Where do you ride – Finding a place to ride

Once you have your bikes you will need somewhere to ride them.  This is where many dreams come unstuck resulting in bikes gathering dust and cobwebs.  So how do you find where to ride?

Finding Places to Ride

You can find places to ride by:

  • Exploring your neighbourhood (if it is not too hilly).  A good start is a ride around the block, to the dairy or the park
  • Asking other families where they ride
  • Observing riders in your local area
  • Looking at your council or regional council website for information
  • Inquiring at your local i-site, who may have cycle maps available
  • Checking in at your library for cycle maps and brochures from your local authority
  • Reading books – the Kennett brothers have published a number of books focused on places to ride in New Zealand, including one on ‘Short Easy Bike Rides’
  • Surfing the net, including local cycling-focused websites, search engines and online maps

To begin with, look for off-road paths so you can develop your skills without traffic on your shoulder.  On a map, the key will identify them as dedicated or shared cycle paths.   If it is tricky finding somewhere suitable to practice then think ‘outside of the box’.

Thinking Outside the Box: Where to Ride

Experience.  Until you are quite confident, the idea of sharing a path can be daunting.  When I rediscovered riding I was in my twenties.  I had never encountered gear levers before, nor so many gears!  There were no footpaths near home, and I was not at all ready to venture unsteadily onto the road.  I relearned how to ride, and mastered the art of gear changing, by cycling around the local cemetery.   It was accessible, quiet and had a variety of terrain for me to practice on.  

Don’t forget your own neighbourhood: Sunday Rides, and the places you regularly visit: Everyday Cycling

The goldilocks zone for beginner riders

Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge not too hot and not too cold, a beginner rider has some comfort requirements too.  Consider potential riding locations in light of:

  • Reasonably flat (if you can walk it then usually you can bike it too, and you can always do both, i.e. walk the bike on tricky bits)
  • Consistent surface, not too bumpy or rutted
  • Little or no traffic
  • Graded ‘Easy’ if it is a graded track
  • If there is a hill, go uphill first: it is easier to have downhill on your homeward journey.  Same applies to wind: having a tailwind on the trip home is wise.

School Bike Tracks

Bike tracks and skills courses within school grounds have become popular.  Incorporating a variety of surfaces and terrain, these are great places to develop your skills in preparation for riding on ‘real trails’.  ‘Bikes in Schools’ is a charitable trust that works with schools to develop bike tracks and ‘bike libraries’.  Their blog contains links to schools who participate in the program:  Bikes in Schools.  Some schools with tracks are not part of this program, so it is worth asking around or exploring your local schools (outside school hours).  Visiting a school bike track is a lot of fun, and has the added bonus of checking out their playground too!  If they don’t have a bike track, their sealed paths, play areas and tennis courts provide useful riding surfaces.

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School bike track: Gracefield School, Lower Hutt

Parks with Bike Tracks

Another wonderful initiative is that of local councils who incorporate bike tracks into their parks.  These include mini road systems where children can learn the rules of the road, such as keeping left, giving way, and going the correct way around roundabouts.  It can be very funny to watch!  All kinds of bikes are welcome, from tots on their ride ons through to accompanying adults.  Notable examples include Marine Parade in Napier (complete with traffic lights) and Avalon Park in Lower Hutt (huge road system complete with level crossings).  

In parks you may also find shared use cycle/footpaths, BMX or mountain bike tracks and ‘skills areas’.  A ‘skills area’ will have special built structures where you can practice various on or off road skills such as cornering, cycling over humps and bridges and holding your line on narrow courses.  

Visiting a park with a bike track is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills in a safe place, and the availability of playgrounds, toilets and picnic facilities mean you can make it a great day out.

Avalon Park Bike Track

Avalon Park Bike Track, Lower Hutt

New Zealand Cycle Trail

The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, is an expanding network of rides throughout the country.  Rides are grouped as ‘Great Rides’, showcasing the best of New Zealand’s scenery, and ‘Cycle Touring Routes’.  You may find you have part of Nga Haerenga on your doorstep just waiting for you to explore it!

nzcycletrail.com is your go-to source for information about the trails, tracks and routes. This excellent website allows you to view ride options by region and grade.  The grades range from 1:Easiest through to 5:Expert and are described on the website.  Grade 1 is a great place to start.  

