Many avid cyclists would love to share their joy of cycling with their children, but some find that their children aren’t interested at all. I am lucky – for now – that my son shares my love of the sport. How did this happen?
It’s a good question, and I cannot claim to have found the magic bullet. I think the most important aspect is that your children need to discover cycling for themselves. If you push them into any sport, there are typically two outcomes: They either become compliant clones of you without much personality of their own, or they rebel against you and never touch a bike. Neither outcome is what you want.
My son showed no interest in bikes for a long time. It was only when his younger sister taught herself to ride with a neighbor’s bike, that he, too, wanted to learn to ride. We have an alley with infrequent traffic and they typically rode there with the neighbor children. We then went on some rides around the neighborhood as a family, and we took the opportunity to teach them how to ride in traffic and anticipate problems before they occur.
A year or two later my son graduated from a $3 yard sale one-speed to his first real kid’s cyclocross bike (shown below). Then he started to enjoy cycling. We equipped his bike with a custom-made rack, fenders and lights. I made up outings that the two of us could go on, like around Magnolia (5 to 10 miles), and I’ll have to admit to adding an enticement of a stop at a local ice-cream shop.
We rode together to music lessons, basketball, soccer, museums… He soon started riding by himself to his activities. Then, one day, he decided to “go on a ride” by himself. He tried to retrace a route we had taken before. He got lost and discovered some interesting streets and sites. When he found his way home, he clearly had been bitten by the bug of cycling. He tested his new-found freedom by riding places that I thought a bit challenging, but he did OK. He learned to navigate by landmarks, such as the ship canal that bisects Seattle, and he always found his way home. (He knows our phone number, just in case, and I taught him how to fix a flat.) When he’s “bored”, many times he’ll decide to go for a ride or out for a run.
When the Islabike test bike arrived last summer, he read in the product description that it was suitable for cyclocross, and he wanted to try that. The result was a wonderful season of ‘cross last autumn. Lately, he’s joined me on longer rides on this bike. We’ll see where it all goes. He is still young, and his interests range wide. I don’t know whether he’ll enjoy cycling for the rest of his life – for the moment, I am just enjoying our rides together.
The impetus for each step in his cycling came from him, and I think that is important. On the other hand, my daughter had little interest in cycling for a few years, and that was OK, too. Both have to develop their own, unique personalities, and it’s my job to connect to them in their own worlds, rather than try to drag them into mine.
To summarize, my suggestions include:
- Don’t push your child toward cycling, but allow them to join you when they want to. Make sure your rides together are suited to their abilities.
- Buy a good bike for your kids. The cheaper ones are usually not much fun to ride. Don’t worry that they’ll outgrow it – good bikes have high resale values, so you’ll get most of your money back. More importantly, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to have them enjoy cycling.
- Trust your kids, and work with them to increase their responsibilities and range. Don’t be afraid to let them ride by themselves once they have shown that they are competent in traffic.
- Let your passion be a habit that your children observe in you, and allow them to define their own passion.
- Be proud of your child(ren).