Bike rides course through our family history . . .
My first date with my husband was a bike ride. We escaped the city of New York by heading out to the ocean swells and sandy beaches of Reese Park.
Since that fateful day, we’ve spent much of our life as a family on bike explorations.
Today – two kids and several different bike configurations later – we’re hitting mountain bike trails together. And now, often enough, we’re led by those two little gremlins who once sat on the back seat alternatively napping or chattering nonstop. They’re now much bigger and they set a mean pace.
Over the years we’ve biked in both city and country. Off-road and on. We’ve used a whole panoply of bike attachments and bikes that have made it possible for us to all get out on the road. And we’ve developed a whole library’s worth of family bike ride tips.
So if you’re interested in getting your family on bikes, keep reading. Here’s a list of some essential family bike tips won through years of experience:
Family On Bike Ride Tip #1: First Get Confident In Your Own Biking Skills
I know, I know. I promised family. But first comes safety. And fun comes right after safety as a family bike ride requirement.
For both safety and fun to be part of your family biking experience, you need to be comfortable on a bike.
Even if you’re not planning to hazard city streets or rocky mountain trails with your kids, getting yourself in gear is essential. You’ll be amazed at how managing a bike changes with the extra weight on board with a child seat. Or the extra length with a trail-a-bike.
Also, your kids will distract you in a million and one ways.
You won’t be able to focus on figuring out the gearshift or navigation. So it’s essential that you develop some biking mastery first. Otherwise you’re bound to hit trouble.
So if you’re just getting into biking – or it’s been awhile (Don’t worry, no one ever forgets how to ride a bike!)- take some time to ride solo and just get comfortable.
You can take this time riding solo to scout around for the next tip . .
Family On Bike Ride Tip #2: Find Good Places For Family Bike Rides
Finding a place where you feel comfortable biking with your family is critical. Both my husband and I are confident bikers so we hit both city streets and off road with kids in tow. (Nothing too extreme, mind you.)
But we’ve preferred easier trails in general when we had our little ones on the back and when the kids started riding solo.
When our daughter was tiny we spent lots of time riding around Prospect Park. And when our second child came along – after we had moved to New Hampshire – we found plenty of quiet country roads to amble along on.
Here are some good criteria to look for:
· Low or no traffic. Eventually you can take on more busy streets. But ideally you want places where you don’t have to worry about this extra safety issue.
· Trails that are two lanes wide. If you’re biking in parks, steer away from single-track paths. That’s mountain-bike lingo for narrow paths that have little passing room. Look for trails that are double-track.
· Smooth surfaced. Packed dirt and paved are best.
· Just the right length. Plan out your route so that you don’t find yourself miles from home with a cranky toddler behind you and little energy for the return trip.
· Fun stop off places, destinations or sights along the way. We have some favorite rides to a local apple orchard, the library and the local swimming hole. Similarly, there are a few loops we like just because we enjoy the scenery or we pass by a friend’s house.
· Challenging or not too challenging terrain. It depends on your ability and intentions. We have one trail we take up to the top of a local mountain. It’s a straight climb of about 3 miles and the extra weight on the back with a child made it a stellar workout. On the other hand, we found a nice low-key loop to take when we just wanted something leisurely and when the kids were smaller.
How do you find good trails?
National, state and local parks are great places to look. Ask at your local bike shop for suggestions. Ask around at your local recreation centers or nature centers. Similarly, you can look in community newspapers for listings of bike groups. Even if you don’t end up joining them you can get some great tips for rides.
Here are two fantastic online resources for finding great biking trails:
· www.Trails.com is THE place to go for hiking, biking or anything that involves a trail. It includes national and state parks as well as a slew of other trail-ridden places. Maps, reviews and more are included on this site. You can do a search by zipcode to find trails near you.
It costs $49.95 for a year’s membership which is a steal when you start perusing its resources. But if you’re not sure about the investment, they have a 2-week free trial run option.
· www.Traillink.com is a free service created by The Rails To Trails Conservancy. The Rails To Trails Conservancy has developed local community coalitions to reclaim old railroad lines and turn them into walking, running, hiking, biking and equestrian trails. You can enter your city and zip and tap into 30,000 miles of trail networks.
Another great source:
We’ve gotten great mileage (literally) out of our Mountain Bike America: New Hampshire and Maine book. A series that covers the whole US and Canada by region, these books are written by local mountain bikers and give you a great overview of and details about what’s available in your state.
Be sure and check your local library as well. Most libraries have a great collection of local guidebooks. The best thing is you can try one out these books for free and then purchase it if you think you’re going to get a lot of use out of it.
And don’t be nervous about the mountain bike references. Mountain biking is not all trick-riding and hard terrain. Plenty of the places reviewed in our mountain biking guide books are very easy double-track trails that are perfect for families starting out on two or more wheels.
This brings us to our next tip:
Family On Bike Ride Tip #3: Get The Right Bike For Your Family Bike Rides
I’ve mostly been a mountain biker. So I’m a little biased. Mountain bikes are less efficient than road bikes so it’s harder to cover lots of mileage with them.
But there are some reasons I recommend a mountain bike or hybrid bike over a touring bike for family biking.
· It’s more comfortable to ride. Your back isn’t strained by leaning forward.
· You can ride on more variable terrain. Even a crack in the sidewalk or road can throw a road bike way off. With a mountain bike you can cruise off sidewalk curbs, along on the shoulder of the road or over roots with nary a care.
· As I mentioned above, you have more options for trails without traffic to ride on.
· When your kids get older and want to bike on their own, 9 times out of 10 they’ll be more interested in hitting some off-road terrain than long touring rides.
