Opinion: Why mums should cycle with their children
Opinion: Why mums should cycle with their children
An opportunity arose for me to undertake a PhD in September 2020 and for the past few years I have been exploring the topic of mothers cycling with their children (aged 11 and under) in the UK. Why? Because I am a mum who cycles with their child, but I rarely saw other mothers doing similar in the area I live.
However, on social media there seemed to be a growing movement of mums riding with their children on a delightful array of different cycle configurations ranging from bicycle seats, tagalongs, trailers, triplets and cargo cycles. Plus, of course, children riding independently on their own bicycles.
I was curious to know if other mothers were experiencing the same sort of issues I was, both good and bad when riding with their children. As part of my PhD, I have carried out several focus groups with women who work in cycling, surveyed approximately 1,300 mothers and undertaken 30 in-depth interviews. The results have been fascinating.
Barriers to cycling
The most common issues are probably no surprise to anyone. Bad driving and aggression from other road users were all too common. With just under a quarter of mothers surveyed having faced close passes, and more than a third having suffered from verbal abuse when cycling with their children. Other barriers such as guard rails, A-frames and steps on traffic-free paths often make simple journeys turn into an obstacle course.
Similarly, deciding which cycle ‘setup’ would best suit their family’s needs was highlighted frequently by the mothers I spoke with. Although there is lots of advice on hand via various social media and family cycling websites nowadays, many of the mothers interviewed in my research expressed how being able to try out different types of child-carrying equipment before committing would be ideal.
Particularly when some of the cargo-style bicycles can cost anything between £1,000-£5,000 upwards, making cycling with children an expensive activity.
Unfortunately, a number of mothers I interviewed did make a mistake in their cycling purchases. Some found that their bicycles weren’t compatible with the child seat they’d chosen. For example, several mothers found their knees would hit their front child seat, making steering wobbly and uncomfortable to ride.
One mother, after spending a lot of money on a three-wheel cargo cycle, quickly discovered she didn’t like the way it handled and had to sell it on, a few weeks later. Many noted how tagalongs, while highly recommended, could be terrifying if their children pulled on their brakes or leaned to one side suddenly! Another reason why family-friendly cycle libraries are needed across the UK to allow parents to try before they buy.
Cycling with children was overwhelmingly deemed worth the effort – countless examples of the pure enjoyment experienced when cycling together were given
Dawn Rahman, PHD research student, University of Westminster
Two child problem
Interestingly, something I hadn’t considered (having only one child) is the logistics of trying to cycle with multiple children and those of different ages. For example, if children are cycling on their own bicycles, the mother needs to ensure they have the skills to cycle safely.
We all know mums are experts at multitasking but cycling with young children takes this to a whole new level. Trying to predict what other road users are doing, while simultaneously instructing children to stop/start/slow down, watch out for dogs approaching and so on can be exhausting. In addition, if cycling with children of different ages, trying to keep their speeds at a similar pace can be tricky.
Many mothers that I interviewed also pointed out, that while they may have one child who was capable (and willing) to follow instructions, the personality of their other, let’s say strong-willed, child, would mean some routes were just not possible because their behaviour was just too unpredictable.
This all sounds rather negative and implies that cycling with children is dangerous, requires a lot of effort and expensive equipment. Thankfully, despite some of these issues, cycling with children was overwhelmingly deemed worth the effort. Indeed, countless examples of the pure enjoyment experienced when cycling together were given.
I was delighted to find that I am not the only one to sing (out loud!) with my child while cycling. Some mums have even put speakers on their bikes to blast out music as they ride.
Several mothers spoke of the pride and joy they felt watching their child master the skills needed to cycle and to see this develop year on year. Indeed, my own son has progressed from being a passenger in my cargo cycle, to whizzing around on a balance bicycle and now a confident cyclist on a pedal bike.
He’s now 10 and I sometimes have to ask him to slow down on the big hill up to school as I can’t keep up!
I was also impressed to find that most mothers will cycle with their children whatever the weather, with the one exception being icy conditions. It appears there is a common consensus across the whole of the UK that young children do not like wearing waterproofs even when it is absolutely tipping it down.
And while it is sometimes difficult cycling in the various weather the UK has to offer, it’s made worthwhile by cycling with your child through the different seasons. Cycling allows you to easily stop and pick up conkers and watch the first daffodils spring up. There is also the delight of that first ride of the year when it’s finally warm enough to not need a coat.
It is clear that there is a growing number of mothers out there building the next generation of budding cyclists. Making them hardy to bad weather. Showing them the enjoyment and achievement of travelling under their own steam.
I joked to a number of those I interviewed that I should try and speak with their children in 10 or 15 years’ time to see if they have continued to cycle into adulthood. I’m confident that they will have.
What the research says…
Cycling UK conducted a recent study that showed the many benefits of children cycling. It shows that having children that cycle helps families juggle activities and time pressures, creates quality time together and saves money. Further benefits identified by parents included improving the child’s independence, health, wellbeing, connection to nature and reducing screen time.
Cycling UK has a range of resources, videos and advice to help parents get their kids cycling, covering everything from teaching a child to ride their first bike to what bike to buy, from cycling to school to taking the kids on a touring holiday.
If you’re thinking of buying a child trailer, seat or tag-a-long but want to try it out before committing to buy, Cycling UK members can get 10% off at Bike Trailer Hire.