I love my bikes – all four of them – and I need very little encouragement to get out and ride at any time. My bike rides are all about speed and distance – and they are my very favorite way to workout.
My kids love their bikes too, but in a very different way. They love to set up complicated obstacle courses and to ride back and forth on the muddy, hilly paths around their friends’ houses. And of course, they like to ride fast– sometimes with little thought for what might be on the path ahead or coming up along the road.
So this time of year, when the weather is turning fine and we all want to be out on our bikes together, a little planning goes a long way toward making our family rides safe and fun for everyone.
Make it a rule. You and your child must wear a helmet every time you ride. You also need to make sure the helmet fits and your child knows how to put it on correctly. A helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and should not rock forward or backward. If you can see you child’s forehead, you need to adjust the helmet. If you have trouble, stop by your local bike shop. They’ll be happy to show you how to fit it correctly.
Parents should also take time to practice safe biking skills with their child before attempting rides around cars. Children should be able to stop quickly, ride in a straight line, steer around obstacles and look back over their shoulders without swerving.
SNACKS ARE IMPORTANT
Even if you think your family adventure may actually last only 15 minutes, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for longer ride. This means everyone needs a water bottle and everyone needs a small snack. For a family ride, I recommend simple water to sports drinks and fruits and nuts to energy bars – those products were designed as quick sugar delivery systems for athletes. Water, a banana and a handful of almonds will provide all the energy you need – of course, my kids always insist on a piece of chocolate at the halfway point!
WEIGHT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Make sure everyone has a bike that’s sized right – and always buy the lightest bike you can afford. Even at their lightest, most youth bikes weigh at least as much as a fancier adult bike; often up to 30 pounds. If your child weighs 90 pounds, their bike can weigh as much as 1/3 of their body weight. Think how hard it would be to tackle the hills of Mecklenburg County on a bike that weighs more than a 1/3 of what you do!
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Finding the right bike route can make a huge difference. Even though many cyclists don’t like the thought of driving to ride, it’s important to begin with outings that are successful and stress free (for everyone!) Here are a few of my favorite places to ride with younger children:
- The Davidson Greenway – This trail picks up at Davidson Elementary School, follows the road for a small section and then resumes at the bottom of Kimberly Street. For kids under 8 years, I recommend planning an out and back ride on either section of the trail and avoiding the hilly portions on the road. For kids 13 and over, the ride makes a nice 7 mile loop and encompasses the entire greenway trail.
- North Meck Park, Huntersville – This is a great ride for the whole family. The park includes a pump track that younger kids love and a parking lot that’s just right for practicing. Plus there’s a nice mountain bike loop for more advanced riders. Something for everyone!
- New River Trail State Park, Galax to Pulaski, Va. – This is a 57-mile state park that is part of the Rails to Trails system. The best feature of this park is the shuttle service offered by River Trail Outfitters. They take you and your bikes upriver and you can spend the whole day riding slightly downhill. Parents love it because it is a wonderful long adventure and kids love it because they get to do a lot of coasting.
Once your kids catch the bug for cycling, the newly formed Charlotte Youth Cycling League is a great way to encourage their interest! Sponsored by a consortium of local bike shops, the league was created to offer fun, age appropriate cycling opportunities for kids. The inaugural season will kick off on March 18th with the 4 Kids Only Mountain Bike Event at Fisher Farm Park in Davidson. More information is available at http://forums.mtbr.com/north-south-carolina/charlotte-youth-cycling-league-2012-a-762491.html.