Jo Somerset, director at BikeRight! and mum gives some tips on encouraging teenagers to keep riding...
Our marketing manager, Andy, told me how his 16-year-old turned up at his house one night on her bike, unannounced. It’s five years since she rode a bike. She’d ridden four miles along the busy dual carriageway and at one point rode facing the traffic. She hadn’t told anyone and secretly she was really pleased with herself for having sorted this all out and done it herself. He sent her back to her mum’s with a jacket (why do teenagers always go out without a coat?) via the back road.
Today's youth are more likely to die prematurely from heart disease or other conditions linked to physical inactivity than from a cycling accident. I find this a strong incentive, coupled with the extreme frustration of living with expert loungers and couch potatoes, to tell my youngsters to, "Get off your backside and get there yourself", pointing to the bike in the hall.
Teenagers like nothing better than having a few more minutes in bed because it’s quicker to cycle to school than to walk or get the bus. It is only fair to provide them with a decent bike, lock and lights. We also persuaded our kids to attend a bike maintenance workshop. When you find the batteries missing from the remote control, remember it's more important that your child's bike lights are working. That is the one issue we constantly reminded our children about: "Switch your lights on!" we yelled as they left the house in black hoody and black jeans.
For some young people their bike is their pride and joy, but others will treat it as casually as the jackets that have been left on buses or musical instruments that turn up months later at a friend’s house. This is a tough one, because, if you give them Grandad’s ancient machine, it won't be cool and the shame factor might stop them riding altogether. There will always be HUNDREDS of friends who've got a MUCH BETTER bike. The best thing is to go for the middle option and provide a bike that's sturdy, relatively cool but not too shiny and attractive that it gets robbed on its first outing.
Bear in mind that these bikes are going to be left for days at a time at random friends’ houses or neighbourhood bike racks as your teenager’s crowd roams from house to pub to town centre then back to someone else's house before falling asleep in a heap like puppies – only to wake up in the morning wondering: “Where's my bike?”
Like most mums I learnt that with teenagers you choose your battles. Ideally you make things feel like their idea. Colin, one of BikeRight!’s senior instructors, finds with his girls that cycling just isn’t cool. He has provided all the equipment, they’re really competent, but they just don’t want to do it. He’s now waiting for the idea to come from them – they’ll take up cycling again when they go to university and have to pay for their own transport, he hopes!
Thousands of teenagers frequent BMX tracks day and night, getting their adrenaline fix on ramps and half-pipes, perfecting turns, bouncing up with hardly a bruise when they hit the deck. BMX-ing is the height of cool. It looks uncomfortable to me, but the bike rack at our local school is stuffed with BMX's, so that's young people doing it their way.
BikeRight! has taught mountain biking skills to teenagers, many from troubled backgrounds. It builds self-esteem and skills, it's tough but they can master it, so it’s just the right sort of thing for a young person. They've got to do it all themselves, so the sense of achievement they get is very deep.
A day out at a mountain biking centre like Llandegla in Wales or Whinlatter in the Lake District gives the thrills, spills and hills that match the temperament of anyone with youthful innocence and chaotic hormones - girls and boys alike. You can hire all the kit you need at these places, and there are regular courses to learn some of the basic skills to get started.
The outlook for our sons' and daughter's life expectancy can be radically improved if they stay active during their teenage years. Using skill, cunning, persuasion and varying doses of tough love during those crucial seven years, parents can influence this significantly. But don’t expect any gratitude!