By Will Embliss
Now that your children can ride their bikes it can be a really fun family activity to travel to some of your favourite parks, shops and attractions that are too far on foot. This can seem a daunting task, but if you take it step by step as I suggest here, then it can become a regular feature of your daily life.
Before you take the plunge and set out on the roads there are some things you should check:
- Firstly check all the bikes.
- Are the tyres pumped up to at least 40 psi?
- Can your children pull the brakes effectively?
- Does the chain spin easily?
- Are the handlebars connected to the front wheel strongly?
- Any loose wheel nuts?
Now check yourselves: Helmets on correctly? Baggy trousers legs tucked into socks? Loose laces tied short or tucked away from the chain?
Take your child/children to your local park and make sure your children can ride in a straight line, stop the bike on any line you ask them to (using the brakes to stop… feet dragging on the ground is not good enough! ) and follow your instructions to your satisfaction?
I suggest you prepare for riding on the road by practising riding alongside them around your local park talking to them all the while. Pointing out hazards and telling them which way to turn at junctions. This is how you will ride together on the road with your child pavement side. If the path is too narrow you should be in single file then let your child go in front so you can see where they are. Treat the paths as a mini road network and stop at junctions. If overtaking pedestrians on the path, warn them of your approach by ringing the bell and encourage your child to check behind before they change position on the path.
When you are both comfortable with this then choose some local roads where you can do a circuit. Plan a short route with left turns at first as these are easier. Start with short journeys. If there is a problem just ask your child to pull over to the pavement and have a chat. Build up to longer journeys with some right turns from T- junctions and slowly add in, mini roundabouts, and right turns from a main road to a side road. If you are not confident about any of these manoeuvres then I suggest you book yourself a 1-1 session with your local Cyclefox trainer.
Set off from a position where you can both see clearly up and down the road and drivers can see you. Your child should be in front or on your left at all times. When riding in single file always make sure you are about a bikes length behind your child in case they stop suddenly also ride a bit further out from the pavement to create a safety shadow.
This allows drivers behind to see you and your child. Remember to ride outside the door zone when passing parked cars (about 1.5 metres). This puts you in a strong position taking the lane. If you hear traffic approaching from behind give them a strong look over your right shoulder. This helps the drivers to think about you. Keep talking to your child about where you are going and how to deal with up coming hazards. Where there is little or no traffic have the habit of riding next to your child the Highway Code allows cyclists to ride no more than two abreast.
When approaching T – junctions you can come alongside and even get to the Give Way lines slightly ahead to assess the traffic. At any T-junction take up a central position so that traffic waits behind you. This allows you to see clearly. If there is a vehicle already waiting at the junction you can both wait behind it side by side. Make sure your child has their pedal ready to set off as soon as you stop. When the coast is clear you both set off together then you can drop behind when you have crossed the junction.
If you were planning a route to school for instance you may have to cross or use busier roads. Remember you can always walk for a short distance on the pavement until you find the next back street to continue your journey or dismount and cross somewhere that is out you your comfort zone on foot.
Riding with two children
If you have more than one child and you are the only parent/adult than I suggest you practice riding with each child on its own initially. When you feel confident with them on the road individually then practice this new arrangement in the park. Different configurations will work with each family group. The aim is to have the group of cyclists work together as if you are one vehicle, so it is essential that you stay close together (but with safe one bike length stopping distances between each bike). I suggest that the most confident child is at the front of the group, the adult at the back (riding a bit wider) and the less confident child in between. At T-junctions the first waits on the left of the Give Way lines, the second in the middle and the adult on the right. You set off together when it is clear and then resume your positions. The problem with the most confident at the front is that they treat it as a race and a large gap comes between you allowing traffic to split you up. To keep closer together you can ride alongside the less confident child.
When my son was primary school age we used to ride through the park to play dates, on the quiet roads to swimming, to the shops, and of course the daily ride to school. As he grew a bit older we rode along country roads taking the train out of town. As I look back these bike journey times were great for chatting and spending quality time together.
So next time you go to the park with your kids take your bike too!
“I have always cycled since the age of 6. I started cycling on London roads as a teenager to get around and visit friends houses and get home from events safely at night. One summer in my early 20’s I set off from London to catch the ferry to France, having never cycled more than 20 miles. I took a tent and my trumpet and rode and camped wild all the way to the Pyrenees and back, busking en-route. Since then I have cycled most European countries as an independent traveller and with my family. I have been a freelance cycle instructor in London for for nearly a decade. I also make musical instruments for school playgrounds.” Find out more: www.willembliss.co.uk
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