As someone who has rediscovered the love of cycling in their late twenties and have benefited enormously from what it had brought to my life I am obviously keen to pass on this love to my young son. I have to stress I am not one of those pushy parents and I am not in the business of living my life and my dreams through my kids but sharing passion and time with my children is one of my goals as a father.
That said, I wish that I cycled more during my university years hen fitness and time were less rare commodities.
So how have I been instilling a love of cycling into my young son? I was on paternity leave when Bradley Wiggins blasted the hinges off the hour record and I sat on the couch with my son on my chest drifting in and out of sleep. This may prove to some sort of subliminal messaging.
When the grand tours are on we also play around it on TV so from that point of view he will grow up knowing the intricacies of this wonderful sport.
When he was old enough I bought a seat to go on the back of my bike. Well I say that but I didn’t actually have a suitable bike for such a thing figuring that it would look faintly ridiculous to have my most precious possession hang precariously off the back of a carbon seat post and with all the inherent instability of a road bike. To remedy this I went to Halfords and bought their cheapest functional mountain bike. It is slower than a week in the jail but the rewards of being able to cycle with my son more than make up for such things.
After much research I went for the Hamax Recline child seat. It has the all the efficiency I have come to expect from a Scandinavian product and most importantly it feels safe and secure despite the minimal amount of time it actually took to get on the bike. The straps are well designed; both easy to use yet impossible to remove if your hands don’t have the dexterity and strength of an adult. It even has a reclining option that is easy to use with just one hand as you continue to cycle. I have never had cause to use this option as my son enjoys the feeling of the wind flowing around him to even contemplate falling asleep.
He didn’t always like it though. In fact at the very beginning I would say that he actively hated it. I would sit him in the seat and by the time we had made it around the corner of the street he would be crying unstoppably. I don’t let my son cry (attachment parenting) so I would carry him the short way back to the house whilst trundling the bike along. We would repeat this scene for many months and if I am being honest it really upset me as I had high expectations of the fun we would have the bonding that would be done. The bike and seat gathered dust in the garage throughout the winter.
Then one day something wonderful happened. I was pottering around in the garage with my son and he saw the cycling helmet sitting on the bike and asked me to get it for him. He then struggled to put it on so I gave him a little hand. He then walked over to the bike and said that he wanted to go on it. I sprang into action, grabbed my helmet (got to set an example) and got my son in the bike seat. I didn’t care that tyres needed some air or that I was wearing clothes only appropriate for cleaning the garage. As we walked to the top of the drive I shouted into the kitchen window to let my partner know that we were going out on the bike. We turned the first corner, the crying corner, and there was not a peep coming from behind me. Was he still there? He was and he was smiling. We cycled around the block for about twenty minutes and then I came home, wary not to overdo it and make him hate it all over again.
After that day he was completely sold on the joys of going out on the bike. That day will live with me forever. Not only is it a great way to get outdoors and get some fresh air but the bonding that we have done because of it cannot be measured in miles, or watts, or feet.
Our favourite route is down through the local park, where once a deer stumbled out of bush and on to the path not 10 feet in front of us and stood frozen as we all looked at each other, to the beach path that will eventually take us to the cafes on the promenade. Usually I will face a punishing wind on the way out and a friendly tail wind to take us home again.
What about getting him to actually cycle on his own? Will having done the research I decided that getting used to a balance bike should be the first thing so bought him a Stryder bike.
Conveniently the colour almost exactly matches my Cannondale SuperSix Evo. For those readers that are not familiar with balance bikes it is simply a normal bike with no pedals. The theory goes that balancing on a bike is the hardest thing to learn so this way kids can learn without the added complication of having to pedal. Once they have mastered the balancing then stepping up to pedal will be a piece of cake.
We initially took him to some classes where they have obstacles and ramps to get him used to the bike and to see other children do it but he was reluctant at first.
To get him to actually sit on the bike I had to invent a game that basically rewards him when he manages to cycle across the living room and bump into the Peppa Pig doll that I am holding. Upon impact, the doll will fly through the air and much hilarity will ensue. I am not sure the wisdom of this technique is sound but at the moment it is the only thing that is getting him on the bike.
I will update this blog when his skills on the balance bike improve but for the time being I am not forcing him to do it as that would probably prove to be entirely counterproductive.