The best way to get your kids into cycling

Joel Zanatta and his daughter

By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer

The growing movement towards cycling includes children and young adults, who love the freedom that a bicycle can provide. Getting youth on bikes provides them with an alternative to public transit and reduces the amount of driving that parents have to do. Biking is also a great way for kids to get exercise – but it does have some inherent risks.

In recent months my 13 year old daughter expressed an interest in road cycling. She saw me getting on my bike every morning and wanted to join. I’ll admit, as a guy who devotes his life to injured cyclists, I had my concerns. I have been driving and riding on the public roadways for years. I know the rules of the road and I take great precautions to minimize the likelihood of a crash. But kids are a different story. They are inexperienced and a little bit reckless. These are not good traits when it comes to cycling.

I decided to help my daughter invest in her first road bike, but on a few of conditions. Firstly, she would always ride with a helmet and lights, secondly, she would ride with me and learn the rules of the road. Lastly, she would stay off major roads and stick to bike friendly routes.

The first thing that I found when buying a bike for a 13 year old is that a decent bike is expensive. My daughter weighs 80 pounds but she is over 5 feet tall. Simply put, she fits an adult sized bike, but does not have the strength to push a heavy entry level bicycle.

If you are not looking to spend a fortune on a bike that your child will likely grow out of, I would recommend taking a look on the second hand market.

My daughter and I ultimately landed on a road bike equipped with wider gravel tires and flat pedals. Wider tires offer a more forgiving ride and inspire confidence. Flat pedals rather than clipless pedals are a must as the learning curve is steep and there is no need to make cycling any more complicated than it is. Plus, it means we can take the bike off the road and ride gravel trails together too – which is a real bonus.

Joel Zanatta and his daughter

Our first rides together were in a large empty parking lot. My daughter knew the basic riding skills, however, learning to road ride is a little different. We spent the first day working on hand positioning, figuring out how to work the brakes and how to change the gears. This type of practice needs to take place in an area without any traffic.

After figuring out the brakes and gears, we slowly moved on to hand signals. Again, learning to signal while riding takes time. Before a cyclist starts riding on public roadways, bike handling skills have to be pretty solid.

After several “off road” sessions, we felt ready to get out on the road. We picked a location with very light traffic and rode a pre-determined route. Thanks to our off road practice, my daughter’s confidence on the road was high. It was amazing for me to share the experience of cycling with my daughter.

Joel Zanatta and his daughter

It has now been almost six months since my daughter and I started riding together. For someone who isn’t yet 14, she is remarkably competent on a bike. To provide additional motivation she and I decided to sign up for the RBC Granfondo 12 Day Challenge together. The 12 Day Challenge is a virtual event where participants commit to riding 55, 122 or 152 kilometres, cumulatively. Proceeds from the event go towards the Food Bank and you can choose to make an additional donation to Cycling BC’s iRide, Food Bank Canada or Feed America. We chose to donate to iRide, which is Cycling BC’s youth program. iRide brings bikes and helmets to schools across BC and helps children learn to cycle with confidence.

iRide also runs a number of community programs, including after school programs, camps and youth clubs.

It’s a great initiative that helps foster the love of cycling in children and youth and we thought it was a fitting program to support under the circumstances.

The decision to help my daughter learn how to cycle has been beneficial for both of us. Cycling has given her more independence than she had before. She and I can travel long distances without a car and while we ride we have time to talk, which is something that every parent strives for.

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Images by Hofmark photography