Riding a Bike in London
Cycling has been a favourite activity for us as a family in our free time whether in and around London, or away on our travels both in the UK and abroad. Jerome started riding a bike from the age of 2 and one of his major achievements was a bike ride of 30km at age 5 in Japan. I have always wondered why it is that there are not more kids of all ages, but especially younger ones, that enjoy riding a bike in London. In other major cities across Europe and even Japan it is a common sight.
Recent Survey by Cycle Republic
While doing some research for this article I stumbled upon a recent survey by Cycle Republic. Only 30% say they cycle to spend time with the family, however, nearly two thirds claim that they want their children to ride a bike in the future. How is it that not more families spend time together on the weekends or on holidays in the saddle? I am sure safety is a huge issue in London, but surprisingly over half of the rest of the UK’s population also feels the same. If you read between the results of the superbly researched Cycle Republic article I am sure that safety is a key concern of parents, but it is also clear that despite the traffic some people feel that even in London cycling is safe. I am sure cycling a badly planned route in London or other big cities can feel terrifying with all the buses and other large vehicles on the roads, and likewise, in some cases, the narrow country lanes are not always good bike routes either. My aim with this short guide is to show that cycling in and around London and the rest of the UK can be fun and safe for adults and kids alike, especially with good planning. Here are my tips.
Get them on a bike as early as possible
Do you remember the first time your Mum or Dad let go off your saddle and you managed to ride on your own, without any stabilisers? That exhilarating feeling of freedom and knowing you belong to a club of proper cyclists? Knowing you were one step further to growing up…
Jerome started to cycle when he was just two years old and has been a huge fan of riding his bike in his free time and on holidays. In Germany it has been popular for a few years to have kids of young ages to start riding a bike on what is called a “balance bike”. A balance bike is basically a low bicycle without pedals and the kids use their feet to push the bike along a bit like a sit on scooter. It teaches children from early on to balance and steer making the transformation to a proper bike a lot easier. Jerome was immediately able to ride a bike without stabilisers and to not fall over. I can still remember his proud face when he did his first ride.
Even if your child learns to ride a bike at a very young age, they will still not be able to go for a long bike ride with the whole family for some time. We used to have a child seat for the back of my bike and would cycle everywhere with Jerome on my back. You even have the option to use an electric bike to lighten the load. If you have more than one child of a young age – consider a trailer and your kids can enjoy the ride and even sleep comfortably in the back.
Safety comes first
Your upmost priority should always be safety for all, including adults and children. Always wear a helmet, do not ever make any exceptions! Children are obliged to wear one in the UK. Set an example by wearing one yourself. Choose comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes for every bike ride. Reflective discs and lights can add to the safety and make the ride more fun for the little ones too, even in daylight.
“Piggy in the Middle” One adult leads the way while the other cycles behind the child. This is still our preferred way to cycle on London’s streets even now Jerome is older.
Have the right equipment
Buy the right sized bike for your child! Both, too big and too small make cycling for children harder and less safe. Do not try to save money by stretching a bike out for longer than needed. Always get advice from a professional bike shop like Cycle Republic to find the right one for your child. For older children (and adults) a folding bike can be a great idea in the city as it grows with them and adds to the routes you can plan as you can take in on the trains and tubes to get out or back.
Make it a fun family activity
Discuss together as a family where you would like to venture on your next bike ride. Choose a destination that will be exciting for the kids and plan in a few interesting stops on the way. Do not plan a route that will stretch the ability of your child too much and try to find a safe route for all included. Make cycling a fun alternative to your Sunday afternoon stroll.
Encourage the little ones by letting them bring their favourite cuddly toy, either in a small backpack or if possible in a basket at the front. Jerome always loved taking his along and sharing the excitement with them.
Plan your bike ride and route
Cycling in general, whether in London or other parts of the UK is much safer on the weekends. We notice that the City on a Sunday is much less busy on the roads.
Map out your cycle route in advance, look for the safe options, consider taking side roads and bike routes rather than the major arteries of the city, these might make your journey go faster but are not the safest routes available.
Wherever possible take a route along a bike path or lane, the Cycle Superhighways in London are almost empty of racing commuters at weekends and are a great alternative to get quicker from one end of town to the other. Transport of London has a useful route planner and sustrans has family friendly nationwide routes covered.
The large parks in London, like Regents or Hyde Park are a great option for a bike ride with smaller children. They have dedicated cycle lanes trough out and make it a good option to stop at one of the playgrounds en route.
Riding your bikes along the River Thames and other riverside paths and the paths along the Regents Canals or other Canals are another safe off road choice.
Spend a weekend away from London, cycling some of the beautiful bike routes along Britain’s coastline or discover nature and the countryside where once trains used to chug along.
While cycling on pavements in the UK is illegal, it is technically a grey area for children under 10 years of age to cycle on the pavement as they are below the age of criminal responsibility. Jerome used to cycle carefully on the pavement all the time and we have never had an incident where the police has stopped him from doing so. I believe that riding a bike on the pavement teaches children from a young age to cope with traffic, the major rules and makes them street smart. I would like to point out that cycling on the pavement is only possible if the child on the bike watches out for other people and steer away of busy areas, places like pedestrian streets should be avoided or everyone should get off their bikes and push them along.
Once you are more confident take every opportunity to cycle with your child in London! Why not consider to cycle to school instead of jumping on the bus or driving, I am sure you can work a good route with a little planning.
Last but not least, have fun and enjoy your rides with the little ones. They will appreciate the time exploring London and the countryside on two wheels and it will both keep them fit and prove to be a useful alternative to the car in the future.