By Molly Hurford
As a cyclists, it’s natural to want your kids to share your love of the sport. It’s a lifelong activity that provides fitness, freedom, and a green mode of transportation all in one, and it’s a great way to spend time together as a family. But sometimes, kids are less than thrilled about getting on the bike, whether they’re first graders or freshman. Here, a few Ontario parents and coaches are sharing some words of wisdom for how to get your kids into cycling—and how to have fun doing it!
(Remember, some of these tips, like getting your kids into a program or riding with friends are obviously difficult to do given current COVID-19 limitations and protocols, but hopefully soon, we’ll be able to have more groups of kids shredding around neighborhoods together again! In the meantime, try some of these other tips to encourage them to learn to love the bike.)
Equip Them To Ride
A bike doesn’t need to be pricey or ultra-light to be a good bike… But it should function. “The bike doesn’t need to be fancy, but try to get one that’s the right fit,” says Collingwood Off-Road Cycling Club co-founder Kate Sparling-Holmes. “We often see kids riding on bikes that don’t fit them and that makes riding much less fun for them.” (Remember, a kid’s bike that weighs 30 pounds is half of your child’s body weight! Picture yourself lugging an 80-pound bike up a hill. That’s how they feel.)
And remember, plastic toys that happen to have two wheels aren’t bikes. “For really young children, remember that there’s a difference between a real bike and a toy that resembles a bicycle,” says dad and coach at the KW Cycling Academy Christian Eilers. If you need help choosing the right bike, ask at your local bike shop.
Rather than thinking about riding as a standalone activity, try to bake it into everyday life. That could mean riding with your kids to school, to the park, running errands on the weekends—whatever fits into daily life. This not only shows them that biking is a great mode of transportation in addition to fun, but it also teaches them bike handling and safety. This step is super important for building a lifelong rider: Even if your child never picks up the sport of cycling for fun, he or she should still develop a healthy appreciation for it as an environmentally-friendly and active way to get around.
Let them ride with friends
“Riding with friends is so important, ” says Claire Steciuk, who started riding at a very young age in Ontario and continues racing mountain bikes at a high level today. In fact, that’s how most kids find their love of cycling. Riding with family is fun, of course, but as your child starts to get older and hits those pre-teen years, spending weekends on rides with mom and dad may not be as enticing as shredding singletrack with a few friends. You can still have family riding time, of course, but trying to find kids of similar age or ability level for your children to ride with can help keep them excited about playing on bikes.
Encourage Skilled Play
You don’t need much space in your backyard to help your young child work on bike skills. Try setting up mini obstacle courses with cones, pool noodles and other mini-features (kiddie pools! splash pads!) and challenge your shredder to rip around that. Don’t offer a lot of coaching suggestions—see the next tip—but rather, just let your child have fun playing with obstacles. Kids are shockingly good at picking up bike skills on their own if given the time and space.
You can also check out local parks and pump tracks, or explore easier mountain bike trails in your area together, letting kids work out problems on the bike in their own way. “There are places in a lot of communities like parks, pump tracks, bike areas, and other fun spots that you can take your kids, pack the picnic, go for a ride—they’re learning skills while exploring,” Holmes says.
Check Into Local Kids Programming
“When possible, kids should ride with other kids—look for local kid’s programs!” says Eilers. During non-COVID times, there are dozens of clubs in the province that offer kids programming, and even some summer camps have added in mountain biking as a component. If you can’t find any kids programming in your area, mention it to your local cycling club: Chances are, you’re not the only parent who’s looking for it, and you may be able to spark a discussion that leads to a weekly kids practice or ride.
It doesn’t have to be formal, either: Holmes notes that just letting young kids get together and play in a big field or at a local bike park together can be fun! Or, get a few families together and do a big group ride. “Riding with other families have kids of similar age is a lot of fun. Make it an adventure!” she says.
Remember You’re Not a Coach
(And even if you are actually a cycling coach, your kids may not see you as one.) Try to avoid giving your child too much instruction: Riding bikes with you should feel like fun, not like work or school, so try to keep your critiques to a minimum. Aim for positive reinforcement only. If your kids want to learn more advanced skills, check into local programs, clinics and coaching, or let them get on YouTube and look for bicycle skills videos—there are tons of great options out there!
Try Different Disciplines
When you think of cycling, a specific image likely pops into your head. However, downhill mountain biking looks and feels a whole lot different than a road time trial, and your child may love one but hate the other. Parents often default to bringing their kids along on the types of rides that they do already. But while you may be a road rider, your 10-year-old might be more excited about hitting the BMX pump track. Let them try a variety of cycling options—the indoor track in Milton, the Joyride150 indoor bike park in Markham, or the downhill park at Horseshoe Valley Ski Resort all offer bike rentals, and local shops often hold demo days for road and mountain bikes, including some options for kids. You can also ask around at your local cycling club to see if anyone has a mountain bike that your kid could borrow to test if you don’t have easy access to one.
Be Smart About Racing
At a young age, races shouldn’t feel stressful or scary. They should feel like fun events that can be a competitive challenge, but not a stressful one. Emphasize fun and friendship over results. “A local weekly race series is what made me love cycling,” says Steciuk. “Having that weekly routine of going to race at Hardwood, seeing my biking friends, then getting ice cream after together, was really special.”
Just remember that if your child wants to race, great. If they don’t right now, that’s fine too. “For me, I just hope my kids love riding in the forest, because that’s the part that that I love,” says Jenny Trew, the Lead NextGen & NextGen Track Coach for Cycling Canada. “If they want to race then so be it. But my main hope is that we spend time together on the bike.”
Don’t Force It
“You can’t force your kids to like cycling,” says Christian Eilers. “Stay patient, and be a role model celebrating the love of cycling, but don’t make them ride.” If your kids aren’t interested in riding, make sure that they have ample opportunity to do so, invite them on rides regularly, and have a bike on hand that fits your child, but remember that pushing them to ride with you or join a kids group if they really don’t want to will likely backfire. When it comes getting your kids into cycling, you’re playing the long game, and there may be a couple of years when your kids simply aren’t as interested in the bike as you wish they’d be.
Make Time For Your Own Riding Too
Riding with your kids is great, but if you have cycling goals of your own, remember that you’re still allowed to pursue those on your own. Carve out time for your own rides in addition to family rides—everyone will be much happier as a result!
About the writer:
Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.