Family cycling can be a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to discover the surrounding area - whether you’re on holiday, out on a day trip, or just exploring close to home.
Cycling can be a real adventure. And what better way to take in fresh air, get some exercise, and enjoy quality time together than cycling as a family? But to really get the most out of it, preparation is key, not only to have fun, but to keep everyone safe too. So take a look at our ultimate family cycling guide which will go through everything you need to know to get started. From what kit you need, the best places to go family cycling, how to cycle safely with babies and young children, and what nutrition and physical training can help to ensure you’re in good shape.
What kit do you need for family cycling?
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 Santander 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 won’t 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 manoeuvre than one you would buy yourself, as hire places will purchase bikes they know will withstand the test of time.
Family cycling isn’t just about introducing your children to two wheels, but often a 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 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 to go cycling as a family.
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 of course - especially for the little ones.
What are the best bikes for family cycling?
Before you take the whole family down to your local 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 do you want to explore the countryside? Here are some of 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 that 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 mountain bikes 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 cycling as they’re great all-rounders. Hybrid bikes combine the best of road and mountain bike style and technology to give you 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.
Find out more about electric bikes and discover whether an e-bike or a normal bike is better for you.
What should you consider when buying a children’s bike?
Choosing a bike for your 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 kids bike:
- 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 compared to the weight of the bike. It’s recommended that the bike doesn’t weigh more than 32% of your little one’s weight. A bike that’s too heavy will be difficult for them to manoeuvre.
- 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 children often aren’t strong enough to use it.
A kids bike is the perfect way to turn every trip outdoors into an adventure for your child.
Here at Decathlon you’ll find a range of boys and girls bikes to take them from early years and learning to ride, through to experienced riders.
Where is good to go family cycling?
Cycling is a great activity that the whole family can enjoy. It’s fun, free, and good exercise.
Plus, it allows you to spend quality time together while taking in the beautiful sites, sounds, and smells of the great outdoors. If you’re taking the kids out for the day, you’ll want to go to places with family-friendly cycle routes and paths. Somewhere that’s easy to cycle, with relatively flat terrain. That’s at least until they become more experienced. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Parks: There are some fantastic green spaces in towns and cities across the UK. Parks are a safe option, away from traffic. You’ll have to check your local park to see if you can cycle there as not all parks allow it, but many have cycling-specific sections and paths. London’s Hyde Park is set over 350-acres. It’s not only one of the city’s most beautiful parks, but it’s also deemed to be the most cycle-friendly park in all of central London. It’s the perfect place for families with very young children, offering the chance to make the most of a huge green space and spot some famous landmarks along the way.
- National Trust: This famous charity and membership organisation manages over 500 historic houses, castles, ancient monuments, gardens, parks, and nature reserves across the UK. Many of the sites are cycle-friendly, and there are quite often special half-term activities for the kids too, so it’s worth checking what’s on in advance. The Dudmaston Estate in Shropshire has a two mile woodland trail which is perfect for a family bike ride. Explore the area at your own pace and spot ancient trees and the White Admiral Butterfly. It’s also a great place for a family picnic.
- Disused Railways: Great for exploring an area’s industrial history, these once busy tracks are now the perfect routes for family cycling. The railways were engineered to be as flat as possible, so you’re guaranteed a nice gentle ride on an even surface. Discover Manchester’s traffic-free Cycleway, also known as The Fallowfield Loop Line. This 16-mile route starts and finishes at the National Cycling Centre, home of Team GB. The route is flat and well-surfaced, and only deviates onto the road for a short 200 metre stretch. Chorlton Park at the midway point of the route is an ideal stopping point for lunch.
- Canals & Rivers: Before railways came along, canals were a thriving transport network. There are miles and miles of flat canal and river routes to enjoy by bike. The Canal and Railway Ride in Leicester, is a 15-mile route which goes along the Grand Union Canal, heading out of the city, before following the traffic-free former railway path back into Leicester. And there are plenty of stopping points along the route for that well earned cuppa.
It’s worth checking local authority websites to see if there are recommended routes near you. Head for a destination which will encourage your kids to ride, like a play park, or even going to spot fish or ducks in a river or seeing a view from a hilltop will be motivation to keep riding.
Where are the best family cycling holidays?
