What you need to know to start your child’s cycling journey

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Tackling the Tour is one thing, but teaching youngsters how to cycle can be a challenge in itself.

So what do you need to know before starting your child’s own cycling journey ahead of the world’s greatest bike ride? They say that you never forget how to ride a bike.

The thrill of travelling under your own steam at speed is one of the most exciting and liberating things you can do as a child.

And most youngsters don’t want to miss out on that thrill and be left in the wake of their friends, so learning to balance on a bicycle and ditch those stabilisers is an early must.

For parents however, the task of teaching little loved ones how to cycle safely can be a bit of a daunting feat, with the prospect of tantrums and injury about as appealing as donning a lycra bodysuit faced with a ride up Holme Moss yourself.

But setting children out on their own cycling adventure need not be so scary and what better time to get them started than in the year the world-famous Tour de France rolls into our region.

From the age of around three, there are plenty of ways for your child to gain confidence before going solo on two wheels but before sitting them in the saddle, you first should make sure tots have an appropriate helmet and long-sleeved tops and trousers to cushion any falls.

Fitting a bike with stabilisers is the traditional choice for parents but these should be fitted so that the bike can lean at least slightly because otherwise, if the rear wheel is off the ground, the brakes won’t work properly.

More recently however experts have claimed that stabilisers can delay the learning process, as riding is 90 per cent about balance.

One solution to this is investing in a balance bike. Without a chain or pedals, children learn to balance, steer, coast and build up their confidence on two wheels while being able to keep their feet on the ground.

John Stainthorpe is sales director at Cyclesense, in Thorp Arch, Wetherby, which was among the UK’s first LIKEaBIKE balance bike distributors when it ordered them in back in 1999.

He said: “Quite often the age you can get a child on a balance bike is as young as 18months when a child wouldn’t even be able to use a bike with stabilisers until they were three or four.

“The reason they can’t ride with stabilisers is because of the weight of the cycle and them not having the strength and coordination to pedal. Balance bikes are simply the best way to start them off.”

Alternatively don’t discount tag-along bikes that clip on the back of an adult bicycle to help little ones get used to the sensation of riding without having to master keeping upright, while trikes can help youngsters get used to pedalling.

It’s all about giving your child an early chance to learn the physical basics of riding and acting as a supportive arm during the thrills and spills along the way.

Offering plenty of praise and perseverance can be key to helping your young adventurer take early tumbles in their stride.

Location is key to early lessons in riding. Find a smooth, flat area that’s free of obstacles and traffic and ask them to toddle and steer towards you on their balance bike from a distance of five to 10metres while looking at you and not the ground.

At this point it’s likely your child will push along all the way but getting them to repeat the exercise, encouraging them to coast more rather than solely relying on their feet, will help them start to understand how to balance.

Dave Stevens, Yorkshire volunteer coordinator at sustainable transport charity Sustrans, added: “We see all the time that kids that have been using balance bikes quickly roll off downhill and then you send them off on pedals, give them a push and they can do it.

“Kids learn to get used to the stabilisers. Running behind and giving them confidence and practising down a slight downhill can make a big difference.”

When showing children how to brake, ensuring that they use their back brake first so they don’t go head over heels, is also a useful tip.

As your child progresses try to introduce them to pedalling after they have mastered steering, braking and coasting. Try to encourage them to rest their feet on the pedals as they coast and when it feels natural, push them to pedal.

Avoid holding the handlebars as they get going, because this can stop your child balancing on their own, so instead try lightly placing your hand on their shoulder as a guide and when they’re happy, let go.

Like all things, practice makes perfect. It may take a few hours or a few days but as long as you keep a cool head and guide them patiently, you will get there in the end.

And as our region focuses its efforts on encouraging people to learn to ride or simply get back on their bikes, it appears there is no better time than the present to get youngsters cycling.

Roger Harrington, Leeds City Council’s cycling champion, said: “It’s absolutely vital to see how we can maximise the opportunities for schools to be involved in the Tour in one way or another and an extensive programme is being organised.”

He said as part of the council’s own cycling push a mini Tour de France event for school children across Leeds at Temple Newsam Park is being set up, while educational packages being sent to schools are aimed at inspiring the next generation of riders.

The final step is graduating to road cycling. When your child starts school they will probably want to cycle and at that point riding on the pavement is the best option, as long as they pay attention to walkers and cars coming out of driveways.

From around age seven they may want to cycle with you on the roads, at which point it’s a good idea to sign them up to modern day cycling proficiency training, now known as Bikeability, where they can be taught control, road sense and confidence.

lFor further information visit bikeability.dft.gov.uk or www.sustrans.org.uk.