· They’re sturdier, esp. tire-wise, so you’re less likely to get a flat when you’re out cruising with your toddler on board.
Family On Bike Ride Tip #4: Get The Right Family Bike Attachments
Family biking has grown significantly over the last two decades. Attached to the back of your bike, child seats allow you to tote your tot around. And now there are even more innovative ways to keep your child with you on the bike ride:
· Trailers offer more stability than a bike seat since they are riding on the ground with their own two wheels. They also allow you to take two children along with you instead of just one.
· Tag-a-long hook ups or trail-a-bikes turn your bike into a tandem bike with a simple attachment. Your child can then ride on the back, hopefully adding a little extra turbo power for uphills.
· Trail-gators are like these attachments except that it hooks up your child’s entire bike to yours. This way, they can ride with you most of the time. But you can also detach their bike, neatly fold the connector away, and let them try a little solo time. As they get stronger, you can bring it along to give them a breather on longer rides.
Family On Bike Ride Tip #5: Be Prepared
Every trip should start off with a onceover of your bike and attachments. But despite the best precautions you may end up with a flat or other mechanical problem. For that reason always take along
· a patch kit,
· some extra tubes,
· allan wrench and
· a pump.
In addition, always bring:
· Healthy snacks.
· Lots of water for hydration. Bring at least a quart per person for a forty-minute ride. More if it’s a hot day. And you might want to add a little extra electrolytes as well. But steer away from sugary drinks like Gatorade, since those just deplete your body without refreshing you.
· Extra layers for variable weather – windbreakers are essential when when the weather gets below the mid 70′s. The wind can rob your body of enormous energy reserves as it steals your heat. Sunscreen is also essential and I sometimes wear a baseball hat under my helmet for extra sun protection. Make sure you dress your little ones on the back seat appropriately for the ride as well.
· Cell phone.
· Trail map. Always to bring a hard copy and not just rely on an electronic map.
· Money. Even when we’re out on back roads we bring a little. Whether it’s unexpected yardsales or emergencies, it’s always good to have cash on hand.
· A first-aid kit. We’ve had a couple tumbles and there’s nothing better than having a bandaid right there to cover the scrapes that come with these.
And this brings us to the next essential tip:
Family On Bike Ride Tip #6: Think Safety For Family Bike Rides
Always put safety first and err on the side of caution.
In addition to carrying a first-aid kit, here are a few safety tips to consider . . .
· Plan everything carefully. Check the weather. Make sure you bring the items on the list above.
· Check over your bikes and attachments. Each year, bring your bikes into a bike shop to get a onceover maintenance check.
· Wear helmets. And if you’re going on challenging off-road terrain you may want shinguards, knee pads and elbow pads.
· Use traffic signaling to communicate with drivers.
· Stay close together but not so close that you don’t have time to stop or maneuver if the biker in front of you has a problem or stops.
· Ride on the right side of the road in general. But for busy roads, I recommend riding on the left-hand side so you can see drivers better up ahead. Also, on certain roads when cars pass, we simply pull over completely onto the shoulder and even stop. Just to be on the safe side. This is another reason I prefer mountain bikes for family biking since they can ride fine on the shoulder of country roads.
· Be prepared for unleashed dogs. This is a major hazard on a bike. After you tour certain routes, you’ll know where to be on the alert. But to be on the safe side we use a few defensive maneuvers as well: 1.) Both my husband and I carry a pepper spray – we’ve never used it but it’s good to have it along; and 2.) Practice getting off the bike quickly and putting the bike between you and the attacking dog. This is also something you should teach your children to do.
My son once had a dog leap towards his bike and he used this technique calmly and effectively to guard himself as my husband turned around to ward off the dog.
And finally the most important tip:
Family On Bike Ride Tip #7: Keep It Simple And Have Fun!
Starting a new family activity – like biking – can feel like a huge step to take on. So don’t make it so big.
Start off small. Make your rides short, take frequent stops and keep it pretty simple.
For entertainment we had lots of songs our kids would sing as we pedaled. Some traditional ones and some that were created en route, dedicated to Dad’s head, a local dog or some other event.
The best way to make this a lasting part of your family life is to keep it fun and exciting. That’s where planning rides around great destinations or stops along the way comes in.
We love biking because it is such a wonderful way to explore new places or simply check out our familiar neighborhood and see what’s happening.
So most importantly, use our F.I.T. strategy to make sure your family looks forward to these excursions.
But I guess there’s one more tip to add which complements and contradicts this a little . . .
Family On Bike Ride Tip #8: Consistency Pays
As much as simple and fun makes family biking easier, if you want to bike regularly as a family for fitness, you need something more.
As with most elements of family fitness, f you want to make this a regular family thing, you sometimes have to put your foot down and go biking as a family even if everyone’s not gung-ho at the moment.
It’s not always easy to do this. There will be grumbles, even arguments at times. But it brings in this other element of parenting – setting standards and guidelines for how you live.
But don’t get discouraged with this tip. First, just by knowing sometimes you’ll have resistance to getting out on bikes, you’ll be better prepared to keep your own motivation up and firmly shepherd the rest of the crew along.
And know this, the more regular and consistent you are about doing this, the easier it becomes to keep it up since it just becomes an established part of your routine. Your kids start to just accept that you do this once it becomes a regular activity, just like eating broccoli or doing homework.
Bring in the fun and simple strategically to minimize this challenge.
And keep in mind that with consistent biking, you all become stronger, more accustomed to being out on two (or more) wheels. And here’s where you get to the really exciting stuff. You can now explore more and more new terrain and new places as a family on bikes.