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We are currently gearing up for the 2022 DC Bike Ride in Washington, DC and are excited to share our experiences so you’ll be ready to ride along with us. Don’t miss our 2022 DC Bike Ride Promo Code at the end of this post.
Taking a family bike ride can be a fun bonding adventure. We love to ride bikes with our kids and have figured out some helpful tips through our years of riding together we hope will help you get your family pedaling.
There is an initial investment in laying some basic ground work, but it will ultimately lead to hours of fun enjoying a family exercise tradition. Riding bikes is fun so focus on the fun.
Getting hurt, lost or stranded; having meltdowns and hangry kids; these things are not fun. We can help you be prepared to avoid or deal with them if they do happen.
riding bikes with your kids
Follow these tips to make your next family bike ride an enjoyable experience, even if you have some pre-riders, learners or indifferent participants.
Teaching your kids to ride a bike can be an enjoyable experience, I promise. We taught all three of our kids using a balance bike, bike seat and bike trailer.
1. Start them young
Before our kids were able to ride a pedal bike themselves, we were including them in family bike rides to foster their appreciation for cycling. It’s equally important to spark a love of cycling as it is to teach your child to ride a bike.
These early family rides helped show our kids the benefits and variety that cycling offers. They saw how much further we could go when exploring on bikes than on foot and how much more wildlife we saw on our bikes than in our car.
Mix it up. Our most successful early rides were the ones where the kids had the most options. They could change from the balance bike to the trailer and back to the balance bike. Kids can usually start on a balance bike around 18 months, but follow their lead based on each individual abilities.
Full disclosure, the balance bike can be tediously slow at the start depending on your little ones age. We did lots of walking beside them at that stage, but it luckily doesn’t last long. It’s worth it for how easy it was for them all to learn to ride a pedal bike.
2. gear up
When you’re picking bikes for the family, do your homework and get the right bikes. We have passed up more expensive, glittery, brand new bikes that weren’t a great fit for a faded, scraped, used bike that fit perfectly and we have never regretted it. Our kids can ride longer and more contently on bikes that fit.
Kids bikes are sized by the wheel diameter, but they can have very different stand-over heights and min/max seat heights. To ensure a good fit, measure your child’s height and inseam in inches and then make sure they will fit the stand-over height and seat height of the bike. Whenever possible, have your child sit on and test out the bike for fit in person.
Adult bikes are a bit easier to fit because frame sizes are calculated by your height, inseam and bike type. Consider the saddle size/type and accessories for comfort because remember the name of the game is fun!
Don’t forget to fit your helmets as well. You want helmets to be snug, but not uncomfortable. Also consider if you need aerodynamics for road cycling or airflow for mountain biking. We have noticed that kids always benefit from more ventilation and airflow with helmets. Sweaty heads do not result in happy riders.
Fit is everything. Make sure the frame, saddle height and your helmets are all a proper fit. If anyone is riding with gear that doesn’t fit properly it will slow you all down.
There are other differences in bike types. Where you ride will determine what kind of bike to get. We love to ride on all different types of terrain so we all have mountain bikes. If you live in the city and plan to ride on roads and paths consider a lighter road bike or a hybrid. Also think about where you will store and transport your bikes for how light you need them to be.
Consider what brake system is best for your child as well. We have found the transition to hand brakes and gears all at once can be a bit much. We love the coaster bikes with hand brakes so kids can practice while still having a back up. Some parents like to start with hand brakes right away as it prevents having to relearn braking. Whenever you introduce hand brakes, remember that you can adjust the levers and loosen the brakes to fit your child’s hand size and dexterity.
3. maintain your bikes
Once you have bikes for the family it is important to keep them all well maintained. Kids can be very rough on their bikes as they do tricks and practice new skills, so teaching them to inspect their bikes regularly is a good practice.
We check tire pressure and brakes before every ride (rides not just around our neighborhood that is). You can easily create a routine that enables your littles to become independent, self sufficient and safe riders.
We also like to give the bikes a little look over as we are putting them away to see if there is any preventative or regular maintenance that needs to be done. We can easily drop bikes off at the repair shop or work on them ourselves before our next long ride.
These practices reduce the number of times something will go wrong while you’re riding or noticing you have an issue when you’re getting ready to ride. Nothing kills the joy like having to cancel a ride for something that could have been avoided. Bottom line is things that work well make for a more enjoyable ride.
One of our best family biking practices is to always have a spare. We keep at least one old bike that someone has outgrown because riding a smaller bike is usually preferable to skipping the ride for our kids. We also keep a spare helmet for the same reason. These spares also come in handy for friends who want to ride with us as well.
Once your kids can ride a bike and have all their gear ready to go, there are still a few things to practice that will ensure fun family rides.
4. practice skills
Learning to ride with the family can take some time. Just like our toddlers were wobbly on their footing while first walking, it can take a little bit of practice before your child is ready for riding near others, riding on a road, riding long distances or riding on hills (up and down). Luckily, it is fun to practice these skills if you have a safe area.
We love to make obstacle courses so our littles can practice steering and stopping. They can be as simple as chalk on our local basketball court, to more elaborate cones in an empty lot. A lot of churches and schools regularly have empty lots so scope out some flat open places to practice.
