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Family Bike Rides: Keeping Them Fun and Safe

Taking family bike rides are a fun way to spend some quality time with your child and get some exercise in the process. I will never forget riding my bike with my sister and parents, so proud because we were riding all the way to the A & W near the freeway, and so excited because, when we reached our destination, our reward was a root beer float. Yum!  My sister and I led the way, wobbly and slow, while my parents pedaled behind, watching us closely to make sure we were safe.

The long and winding road

As I got older, my riding went from meandering five- and ten-mile rides with my family to longer rides with my dad and the local bike club. I spent hours with my bike tucked in right behind his, benefiting from his draft and watching his feet go round and round. I loved spending the time with him and was proud of the fact that I could ride all that way with him and his friends.

The summer I turned twelve I rode my first "century" (100 miles), and then, a week later, my first back-to-back centuries, one hundred miles out the first day and one hundred miles back home the next. We didn't set any land-speed records, and we gorged ourselves at a sit-down restaurant along the way, but we had a great time. We turned it into a family affair. My mom, little sister and our new puppy would leap-frog us in the mini-van and meet up with us when we made pit stops.

Family bike ride tips

While family bike rides can be a lot of fun, because kids are sometimes uncoordinated and unpredictable they can also be a bit nerve-racking. Here are a few tips to make your family bike rides more fun and safe.

  • Set a good example: wear your helmet

Your child is always watching what you do. Because I am constantly reminding my two-year-old son that he can't write on himself with markers, I shouldn't have been surprised when one day he noticed that I had written a note to myself on my hand and asked if I was going to take a time out for it! Likewise, if you tell your child that he needs to wear his helmet and then you don't wear one, you're showing him that safety really isn't important and shouldn't be surprised if you see him riding helmetless someday. Family stopping on bike ride to drink water

Frankly, riding with your child without a helmet is simply irresponsible. It not only puts you at risk, but your child as well.   If you crash and suffer a serious head injury, your child will end up unsupervised, and will have to find help for you on his own.  Think wearing a helmet doesn't make any difference?  Thinks again: a study of the effectiveness of bike helmets in the New England Journal of Medicine1 found that wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head injury and brain injury by 85% and 88% respectively.

Take if from me, crashes happen. Set a good example for your child by wearing your helmet.

  • Obey traffic rules

When your child is riding by himself he should ride on the sidewalk, but when he is with you, teach him how to ride on the road. Bicyclists are required to obey the same traffic laws as someone driving a car. While there are many traffic laws, of course, the two most basic rules are to ride on the right side of the road with the traffic, and to use hand signals when making turns to let cars and other riders know you are intending to make a turn.  Use your bike rides to teach your child the rules of the road.

  • Keep rides short

Don't discourage your child by making your first family ride too long. Start off with a two- or three-mile ride and build up the mileage from there.

  • Pick a destination

We all like to have something to look forward to. Pick a destination to ride to, something fun like an ice cream stand or mini-golf. It will keep your child motivated to reach his goal and builds in a rest stop before you head back home. You can also choose a practical destination. Instead of using the car to run errands, ride your bike instead.

  • Choose a safe route

Stay off of busy roads when you bike with your children. Use backroads, or, better yet, ride on roads with a bike lane.

  • Have your kids ride up front

Have your child ride single file in front of you. Cars approaching from behind will have an easier time seeing you and you can give your children some warning when a big truck or noisy car is coming. My parents would always tell me when a big semi was coming and I would try very hard to ride as straight as I could. Even with warning, it was always a little disconcerting when a big noisy truck passed, sucking me along for a brief second in its draft, making my bike wobble. Riding behind your child will also give you an opportunity to make sure your family stays together and that your child is riding appropriately and obeying the rules of the road.

  • Have fun!

Most importantly, have fun. I have so many happy memories of bike riding with my family. Follow the tips in this article and, not only will you enjoy being out on the bike with your child, but you and your child will make memories that last a lifetime, too!

Erin Mirabella is a two-time Olympic track cyclist, mother, MomsTeam's track cycling expert, and children's book author.  Her books, Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star and Gracie Goat's Big Bike Race are available online at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, borders.com, velogear.com, and at The Olympic Training Centers and select stores.  For more information visit Erin's website.

1. Thompson, Robert S., Rivara, Federick P., Thompson, Diane C., New England J. Med. Vol 320, No. 21 (May 1989).

Updated May 9, 2012