Cycling as a family is a goal for a lot of people, after all getting out into the open air and using pedal power to get around is not only good for you and your family’s fitness, it’s also good for the planet and your bank balance.
But it can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you’re used to packing everyone into the car whenever you want to go somewhere together. Cycle to School Week is the perfect time to get out on your bike, so we’ve put together some blog posts to help you get started. We have some some top tips for you, and in this blog we talk to two mums, Jas and Faith, about their family cycling journey.
Jas, from Birmingham, has three children aged six, eight and ten, who have been brought up around cycling. The family don’t have a car at all so cycling or public transport are the main ways they get around.
“I first learnt to ride later in life as an adult at university and have embraced the two-wheel life ever since,” Jas said. She learnt to drive at 18, but never really enjoyed it, so wanted to keep it pedal powered, even once her children were born.
The high costs of owning a car was also a big factor in sticking to cycling. “Avoiding the costs of car ownership and relying on pedal power and public transport contributed to me being able to pay my mortgage off, along with other things, within five years before the children were born.”
Jas didn’t want to stop cycling once she had a family. “I wanted to be able to continue my cycling journey with the children because driving wasn’t an option to me – I hadn’t driven in over a decade since I passed and I wanted to continue avoiding being a car owner. That’s when I came across the cargo bikes. It’s been one of the best decisions and investments I made for our family.”
Jas and her family regularly go out on their bikes, and having options for getting around makes it a lot easier. As well as the cargo bike, the family also use a follow-me tandem, which connects a child’s bike to the back of the parent’s bike, so they can all cycle together.
“That’s been really good because they can still use their own bike and also have a feel of the road but in a safe way.”
The family love cycling together – they enjoy being out in nature and the joint sense of achievement they get when they complete a journey together, whether that’s a shopping trip or a leisurely ride on the local Rea Valley route. They also pump each other up as they witness each other cycling journey, from balance bike to pedals to be confident on the roads. “It’s nice for the older ones to see the younger ones journey and kind of be rooting for them,” Jas said.
Feeling confident letting your children cycle on roads is difficult for a lot of parents. Jas found that a gradual process worked best. The children started out as passengers in her cargo bike, before moving on to the follow-me tandem and finally their own bikes.
“They had that sense of being on the road from that young age and I talked to them, like I’m indicating now and added a bit of road sense in that way,” Jas said, “it was in small steps so I think it felt more manageable and safe. It was never forced on them, it was only when they felt they were ready to do it.”
Cycling has not only helped the family get around together, it’s also had a positive effect on the children. ‘It’s really developed their confidence and their independence, because when they can cycle on their own it’s that little bit of oh I can do this,” Jas said.
We asked Jas for her top tips for families who want to start cycling together and stop using their cars so much.
“Start locally on small trips and traffic free areas in parks and cycle paths, so families can improve their confidence cycling together. Look at options for making cycling inclusive for all levels within the family, be that Bikeability for a parent who might not be that confident or for the children. And then for the younger ones who aren’t as independent, looking at bike seats and the follow me tandem, trailers and cargo bikes.
Just looking at ways that everyone can do it together, because obviously everyone’s at different levels and different parts of their cycling journey, so just looking at options for bringing it together.”
Jas is also in the process of launching a new business, Brum Bikes, which will help families access cargo bikes and accessories, making the first pedal in the right direction a much easier one!
Faith, from Sheffield, also cycled at university along with her husband, and they didn’t stop once they had children. “In Bristol, we used a bike trailer to transport our kids to nursery before they could cycle. When we moved to Sheffield, we lived a bit further away from school and needed to get our kids to school by bike in order to get to work on time. For us, cycling has always been about convenience and getting places where we needed to in time.”As well as being a practical way to travel, it also provided an activity they could do together. “When we had our third child, we had quite a big age gap and it was often difficult to find something we could do altogether. Cycling meant we could put the baby in the trailer and do longer rides with the older two.” Faith said.
The family still have a car, but their love of cycling has meant they have been able to go from two to just one car. They tried out a cargo bike a couple of years ago when they hired one for a few weeks and loved it, but felt they couldn’t justify the cost. When one of their cars was written off, they decided to take the plunge and replace the car with an electric cargo bike.
“It meant we could take our six-year-old out on cycle journeys he wasn’t big enough to cycle himself. Suddenly trips that we used to have to drive became cyclable. We began cycling to town, swimming lessons, parties and other regular events. It was so quick and easy it became second nature to cycle, and so we expanded bike trips to accommodate the supermarket shop, IKEA trips, evening outings and football matches. We have even cycled the eight-year-old up to Burbage in it.” Faith told us.
“A few years ago we thought we needed two cars; now we only really use the car for long journeys.”
Using pedal power has been great for the family and something they really enjoy. Faith said “The best part for us is getting places quickly and feeling a sense of achievement getting there on two wheels.
“We both have busy jobs so sometimes our cycle commutes are the only times we can find for exercise. Having a slot at the start and end of the day is a good break between work and home stresses. I think it makes us more aware of the environment and is good for our wellbeing.”
Faith also gave us her tips for starting cycling as a family.
“It’s easy to be intimidated by drivers and Sheffield’s busy roads, so I think getting some help to increase confidence on the roads is worthwhile.”
“I would also make time for cycling off road – Clumber Park, Sherwood Pines and the off road trails are great for stress free riding as a family without traffic.
I would also urge families to support school streets – road closures to make it safer for school children around school entrances, and to keep an eye on council consultations for LTNs. These kind of proposals often generate lots of negative feedback , but we need radical changes to road networks to make it safer for younger children to use the roads on their bikes.”
The family don’t plan on stopping here either.
“The next challenge for us is to work out if we can become car free. It’s a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, but I think if we had time to look properly at the alternatives, we could probably do it within the next five years.”
If you are interested in cycling with your family and need some help, have a look at our Bikeability training for families.