We’ve had a bit of a breakthrough over the past fortnight. After eight months of riding a bike, Lia has finally mastered starting and stopping. Being unable to do so didn’t stop her cycling, but it stopped me. I tended to run alongside her bike to help her rather than cycling myself. But now, we’re ready for proper cycling. So, here are my top tips for family mountain bike adventures.
1. Get the right bikes
A good bike makes all the difference for a child who is learning to cycle. I personally swear by light bikes that are easy to manoeuvre. It’s easier for children to balance, turn and even feel confident loosening their grip on the handlebars to brake. Luckily, both girls will be fine on their bikes for another year. My husband has a good bike, so all that’s left is for me to buy a mountain bike. I’ll probably pick one up next week from the Halfords range so I have it for half term.
2. Start easy
My two have built up a lot of their cycling skills with days out at Croome National Trust. The tracks around there are perfect for cycling. Some are bumpy and there are a few hills but nothing too challenging. Best of all, it’s a safe environment. We walk while the girls cycle, so they can go off ahead of us and have some freedom to build their confidence in their own time.
3. Research the best local cycle tracks
It’s really important to take children on the right cycle tracks. We did some research to find somewhere local that had dedicated off road cycle tracks of different standards. For us, cycling in the Forest of Dean is perfect. The flat, easy trails were fine for Lia – even a week after she learnt to ride a bike. In fact, she managed 11 miles that day – with me running next to her, helping her to start and stop! But there were also more challenging areas just off that track, where Libby could do something a bit more exciting to make sure she felt she’d got something out of it as well.
4. Schedule in breaks
When you’re training for a cycle race or event, it’s tempting to just put your head down and keep going. But children need a bit more incentive to enjoy it. Like anything else, just cycling along can get a bit boring after a while when you’re little. So, stop to build dens and have a picnic. Play in the park, climb a tree and make a day of it. Cycling should be fun and if it isn’t, they won’t want to do it again.
5. Remember the essentials
It’s always sensible to carry a small amount of kit on a bike ride. A first aid kit and a phone for emergencies. Warm or waterproof clothing, insect repellant, sunscreen and drinks. If you’re not going somewhere that sells food, take a picnic or at least snacks for the children. There’s nothing worse than whiney, hungry children and cycling makes them get hungry quickly!
6. Learn some mountain bike skills
In the Halford’s beginner’s guide, cycling expert Sam Fowler gives some tips on improving your mountain biking in a short video. For children and parents alike, it’s well worth honing your skills before you go. Then, you can put it into practice on the trails and learn together as a family.
7. Consider a cycling holiday
Even with very young children, we had a holiday last year that was strongly centred around cycling. Kielder Forest is a great place to disconnect with tech and get back in touch with nature. Back then, Lia couldn’t cycle, so we hired a Weehoo for her to ride in. We weren’t up to cycling huge distances, but each day we’d set out from out campsite on a different route. Libby’s bike skills came on immeasurably that week and riding in the Weehoo gave Lia the incentive she needed to learn to ride when we got home.