If you’re looking for family cycling holidays rather than a day trip, there are plenty of UK destinations to choose from with traffic-free routes, easy flat terrain, and lots of interesting sights and attractions on offer. And consider booking a self-catering holiday cottage in Cornwall, North Wales or the Lake District , which will provide the perfect base to explore the local surroundings on your bikes.
- The Camel Trail, Cornwall: This route runs for 18 miles with various stretches being traffic-free. One of the most popular family cycling routes in the country, the trail runs through beautiful woodland and through the Camel Estuary along the former path of an old railroad. It runs from Padstow via Wadebridge up to Bodmin Moor. There are also lots of bird hides along the way making the trail ideal for birdwatchers.
- The Lon Eifion Trail, North Wales: Starting at the stunning Caernarfon Castle, the 12.5-mile Lon Eifion Trail follows the Welsh Highland Railway route with views across Caernarfon Bay and Snowdonia. Completely traffic-free and with the castle to start your journey, this makes an excellent family cycling route. Though there are some hills as to be expected in Wales, so be prepared.
- The Eskdale Trail, Lake District: 8.5 miles in length, the Eskdale Trail begins with a train ride on the Ravenglass line. Head off from Ravenglass to Dalegarth on the converted train and then ride back to your car via country lanes, earthy tracks and grassy fields. There are plenty of food and drink stops on route and the wildlife you can spot makes this ride perfect for entertaining the kids.
Wherever you choose to go family cycling, don’t be too ambitious!
A 50-mile ride on a balance bike is not realistic, and even older kids won’t have the stamina of cycling parents. Too many steep hills are likely to be difficult for young children. Their bikes are likely to be heavier—relative to their weight—and they may not have the gear range to tackle hills. Try to choose flat routes, which are not too long - at least to start with. And look for rides with minimal on-road riding.
It’s also wise to choose accommodation close to other family-friendly activities which you can enjoy when you’re not on your bikes. Whether you’re staying in a self-catering holiday cottage or on a holiday park, consider staying close to water parks, beaches, farms, or other fun attractions so you can enjoy some down-time together as a family. And it’s a good idea to check out where the local restaurants and shops are too.
How can you cycle safely with your family?
Cycling with kids has many benefits, however, it’s really important that you stay safe if you’ll be cycling on the roads. Many accidents can be avoided, so make sure you’re prepared with our top cycling safety tips:
- Always wear a helmet: Whilst the law doesn’t state you need to wear a helmet when cycling, it can reduce the risk of serious head injuries by nearly 70%, so the whole family should wear one. Ensure growing kids have helmets which fit them correctly before going out on the roads. The right size helmet will sit level on your child’s head, with an inch gap between their eyebrows and the helmet. The straps need to sit firm when buckled up, but not be too tight or loose. Also consider knee and elbow pads for young children who are new to cycling.
- Be safe, be seen: If you think you may be cycling in the dark, make sure all your bikes have working lights. It’s a legal requirement to have and use one white light pointing straight forward and one red one pointing straight back. You must also have at least one red rear reflector and four amber pedal reflectors. And it’s a good idea to wear hi-vis clothing so other vehicles can spot you.
- Ensure you’re road-ready: Before you and your family begin your bike ride, check that all of your bikes are road-ready. Check your tyres are inflated properly, and your brakes work correctly. And pack a repair kit so you can fix any issues along the way. Growing children may also need their seat adjusting, so check that when your child is sitting on their bike, their feet are just brushing the floor.
- Plan your route: If you’re cycling with kids, you’ll want to go to places which have family-friendly routes and cycle paths. Somewhere that’s easy to ride, with relatively flat terrain. And choose roads with less traffic, or dedicated bike lanes. And always ride with traffic, never against it.
- Ride at the back: When you’re cycling as a family, ride behind your children so you can see them at all times. If there’s another adult with you, ask them to ride at the front so they can look for any potential hazards up ahead.
- Stay hydrated: Take plenty of water for the whole family, especially on a hot day. Take regular stops, and pack healthy snacks to have along your route, or even a picnic to enjoy at a picturesque spot in the countryside.
- Check the weather: Pack waterproof clothing and extra layers if the weather looks grim. And don’t forget sun lotion and sunglasses if cycling on a sunny day. Young children may also need a hat to protect them from the sun’s heat.
Cycling is a great family-fun activity. By taking some precautions, you can help your family stay safe while out riding.
How do you make cycling fun for kids?
Aside from the adventure of going out on your bikes and taking in the wonderful views the British Isles has to offer, there are a few other ways to keep the little ones entertained for longer.
