Tips for bike rides with kids
I probably shouldn't brag, but dag, my kids are good at bike rides. They have become such pros over the last year, building up both their physical endurance on a bike as well as knowledge of the rules of the road. Bicycling around here carries with it both great fun and great responsibility, the latter especially downtown where there is lots of vehicular, pedestrian, and other cyclist traffic. (And cobblestones.) But mostly fun!
I am amazed at the hard rides they can do. I remember last fall when we went on a 14km bike ride and I was so pleased we all made it out and back. But they've got even better! Last month, when my parents were here, we rode 33km round-trip to the edge of Ruissalo and back. Last week the kids and I rode 20km round-trip to a new park and beach we'd been wanting to try out. It feels so good to do hard things. It's so rewarding to work hard and sweat and grumble about hills but ride up them anyway, and then arrive at your destination (that is one thing - we always try to have a destination for long rides) knowing you'll have to pedal all the way back home when the time comes.
Tonight we rode 26km round-trip to a reservoir to go swimming. It was a tough ride on the way there thanks to hills and a lovely headwind. But the views made my heart soar - both the kids/husband and nature!
On the way home, four of us had made it up a hill and were waiting for Miriam. She was taking a little longer than she should have, and when we looked back, what do you know - she was picking wild raspberries in the forest by the trail! She has an eye for spotting berries. She and I stopped three times on the way home to pick raspberries, finally making a deal with each other after the last time that we would not stop anymore, no matter how many bushes we saw.
I think before moving here, I may have been tempted to say, "oh, my kids could never do that. I could never just load up three children on my own [or even with Jeremy] and say 'let's go on a 12-mile bike ride.'" Here are a few things I've learned over the past year.
1. Use good bikes that work well. They don't have to be fancy, but smooth pedaling/braking and a selection of gears makes riding easier for everyone.
2. Consider a rumble seat. I think sometimes it's easy to assume you can't go on bike rides with toddlers. We've been using a rumble seat with Sterling since he was 7 months or so (YMMV). Both Jeremy and I have the attachment mechanism on our bikes so we can attach the rumble seat to either bike. Other options include a trailer or a piccolo attachment.
3. Build up distances gradually. We started the kids out with a lot of around-town errands of 3-5km. Our first big ride was the 14km one I mentioned above, and it was challenging. But we do that ride and other similar ones all the time now.
4. With longer rides, have a destination. For kids (and adults!), riding 33km just to ride can be overwhelming. But riding 16.5km to a beach, playing/eating for a while, and then riding 16.5km home is much more manageable. Even a break at a park or a break to pop into the store for ice cream can make all the difference.
5. Speaking of: bring snacks. Not because kids always need snacks, but because biking is serious exercise and uses a lot of energy. The last thing you need is a kid running out of steam on the way home.
6. Establish what order (usually single-file line) you'll ride in on the way, and then change it up on the way home if your kids are fussy about being first or second (or whatever). We had to do this in our family because otherwise, the girls were always jockeying for position and ignoring traffic and stoplights, etc. For us, what works best is Parent 1 in front with Sterling, daughter, daughter, and Parent 2 bringing up the rear.
7. Take your time. Our bike rides are much more pleasant when we don't push the kids to go too fast.
I love going on bike rides with my family, and I am so glad that Finland has such a comprehensive bike path network all over the city and even rural areas. It makes this hobby that much more enjoyable.