How to encourage your family and friends to start cycling
Over the years, as a cycling instructor I have taught many people to cycle. There is no way to make someone love cycling, but by taking things slowly and with the right encouragement you are more likely to succeed in sharing your passion for cycling.
My family cycle and (mainly) enjoy it. My two children are adults now but we always encouraged them to cycle as children and taught them early how to ride a bike. As a family we attended Cycling UK's annual New Forest Cycling Week for several years, where the kids could meet other cycling families and ride around to their hearts' content.
They went through their early years cycling to school, first accompanied by one of their parents then later riding to secondary school a few miles away on their own. By this time, my son was becoming passionate about dirt jumping and downhill mountain biking so riding to school was a chance to show off his 'cool' bikes and handling skills, as well as bond with other boys who liked the same things. Now 22, he still adores the same activities, works in a bike shop and goes out riding with his mates - on and off-road - and he even commutes to work by bike and has bought a road bike, lycra shorts and cycling shoes with cleats.
My daughter, on the other hand, went through a phase of not wanting to ride a bike for fear of looking different to her peer group, although we could occasionally prevail upon her to come out on a mountain bike to places such as Bike Park Wales or the Surrey Hills. Now 20, she has a cool retro bike (above) and recognises the convenience and affordability of being able to cycle between the town and uni, unlike her friends who all rely on the expensive local buses and trains.
But what if your nearest and dearest have never really taken to cycling? How is it best to go about encouraging them to give it a go?
It's their decision
First of all, let them make the decision whether or not to give it a try. There are many reasons why people feel nervous about cycling, whether it's a childhood crash, unsupportive or downright critical parents, memories of a painful saddle or a fear of making a 'fool' of themselves. So recognise that it's quite a big deal for many people, even though we use the expression 'it's as easy as riding a bike'.
Encourage gently and if they express an interest in giving it a go, start off somewhere quiet away from traffic or curious eyes.
Go through the basics
While it's true that you may not forget the basics of balancing (head up, looking ahead with arms relaxed and back straight), if you haven't ridden since you were a child, you might need a refresher on some of the essentials such as how to use the brakes correctly (both at the same time and gently), how to set off pedalling (with one pedal in the 2 o'clock position and one leg firmly planted on the ground), and even what clothes are most suitable (loose fitting layers that won't get caught on the chain, strong flat shoes as a minimum and, ideally, a pair of padded gloves as well).
Make them as comfortable as you can
Of course, having the right gear won't necessarily make the bike itself comfortable to ride so check that they can reach the brake levers easily, sit on the saddle with both feet reaching the ground and, most importantly, position their rear towards the back of the saddle, which helps with the centre of gravity and hence balance, and should also be more comfortable. If they experience any discomfort, try adjusting the saddle position forward or backwards or up or down slightly. Ultimately, they may just need a different bike or saddle or to add extra layers of clothing such as padded shorts.
Learning without stress is the key to becoming a confident cyclist and you'll be amazed how quickly this can be achieved under the right conditions."
Julie Rand, National Standard cycle instructor
Go for a short, traffic- free and gentle ride
The next stage is to actually go for a ride. It should go without saying that this should be as traffic-free as possible and not involve lots of hills or other off-putting obstacles. A distance of even a mile or two might be quite a lot for some people so keep it short and don't go out if it's likely to be cold or wet. You don't want to put them off before they've really got started!
Remember how long it took you before you could achieve a distance of 20 miles or more if you started riding as a child? Don't expect your newbie to take to cycling straight away, not matter how eager you are to share your favourite pastime with your loved one. Patience is the key to overcoming their nerves and, if you feel you haven't got much, try asking a friend, colleague, or professional cycle instructor to help. Learning without stress is the key to becoming a confident cyclist and you'll be amazed how quickly this can be achieved under the right conditions.
Don't put them off
So what puts 'newbies' off continuing with cycling? Here's just a few possibilities:
- I've witnessed many of the following scenarios: a man waiting for his girlfriend at BikePark Wales - she'd got left behind tackling a blue run, which is actually quite tricky. He explained he'd taken her to Swinley Forest first to get the ''hang of mountain biking" but it was only her second time giving it a go. The ideal way to put off a beginner is taking them too far or over too hard terrain early on. Build up their confidence slowly.
- Going too long without stopping - frequent breaks for comfort stops, food and drink are vital part of enjoying the experience.
- Not waiting for the novice cyclist at junctions or at the top of a climb (ideally don't include a big climb for their first few rides if possible). The fear of humiliation because they can't keep up puts many people off riding with others. Reassure your partner/sibling/child/friend that you will wait for them or, even better, ride a little bit behind them and slightly out to the right to protect them from following traffic.
- When you stop for a break, don't set off again as soon as they have caught up - they'll need a breather too!
- Don't patronise them by saying things like 'you're doing really well for a novice' or worse, by constantly criticising their technique, their choice of clothing, their bike, the route and so on - they may want to wear high heels and ride an old bone shaker but if that's what they feel comfortable doing, let them. Your choices may be different but that might not necessarily make them better for that individual, although you might want to subtly suggest more suitable alternatives.
- Don't bore them with lots of technical talk, unless they are that way inclined. Your fascination with tyre sizes, relative gear ratios and carbon fibre versus titanium might be thrilling to you but for others, slightly less so.
Things to help keep new riders interested:
- Visit places of interest so they forget about the cycling and concentrate on the whole experience of travelling somewhere under their own steam.
- Nothing is more demoralising than the lack of a reward for all that effort so check beforehand that places are open and be sure to carry your own food and drink supplies in any case.
- Emphasise the great health benefits of cycling - those hills might be demanding but they're doing the power of good plus you get to enjoy coming down the other side!
- Try out different kinds of riding: somebody who hates cycling in traffic might be OK off-road or later/earlier in the day.
- Buddy up with other cycling returnees or newcomers - many groups such as Cycle Bristol and Portsmouth CTC have graded challenges, which gives riders something to aim for as rides get progressively longer up to a certain distance. A sense of satisfaction as each stage is achieved is a great motivator, as long as you're keeping the targets realistically within the person's ability level.
Hopefully, a new long-term cyclist will be born after a few rides. Once they are, don't forget to ask them to join Cycling UK and enjoy the benefits of being a member, such as supporting our campaigning work, riding with our local groups and obtaining discounts at retailers such as Cotswold Outdoor and bike shops.
Have you encouraged your friends and family to cycle? Share your advice using the comments box below (you will need to log in)