Consider letting the youngest lead the way. Knowing the right pace to go at can be tricky when cycling with young children. It’s wise to have an adult at the front and the back of your group, but allow the littlest legs to do some pace-setting to keep them motivated and make them feel like they’re taking the lead.
You can also have a little race along a nice straight section of path to add a competitive element to your ride (and maybe an ice cream at the end of your ride). And why not play the classic game of ‘I spy’? It’s a good way to encourage everyone to stay together while taking in the surroundings. You can even collect interesting items along your route, like pine cones and pretty leaves.
Can I take my baby on a bike?
In the UK, it’s considered safe to take your baby on a bike with you, if they’re over the age of nine months old and can sit up unsupported. The most important thing is that you feel 100% safe cycling with them on board.
There are a variety of bike seats and carriers to choose from, so be sure to try out different options to see which you feel most comfortable with. The upper limit is restricted by weight rather than age, with seats typically rated for passengers weighing up to around 20kg (44lb). Exceeding the weight limit will make your bike more difficult to handle.
The most popular carriers for parents in UK cities are the rear fitting baby carriers, whereas the most popular for families in the countryside tend to be pull-along trailers.
Don’t be tempted to have your baby strapped to your body in a sling or carrier as this isn’t allowed under the Road Traffic Act 1998. You need to have your bike fitted with a suitable device or attachment to make it legal for cycling with more than one person on board.
- Rear mounted baby bike seats: come in three basic designs; cantilevered from the seat tube; fixed to a rear carrier rack; and fixed directly to the seat tube and seat stays. Those that bolt to the frame (or to a rack that’s bolted to the frame) are more stable and sturdy, but cannot be fitted to bikes with rear suspension. It’s easier to pedal and get on/off your bike with the child seat behind you than in front of you, and some seats will also recline to give a better and more comfortable ride for a sleeping child. Typically the more you pay, the sturdier the seat will be.
- Front mounted baby bike seats: have become popular in Europe and North America. The main benefits are that your baby will have an unobstructed view, and you’ll be able to see and talk to your child more easily. However, they can only be used safely until your child is around two years of age (some rear mounted seats can carry children up to the age of six). It’s also difficult to get on and off your bike with a front child seat on it, and steering can be a challenge as it can be difficult to reach around your child.
- Baby bike trailers: are great if you have more than one child or extra luggage to transport. Trailers come in various sizes, and many easily convert into a push buggy, which can make an ideal running buggy. As with bike seats, it’s recommended that a child is able to sit unaided before using a trailer, but some trailers can carry up to around 50kg, so it could last you for years to come. Trailers can be much more expensive than a bike seat, and communication with your little ones is more difficult. But there’s no denying trailers are better in the rain, with the mesh front and clear plastic window.
Whichever child bike seat or trailer you choose, children should always wear a helmet. And you must always follow installation instructions and age/height/weight limits.
Can my children cycle to school?
Cycling can be a fun and healthy way of encouraging children to get away from their screens, and enjoying the outdoors. And learning to ride from a young age will equip children with a skill for life. Cycling to school is a good starting point to get kids out and about on their bikes, and there are plenty of benefits of cycling to school:
- Encourages independence and builds confidence
- It’s good for the environment
- Reduces congestion on the road, and around the school gates
- It makes kids more active, so they will likely be more alert in lessons
All children under the age of 12 years old should be supervised if cycling to school. You should ensure children wear a cycle helmet and fluorescent/reflective clothing for safety, as well as having lights on their bike.
Children aged 12 years and over have to cycle on the roads by law. If you’re no longer taking your child to school, it’s a good idea to ensure they have a cycling ‘buddy’, such as a friend from school, when they’re out for safety.
As well as being road safe, ensure your child knows how to respond to other risks too, e.g. meeting strangers or getting lost. Make sure they have a mobile phone so they can get in touch if they run into trouble. And unfortunately accidents can happen and it’s important to be prepared, so ensure your child is able to respond in an emergency. They should know how to make a 999 call, and they need to know their own address.
What nutrition and physical training can help with family cycling?
It is possible to just hop on a bike and go. That’s assuming you’ve learnt to ride a bike and know basic safety measures to keep you and your family out of danger.
But it can be physically demanding, especially for little legs, or those who are new to cycling. Most kids want to learn to ride a bike, and it’s an easy way to get them out into the fresh air and exercising, but there are other health benefits too:
- Cycling will help your child develop their leg muscles and strengthen their bones.
