Cycling with kids
[En Español aquí] Andy and I are both committed cyclists 😀 Daddy has been cycling since he was growing up in London and is also a bike mechanic (Dr Bike) although «semi retired» now. I started cycling more seriously when I moved to Brighton, UK. Before that when I lived in Alcorcón, Madrid (where I am from), I had a bike when I was 17/18. My college was a bit far away for walking, so for a while I used to cycle there instead. I have fond memories of this time, where are those 18 years?
Anyway, for the most part, we use bicycles as our main means of urban transport. I’ve also been cycle-touring which was great! The longest was Bristol, UK to Irún in the Basque country, Spain via France back in 2011. Two weeks cycling and camping and I have to say it was one of the best adventures of my life! Travelling by bike is always great, journeys you enjoy every meter of the way!
Since I’ve had Nico, long journeys or touring are on hold. There are families who go cycle touring with kids but I’m not so convinced. It’s not for reasons of fear as much as it is amount of time on the bike that is involved. When you are touring you might do 4, 5 or more hours on the bike and that I think is a bit much for a little kid. For this reason I have not done it yet. However, since Nico was little we have taken him by bike everywhere. Urban cycling: visiting friends, go to the park, go shopping, to work or just for a ride…We go out on the bikes practically every day, and more often than not, with Nico. We also do longer rides of an hour or two on occasion.
Going by bike with your kid, be it in the city or village, can be great. Kids love it, Nico’s friends often ask us if they can go on the bike, and when they do they are thrilled!
It’s fast, cheap, green and keeps you fit, what more could you ask?
Comfort and the right equipment is important if you are going to have a good experience however. For urban cycling you need the right clothing, comfortable clothes; jeans (not too tight or baggy), leggings, shorts…I cycle in short skirts, and comfortable well fitting shoes, with some grip (flat soled trainers etc). In the photo, we were «all dressed up» and off the the feria (the local festival). You can still wear nice clothes and cycle, you don’t have to don the lycra and wear cleated shoes!
- Get a comfortable bike but not too expensive. Depending on where you live and whether there are many hills or not, you may want a bike with good range of gears, but avoid buying an expensive bike that you wouldn’t want to leave locked up in places you might be worried about bike theft. In La Línea there are no hills (although there is wind) so I use a town bike with larger thinner wheels (700cc size) to give a faster ride. It’s only got seven gears but here you don’t need any more. Skinny wheels and tyres are much better/faster than the wider and chunkier mountain bike wheels.
- Get a decent bike lock. My choice: Kryptonite, one of the best on the market. If you want to steal my bike, you’ll need an angle grinder! Really, any decent lock will do. Just be sure it’s good quality.
- Use a bicycle helmet especially for your little one. Their heads are much more fragile than ours, you can’t risk going by bike without a helmet. It may also be illegal (depending on where you live) to ride a bike on the road without a helmet. I took my helmet off for the photo above of course. Here is an example of reasonable bike helmets for kids
- Prepare your bike: a basket is extremely useful, back of front, you’ll use it all the time. The pannier rack is essential for carrying pannier bags or heavier loads strapped on. I use it all the time. If you go out after dark you’ll also need lights. You can use handlebar mounted with rear mount also that are removable. I also like the lights you can mount on the wheels. These are mounted permanently and work with magnets, they don’t need batteries and can’t easily be stolen! (see image below) .
- Get a child seat. The recommended age to start is from one year old upwards. They have to be seated well. We started slightly before as Nico sat well in the bike seat when we first tried. My favourite seat is the WeeRide (see image below). We also have a rear rack mounted seat on Dad’s bike which we use sometimes.
This integrated front seat is 100% road legal regardless of some confusion on the matter from certain parties. The main reason we bought it was that your kid can sleep comfortably while in the seat. They fall asleep often on the bike as the motion of cycling is quite relaxing for them. So this seat is great as it can support their heads on the rest when they fall asleep (you may need to keep their head on the rest with your elbows while riding however). On the rear bike seats you have to stop cycling if they fall asleep otherwise they will flop out the side of the seat!
The WeeRide is a front mounted seat that sits on the top tube so to pedal you need to open your legs a bit to avoid hitting the seat. You get used to it quickly but probably not ideal for longer rides/touring. Anyway, if you live in a hilly area you will need to ride out of the seat which would be uncomfortable with the seat there, which is the only bad thing about the seat. In flat areas or areas with gentle slopes it’s great as long as you don’t need to pedal out of the seat. In the online forums, there is a lot of discussion on this theme with peoples experiences. Here in La Línea it’s not hilly at all so it is not an issue for us.
We love this seat. Nico is 4 now and has been using it since he was 1. There is no weight limit, the only limit is height and although the foot rests are at their limit he can still ride comfortably for a while yet. I personally prefer it for the following reasons:
- If they fall asleep, you can carry on riding as the rest can support them.
- Even though you have to cycle with your legs further apart, the weight balance feels better than with the read child seat.
- It’s easier for the rider to get on and off the bike as with the rear seat you can’t swing your leg over the back to get on or off the bike.
- You can use your pannier rack and bags. Fitting a rear seat means you can no longer use your pannier rack for anything else.
- Lastly, I am in much more contact with my little one, in the rear seat they cannot see in front of them nor can you so easily hear, see or speak to them either. I’ve even managed to breast feed him on the bike! And with lots of kisses and songs, we love singing while we are riding the bike!
In the photo you can see the lights installed on the wheels. I bought these lights years ago from Decathlon and they have been fit and forget. They work with magnets which generate and electrical pulse to light the LED as the magnet passes the light unit. They are basically maintenance free and don’t need batteries, they only negative is they only work while you are cycling. Recommended.
Panniers: we have some Ortlieb pannier bags which are great. They aren’t cheap but if you are going to use them a lot then they are worth the investment. It’s a purchase for life, great quality and very comfortable. If you aren’t sure if cycling is for you yet, there are cheaper options. We use them a lot, mostly for shopping but also if we go out for a ride or to the beach. I’ve also got some Altus pannier bags but find these less comfortable.
So in short, going by bicycle with your kids can be great. Having comfortable and good quality kit is very important to ensure you have a good experience. Kids love going on the bike. It’s fast, cheap and green, keeps you fit. What more could you ask? We encourage you to give it a go!
Ah, if you’ve got more than one kid you still have no excuse not to go by bike; you can fit one kid in front and one behind, you can also get trailers the kids can ride in. This one looks good and what’s more when you’re not carrying the kids, you can use it as a trailer. . The great thing is that it’s very affordable, hurray! Although personally I would find these uncomfortable having to pull 2 kids in the trailer. And if you enjoy off-road biking, this seat looks good although unfortunately the project didn’t meet it’s funding goal.
As Nico is getting bigger and out-growing the WeeRide, we will be looking for something along the lines of the seat linked above. Or a simple seat that goes on the rack and has footrests (see picture on the left). If you have used one of these, I’d welcome your opinions or recommendations.
I could go on but for now, enough! I’d like to know about your opinions and experiences; What is your experience with kids on your bike/s? Do you cycle just in town or go for longer rides? Have you taken your kids on your bike?
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