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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Preparing young kids to cycle longer distances

My son Isaac has been cycling since he was three years old. We started him on a Norco run bike (also called a balance bike). These pedal-less bikes promote strong core muscles and as the name implies, a great sense of balance. I credit the balance bike for skipping the training wheel phase when we bought him his first two-wheeled pedal bike last year.

Now at 7 years old, he is a confident and energetic rider ready to tackle rides longer than our driveway. If your wee cyclist is ready to hit the open road or trail, these tips will help.

1. Take your child's bike for a tune up and fit.
Most kid's bikes are single speed / fixed gears with coaster brakes - in other words pretty simple bikes. But your bike mechanic can double check and tighten handlebars, headsets, seats and pedals, as well as inspect the chain and brakes to make sure your child's bike runs safely  and smoothly.
It's a good idea to take your bike in for a tuneup at the same time!

2. Add these essential accessories.
Bell: notifies people sharing the road with you that you're approaching them. Handy as well if you live in a wooded area with bears- the noise scares them off.
Water bottle cage and water bottle: most kids bikes don't have a bracket to mount a water bottle cage on. Instead, buy a cage that clamps either on the seat post or handlebars.
Bento box: I love these tiny boxes, which are conveniently strapped to your top tube and stem. Ideal for snacks, money or Lego mini figures.
Repair kit: your repair kit should contain at a minimum a patch kit, spare tube, tire levers, pump and a hex wrench set. Yes, you could carry your kid's repair kit, but they should carry it and be responsible for checking it prior to each ride. I also tuck my CAA Membership card into my repair kit, since their Bike Assist program offers the same benefits (towing, flat repairs or repairs) as their automobile membership does.
Upgraded grips: the factory grips that come with most kid's bikes are horrible. Test out a few grips that have more cushioning or invest in a pair of gloves.

3. Find a flat car-free trail - at least to start.
I made the mistake of taking our son out on the hilly side road we live on for his first 6K. He wasn't happy about pushing his bike up the many hills and it put a damper on the achievement. Our next ride was on a flat portion of the Trans-Canada trail about near our house. Even though we only made it 6K again on account of a severe thunderstorm rolling through the area, the ride ride was much more pleasant (by pleasant, I mean there was no whining about hills). By starting out on a smooth and safe trail, your kids will develop endurance and confidence. The hills will be there.

4. Bring snacks and water.
Remember the bento box? I fill mine with Honey Stinger chews and Nuun tablets. Now, on a short ride with your kids it's really not necessary to dig into electrolyte replacement drinks or carbohydrate chews, but my son loves seeing me gear up for a long road ride and having a chew or two is akin to going for ice cream together. Check the ingredients and nutrition labels since most commercially prepared products have way more sodium or sugar than a kid on a short bike ride needs. You can make your own energy balls or bars if commercial sports nutrition is out of your comfort zone.

5. Be patient. I know this is easier said than done, especially when kids are prone to being distracted and it seems like their only intention in a bike rodeo is to either ram your ankles or hit a tree. Practice bike handling skills (cornering, straight lines, braking) before your longer rides so that they're confident when they get on the road. Be patient as well when their energy and interest starts to dip - and suggest games or races to reengage them.

6. Follow the rules of the road. In our house, there's a strict rule that your helmet must be on your head before your butt is in the saddle. Coming to a full stop at stop signs, hand signals and giving pedestrians the right of way are all part of obeying traffic rules and being courteous to people you share the trail with.

Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Mountain biking for beginners: 4 things you should know

For my birthday I asked for a somewhat unusual gift: a day up at Sir Sam's Ski and Bike in Haliburton, Ontario. They were hosting a 1-day women's mountain bike clinic, and mountain biking is something I have always wanted to try. Having been a road cyclist for 10 years and a trail runner for 5, mountain biking seemed like the next logical adventure sport. I figured that the skills I had in those sports would transfer easily to the MTB trails.

I learned the hard way that they most certainly aren't.

After a day on the trails (and often off the trails because I lost control of my bike) I have a few hard earned lessons to share.

1. If you've never been on a mountain bike or MTB trails, it's worth investing in a skills clinic. I thought that my hours and hours on a road bike would translate into at least some skill on a MTB. Ha! Everything was totally different - braking, turning, position. And if you're a woman, there is a lot of comfort in taking lessons from another woman. I was lucky to learn from two of the best in the province.

2. Your head space on a mountain bike is different than on a road bike. When I started road cycling, my biggest fear was falling down while clipped in (and I fell over a lot when I started). But after that there weren't too many times I didn't think I wouldn't be able to finish a ride. After all, it's paved roads and at worst, hills. On a mountain bike I was sure that each root, tree, berm and log were out to kill me. It took a lot of mental energy to realize I was tougher than any log or root. Basically, if you can shut off your brain and focus on the trail, you'll be great.