- The continued exercise will help build their stamina and improve their cardiovascular development.
- Spending time indoors, watching TV and using gadgets can make kids a little lazy. This can lead to childhood obesity in some children. Cycling is good for helping your child get active, and keeping them at the ideal weight.
- Cycling is an excellent stress buster. A bicycle ride can help kids recharge their energy after a busy week at school.
- Cycling boosts confidence in children. It enhances their self-confidence because it increases independence. They become more aware of their bodies and their surroundings, and feel more responsible.
- It will also increase a child’s coordination and balance. And as it takes time to learn how to ride a bike, the patience, persistence and determination they’ll need to succeed will stand them in good stead for learning other difficult skills they’ll need in life.
Which family sports and activities can help with cycling?
We all know cycling is great exercise, but there are lots of good reasons to mix it up with some other sports and family activities, to help build up bone density, increase stamina, and strengthen muscles.
- Hiking: is a good family activity which is also beneficial to cyclists. It helps to build up your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and hip muscles, which are all crucial muscles for riding. Plus, it helps build bone density because it’s a weight-bearing exercise. It’s also great for getting children prepared for cycling as it improves self-discipline, helps sustain attention, and they’ll become more aware of their surroundings. It also allows them to process information quickly (useful when out on a busy road), and helps them to multitask. Plus, it can improve memory so children can remember instructions, directions, and other useful information.
- Swimming: can help you build a strong core and lengthen your hip flexors, as well as increase your range of motion and breathing capacity. It’s also great exercise for kids as they’ll develop strength and endurance, and it will improve their flexibility and balance. It might also help to avoid health problems associated with childhood obesity.
- Running: helps maintain aerobic fitness and strengthens bone density. Running is also a great activity to help kids build endurance, which is developed when they regularly engage in aerobic activity. It also encourages self-motivation and hard work.
- Skiing: works the legs and glutes which are both important in cycling. It also activates and strengthens the core which is crucial for maintaining a strong back and comfortable riding position. Plus, it helps with flexibility in both adults and children, and encourages quicker reaction times, which is useful when out on the bike.
How can good nutrition help with family cycling?
You should aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet whatever your activity level, as this will provide you with all the nutrients you need. For children, a healthy, varied diet with the right serving sizes ensures proper growth and development. And as you get older, you need to eat a healthy diet to give your body energy throughout the day, especially during exercise. Here are some tips for serving healthy meals for the whole family:
- Fruit and vegetables: are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium. They're also an excellent source of fibre, which can help to maintain a healthy digestive system. Try adding sliced banana or blueberries to morning cereal, or offer kids a fruit smoothie with a vegetable or two thrown in. And swap mayo and ketchup for hummus or pesto. Or add chopped up vegetables to tomato sauce and serve it with whole grain pasta.
- Dairy, proteins, and grains: are important to keep your family healthy. Low-fat dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese are excellent sources of bone-building calcium and vitamin D, as are dark leafy greens, fish, and almond milk. When buying rice, oats, or corn, opt for whole grain versions. And both adults and growing children need a good amount of protein in their diet, which can be found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and beans. Replace your usual yoghurt with Greek style yoghurt, and go for lean cuts when choosing meat and poultry. And we all need some fat in our diet, but avoid butter and animal fats, and instead go for plant-based fats such as olive oil.
Limit also your salt and sugar intake where possible. Children aged four to six years should only consume around five teaspoons of sugar per day, which doesn’t sound like a lot. And when you compare that to a can of coke for example, that contains almost double their daily allowance in just one hit. It’s easier to cut back on your children’s intake of sweets, biscuits and ice cream, but hidden sugars and salt are found in everyday foods too, including bread, soups, condiments, and fast food.
Try substituting fizzy drinks for water or low-sugar squash. Limit processed and fast foods, and bake your own cakes and treats at home rather than buying sugar-loaded shop-bought versions.
With everyone being so busy nowadays, it can sometimes be difficult to eat dinner together, and at the same time every evening. But try to have dinner as a family as often as possible, as kids will learn to make healthier meal choices and they’ll be more likely to carry these healthier eating habits into adulthood too.
At Decathlon, we’ve got a variety of bike styles to choose from for men and women, for adults and children. Check out our full range of bikes to find the ones that are right for you and your family.