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.