A family bike ride, racing over bike paths and exploring the outdoors together…Sounds idyllic, right? It is…unless your family includes one or more pint-sized bikers who do their fair share of whining and fighting. Is a family biking trip out of the picture until your kids become teens?
While every child is different, there is a way to make it work for most of them. Preparing ahead and setting realistic expectations is key. My husband and I took our three boys, ages 7, 5, and 3, on a day trip to Loch Raven last year with their bikes. Although we planned everything out ahead of time, we were shocked with how well the boys adjusted and how much fun they had. (In fact, I think their pregnant mommy was the most whiney of the bunch!)
Wondering how we made it work? Here are some of the things we did to kid-i-fy the biking experience.
tips for biking with kids
Pack plenty of snacks. When you’re biking on your own and you’re a bit hungry towards the end, you push on, knowing that a bit of hunger isn’t a catastrophe. When you’re biking with kids, everything has the ability to become a catastrophe. Pack more snacks than you think you’ll need for both you and the kids, like squeezable applesauces, trail mix, raisins, or pretzels. Don’t forget to stash a couple of secret treats – soft candies, chips, or licorice – in case of emergency (read: boo boos and meltdowns). In this case, less is definitely not more.
Avoid bad biking foods. While lollypops and gum may be your kids’ favorite treats, save them for after the biking trip. They last too long, and are choking hazards if your kids refuse to throw them out when they get back on their bikes. You’ll also want to avoid chocolate and anything perishable, unless you want to tote along an insulated bag to keep them from melting or going bad.
Go heavy on the water. Especially if it’s warm outside, you’ll want to make sure that you and the kids are drinking enough. Opt for smaller water bottles for the kids, and keep refills in your own backpack. Alternatively, choose a biking path that has water stations or bathrooms along the way for refilling your bottles, and you’ll be able to save yourself from carrying a lot of extra weight.
Plan your route. While a path around a field may interest you, you’ll want to find some points of interest on your biking route that will excite the kids, too. Many paths in Baltimore are built around old railroad tracks (we’ve hiked some at Patapsco). And a path around a lake (like Loch Raven) means you may be able to take a break to feed some ducks or even dip your kids’ feet in the water. Don’t forget to bring a towel if you’re planning anything like this!
Take it slow. Don’t go with any preconceived notions of how far you’ll be biking. Take breaks before your kids are beginning to tire. Even if you just stop for some water and a game of finding shapes in the clouds, it’ll help the trip take a lot less kid-stamina than if you’d pushed yourselves further.
Keep a list of biking activities. Biking with kids is definitely a different experience than biking with another adult, and keeping them occupied is key. That might mean singing songs together, timing yourselves to see how long it takes to get to the next landmark, or playing rhyming games. You can even play the “ABC game” so common on long car trips, but instead of finding letters on street signs, find objects around you (e.g., “A” is for an airplane in the sky, “B” is for a butterfly flying by, “C” is for the camera around your neck).
Tag team with a partner. Especially if you have more than one child going different speeds, having two adults can make a huge difference in whether your trip ends with frustration or elation. If a younger or slower child needs a few extra breaks, one adult can go ahead with the faster child and then double back. For preschoolers like my three year old, try to buy or borrow a bike with a handle on the back so that your child can put his feet up and rest for a bit while you push. That might mean one of you leaving your bike at home, but it’s worth it until the kids get older!
Turn back early. Don’t make the mistake of getting too far out and creating a crying kid who refuses to get back on a bike when you’re still a mile away from your car. Turn back before you think you need to. In the worst case scenario, your child will still have extra energy when you get back and you’ll know you can make the trip a bit longer next time.
Have fun! Most importantly, don’t forget the point of biking as a family: creating family memories and a love for biking that will last in the future. Talk about how much you love biking together, and give plenty of positive feedback about how impressed you are that your child was able to make the trip. Brag about it to other adults within your child’s hearing, and brainstorm ideas about where to go next time. If you take the time to plant the seeds of excitement now, you’ll enjoy a great biking relationship with your child for years to come.