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parent and child cycling in a park

Bikeability Instructors are a wealth of experience and wisdom, see what Sarah has to say about getting children started and encouraging them to cycle more.

Bikeability Instructor Interview
Bikeability instructors have a rich and varied job, working in (almost) all weathers, with a lot of different children in many different locations. They are very experienced and a wealth of knowledge and ideas. We caught up with Cambridgeshire based Sarah to pick her brains. Here are our questions, and here is what she had to say.

Why is cycling an easy sport to get children interested in?
Children love to be independent and explore the area around them. Cycling gives them the ability to move around and get to placers quicker but under their own steam. They are in control of how fast they go, where they go and when they stop. It is something they can do on their own, with friends or with family. Different challenges can be found from exploring off road locations to finding how fast you can go in the park or how well you can manoeuvre round obstacles. I think lots of children just enjoy the freedom it gives them and the new opportunities it opens up.

How can you encourage your child to enjoy it?
I think the biggest thing to do is start off with your child, explore places together but at their pace. Bikeability courses are a fantastic way to encourage them to develop their skills with trained instructors. A bad experience can often turn a child against cycling for a while so find the right way to motivate them as they learn to ride and improve their control in different situations can make a huge difference. Work at their pace, challenging and supporting when they need it. The biggest enjoyment is from realising what a child can achieve themselves. Empower them to take control of their own journeys. You can even start before they ride their own bike. There are a huge variety of bikes and trailers that can be used to get babies and toddlers around, so they start early enjoying being on a bike. My children love our tandem. It means that if they want to help we can go that bit faster than they would on their own but they can also take a break too. It helps my youngest keep up with the rest of us!

In what ways does it improve their fitness/ mental wellbeing?
Children need to be active, they should exercise every day. Cycling in the park is great. Making it part of your journey to school gets that exercise part of your daily routine. You can’t help but smile when you cycle, I see big grins every day when young people gain confidence on their bikes. From a young age it can work on their balance and coordination. I’ve always owned a bike and cycled, it is an essential part of my life. Even a 15-minute cycle ride home from work gives me a mood boost a chance to think about something different. It is the same for my children, a cycle round the park gets them out of the house and really changes their focus. Improving their moods and giving them that exercise they really need. Embedding those good habits into children from a young age gives them a great start in life, it’s something they will be able to use forever and I hope it will remain a part of their regular exercise habits.

How can children take it further – are there clubs/ groups to join?
There are plenty of cycling groups around for children. Cycling in the park, on a track or mountain biking. There are plenty of trained coaches who want to inspire new generations of cyclists. British Cycling run clubs for children from 5 years old but there are plenty of others out there. Ask around your local cycling community to find out. Independent bike shops often have that information about what is going on locally.

Does it matter what kind of equipment you have?
There are so many different bikes out there it can be hard to know what to get. The most important thing is that it is the right size for your child. Make sure your child can touch the floor, reach the handle bars and use the brakes effectively. A big, heavy bike is difficult to control so can be off putting when you are learning new skills. Light bikes are fantastic for small children. They can be expensive, but they can be bought second hand (my youngest rides a bike that has gone through at least 5 children before him and it will continue to be passed on). Get the bike serviced if it has been well used before you get it but bike frames will last a long time so only a few parts may need replacing. Different bikes are for different purposes so do think about if your child will mainly be using it off road or on smooth surfaces. A good bike shop will be able to offer you advice. Once you have a bike don’t forget to keep checking it – make sure the tyres are inflated and the brakes are working. If everything is running smoothly cycling is much more fun!

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