Share the bicycle blessing

According to research done by Harvard University, one out of three children in the United States is overweight or obese – while an international study revealed that fewer than 20% of kids in the United Kingdom accomplish the recommended one hour of activity per day.

Many South African children are not immune to what is happening in other parts of the world, and with chronic health conditions and emotional problems emerging among these young people, parents really need to start encouraging better lifestyle habits early in life again.

Riding a bicycle appears to be one of the most enjoyable ways to get moving and active as a youngster, because learning to balance, steer and pedal can actually offer pleasant distractions from the physical effort. Eventually, riding can make your kids fit, fast, skilled, and even mentally calm and confident, but at first the focus should ideally just be fun.

A park might offer a pleasant place to get moving on a bicycle with stops and starts around other activities, but riding with friends or siblings brings encouragement in the form of a social adventure and a little bit of pressure to acquire the skills they have.

Eventually, cycling together as a family also offers a wonderful way to bond outdoors and makes exercise fun for everybody without putting anyone under too much pressure.

Experienced cyclists beware

Perfect technique is a matter of pride, and distance and speed make cycling meaningful to adult riders, but you need to get this stuff right out of your head to allow a child to get involved. If they don’t have fun when they first start riding they might never share your passion for the sport. Remember to try and keep young, inexperienced riders in their comfort zone on fairly smooth surfaces without steep gradients or tight corners, and consider a route with stops and distractions to protect the child from getting exhausted when they first start riding.

Bike choices

Technically, you don't even have to wait until your kids can pedal to get them on a bicycle.A bike seat attached to the back of an adult’s bike will already allow a strapped-in one-year-old to see the world outside. A covered two-wheel trailer hooked behind can even carry a six-year-old, but by then travelling as a passenger could bore them. One solution would be a single wheel trailer that permits the youngster to pedal, while the rider on the front remains responsible for balance and control. Like a tandem, this kind of rear-bike fitting will permit journeys over distances greater than what the child’s stamina could cope with. But wouldn’t you rather also provide a kiddie’s bike that moves along with them as their bodies become able to handle more physical activity and independence?

Although it won’t accommodate more than a five-year-old, a push bike can be a great way to start. This is basically just a frame with wheels and a clean handlebar without the distraction of pedals and a chain or brakes. This focuses solely on balance and steering and it would appear that the kids who move on from using their feet like this to stomp along and brake acquire speed and balance skills that those who ride more conventional little bikes with or without training wheels don’t manage as quickly.

More conventional kiddies’ bikes can be used quite a few years longer though. After forking out for one or two bicycles as the child outgrows 16- or 20-inch wheels, a parent might wonder whether it is a waste to buy one fitted with just 24 inch wheels and not skip straight to an “adult” bike, but struggling with a bike that is too big can knock even a child who already appears to be a real cyclist right out of the sport. There will be many years for them to enjoy a 29er later. A bike that’s too small is actually less of an issue for a kid than one that’s too big!

Set-up and dress

From the moment your kids start riding, they should be wearing a helmet. To provide safety, a helmet must fit snugly enough not to rock from side to side or tip backwards and forwards on the head. A good helmet will sit level just above the ears and there should be room for no more than one or two little fingers between the chin and strap once it has been fastened.

Better balance, speed and pedalling will eventually allow the saddle height to be set with an efficient slight knee bend. At first the child will want to be able to touch the ground with the balls of the feet, though. Closed shoes are sensible to protect them from mishaps.

Event adventure

Entering children aged between 2 and 10 years old into the Telkom 947 Kiddies Ride on Saturday 11 November offers an excellent selection of choices. There are closed-off routes over distances that range from one to five kilometres, and kids of different age groups and skills levels are split into separate groups, so they can enjoy a bit of social pressure without danger. Don’t wait too long to make up your mind, because entries are limited!

Click here for details and to enter.

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