Cycling expert Rob Kemp says the sooner you can get your kids on two wheels, the better
For many parents the first experiences of cycling with their children comes when they fix a child seat to their own bike and take to the local roads,” says Andy Cremin, project manager of cycling charity Sustrans.org. Of the estimated 610,000 cycle journeys made each day in London, a rising number of them feature babies and toddlers being ferried along our busy roads in child seats, trailers or purpose-built ‘family’ bikes.
One such parent is John Amir, 50, from Herne Hill. “I first took our eldest boy Eddy on the bike seat when he was eight months old. I take his little brother, Kit, who’s 19 months now, in the same seat.” Since becoming a father John has also opened his own bike shop, BonVelo (bonvelo.co.uk). “My partner Karina and I are both keen cyclists so it came naturally to take the boys with us on the bikes as soon as we could. We use a rear-fit seat – it’s the most comfortable and will take a child up to 22kg, so around five years old if you need to.”
While it’s possible to use both front and rear seats on the same bike, it can make things very cumbersome. A more popular solution for carrying two or more children is a trailer or a specially designed cargo bike.
“I use a four-seater cargo bike,” explains Maria Ona, a childminder from Isleworth. “I take children aged 10 months to four years old – including my own – and have used it since doing a trial run with one on Wandsworth Common. I chose this bike because it not only caters for four children, there’s room for school bags, too.
“I’ve always enjoyed keeping fit but being a mum to three children and working up to 60 hours each week as a childminder, it is hard to find time to exercise,” adds Maria. “I can end up cycling 25 miles in a day so this way I benefit fitness wise, plus I reckon I save over £1,000 in petrol annually.”
Teaching kids to ride
Some parents look to familiarise their toddlers with cycling and using pedals with ride-on toys or push-along tricycles. “But from around the age of three it’s good to try your child out on a balance bike,” says Andy. These simple bikes have no pedals or chain. “Take your child to the park with a balance bike – they’re great for mastering control and learning to ride properly.” Once they’ve got the hang of that, they can progress to a pedal bike fairly easily. “There’s a move towards these bikes and away from using stabilisers these days as children can rely on them too much,” adds Andy.
Sustrans helps run BikeIt Plus cycle sessions at schools across London. “Once your child is at school they can have BikeIt Plus sessions, funded by TFL. For older children, schools can also get free Bikeability courses that teach them to ride safely on the roads – these are also run during school holidays on quiet local roads.
“We see the parents as the gatekeepers to children cycling confidently,” says Andy. “If you take your children to cycle locally or at any of the great places to ride around London, such as Victoria Park, Hyde Park, Richmond Park, along the canal network or the Olympic Velo Park with its mountain bike, BMX and road circuits, you can give them a great grounding in cycling with confidence.”
Teach a toddler to ride a bike
Andy Cremin from cycle charity sustrans.org on how to adapt a pedal bike for first-time riders
• Lowering the seat and removing the pedals enables your child to scoot along on the bike with both feet. When they’re ready, encourage them forwards for about 10 metres using giant steps.
• Later, encourage them forwards for 10 metres more using kangaroo hops (both feet pushing together).
• Put one pedal back on – either left or right. Make sure they’re comfortable on the bike and feel secure. An easy way of doing this is to get them to do a little ‘wiggle’ with the brakes on.
• Do a one-pedal scoot: with one foot on the pedal encourage them to scoot forwards using the other foot. Make sure they’re looking up. Stop after about 10 metres.
• Put the other pedal on. Do the ‘wiggle’ (with brakes on) to show that the bike is stable and safe. Hold your child, not the bike, explain that you’re going to hold their back and get them to put their feet on the pedals.
• Second go; do the ‘wiggle’ holding them as before and get them to put both feet on the pedals. Encourage them to look up. If all clear, count down from three and encourage them to let go of the brakes and pedal forwards.
• Encourage them to look up, let go of their brakes and pedal. Walk forwards (still holding them) and slowly release your grip. Stop after a few metres.
• Let go after a few steps, then step back to exaggerate the distance they have travelled. Shout ‘stop’ after five to 10 metres. Now count out the paces so they can see how far they have travelled.
Rob Kemp writes for Cycling Plus magazine. He’s also the author of The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide (£8.44, Vermilion)