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(The Gear Loop) - Biking is a great way to get the kids outdoors and active. Cycling regularly will keep them fit and improve both their confidence and skill levels on a bicycle. It also means you can enjoy some awesome adventures together, pedalling further than you’ll achieve on foot.

That said, sometimes getting little ones out on their bikes can be a challenge. There are busy roads to contend with, expensive kit that they’re permanently growing out of and the lure of screen time to compete with.

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So, what are the best ways to encourage the kids out on their bikes? Here are a few ideas to make cycling with the kids exciting and adventurous, while also keeping them safe.

Take the road less travelled

Cycling on the roads can be a little repetitive (and draining on the nerve reserves), especially when you’re having to constantly be on "car alert". Venturing off-road is more fun and allows you to focus on the biking rather than thinking about road safety.

Georgie DuckworthCycling with kids photo 3

Bridleways and by-ways

Search the map for local bridleways and by-ways to ride along. The bumpier and muddier they are, the greater the adventure. See who can get mud splatters on their face (it’s easier than it sounds!)

Also, use all the tools in your arsenal to discover local off-road biking routes. Cycling through woods and around tracks is more interesting than the road. If the kids get tired or unsure about certain bits, you can hop off and walk. Komoot, Strava, Garmin and good old Google Maps are your friends here. The former allows you to search for off-road disciplines, such as mountain biking, and even select routes (all suggested by fellow cyclists) for their ease of use.

Georgie DuckworthCycling with kids photo 5

Cycle Paths

Although we can't compete with many of our European cousins, the UK has a network of designated cycle paths and routes, which are sometimes separated from the road completely. They tend to be flat and easy to cycle along, so great for beginner road riders. Plus, being car-free reduces stress levels and imposes less impact on the planet in terms of emissions. Check out the Sustrans website for cycle routes near you, as this charity is on a mission to make it easier to walk, wheel or cycle.

kai bossom/unsplashCycling with kids photo 16

Bike Parks 

Visiting a Bike Park makes for an awesome day out. Hurtling down hillside bike trails, running after kamikaze kids, may be a little nailbiting at times, but it’s also great fun and a fantastic (and safe) space for developing childrens' cycling skills.

Bike Park Wales, for example, offers bespoke kid’s courses, as well as designated mornings that aim to help young cyclists build confidence and important skills on the bike. There are designated bike parks all over the UK, so do some research into your nearest.

vander-films/unsplashCycling with kids photo 17

Pump Tracks

Kids love to learn tricks on their bikes (or simply learn how to roll fast) and a pump track is the ideal place to do this. A pump track is a short circuit of rollers, banked turns and other fun features, often made from fall-friendly dirt or grass and designed to be a safe playground for everyone, from small children right up to adults, to perfect skills.

There is now a wide network of pump tracks across the UK, which are generally free to use and inclusive for all abilities. Even if your little one is still at balance bike level, teaching him or her to gather speed by gently cruising down small rollers is a great way of improving balance and coordination.

Scott R/PexelsCycling with kids photo 13

Set a challenge

If the kids are feeling unenthusiastic about a bike ride, set them a challenge to complete. They are more likely to head out on two wheels if there is a goal or objective. Better still, offer up small rewards or prizes.

Hill climb

Climbing hills on a bike can be daunting for kids, especially if they haven’t had much experience. To get them up a hill, turn it into a challenge… a fight for victory, child vs hill.

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How high can you get before you have to hop off and push your bike up? Can you get higher than last time you tried that hill? Measure the ascent on your phone or bike computer to see what elevation they climbed.

Distance and/or speed

Before your ride, plot a route together with the kids using a map, or an app like Komoot. Challenge them to complete a certain distance or see how fast they can cycle a loop. There’s always more incentive to keep going if the children have been involved in the route planning and are trying to complete a challenge you’ve laid down.

Having a healthy supply of "energy boosters" (snacks and drinks) is essential when energy and enthusiasm levels start to dwindle.

guillaume de germain/unsplashCycling with kids photo 7

Join a race

Once the little ones are up and running, and confident on two wheels, why not find a family-friendly event near you and sign up? Having that to look forward to will encourage the kids out on "training missions" and is a great activity to do together in its own right.

Plot an Adventure

The word "adventure" alone is enough to raise the children’s interest levels. Plan your own epic two-wheeled getaway with the kids. You could pack a picnic and make it a day trip, or even plan a multi-day trip with an overnight stay in a tent (for the brave) or B&B (for the sensible).

Georgie DuckworthCycling with kids photo 4

Flip-a-coin adventure

This is a great way to explore your local area by bike and visit places you otherwise wouldn’t have. You may find a new beauty spot, some interesting landmarks, or you might just navigate to the pub. Wherever you end up, the journey is always lots of fun.

  1. Spread your local map out on the floor (make sure the map’s scale isn’t too ridiculous)
  2. Toss a coin over the map
  3. Mark the place it’s landed in pencil
  4. Plot a route to navigate as closely as possible to that point using only your bikes
  5. See where your adventure takes you!

Bike-packing

If you have a weekend to spend with the kids - especially if they are older, more experienced riders - try plotting a bike-packing adventure. 

Find a YHA, campsite or wild camping spot within a reasonable distance and plan a cycling route around it. 

Specialized/FjällrävenCycling with kids photo 15

Challenge yourselves to pack only essential items (and snacks) into your panniers, bike packs or rucksacks and head off for an overnight adventure.

Get the right kit

Having the right biking kit for the children can make life a lot easier. Finding the best bike for your child is a good place to start. A lot of the lower-priced kid’s bikes are under-specced and overweight; a heavy bike can make riding much harder and more frustrating for little legs.

The kids will be able to cover more miles, and be much happier if they have a lighter bike. As a rough guide, we look for 13kg or less for 20in- and 24in-wheel bikes, especially if they’re likely to go off-road.

markus-spiske/unsplashCycling with kids photo 9

Bikes are expensive so it’s worth searching the second-hand market or look into a service like Bike Club where you can exchange bikes as the kids grow.

Stay safe

Staying safe while cycling with kids is the most important thing. There are a few ways to help keep the children safe whilst out and about. Bike courses are great for learning basic road safety and biking skills. They can also help with a child's confidence while riding both on and off-road. Many local Councils and schools run free cycling schemes, or search for a Bikeability course near you.

Safety gear

There is certain kit that will help to keep the children safe on their bikes:

  • A well-fitted helmet is essential
  • High-vis jacket and bike lights to increase visibility whilst cycling on roads
  • Knee and elbow pads plus a full-face helmet add an extra layer of protection for downhill/off-road cycling
Writing by Georgie Duckworth. Editing by Leon Poultney.