Cycling for the family

Stacey King

So you've got the cycling bug yourself and you want to get your kids involved too? Or maybe you're just looking for something healthy and fun for the whole family to do together?

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Either way, you've come to the right place because we've prepared a little primer on family cycling to help you out...

What to ride?
You might already have a bike or you might not, and if you do it will probably reflect your needs for commuting or leisure. If you don't, then get down your local bike shop and get some advice. The staff should listen to you and recommend something suitable.

If you don't feel they're listening, try another shop until you find a place you are happy with. You might be shocked at the prices, but remember you are unlikely to get anything that will be useable in the long term for less than £250 or £300.

And whatever you do, don't buy a full-suspension mountain bike (MTB) for much less than £1k, or you will probably regret it.

Whether you end up with a road bike, a hybrid or a mountain bike - the choice for your offspring will be more limited and they are most likely to end up with either a small MTB-style bike, a BMX or a general purpose machine.

The key things to remember when choosing, are NOT to buy a bike with the intention that your child will "grow into it" - they will just hate it - and NOT to buy something too heavy that they will struggle to ride anywhere.

They may be trendy but BMXs only have one gear, are very heavy and are not designed to be pedalled up hill.

Islabikes is a British mail-order company that specialises in children's bikes and which has an excellent reputation among cycling experts. Check them out.

If your offspring are too small to cover any distance under their own steam, you may wish to consider a child seat or trailer for your own cycle. Get advice from a good bike shop because some fittings are specific to different types of bike.

Where to ride?
So once you've all got your bikes you'll need somewhere to ride them, and we imagine you'll be reluctant to head out on the public road if the drivers are anything like as bad as they are near us.

Fortunately this problem has been addressed by a number of organisations - and families now have a choice of many gentle off-road routes or tarmac routes that are closed to traffic.

The Forestry Commission (FC) has allowed purpose-built MTB trails to be built at many of its sites, and while the focus was initially on experienced riders - recent efforts have been designed to make mountain biking more accessible to novices.

There are numerous sites in Scotland, Wales and England with tracks suitable for the whole family - including Glentress, Cannock Chase, Grizedale Forest and Brechfa Forest. Bear in mind that each country has its own FC site.

Many country parks have followed the FC's lead and put in dedicated cycle tracks and shared-use paths as well - sometimes with signposts and others in a network that allows you to choose your own route.

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans has developed a nationwide network of cycle tracks, a significant number of which are closed to traffic and make perfect family cycle routes.

How to ride?
If your kids have just started riding their own bikes and there are two of you then it's a good idea to let them ride in the middle so that you have an element of control over the risk they are exposed to.

If there is just one parent present then it's best to follow rather than lead - providing vocal instructions and warnings where appropriate.

It's a really good idea to team up with other families if possible, giving you more adult eyes and ears and giving your kids a bit of company/competition at the same time.

And remember, however much you love cycling yourself you can't force your kids to feel the same way - you can only give them the opportunity to learn to enjoy it themselves!

What are your tips for family cycling? Comment below...