It’s the summer holidays. The sun is shining and your children have cabin fever. ‘Let’s go for a bike ride!’ you say. They look up from the sofa: ‘What? Five miles!?’ If you’re lucky, you’ll cajole them. Often, it’s a losing battle. Getting your children to enjoy cycling solely with you can be tricky.
As long as they are fed and watered, 30 miles and a grand day out is achievable."
If you can find other children with whom they can cycle it’s completely different. They love it. They can cycle with their friends at a pace that is far quicker than they would with you. As long as they are fed and watered, 30 miles and a grand day out is achievable for most children over the age of seven. If they are younger, there are trailers, seats, trailer-cycles and tandems to facilitate cycling throughout the family years. I’ve done it and helped more than a hundred other families enjoy rides together too.
First find your ride
Every family needs to start somewhere. For Sarah and me, it was through the Tandem Club (www.tandem-club.org.uk). When the children arrived, we carried on but decreased the mileage. Tandems are perfect to adapt for all ages of children. Hannah Payton started this way – and she is on the CTC women’s cycling team this year.
Your nearest CTC Member Group or CTC-affiliated cycling club would also be good places to look for family rides. Check their websites: you may be lucky enough to live in an area where family rides are already arranged. Just contact the organiser and turn up.
If there are no local family rides, why not set something up? You’ll need to spread the word, so again your local group would be a good place to start. There will be other families out there waiting for someone to get the ball rolling.
Start with a summer ride one weekend. Cycling with new friends in winter wind and rain isn’t much fun. Get the map out and look for circular rides of about 20 miles so that everyone will easily finish. Plan the day so there is plenty to do. I suggest aiming for a place of interest after about 12 miles – somewhere where the children can run around, refuel at a picnic, and enjoy each other’s company off the bikes. Beaches, play parks, and castles are all good. Take a bat and ball or frisbee in your panniers so you can have an impromptu game. It’s not just about the bike – although the children will learn that that’s a fun way to get to the destination.
Keeping it going
During the ride there and back, remember to stop three or four times, maybe more. Not everyone cycles as fast as you can! Don’t set off as soon as the tail-enders catch up; that’s very demoralising. I carry some chocolate (Minstrels are good; they don’t melt!) to buoy the mood of flagging children.
The CTC system focuses on why to do things rather than simply how to do them."
Work with other parents so that you can have an adult at the front and back. If you have teenagers with you, they will be faster than the rest of the group. If they want to race for a town sign, don’t stop them. Just ask them to wait at the next junction or stopping point. Try not to cramp their style; let them cycle together as a little group and hang back a bit. I ride slightly further out into the road too, keeping an eye out behind.
Your initial ride doesn’t have to cost much. All you need is a good route on quiet lanes or a cyclepath (see www.sustrans.org.uk), some wide open spaces, and lots of snacks. Don’t organise your next ride too quickly. Monthly outings work well in cultivating a group of regular riders. Families are busy and monthly rides give everyone something to look forward to. You could finish the year with something off the bike, maybe a cinema trip?
As time goes on, build the mileage up a little. Thirty miles is ideal, with a tea/snack stop in the morning and afternoon and a good place to visit at just past the halfway point. I’ve used this formula for ten years for CTC Holidays and Tours.
Of the seven families that came in my first year, all returned the next. It became an annual event. It wasn’t the parents that drove this but the children; they loved cycling with their friends. As this holiday was so popular, I started two more: a long weekend in May; and a château week abroad. Both are enjoyed by families who have developed such friendships that they also meet up at other times.
Training instils techniques that enable children to ride with more confidence and control."
Organised events that involve cycling for children are harder to find. Even if children’s activities are offered, you need to consider how much time the children will be occupied for – on and off the bike. Some UK rallies and similar events do offer family rides (see sidebar).
An enjoyable day’s cycling doesn’t have to be a loop on quiet lanes or Sustrans paths. There’s always mountain biking on singletrack (see overleaf), and opportunities for road cycling on traffic-free circuits. I live near Bath, where children’s cycling sessions take place both on the Castle Combe race track and on a newly-built outdoor track. These are fantastic for any child with a competitive edge. Check with your local cycling club or CTC Member Group for information on what’s available nearby.
Ultimately, cycling with children is all about momentum. Once they discover the joys of group cycling with their peers, there will be no stopping them.
This was first published in the August / September 2014 edition of CTC's Cycle magazine.
Summer holiday specials
New Forest Cycling Week
A family favourite for nearly 40 years, the New Forest Cycling Week at Avon Tyrrell activity centre offers camping and informal rides on quiet roads and forest tracks. It costs only £8.50 per adult to camp, and £5.50 per night for children aged 5-14. Running from 26 July to 3 August, this year’s event will just have started as you read this, so put it in your diary for 2014. See www.newforestrallycc.org.uk
CTC Birthday Rides
CTC’s annual cycling holiday week runs from 18-24 August this year, and is based at Yarnfield Conference Centre near Stone, Staffs. It’s fully booked for 2013, so again, get it in your diary for next year. There are rides and social events every day and, crucially for children, other kids to socialise with. See www.birthdayrides.org
Mildenhall is a classic cycle rally in Suffolk over the August Bank Holiday weekend, with rides, grass track racing, trade stands, and events specifically for children. Camping is available from just £19 per pitch. See www.mildenhallrally.org.uk
CTC-accredited mountain bike skills training is available throughout the country.
Dalby Bike Barn
Dalby Forest, Yorkshire Moors. Instructor: Mike Hawtin. www.dalbybikebarn.co.uk
South Downs MTB Skills
South Downs. Instructor: Jim Barrow. www.southdownshosting.co.uk/sussexmtbtours
All Biked Up
Surrey Hills. Instructor: Richard Kelly. www.mountain-bike-guiding.co.uk
Firecrest Mountain Biking
Aston Hill Bike Park, Bucks. Instructor: Ian Warby. www.firecrestmtb.com
Mountain Bike Tuition
The LookOut, Swinley Forest, Bracknell. Instructor: Sarah Whelan. www.mountainbiketuition.co.uk
Purple Bike Shed
The LookOut, Swinley Forest, Bracknell. Instructor: Andy Guerin. www.purplebikeshed.com
North Wales. Instructors: Bob and Ally Campbell. www.campbellcoaching.eu
UK Bike Skills
Hertfordshire & UK wide. Instructor: Tony Doyle. www.ukbikeskills.co.uk
Scotttish Borders & Mainland Europe. Instructor: Clive Forth. www.mtbskills.co.uk
One Planet Adventure
Coed Llandegla Forest, North Wales. Instructor: Paul Jones. www.oneplanetadventure.com
Penrith, Cumbria. Instructor: Chris Ford. www.cycleactive.co.uk
Gone Mountain Biking
Dalby Forest, Yorkshire Moors. Instructor: Mike Hawtin. www.gonemountainbiking.com
CTC also offers a range of courses for Trail Leaders, Skills Instructors and more. More details at www.ctc.org.uk/mtb