You can also pick up a brochure about the New Zealand Cycle Trail from iSites and the Automobile Association (AA).  Some good books have been written about the NZ Cycle Trail also, such as those by the Kennett Brothers.

Rail Trails

Some of New Zealand’s ‘Great Rides’ are Rail Trails.  Rail Trails are built on disused rail corridors.  Usually the tracks are gone, but the supporting structures (like bridges and tunnels) and gentle gradients remain, making them the perfect place for a cycle trail.  Although the whole trail length may take several days to complete, it is usually possible to ride sections of the trail according to what suits your family.

Examples:

The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s most famous example.  Hugely popular with local and overseas visitors, it provides excellent family cycling and facilities.

In the Wellington region, the Rimutaka Incline follows the route of the old railway over the Rimutaka hills between Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa.  It is a lovely cycle and includes a fabulous tunnel to explore near the summit.

Further north, the Hauraki Plains trail provides excellent cycling around the areas of Thames, Wahi and Te Aroha.  The Te Aroha to Wahi leg is particularly scenic and memorable.  Part of the old railway is still in use as a vintage train ride attraction, which you can take bikes on, or you can enjoy riding the scenic cycling trail built near the railway line.

 

Local Trails

Your local area may be rich in cycling trails that have been built by your local authorities, or in the case of off-road trails, by willing volunteers.  There is no single source of information on these trails and pathways.  Your can start by checking your local council or regional authority website, inquiring at i-sites, or generally asking around.  Some local bodies produce printed cycle maps which are very handy.  Others prefer you to rely on their signage: not so handy as signs can go missing and get defaced.  Cycle maps and signs only provide limited ‘reference’ information as a guide, so it is a good idea to have a proper map, portable satnav or smart phone map.  If you are cycling off-road, unless the trails are especially well marked and short, a topographic map may be advisable.

Local trails can vary a lot.  Some are concrete paths gently meandering beside a stream.  Others are a network of shared use paths and quiet on-road cycling that form a connected network to get you from A to B.  Caution is needed as many cycle routes are works in progress and may not well connected yet.  You can be happily cycling along a well built off-road path and find it suddenly ends with nowhere for you to go but join the road or turnaround and head back.  Funding for cycling facilities is a very small portion of the local bodies budget, so support for cycling facilities is essential.  Other paths are built by volunteers or using community funds, e.g. the Rotary pathways in Hawkes Bay, Lower Hutt and Pakuranga.

Books

New Zealand’s leading authors of cycling books specific to New Zealand are the Kennett Brothers.  They have written over twenty titles and have something for everybody.  Your local library may be a source of books on cycling.  Many books  are focused on the sports of cycling and mountain biking, and on cycle touring.  Although less relevant to finding shorter family friendly rides, they may offer some ideas about beginner rides you could try.

What is your top place to ride with your kids?

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Too good not to share – A Family Biking Guide

Covering everything from Cycling whilst Pregnant through Biking with babies, toddlers, teaching your child to ride and cycling to school, this great guide from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is a great resource to have in your bookmarks.  It was too good a find not to share!

http://www.sfbike.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/SF-Bicycle-Coalition-FamilyBikingGuide.pdf

10 Reasons to bike with your kids

Do you need a bit of motivation, or some well reasoned selling points up your sleeve?  Here are my top 10 answers to the question of “Why cycle with kids?”:

