Cycling can provide freedom, self-confidence and, at its simplest, transportation. In fact, bike use and sales are trending up as a result of the pandemic because most localities allow for socially distant outdoor exercise like cycling (check local guidelines where you are) and bike commuting is a solid alternative to public transportation. Finally, getting on the bike is something the entire family can do together while getting a little fresh air and sunshine.
With cycling on the rise, here’s how to get your kids into the sport:
GETTING A BIKE
A large barrier to getting more kids on bikes is the cost of a new bike, especially for a growing kid who may outgrow it quickly. Look at bike shares, used bikes and local clubs, schools and coaches for resources to help get kids on bikes at lower costs.
The often-overlooked beauty of cycling, compared to many other sports, is it doesn’t require much more than a bike and a helmet. No special arena, playing fields, goals or even coaches are necessary. Cycling can be done independently and in almost any setting or terrain.
LEARNING TO RIDE
Teaching a child to ride a bike is nearly a rite of passage for every parent. A few simple things you can do to help get a young rider rolling is to get them on a run-bike or ‘strider’ early. These bikes don’t have pedals, so young riders take to them quickly and figure out coasting and turning without having to also figure out pedaling. The next progression is to include some play on tricycles or other pedal-oriented bikes to help build that pedaling movement into their repertoire.
While it can be tempting to pursue camps and coaching, focus on making bikes available and a part of everyday life. The difficult goal we have is helping young cyclists learn to love to ride and learn ways they can incorporate bikes into their adult lives for fun, stress-reduction, health, socializing and transport.
MAKING IT FUN
At its simplest and most effective, a family bike ride to get ice cream or to run errands works as a way to get the benefits of more time on the bike. Also, kids are very good at playing and inventing games and obstacle courses, so a simple grassy park or small backyard can provide hours of fun without traveling far from home. These grassy fields and a few approachable trails are perfect training grounds for learning to ride a bike and practicing drills.
Beyond cycling for fun, putting a young cyclist on a training plan or pushing any aspect of their development should happen organically. Keep options open and expose your kids to other sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, swimming and/or gymnastics — as well as the several disciplines of cycling (e.g., BMX, gravel, cyclocross, road and mountain bike).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The best way to encourage a child to become a lifelong cyclist is to focus on fun, friends and the functional benefits, or freedom, of bicycles. As a parent or coach, you can focus on enjoying your rides with a youngster, exploring new areas, and indulging in the occasional ice cream stop and be confident that as the child gets older they will continue to draw enjoyment and utility from the bicycle.