Dad up: 7 top tips for successful family cycling

18 Jan

Life has a habit of getting in the way. Work, chores and responsibilities reduce our leisure time to a bare minimum. Organising any sort of fun activity can be a challenge, more so when we’re trying to get children and other family members involved and enthusiastic. And then it rains, and our determination drains away before we’ve even made it to the door.

Dad up! (I’m writing this as much for my myself as anyone else). If bike riding is your thing (and it should be), here are my top tips for maximising the chance that your best-laid cycling plans come to fruition:

  1. Keep your bikes in a ‘ready to ride’ state – I know it is difficult to find the motivation to clean your bike straight after a ride, or to fix any niggling squeaks and clicks, but to have to do these things before a ride even starts is a classic excuse to return to the safety of your cosy sofa.
  2. Monitor the weather forecast – this obviously depends on where you live and the variability of the weather there. Here in the UK we get a lot of weather. All the time.  And the ‘variability’ seems to increase year on year. I use as well as the BBC weather to identify windows of rideable weather (you can define rideable yourself) and always keep them in mind when making other plans and appointments. If Sunday morning looks like it will be bright and dry, I will try to keep it as free as possible and encourage my wife to do the same, so at least if the weather window is there, we haven’t made plans to attend the local butter-sculpting festival. The downside of this approach is that if the weather forecast turns out to be wrong and your long-planned ride does not occur, it throws you into a tumultuous bout of depression, recriminations and pillow punching (that’s how we all deal with our anger, right?).
  3. Have the right clothes – The more mature response to the weather disappointment in 2 is not to accept that the weather will prevent you going for that ride. Knowing that you and the family will be comfortable on the bike whatever the prevailing weather conditions removes another potential pre-ride excuse. This is all the more important if you’re taking little ones along in bike seats – their smaller bodies and lack of pedaling exertion will quickly translate into requests to go home unless wrapped in warm and waterproof apparel.
  4. Get out early – in our family there are two factors that seem to have a huge bearing on whether we get out on a ride. The first is our collective ability to faff – arguably greater than the sum of our individual abilities to faff.  Some of this is natural.  Attempting to dress and toilet any children aged 3 and 1 just to leave the house is akin to herding cats. But then (and here I lay the blame firmly at my wife’s door) we were capable of some considerable faffing before the children were born. Secondly, I tend to have a ‘dip’ after lunch and during the early afternoon. My pseudo-science says that this is something to do with my natural rhythms and the fact that my body is diverting blood to where it is needed to digest my lunch. All I know is that my motivation levels (which will have been in rapid descent since the 7am alarm) will hit rock bottom and it will be all I can do to crawl to the kettle to make a cup of coffee. Moral of this story: get out and about early. Treat the pre-ride routine like your workday routine. Set a departure time. Set an alarm and get up when it goes off.  Harry the children through their breakfasts. Hustle them upstairs to get dressed. Allow them to jump on your bed until your wife gets out of it. Then just go. No faffing!
  5. Make a family plan – convene a family board meeting, appoint your toddler as the company secretary, agree the plan for your next ride. The collective will of the family will outweigh any last minute doubts or lack of enthusiasm. In particular, if you have successfully cultivated a child that both enjoys cycling and has that amazing childhood ability to go on and on (and on… and on…) about something, if that something is about a bike ride that you’ve agreed to go on, suddenly the horizontal rain and hurricane-force winds may appeal more than the 24 hour whingefest alternative.
  6. Plan the route – similar in some ways to 4. If you have planned the route in advance, there is less chance that indecision and doubt causes delays to or, worse, abandonment of the ride. I do tend to be a bit of a planner anyway, but with our kids at the age they are, there are certain things you need, for instance, from a lunch stop. My daughter could sit and eat next to us on a bench, say, but it would make our lives easier, and the trip more enjoyable, if there was somewhere inside with a high chair. Little things like this seem to make a big difference to me and particularly to my anticipated enjoyment of something (and remember it is the anticipated rather than actual enjoyment that feeds into the decision to get out there). Similarly, we carry our children in bike seats (one on my bike, one on my wife’s) – before we go I like to know we have an agreed, safe route that is not going to stop halfway as we suddenly realise the only way to go on is to join a busy road.
  7. Get confident with on-ride repairs – Don’t let doubts about your ability to repair a puncture or make an on-ride adjustment put you off going in the first place. Until last week it had been a long time since I’d had a puncture (the value of heavy, bulletproof tires). I rolled to a halt with a rising knot of worry, being on a country road, miles from home and a pretty sketchy recollection of how to fix it.  Luckily I’d had a feeling that the front tire was going to go (whilst practising with a mini-pump (!), I’m pretty sure I broke the tube valve), so I was carrying a spare innertube, as well as my usual tire levers and (dangerous) mini-pump.  I’d also just watched this video (, which is excellent.  And the truth is, it was fine.  Yes, it took 20 minutes.  Yes, I had to deflate and reseat the new innertube when my first attempt caused a concerning bulge in the side of my tire. Yes, my minipump just about got the tire pressure to half the recommended PSI. But I got home (in fact, I got to enjoy the rest of the ride as well). So get the necessary kit (inner tubes, puncture repair kit, mini-tool and mini-pump) and learn how to use it.  Then forget about your worries and ride.

And if all this fails, I am currently working on an invention using a colander, gear cabling and a car battery, that aims to electrically manipulate the doubt receptacles in the brain that specifically deal with two-wheeled travel. If anyone would like to volunteer, just leave a comment below or subscribe to our mailing list!


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