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Happy family bike riding

Image of the December 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
December 2020 Issue

Many of the New Zealand Cycle Trails are so easy even the youngest can come along for the ride. Here’s how to get your kids amped for the adventure. By Lee Slater

Clunky bikes, big crashes, biting off more than you can chew… there are so many ways your family biking dream can be derailed. But follow these expert tips and you’ll get the kids rolling, help them stay on track, and keep the wheels on whether you’re out in the wilds or just polishing up their skills at the local pump track.

How to start rolling

Bike trailer: Get your tiny tots into the zone by towing them in a bike trailer, which just hitches on to your rear bike axle and has room for two wee ones.
You could also consider the ‘shotgun’ set-up which has your child perched in front of you on a seat and handlebar combo that fits on your bike’s top tube and bars.

Tag-along bike: The tag-along bike is the next stage. This is a single (rear) wheeler that hitches to your seat post and comes with a coaster gear that means your pal can assist in pedalling or just come along for the ride. When they’re ready to fly free but you want to keep them close, consider a ‘follow-me’ bike connector that links your bike to theirs. This provides you with both options – riding independently, or towing them when they get tired.

Set up their bike correctly: Check that it’s a suitable size, that the seat is
at the right height to provide comfortable leg extension, and that they don’t have to reach too far for the brakes. When they advance to bikes with gears, make sure the gear levers are easy to shift. No matter what age you are, being comfortable on the bike is essential to safe, happy riding.

Take your teaching step by step: Build confidence slowly. If you’re unsure
about giving your child bike lessons, take advantage of local skills courses.  If things turn to custard and they’re getting the wobbles, pull the pin and try again another day.

Core riding skills: Pump tracks are great for developing core riding skills. The kids will love all the lumps, bumps and berms, while you can provide essential guidance from the comfort of a nearby picnic table. Pump tracks are social, too, offering the chance to pick up tricks from the bigger kids.

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Photo: OCRT/James Jubb

Tricks for the cycle trails

Check your pace: When you’re leading, tailor your speed to the weakest rider and allow for regular stops. Chances are, between drinks, snacks, toilet visits and the odd meltdown, you’ll need them. A handlebar mirror is useful for watching what they’re up to behind you. When it’s safe, allow the wee ones to take the lead but let them know you’re right behind to back them up. Being at the back also allows you to monitor their skills and provide tips.

Stick together: No one likes to feel like they’re being left behind. If your nippers are struggling to keep up, try the usual distraction techniques or incentivise them with snacks or other bribes.

Take yummy, high-energy food: When they’re old enough, get them to pack their own little snack bag so they can learn how to eke out their rations. Stash emergency lollies for the final push.

Give them independence: Train the kids to carry their own load, starting with a small backpack for snacks, drinks and perhaps an emotional-support teddy bear.

Good gear: Young ones generally get cold quicker than adults so make sure they’ve got warm clothes, a good jacket and gloves that allow them to use the gears and brakes. Proper bike shorts are also good if you’re into rough or muddy stuff.

Head for adventure

Change of scene: Try to take the bikes on holiday with you – riding in different places and over different terrain is great for fostering skills, bike love, and a sense of adventure. When they’re young, why not try a ‘pump track tour’, or find out where local families ride. Once they’ve hit their teens, you’re good to go on easy-grade cycle trails and other cross-country trails.

Turn your rides into adventures: Involve the children in trip planning so they’re in the loop of the location, distance and how long it will take. On the trail, offer guidance on how to ride certain sections. Chat about the surroundings.

Always make it fun: Choose rides with lots to see and do, such as playgrounds, beaches, creepy tunnels, wicked bridges and vertiginous viaducts.

Let there be ice cream: Enough said.

Make the most of it: Biking is brilliant for family bonding, and e-bikes mean that almost anyone can join in. Keep everyone safe and happy in the saddle and you could be sharing cycling   adventures for many decades to come.

– Lee Slater thanks riding dads Damian Stones and Harry Escott for sharing their top tips.