bottles. The volunteers at the snack stop had run out of water, but they did have soda and sports drinks for sale. Alex filled his water bottle with a potent mix of Gatorade and Mountain Dew, and I struggled to keep up with him for the rest of the day.
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