How to ride with the family (part 1)
By Dave Land, posted 7 June 2017
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JRtB's top tips, tested in the real world, for getting your family riding as safely as possible
The four of us turned up at a big picnic on Sunday. Everyone else had driven. There are decent reasons to drive too – for some it was the distance, others collecting children from different sporting events, bringing the dog (panniers and cargo bikes were not an option apparently), or bringing things like a gazebo, loads of food and drink. I didn’t consider the rain an excuse. And it was raining, but we didn’t care.
We had ridden over on bikes. It took 15 to 20 minutes to ride there from the front door.
That’s lucky for us, but plenty of people attending the group picnic could have made the same choice, but they don’t because they see cycling as a family as a big problem fraught with hassle and not least a bit of risk.
Rather than risk-averse children, my problem is children not shy of venting their frustrations regarding the route choice. I get ‘Daddy, why is grass so hard to ride on?’ never, ‘Daddy, why is tarmac so hard to ride on?’. Admittedly, we chose a route that was largely off road. But we did still have to cope with sections of tarmac. Which for parents is the major deal, because we rely on the trustworthiness, due care and attention of every driver that comes past our beloved offspring. That brings its own tensions – often focused as much on instructing our offspring about their respective care and attention on the road at all points and avoiding an argument with your own partner due to the stress.
It has often seemed to me about as near as I get to playing Russian Roulette.
Right now, because of the prevalence of the car, encouraging our children to ride their bikes is a process of risk management. We need to ask ourselves what might be some sensible interventions to take to manage the risk down to acceptable levels?
So, in no particular order, here are JRtB’s top 6 tips of things for family cycling risk management:
Helmets. Most of us have come round to the argument about having something to protect your head if you fall off. Unless you live in Holland where cycling is so cool and easy going the risks are lower and helmets sniffed at. If you’re in the UK and you don’t wear a helmet then accept the consequences. Please buy you and your children helmets, and make them wear them. And set the right example by wearing your own. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ sounded weak even when JRtB was first on stabilisers.
High-Viz. Probably worth doing. It might not look cool, but safety isn’t about being hip. They do make a difference, and you can buy all sorts of high-viz things nowadays. Get some vests, wear them.
Lights. We’d probably mostly avoid family cycling in the dark. However, there is something the children seem to like about the gadgetry of having lights. It can be fun. Combined with high-viz, why not. Go for it.
Everyday transport. Cycle more. This is tough, as life seems to get in the way of this one, but it’s excellent if the children see bikes as a faster-method-of-walking for getting around. This means that not only will they run errands more happily for you because they can, but more importantly, they are getting time in the saddle, which is improving their skills to manoeuvre their bike, and to understand traffic.
Stop at junctions and crossing roads. We stop. That’s it really. I never go ahead and shout ‘clear’ even if it is. Stop, wait, and take your time. Cross when you’re happy about it. Even walk (see next point)
Walk the bike. There is NO shame, at all, attached to walking the bike. In fact, we would applaud you for doing so. Before the advent of superlight bikes, and amazing gears, the pros used to regularly have to walk their bikes up the hills in the Ardennes races, and the grand tours, amongst other things. So do stop. Do walk. It’s all good
Courses. Explore the Department for Transport's bikeability website for access to some courses. Please do couple these with time in the sadlle though - just riding the bike is important.