"How do I get my child started in cycling?" It's one of the first questions bike-riding parents ask. Happily, kids and bikes seem to be drawn together by a natural kind of magnetism. By following the tips we outline here, you can quickly strengthen that attraction.
To get children started early, don't wait until they can pedal. Connect a child carrier to your bike, strap in your child and go for rides regularly. When you do, be sure to show enthusiasm for the activity on every ride. If you want your kids to be fired up about cycling, you need to set the example.
As they become more comfortable and their bodies become better equipped to handle physical activity, progessively move children to bikes that offer greater degrees of independence. Few motivators will generate greater enthusiasm for cycling within a child than a growing sense of self-sufficiency.
Tip: Get your child used to wearing a helmet while still at the ride-along stage. It's easier to instill this essential safety step in a child's early years before peer pressure sets in.
Up next: various bicycle options to get your child comfortable with cycling.
Toddlers must be able to easily sit up and fully support their head before they can join you for a ride. Many areas have laws requiring children to be at least 1 year old and to wear a helment while riding in a bike seat. Most carriers attach to the back of the bicycle and are suitable for children weighing up to 40 pounds. They have high backs to support a child's shoulders and head. The seats themselves are lightweight, though you may find your bike is a bit harder to manuever. Remember, should you fall, your child falls, too.
Tip: The bike seat is directly over your rear axle, so your child will feel bumps more than you do. To provide some cushioning, inflate your tires to slighly below their maximum setting. Less-inflated tires allow a softer ride.
Shop REI's selection of child bike seats .
This is a popular option for toddlers and children up to 6 years old. You get to cycle; the kids get to sit and see the sights. Trailers are stable and easy to steer. Even if you fall, your child won't. Tip: Give your toddlers a pillow so their head doesn't bounce around too much.
Trailers have a few downsides. Kids sit low to the ground, so they're less visible to others and they are a bit more exposed to the exhaust of cars. Also, keep in mind that older children can get bored with such passive transport.
Shop REI's selection of bike trailers .
This is a bike in its simplest form—no pedals or chain, just wheels and a frame. As the child walks or coasts along on their push bike, their feet act as their brakes (the same system Fred Flintstone uses on his stone-age car). A push bike helps teach 2- to 5-year-olds how to coordinate steering and balance. The better they get, the easier their transition to pedaling will be.
Shop REI's selection of push bikes .
A trailer bike (sometimes referred to by the brand name Trail-a-bike) attaches to your bicycle so your child can pedal and feel independent, though he or she is still relying on you for balance and control. This single-wheel bike attaches either to your seatpost or on a rear rack so it can pivot for turning. A trailer bike is good for 4- to 7-year-olds who may have some trepidation about cycling. It also allows you to cycle farther than your child's stamina might otherwise allow.
Shop REI's selection of trailer bikes .
Bikes with training wheels can give children the confidence boost needed so they can start riding on their own. Once the confidence is there, the training wheels can be removed. These are single-speed bicycles with coaster brakes, though some models have an additional linear-pull rear brake to ready them for future hand brakes.
Shop REI's selection of training wheel bikes .
Once they are ready for their own 2-wheeler, make sure you avoid the common mistake of buying a bike that they'll "grow into." Doing so can set your child back a couple of years. When shopping, be aware that children's bikes are measured by their wheel size (not frame size). The most common sizes are 16", 20" and 24". The right size is one where your child can comfortably get on the bike and stand with his or her feet on the ground.
Shop REI's selection of kids' bikes .
For instruction on how to get your kids riding on their own, see the REI Expert Advice article on Teaching a Child to Ride.
A bicycle built for 2 is another option for the beginning cyclist. Using conversion kits, adult tandem bikes can be modified so a child can pedal with you. Some manufacturers make child-adult tandems that allow you to control steering, braking and gearing while both of you get to pedal.
Children make good cycling companions because they're adaptable, energetic and want to have fun. Cycling with kids isn't, however, quite as easy as hopping on your bike and taking off. Here are some saddle-savvy tips.
Even restless toddlers will stop squirming when a bike starts moving. This makes cycling an ideal family outing.
To teach basic biking skills, take your child to a bike trail, empty parking lot, unused basketball court or some place where there's not much traffic. Some points to discuss:
Until your child is used to shifting gears, choose routes that are as flat as possible. A good rule of thumb: If you would feel comfortable riding the route on a heavy, single-speed cruiser, your child shouldn't have much of a problem on his or her bike.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: Wed Aug 15 16:10:00 PDT 2012
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