  1. It is fun.  Kids know it, and just to convince the grown ups…. have you noticed how many bikes are used in advertising these days.  There is a reason for that: bikes are a symbol of fun, freedom and adventure.  Biking is about simple, un-rushed pleasure.
  2. It is slow.  Huh?  Aren’t we too busy to be slow? Well, yes, exactly!  Sometimes we just need to slow down and see what we are missing when we rush through our lives.  Biking with your kids means really experiencing the world around you, stopping to explore or chat, and moving at a more child friendly pace for a while.
  3. It is time.  Of all the gifts we give our children the ones they remember most are time and shared experiences.  Getting out on our bikes and sharing some time together, undistracted by chores, devices or interruptions is a precious gift indeed.
  4. It is learning.  Some of the best learning of all comes so well disguised that we don’t even realise it is happening.  Biking together is an opportunity to learn new skills, impart knowledge and tell family stories.  And not just about cycling: about the world around us, perseverance, courage, trying new things, respect, tolerance, navigation, self-management…. the list is huge.
  5. It is sharing.  Paths, tracks, footpaths, road space – when you are out on the bike you are sharing space with other people.  People on foot, cars, other bike users, farmers, disabled users, dog-walkers, etc.  Learning to share with care is a life skill worthy of it’s own mention.  Our kids will be much better and safer drivers from having been coached in this skill from an early age.
  6. It is healthy.  1 in 9 Kiwi kids are obese and plenty more are overweight.  We are not moving as much as we should, and are surrounded by lots of yummy treats that are just a little bit too easy to get hold of.  So have your cake (ice cream, chocolate…)  and eat it too: food is energy in, cycling is energy out.  My kind of maths!
  7. It is green.  Using a bike instead of a car for some of your trips is a worthy goal to have.  The vast majority of our car trips are less than 3km.  With kids that might seem to far to walk, but definitely not to far to cycle.  When you start out cycling for fun on the weekend, it may give you the confidence you need to use your bike for other trips too, and then we all win: you, your health, and our planet.
  8. It is outside.  ‘Nature deficit disorder’ is a term coined to describe the challenge that we are not spending enough time outdoors.  Research is increasingly showing just how much we benefit from time outside.  Beyond the exercise benefits, it is a great stress-reducer.  In our busy lives that sounds just the ticket!
  9. It is a life skill.  The world is changing, our lives are busier, our cities are more populous and congested.  The worlds best thinkers are struggling with these challenges.  Many agree that riding a bike is a good way to address some of those problems: encouraging us to live closer to where we work and play, and reducing the amount of traffic pollution and congestion.  Riding safely and confidently is a key to independent mobility later in life.  And it might even mean you aren’t signing up to be your kids taxi driver well into their teen years.
  10. It is fun.  Is it cheating to mention fun twice?  No surely not! ( I have many more reasons I could put in instead).  Fun gets a second mention because it is the top reason to bike with your kids.  And who doesn’t want more fun in their life!

There you have it, motivation sorted.  Just remember the saying “the hardest part of going for a run is getting your shoes on”.  Sometimes getting started is tricky, but we get going when we focus on just how great it will be once we are on our way and doing what we enjoy.  Now you’ve got 10 things to focus on, so grab your bikes and get out there!

Spring into spring

Despite the cold blast of recent days, there are plenty of signs that Spring is here. The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up, buds are on the trees and the blue sky beacons me to head outside. 

Has winter had you off your bike, enjoying some hibernation? If so your bike (and you?) might need a wee bit of attention. So use the arrival of spring as your inspiration to dust off your bike, give it a bit of TLC and head out to enjoy the splendor of Spring. 

Spring-tune your bike 

  1. Dust it off. Check the frame for any signs of damage or rust. 
  2. Pump it up. Check your tyres and pump them to the recommended pressure. A floor pump is a good investment for a biking family
  3. Chain reaction. Check your bikes chain and gears. Clean off any dust, grime or rust. Lube the chain (it should look silky)
  4. Accesorise. Make sure your helmet is fitting well and undamaged. Check your pump, spare tube, bike lights and other minimum equipment (see what’s in the bag) are all present and correct. 
  5. Check your brakes. Always do this before a ride (and after fixing a puncture). Make sure they engage well and don’t feel spongy. 

For more safety check tips check out this booklet from the NZTA. 

If you spot problems or are concerned about the state of your bike, pop into your local bike shop and talk about a safety check or service. 

Helping your kids perform these steps is a great way to teach them how to look after their bike. Now you are ready! Where will you go?