by Martin Prestage
By now you're probably feeling that your 5 year old is getting a might too heavy to pull in a trailer, even if the manufacturer says it can handle the weight. Now that balance is no problem, there are many options for the pedal powered family.
A fairly inexpensive option is a rigid, telescopic bar that connects your seat post to the front head stem of the child's bike, with their front wheel raised. Your offspring can still pedal along, helping you up those long hills, or merely coast when they are tired. And if they still have any energy left at your destination, the bike can be un-hitched and they can play on their own bike.
A similar yet less versatile option is the trailer-bike, a one-wheeled add-on with pedals and rigid handlebar that merely clamps onto your seatpost. It has the same dynamics as the telescopic bar, but doesn't allow the same freedom at your destination.
Of course, for the really keen and those without budget constraints, a tandem is another great option. Though a big investment, the bike will last long after your child has grown into a fully powered "stoker". At this young age, special stoker crank extensions allow your child to actively engage in the pedaling, combining the strengths of both parent and child.
Literally chained together, a tandem breeds good communication and, especially on a vacation or longer ride, teaches both parent and sibling the ability to work through things together, like anxiety, fear and tiredness.
Growth spurts and bicycles can get expensive. Bikes can have a variety of frame and wheel sizes to suit height, but try to avoid buying a bicycle that is too big. The rule of thumb should be that a child can always stand over the top tube, or cross bar, with both feet flat on the ground.
By 7 the adventurer and daredevil in your offspring will be wanting a BMX bike, requiring more padding than a hockey goalie! Safety is the important issue here. Try to get some proper training.
This is also the age to start teaching road-riding skills. Lessons that if accepted will remain with them through to driving age. Again, seek out coaching from an approved educator.
At 8 it is possible for a child to enjoy a family bike touring holiday on his/her own bike, but the distances achieved will be small. Much better to ride doubled up on the tandem, where your collective effort will win out. Because you travel slower, you will see twice as much, and have twice as many 'experiences'. A bike adventure teaches children about serendipity, the way things always seem to work out when the cards are down. The rewards can be huge, after all, there is no rainbow without rain.
By Grade 7, aged 11 or 12, your near High School student will be riding BMX, playing at mountain biking and downhill, possibly commuting to school, maybe even interested in cycle sport. Share in this enthusiasm for the outdoors, even if it hurts your pocket to do so.
Encourage their interest in bicycle travel, as the hardships suffered will allow them to experience gifts found elsewhere. They may start to look at the big world and decide who they want to become.
Martin Prestage is a father and the Director of LIFECycle; a company dedicated to educating youth in bicycle safety throughout the Lower Mainland. www.lifecycle.ca