Even the most active parents sometimes have trouble getting their kids out of the house and onto their bikes. Whether you want to go for a big weekend bike ride as a family, or you just want your kiddo to practice riding around the neighborhood, here are some ideas on how to get them off of the couch.
#1: Buy Them a Good Bike that Fits
I know parents who are avid cyclist themselves, who ride $6K bikes but put their kids on bikes from Walmart. While I’m all for saving money on a bike that is going to be quickly outgrown, it is better to find a quality bike on Craigslist than it is to buy an inferior bike from a big box store.
Unfortunately, most kids bikes are WAY too heavy and have poor geometry. If a bike is too big or too heavy for a child, they aren’t going to have fun riding it very far. If you want your child to be excited about riding, buy them a decent bike.
If you need help picking a good bike, check out my Guide to Buying a Quality Kids Bike.
#2: Get Them Fun Gear
While biking should be more about quality family time than it should be about spending money, a piece of two or fun gear can be hugely motivating for kids. This might be a cool new helmet, a fun hydration pack, or bike-specific clothes. If you let your child help pick the item they are that much more likely to be excited about it.
#3: Choose a Destination
Don’t just “go for a bike ride”—pick a destination. This might be a place to swim, an ice cream shop, a playground, or a great picnic spot. This way when your child inevitably gets worn out or bored half-way thru the ride, you can remind them where you are headed. Instant motivation!
#4: Go to a Bike Park
I’ve found that there’s nothing quite as effective at getting kids excited about bikes as a bike park. If there is a bike-specific park in your area, go spend an afternoon there. Most bike parks will have a child-sized pump track and skills area.
The thing about a bike park is that it is all about playing on the bike; it’s not about exercise or about getting somewhere. Kids get to gain skills and confidence, see other children stoked on bicycles, and have some fun.
#5: Give them Options
We’ve learned that in order to make family bike rides work for us, we need multiple ways for Little P to come along for the ride. When he was younger, we’d usually have our son start out on his own bike and then hop in the Weehoo or Mac-Ride when he got tired. These days, we tend to let him ride his own bike but tow him with the Tow-Whee when he gets tired.
We’ve also found it is helpful to offer options for a ride before leaving the house (when it’s practical). Do you want to ride your balance bike or your pedal bike? Do you want to ride in the Weehoo or the Chariot? Do you want to ride on your own or do you want to ride with Dad? Giving kids a feeling of some control makes them more likely to be cooperative.
#6: Make it Fun
Little things can go a long ways in keeping kids engaged and having fun. In our family, we all have a bell on our bikes and we can get a bit carried away riding down the street dinging our bells at each other and at passerby.
Blair also has a little speaker that attaches to his handlebars. When P is riding on the TykeToter the two of them will listen to music and rock out while they ride. Small things like this keep kids entertained for long rides.
#7: Bring Snacks
Don’t underestimate the motivational power of snacks! Kids who are biking on their own are capable of working up quite an appetite, and little tykes riding in a trailer love snacks for entertainment.
We usually plan at least one snack stop into every ride. Breaking up a ride with some breaks can also help to make it more manageable for kids. We like easy-to-pack snacks like granola bars, fruit, and crackers.
#8: Sign Them Up for an Organized Ride, Race, or Camp
Older kids can gain lots of motivation from joining an organized event or program. Many organized bike rides have kid-friendly distances that your child can ride.
If your kiddo is the competitive type, they might also be interested in racing. If they prefer more social activities, put your child in a summer camp or development program.
#9: Spend Time Spectating
Just as kids are motivated to play football after spending Sunday afternoon watching the big game with dad, they can also be inspired by watching cycling events. Take your child to a local criterium or mountain bike race and bring a cowbell. The energy and enthusiasm for biking at a race is super contagious for kids.
If there aren’t any races nearby any time soon, try YouTube. Watching mountain bike videos can make a kid antsy to get outside in no time.
#10: Bribe Them
My passion is cycling so I’m not above bribery when it comes to getting out for a bike ride. This may not make me popular, but I have been known to resort to bribing my son with cartoons and with candy.
What to Do When Nothing Works
Have you tried all of the above, and you still can’t get your kid excited about riding? Give it a break. Forcing your child to ride probably isn’t going to instill a love of cycling in them.
Model good behavior for them. Let them see you going for a ride. Try asking them to bike again in a week. Or a month. Chances are if you making cycling an integral part of your family life, they’ll come around eventually.
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The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!