CHILDREN'S CYCLING Cycling is a life-long activity and children need to understand that their bicycle is not only a toy, but a means of transportation. Get involved, if you can, in your children's cycling. Teach them how to care for their bikes and they'll develop a knowledge of how things work. Cycling to School More children need to cycle to school. Fifty percent of children in Denmark do so. It improves children's health and development, and reduces traffic congestion and pollution. It's only by encouraging youngsters to cycle more that cycle usage will grow in the future. Indeed, the present level of cycle usage will drop if today's children don't stick with cycling as they grow into adulthood. Learning to balance For most children, a tricycle is the first step in learning to ride. The most useful tricycles are the smallest ones. A tricycle has only two things to teach a child: steering and pedalling. The steering usually comes first, because the child can stand on the back step with one foot and push along with the other. Some children will be able to master this even before learning to walk. Once the basic concept of steering has been learned, the child can start to use the pedals. Tricycles are best suited for indoor use, or in a level, closed-off outside area. A common mistake is to add a set of stabilisers to a two-wheeler. They prevent the child from experiencing the balance the bike requires. The key to bike riding is balance and making it fun. Do you remember when you learned to ride a bike? Teaching children to ride bikes is one of life's most memorable experiences. For learning purposes, the rider should be able to sit on the saddle with both feet flat on the ground and the knees slightly bent. The bike can then be used as a hobby-horse or scooter, with the feet always ready to stop a fall. Remove the pedals at first, so that the feet can swing freely. Start the beginner in a park, on an open, gentle slope. By riding down the slope, a young rider can learn to balance and coast before pedalling. For two to five-year-olds miniature two-wheeled ‘hobby horses' some made of wood, some of metal, are the perfect early introduction. They are propelled simply by pushing feet against the ground, teaching balance from day one. Once they've outgrown it they'll take to riding a full bicycle instantly. Here are some exercises to help youngsters learn to balance: • On and Off. Have your new cyclist practise getting on and off the bike until it can be done easily. • Start and Stop. Practice starting and stopping until it can be done without wobbling or swerving. • Straight Line. Lay down a piece of tape or draw a chalk line on some open ground. Have them ride without going off the line, first fast, then slow. • Figure Eight. Practice turning by doing figure eights. Your child should lean into the direction of the turn and keep the inside pedal up, so that it doesn't touch the ground. This will teach kids how to dodge road hazards like rocks and holes. • Quick Stops. It's a good idea to practice quick stops by using both brakes. Make a mark on the pavement, then have the novice try to stop on the mark without swerving or skidding. Allow your child to learn at his or her natural pace, and it is more likely that cycling will become a fun family activity for all of you. Fitting Make sure your child has a bike that fits correctly, not one too big with the idea if growing into it. A bike that is too big cannot be controlled properly and can be dangerous. A child should have both feet flat on the ground when standing straddling the top tube of the bike. The child should be able to touch the ground with the toes of one foot while sitting on the seat without leaning the bike. Tips for safer cycling • The bicycle is a vehicle: children must obey the rules of the road like everyone else. • If they are going to wear a helmet ensure that fits snugly and comfortably. • Check they have the strength and finger reach to apply the brakes fully. • Buy your child bike gloves. They will look cool, and protect their hands if they fall. • Encourage your child to practise looking back while riding in a straight line. This is important when signalling and turning. • Make sure the bike is in good working order, especially the brakes. • Help children learn that they are responsible for their own vehicles and must make good and safe decisions for themselves. • Few children below the age of nine are competent on roads. • Get your child some formal training by enrolling in a safe cycling skills course. • Be a good role model. Riding on pavements is not always safe For young cyclists pavements may be the best place to cycle. At first, be with your child as he or she cycles on the pavement, encouraging him/her to respect pedestrians. Help them identify possible danger spots. Driveways, alleys, doorways, paths and intersections on