3. Do not assume your non-MTB skills will transfer to mountain biking. I've been on a bike of some sort my entire life. I'm not the fastest nor do I have the best form, but I'm fairly fit and have a high tolerance for pain. I was so shocked to find myself teetering around on a rented mountain bike completely out of my element. Hills were harder, turns nearly impossible and my endurance was sapped. Even my trail running skills were useless.

4. Gear matters. It's no secret that I love gear. I like to have gear that is sport-specific and have a closet full of clothes, bike tools, running shoes and water bottles to prove it. For my day on the trails I wore my new Pearl Izumi Canyon shorts and I am so glad I did! Even though I was only riding for a few hours, the chamois made all the difference. Pick up an inexpensive liner to go under a pair of multisport capris of you don't want to buy a pair of MTB shorts. I wore running shoes but missed my stiff-soled cycling shoes. My rental bike was a Specialized Hardrock with dual suspension - far nice than any entry level bike I'd buy for myself.

What other beginner tips would you add?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

24 things your kids should do before they turn 12

One of the things I love most about living in Ontario's cottage country is that nature is quite literally my children's  playground. We play outside every chance we get, and not because we feel the pressure to make sure we get the 60 minutes of daily physical activity we're supposed to get, but because outdoor active play is just what we do - it defines our family's personally and way of life.
I love this bucket list of outdoor activities by ParticipACTION. The crowdsourced list is not only full of fun games but they're all free too. So find a tree, lake or hill and get outside!

How many have your family done? I'm proud to say at 4 & 7, my kids have done all of them - in nearly every season!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Gear Review: Pearl Izumi Canyon MTB Shorts

Pearl Izumi's Canyon Mountain Bike Short

I am sure that there is an unwritten rule in the world of road cycling that forbids the wearing of mountain bike shorts if your bike has tires smaller than 700x25cc. But I have a rule that forbids wearing cycling clothes that make me feel like a grotesque human sausage, and that's where the women's Pearl Izumi Canyon MTB short comes in.

My last pair of road bike shorts were bought shortly after the birth of my first child - nearly 8 years ago. I'd put off buying new shorts for lots of really bad reasons, the chief one being I couldn't find a spandex short that flattered the extra 30 pounds I've gained in the last two years. Also since having kids I have developed a an addiction to pockets, mainly because at any given time I'll need to have cash, a phone, keys and 32 Lego mini figures given to me so my kids can hang upside down on the monkey bars.

When I finally faced the fact that my 8 year old bike shorts needed to be thrown out (you can only imagine how nasty the chamois was), I tried on 6 different pairs of traditional road bike shorts, and all made me feel very poorly about myself since road bike short shopping is as mortifying as bathing suit shopping. On a whim, I grabbed the Pearl Izumi Canyon shorts and tried them on (while trying to keep my 4 year old daughter from opening the change room door on me).

There were a couple of things I immediately liked about these shorts:
  • they had a removal liner with a decent chamois, which meant I could use the liner under capris or the shorts on their own
  • there were several roomy pockets for keys and Lego mini figures
  • there is an adjustable waistband, ideal for me because I'm determined to lose said 30 pounds and the waistband means my shorts won't fall off
  • the inseam was long enough that I could wear these shorts without feeling self conscious
What Peal Izumi says about the Canyon short:

  • Lightweight short with a hidden adjustable waist and technical fabrics, the Women’s Canyon Short is our “go to short”. 
  • Stretch fabric
  • Snap front closure with zip fly and back waist adjustment
  • Two hand pockets
  • Detachable liner with W’s MTB 3D Chamois® 
  • 8” inseam [size medium]
  • Semi-form fitting
I took the shorts for a 20K and then a 40K ride the weekend I bought them and found them to be quite comfortable. The chamois wasn't bulky and the shorts didn't ride up while I pedalled. Despite having two pairs of shorts on, I didn't find them to be hot - the lightweight part of their product promise holds up. The side hand pockets are handy, but not deep. I wouldn't trust them to hold anything important, like your keys or cash, but having a convenience place to put chap stick and mini figures is nice. They've been put through the washing machine several times and still look like new.

Previous versions of the Canyon short received poor reviews. Some riders didn't think the chamois was high enough quality, others didn't like that the liner was attached. Complaints also included shallow pockets and a longer length that got caught on the saddle. It is clear that Pearl Izumi listened and made improvements - and on MTBR the Canyon short receives rave reviews from most riders.

The verdict: at $80 for a decent short (that's really two shorts!) you can't go wrong with the Pearl Izumi Canyon short. Unless you really care about spandex and clothing rules.

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