It goes without saying that you need a bike to go cycling. Of course there are plenty of places you can hire them, from specific hire shops and National Trust sites, to the famous ‘Boris bikes’ in London. But if you can afford to buy your own bikes, and you have somewhere to store them, it’ll be worth the investment. Here’s why you should invest in your own bikes:
- You’ll get used to your own bike and it’ll be more comfortable to ride.
- It could be more cost-effective in the long run to invest in your own bike rather than paying each time to hire one.
- You’ll know how your own bike works, and how to fix it if minor problems occur.
- You may have to retrace your route to drop your bike back to the hire shop at the end of the day.
- Hire bikes are often much heavier and more awkward to maneuver than one you would buy yourself, as hire places will purchase bikes they know will withstand the test of time.
Family leisure cycling isn’t just about introducing your children to two wheels, but often your partner too. Firstly, make sure you both have bikes in good working order. If you haven’t been on a bike since you were a kid, you might need a refresher on some essentials such as how to use the brakes correctly, gaining your balance when you first set off, and even what to wear. If you’re buying your first adult bike, don’t be afraid to try a few out in the shop to find the one that feels right, and that fits you well. This will be super important for a comfortable ride, especially over longer journeys. It’s also worth ensuring you both have some basic bike maintenance skills, like how to fix a puncture, so you can keep all the bikes in the household running smoothly.
Fortunately you don’t actually need much else. You don’t need special cycle clothing unless you're going to be cycling regularly, or for long rides. Loose fitting layers that won’t get caught on the chain are fine, as well as strong flat shoes such as trainers, and maybe some gloves if the weather’s a bit chilly. Oh, and a helmet for safety, especially for the little ones.
What are the best bikes for family leisure cycling?
Before you take the whole family down to the bike shop to get kitted out, start by deciding what kind of riding you want to do. There are many kinds of bikes, and knowing where you’re likely to ride will narrow down the options. How often will you ride? How far? Will you stay on paved surfaces, or explore the countryside? Here are some of the the different types of bikes on the market:
- Kids’ Bikes: These range from a balance bike for a two year old, right up to a teens 26” bike or BMX, and everything in between. Whatever the size, look for something sturdy enough to withstand all the knocks and falls which come with learning to ride a bike.
- Road Bikes: Are best for riding on tarmac, riding fast, and covering long distances. They have skinny tyres and lightweight frames, and they’ve become extremely popular in recent years. Although some people might struggle to get comfortable on a road bike, and they can be less resilient to knocks and potholes than other models.
- Mountain Bikes: These are designed for charging round woods and trails. They have larger, more durable tyres, and powerful disc-brakes for stopping quickly on uneven terrain. They’re great all-rounders, with a more upright position and wide gearing range, though they can be heavy, and not as efficient as road bikes when riding on smoother surfaces.
- Hybrid Bikes: These bikes get our thumbs up for family leisure cycling as they’re a great all-rounder. Hybrid bikes combine the best of road and mountain bike style and technology to give the perfect mix of reliability, durability, and comfort. They have wide, straight handlebars, a nice sturdy frame, and have an upright sitting position for stability.
You also have touring bikes, which are perfect for long rides, and carrying luggage. Folding bikes, which are a favourite among commuters, and those short on space. Electric bikes, which give you that extra bit of help, so you can travel further and ride for longer. And there are also female specific ranges, which are better suited to women’s body types.
What should I consider when buying a children’s bike?
Choosing a bike for our child is an important decision. If it’s their first bike, you’ll want to make sure you give them a good introduction to the world of cycling. You’ll need something safe, and comfortable, and one that fits them properly, without being too heavy. Parents are often tempted to buy a bike that their child will ‘grow into’, but this could put them off bikes altogether. Here are some other things to consider when choosing a bike for your children:
- Choose the right size: Age ranges give a rough guide, but the best way to ensure the bike fits is to check your child’s inside leg measurement against the size guide for each brand and model. Young riders of 2 to 3 years should be comfortable on 10 to 12 inch tyres. 24 inch wheels are great for 9 to 12-year-olds.
- Pay attention to weight: Consider your child's weight against the bike’s. It’s recommended that the bike doesn’t weigh more that 32% of your little one’s weight. A bike that’s too heavy will be difficult for them to maneuver.
- Gears and brakes: Look for a bike with gear and brake levers that are child-specific, and smaller and easier for little ones to use. Foot brakes are best for beginners, but hand brakes allow children to take their bike on hilly and off-road terrains.
It’s also best to go for single chainrings until your child is a bit older (at least over 8 years old) as double chainrings add weight and complication. And avoid suspension until around this age too, as it adds unnecessary weight, and they often aren’t strong enough to use it.