pavements are all areas where conflict and injury can happen. Beware of stabiliser wheels going over the edge of the kerb. Other places to ride include cyclepaths, canal towpaths, forest tracks and routes through country parks. They provide an ideal place for children and new cyclists to practise their cycling skills. Many of the routes go from town to town or from city centres into the countryside and make a great choice for a day ride. How to Buy a Child's Bike Children need and deserve good quality bikes. Give a child a bike that is too heavy or too stiff to ride, and it will be too quickly discarded. Buying cheap is a false economy and could even put a child off cycling for life. For best advice go to a proper cycle shop and NOT a toy shop or department store. Bicycles bought for children need to fit them properly, both for safety reasons and to allow for maximum rider growth. Because bike shops offer many more wheel and frame size choices, they can often fit a child to a bike that will last and fit safely for several years, more than ‘toy shop' bikes can! The longer a bicycle lasts and safely fits, the more economical it is. For children ages 2 through to 5 or 6, bicycle wheel diameter is the main differentiating factor, with 12" and 16" the most common wheel size. For larger 4 to 6 year old children, bike shops have 20" wheel-sized bicycles with steeply sloping top bars. More unisex in appearance, they enable a shorter-legged rider to fit a larger-wheeled bike at an earlier age, and to fit the bike for longer. Full-size 20" wheel bikes with higher cross-bars and longer crank arms are usually purchased for riders 6 or 7 years of age or older. Often called dirt bikes or BMX bikes, these are principally designed for frequent, hard, recreational use. Usually the less expensive they are, the heavier they are. The next size bicycle after the 20" will have 24" diameter wheels. Some kids, depending upon their leg length, may fit small frame size adult bikes with 26" (or greater) diameter wheels. Beware: Supermarket or chain-store bikes which must be self-assembled. It takes a qualified cycle mechanic around 45 minutes to assemble a bike properly from a box with all the facilities of a bicycle workshop to hand. What hope does mum or dad have of getting it right when assembling a bike on the kitchen floor? It cannot be stressed too strongly just how appalling most of these bikes are. Certainly they are cheaper than the bikes in the window of your local bike shop but they are cheaper for a reason and it's because they are rubbish. Just don't go there. Really. Plastic body panels and wheel discs. They add weight, make the bike more difficult to assemble or to work on and will invariably fall off within the first few weeks. Such features have no performance benefit except to alert you to the fact that what you are looking at is a toy rather than a real bike. Excess weight. Many kids bikes weigh more than an adults bike. Your child is a very small motor with significantly less stamina than an adult. Don't handicap them with a heavy lump of metal. Everyone deserves a nice light bike, kids especially. Look out for: Reach adjustable brake levers. Do not allow a child to ride a bike with inadequate brakes. Brake levers must be small enough to fit small hands. Adjustable reach allows them to be set up properly. Ball bearings rather than plain bushes in pedals, bottom bracket, headset and wheels. Long seatposts allow for a lot of leg growth and the bike will therefore last the child longer. Types of Children's Cycles BMX Bikes: Real BMX bikes are very solid and robust, due largely to their small frames and superior build quality designed as they are for extreme riding. Cheap BMX bikes are not as indestructible as they appear, beware of budget bikes which look like a BMX but which are not suited to any form of hard riding. Having only a single gear, they tend to need less maintenance. Smaller wheeled (12", 14" 16" and 18") BMX style bikes are purely children's' cycles. BMXs are fine for cruising around the neighbourhood but not suitable for riding any long distances due to lack of gears and small frame size. Junior MTB: These are currently all the rage. Front and rear suspension is in vogue. For cruising round the streets it has no advantages. The weight penalty will make any journey very hard work and the added complexity of moving parts mean that there's more to wear out and go wrong. So poorly designed and manufactured are many of these bikes that it's impossible to make them work properly at all without a degree in mechanical engineering. Quality Bikes: Fortunately the availability of better quality bikes improves year on year. Designed with high grade parts and materials, they are a pleasure to use, and retain a high second-hand value. Most major manufacturers now offer a selection of quality cycles for youngsters.