We also like to go on rides around the neighborhood playing follow the leader so we can practice staying in a single file line, which comes in really handy when you’re riding around others or near cars. We always stop at the end of the sidewalk or intersection so an adult can help us cross and practicepassing each other by doing relays around our circle. All of these fun bike activities teach great habits.
We have a ride down to a local lake, around and back up home that we do often. It helps us work on our stamina and also gives us time to practice riding together not too far from home. The path is wide and we know the route well so it is good practice.
Ready to roll
You don’t have to wait until your kids are the world’s best riders to start taking longer rides or even more adventurous rides. Stay focused on the fun and what we like to a call disaster relief plan and go for it.
5. Be prepared
Being prepared for a ride is different for every situation, but it’s all about making sure that the focus of the ride is to have fun and anticipating whatever may prevent the fun from occurring.
It’s a good idea to have a multipurpose bike tool just in case you need it while out on a ride. We always bring plenty of water and snacks to keep energy, and morale, high. We also have learned to just always bring bandaids. It’s just better to have them than wish we brought them.
Weather is a huge factor as well so check it and plan accordingly. We love to layer in cool weather and wear wicking clothes to prevent overheating in the heat. Although we love to let our girls make their own fashion choices, we don’t do skirts, dresses or anything long when we ride. You only listen to one hysterical toddler crying about a ripped skirt once before you establish that rule.
Be prepared for your kids to be tired and not want to ride the whole way. If you have a child seat or bike trailer that they can take a turn in you can keep moving. If you don’t have one of those options, there is no shame in taking a long break to recover or calling a friend or family member for a ride home.
6. Make a plan
It is always a good idea to have a route planned out, but it’s especially crucial when you are first starting family rides. For us, the journey is the adventure, but when trying help our littles get stoked on riding and helping them build their endurance, we have found having a fun destination makes it that much easier.
I cannot tell you how many times we have ridden our bikes to the ice cream store or the market for a treat. Those rides helped make it fun for our kids become better riders and kept them willing to get out there keep pushing themselves.
It can be easy to push your kids too far, so try to avoid it. Aside from it just not being enjoyable for anyone in the moment, it also has the possibility of causing them to resent riding. No single ride is worth a kid throwing in the towel on riding all together.
Our kids love nature and especially enjoy wildlife so we also take advantage of that when planning rides. If there are ospreys nesting near the bay, or eagles common along the shore we will make sure we plan our route for best wildlife viewing. Sometimes even bringing our nets and stopping at any creeks we pass can be a huge motivator. Find any destination or goal that will help you all to train.
You all know who your weakest link is for family rides, so plan accordingly. While we are all about pushing the limits a bit, don’t expect your kids to be able to do more than they are physically (or mentally some days) capable of doing. It is always helpful for us to talk about contingency plans if all or some of the kids are done.
Communicating while riding is the key to a safe and fun ride. Communicating helps set expectations and prevent accidents. Communication is also one of the hardest parts of family rides, for us at least. We are moving and often have our backs to the person we are talking to which makes it tough. We decided to capitalize on our kids obsession with spies a while ago and create our own secret bike language.
We have hand signals and codes for stopping, hazards and interesting sights along the way. We also usually bring walkie-talkies so we can communicate if someone is out of earshot. So much of our communication is visible while riding so we try to keep ourselves (the parents) strategically placed for good visibility.
To be honest, so much of good communication is what we say and how we set the expectations before we start riding. We set our line order so that if we say ‘line’ or ‘get in line’ our girls know exactly where their place is. We establish the leaders and followers and outline what each is going to do.
We remind them that we will allow them to ride freely sometimes and other times we will expect them to be all together riding in a line and listening to our directions. A great ride is one where there is a good balance between the two. Too little structure sometimes leads to bickering and too much structure is stifling.
8. Find other families
A good way to keep kids entertained and motivated while riding, to learn new skills or to try new routes is to invite some friends. Start by asking around and seeing if any of your family, friends or neighbors like to ride.
If you don’t find anyone you know to join you, do a search for kids cycling and your city, or kids bicycle groups and your city. There are a lot of resources and groups on social media as well. If you are having trouble finding a group, club or network near you feel free to reach out on social media (@theadvfam) and we can use our digital sleuthing skills to help you!
Another great way to meet other cycling families is to participate in a local event. We love the annual DC Bike Ride! Not only do we get car-free access to some of the most epic DC views on our bikes, but we love to see how other families ride and what gear they like. The best part is probably the feeling of camaraderie and outpouring of support that the Washington DC bike community shows our mini riders.
DC Bike Ride
Use Promo Code FAMILYBIKE
to get a $24 discount on the standard registration
Promo code is valid on a standard registration (usually $74) so you pay only $50 to ride car-free through the streets of DC on September 10, 2022. The 20 mile route also offers a shorter family route that is only 10 miles.
DC Bike Ride Standard Registration is open for riders ages 18+ for the DC Bike Ride on September 10, 2022 in Washington, DC and includes:
- 20 miles of completely car-free streets
- Epic views, local music and photo zones along the course
- DC Bike Ride 2022 Water Bottle
- Fully stocked rest stops with snacks, water, and fresh produce
- Extensive mechanical support along the course
- Finish Festival in front of the U.S. Capitol with music, food trucks, fun-filled activities, and giveaways.