Jo Somerset, director at cycle training firm BikeRight! puts forward some advice on what makes a successful family bike ride...
The prospect of a family ride conjures up a host of feel-good images. What could be better than all going out together on a healthy activity where everyone's under their own steam (read BikeRadar's guide to cycling with the family here)? There are many great traffic-free routes in the UK, courtesy of Sustrans, the Forestry Commission, the Canal and Rivers Trust (ex-British Waterways) and local authorities.
That's the theory. In practice it takes a large dose of parental determination to make it happen. The tasks of planning where to go, preparing the bikes and clothing, sandwiches and drinks might seem daunting but the rewards are well worth it. It gets easier each time, as the whole family becomes familiar with the routine.
The trick with family rides is to choose a destination and stick to it. Once decided, prepare everything the night before. Don't be swayed by lack of enthusiasm or downright opposition.
One of our instructors, Nick, said of his family "Our youngest daughter doesn't need any persuading but I have to bribe our 14-year old by taking over her job of feeding the rabbits." So whatever works for you, follow your instinct. Once they’re out, children’s enthusiasm takes off and they call it the best day ever.
We have to live up to our responsibility for the safety of our children, so think these pointers through first.
How far can your kids ride?
Are they at different levels of competence?
How confident or nervous are you about your own riding ability?
It's better to do a short and achievable ride, leaving everybody keen to do more, rather than overdoing it. A short ride could be your first step. Aimee, BikeRight!’s business manager, had some cycle training and started commuting by bike so that she had enough riding confidence to take her kids out for rides in the summer holidays.
If possible, have several options for finishing. On our biggest family ride, the children were truly exhausted after 32 miles so my partner rode ahead and picked up the car to save them the last 5 miles.
You'll instinctively do what we call a dynamic risk assessment of the weather and conditions on the day. Please don't take your family on a canal towpath ride if one of your children can't swim. On the road, ride behind the children so you can see them. If there are two of you, the children should be sandwiched between you, single file.
Making it fun
You can disguise the whole cycling experience by saying you’re going on a picnic – but remember you've got to carry everything. Riding to an outdoor swimming pool or the beach is another favourite. Or you can dangle the carrot of an adventure playground or a children's farm, with tasty treats, usually ice cream, at the end.
The key to success lies in the preparation. The bikes need tyres pumped, chains lubricated, brakes and gears working. Pack bike essentials: pump, tyre levers, spare inner tubes (assume the worst – one per bike), multi-tool. Add child essentials: water, flapjack or cake, fruit (assume a stop every half hour). Oh yes, and the baby wipes – someone is going to need a poo at least once during the day! Then weather essentials: waterproofs, sunglasses, sunscreen. Then riding essentials: helmets, gloves, locks. And finally don’t forget the map.
The ride itself
If you've got this far, well done. Now you have to get out of the front door. Ignore cries of "it's too wet, don't wanna go, I'm watching this, I hate him (innocent little brother)" and firmly bundle everyone onto their bikes or into the car. If it’s raining, get out the cagoules – and remember at least some of the time in Britain the rain eases off.
The beauty of riding an off-road trail is that there aren't many rules. You know your children best, but we found that taking our children aged 8-12 to places like the High Peak Trail/Tissington trail in Derbyshire gave them great freedom.
We could let them out of our sight knowing there was nowhere for them to go except up and down the trail. There were plenty of other people around. The younger ones stuck with us parents, and the older ones waited at the cafe at the top of the trail for ice cream.
Once your children have had that feeling of exhilaration, and you've all piled home dirty, tired and satisfied, there's nothing like the feeling of having been "out there, done that" together.
“It's all about chatting and mingling, bringing families together, having picnics, drinking tea and eating cake. It's as simple as that.”