Getting an aspiring pedal pusher on his or her own rig usually starts with the tricycle and progresses to a child’s bike with training wheels. The sidewalk, driveway or the soft grass of the backyard are safe places to get started. Be patient and creative in your attempts to shed training wheels. Hard-packed sand or dirt can be perfect launch pads for the first solo attempt. Whatever happens, be encouraging…riding a bike is a major milestone for any child!
Even if your babies can’t yet ride themselves, you can still introduce them to the joy of cycling while getting a workout for yourself. Two options dominate the offerings for carrying very young children: trailers and child seats.
Tots can ride along as soon as they are old enough to: sit up on their own, fit a child’s helmet and not be upset by any jarring motions of a bike or trailer. Most pediatricians suggest this is at least 12 months of age, but some parents prefer 18 months.
Bike trailers provide a safe, efficient and lasting way to include young children in family bike adventures. They mount to the rear of an adult bike, allowing the pint-sized passengers to take in the scenery (or sleep, as most eventually do). Most have room for multiple children and the stuff that usually goes with them. Cloth or plastic flaps shield passengers from road debris and rain. Many trailers also convert to strollers by attaching a small wheel to the front. Trailers do require a wider turning radius, so a little practice is essential.
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1 Carry a first aid kit in your bike bag or trailer. While it's more likely that you'll need it at a destination that on the raod, you'll be glad you have it.
2 Teach kids bike commuting early. If they've been riding with you to the pool all summer, eventually riding to school will be a piece of cake.
3 Don't want to leave the family pooch behind? Secure Rover in a bike trailer with the kids. They will keep each other company throughout the ride.
4 Create a destination. "Let's go for a ride!" may not hold as much air as "Let's all ride to get ice cream!"
5 Stop frequently. Little legs and little lungs need many short breaks. Even that ride to the ice cream parlor may include a stop at the playground.
6 Kids like dressing up. Look for kid-szied jerseys, shorts and gloves to help with comfort and create excitment around riding. And don't forget the helmets!
7 Get the seat height correct - high enough that kids get proper leg extension, but not so high that they can't stop quickly or put a food on the ground.
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These lightweight seats are usually formed of plastic, and mount to the back of an adult bicycle’s frame. Child seats are great for smaller children (weighing less than 35 lbs.), and keep them close for good communication. Most have shields to protect little feet from moving wheels. Models vary by amount of padding, straps, weight and max load limits.
Balance bikes, or “scoot” bikes are a new way to teach basic balance and bike handling skills to children. These are essentially fully-functioning bicycles, with the exception of a drivetrain. They allow children to learn to ride a real bicycle, without the anxiety that can come with pedaling and the speed it produces. Boys and girls just sit on the saddle and push with their feet to propel themselves along. Once they gain confidence and a little momentum, they can lift their feet off the ground and start cruising. This method greatly eases the transition to a traditional bike. THREE'S COMPANY
Once a child has mastered riding with or without training wheels, he or she may be ready for a “third wheel” type of bike. This is a kid-sized “half bike” that attaches to and trails behind an adult’s bike. This allows kids who aren’t quite ready to ride on their own but want to come along for a ride at speeds you are both comfortable with. The adult provides the primary balance, while the child can choose to pedal or not. (Funny how they never choose to pedal up hills!) These bikes are great for teaching kids about teamwork, basic bike handling skills and the rules of the road.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
Safety and visibility are priority one when cycling with the family. Every family member should wear a properly fitted helmet, even those riding in trailers. Ensure that you are seen by wearing bright clothing and using flags. Choose safe routes such as neighborhood bike routes, paths and trails. Remember that many kids’ bikes do not have gears or great brakes, so save the hills for your personal rides. When in doubt about mixing kids and traffic, choose the sidewalk or pick another route. Carry food and drinks to keep little muscles going and little minds motivated. EXPLORE TOGETHER
Getting the family out on the road may involve very different levels of ability. One way to maintain family bliss is to let more experienced riders head out with an adult before or after the main ride to burn off excess energy. This way, the main ride can have a negotiated “family speed”, which is enjoyable to all. Mix up your routes and ride to places you might not normally drive to in a car. And, bring the bikes along for family vacations. Today’s car racks are more secure and easier to use than ever, enabling any road trip to become a family biking adventure.
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