More skills for family biking adventures

Ready for Anything?

Unsealed surfaces

It is important to have some skills and experience for riding safely on the type of surface you will be on. I’ve learned this the hard way! Loose surface riding requires different skills and awareness than riding on a sealed path:

  • Brake and steer smoothly
  • Avoid deeper areas of loose gravel/surface material where you will have less traction.
  • Tree roots, wet rocks and fallen leaves can be slippery
  • Sand makes it hard to control your bike
  • Find the right speed for downhills, you are more likely to fall if too fast or too slow.
  • Riding ‘in control’ so you can stop when needed and take bends safely.
  • Keeping a safe distance between riders so they can maneuver and ‘pick their line’

A number of schools and parks have bikes skills tracks where you can learn these skills in a safe and controlled environment. Practice until you are confident, but always approach different loose surfaces with caution until you get the feel for them.

Get comfortable on a variety of surfaces

MTB/Off road riding

Mountain Bike Riding (MTB) and BMX riding each require different sets of skills. Many areas have clubs who will offer ‘have a go’ sessions or ‘open days’ where members are available to assist you. Some have coaches and/or offer skills training via courses. There may be specific options available for women and children.

Basic mountain biking tips:

  • Make sure your bike and tyres are suitable.
  • Start with easy trails and tracks (they are graded) and make use of skills areas in bike parks.
  • Observe the ‘line’ that other riders take to learn how to approach tricky sections.
  • Ride with a buddy.
  • Observe track signage for directions (some are one-way) and difficulty gradings.
  • Move aside for faster riders.

Using Gears

Gears on a bicycle help us cycle more efficiently, conserving energy. Learning to use the correct gear for the situation makes your riding easier and more enjoyable. Practice makes perfect. Here are some tips:

  • Changing down makes it easier to turn the pedals
  • Changing up increases pedal resistance
  • If you are grinding away you are probably in the wrong gear
  • If your legs are spinning like the wind and you don’t feel any resistance (kind of like pedalling whilst riding down a hill) you are probably in the wrong gear
  • Listen to when riders around you change gear, this will help you learn when to change and in time you’ll be able to do it instinctively.
  • Practice the mechanics of using your gear levers, then slightly easing pedal power after changing, to allow time for the chain to move
  • Be kind to your chain: make sure you are not in extreme opposite gears on each of the front and back chain ring.
  • Anticipate hills by changing down before effort gets too hard, and incrementally changing down as it gets steeper
  • Change down when approaching an intersection or other possible stop. This will make it easier for you to take off smoothly.
  • Left = big changes, right = fine tuning. For example if you have a big hill or ramp ahead of you it will be quicker to change down using the left gear lever.
  • Don’t shift too quickly, ensure the chain has engaged the new gear before changing again, else you may drop your chain.
Want more on gears? Check out:

For kids: How do Bike Gears Work? | Design Squad – YouTube

First Aid

Life has a way of being unpredictable, so hope for the best and plan for the worst. Carry a basic first aid kit and know how to use it. Buy a compact kit designed for carrying or make up your own in a little toiletry bag or plastic food box.

Occasion: Approach: What to include:
Around town As a parent, I carry sticking plasters and tissues with me wherever I go. For anything more serious, we are in the suburbs and help will be close at hand. Plasters


Excursions further afield As a rule of thumb, the further from home we are going, and the longer we are riding, the more geared up we will be. Plasters in a variety of sizes

Triangular Bandage

Gauze/Crepe Bandage

Non-stick sterile dressings

Antiseptic wound cleansing wipes (single use)

Safety pin

Medical adhesive tape

Cycle touring with kids We would carry the following items in addition to the basic excursion kit. Pain relief

Rescue Remedy / Emergency Essence

Oral Arnica

Anti-itch creme (Paypaya Ointment is good)

Balm for sore skin (we like ‘Everything Balm’

Way way way off the beaten track If cycle touring in very remote locations or undeveloped countries. Invest in a traveller’s medical kit, including prescription items and instructions, from a specialist Travel Medical Centre.

Bike safety checks

As prevention is always better than cure, regularly check your bike and get any problems attended to promptly. Check:

  • Helmet
    • Firm straps – you can only fit one finger under the chin strap.
    • Sits straight and no more than two fingers above your ears and eyebrows
    • No damage to straps or cracks in shell/cover. If so, replace it.
  • Bike frame
    • Check for cracks especially around the joints and underneath.
    • If it is cracked don’t ride it.
  • Tyres
    • Use the thumb test: push with your thumb, if it is hard to make a dent then they are good, else pump them up.
    • Recommended tyre pressure is printed on the side of the tyre. Use the lower end of the range for off-road riding, and the higher end of the range for on-road riding or if carrying more load. Use the gauge on your pump or purchase a small tyre gauge.
    • Check the surface of your tyre to make sure there is nothing embedded in it that might puncture your tube. Also check for cracks and wear.
  • Gears and chain
    • Lube your chain (apply some oil or specialised chain lubricant) and gently wipe off excess lube and debris.
    • Check your chain and gears for any signs of damage or obstructions
    • Check your gear cables are not damaged
  • Handlebars
    • Ensure they are done up tightly: no rattles or movement
  • Brakes
    • Brake pads should be more than 3mm thick
    • Squeeze the brake levers halfway – the pads should fully touch the rim, else they need adjusting
    • Check brake cables for fraying
    • Disc brakes should feel firm, not spongy
  • Wheels
    • Check by turning your bike upside down
    • Are you wheels on tight?
    • Quick release levers should be facing backward when closed. They should swing at 180 degrees and begin to be tight at 90 degrees. Make sure they are closed all the way.
    • Spin your wheels and look for any sideways wobble.
    • Your wheels should spin freely without rubbing against anything. If they do rub and slow down, then your wheel is probably out of true and you might have a broken spoke.

Spotted a problem? Your bike shop or bike mechanic will be able to help you further.

Further reading:

Mending a puncture

You’ll be glad to hear that punctures don’t happen often and are easy to fix yourself.


To reduce your risk of punctures, and make riding easier, ensure your tyres are properly inflated. Avoid debris on the road. Check your tyres regularly.


Puncture repair kits usually come with instructions. You can learn by watching someone else, or via YouTube and then have a go yourself.

  1. Remove the wheel. Quick release levers will make this easier. Before you take it off, note the direction of the tyre tread so you can put it back the same way. You may need to disconnect v-brakes if your tyre is chunky.
  2. Remove the tyre using tyre levers. Leave it on the rim, but surrounding the rim instead of tucked inside.
  3. Take off the valve cap then remove the inner tube.
  4. Identify the site of the puncture and repair it according to your patch kits instructions.
  5. Allow time for the patch to adhere, then test to make sure there is not another hole and your patch is holding. Whilst waiting, run your fingers along the inside of your tyre to feel for anything sharp that may have caused the puncture. Check the outside of the tyre for embedded debris that may become the source of your next puncture.
  6. With a little air in the tube (for easier handling) place the tube back inside the tyre. Take your time and make sure it is not twisted or caught.
  7. Carefully, ensuring you don’t snag the inner tube, tuck the tyre back into the wheel rim. The last bit can be hard and may require tyre levers. If so, be very careful not to snag or pinch your tube. The newer your tyre, the harder this step is.
  8. Pump up your tyre to the recommended pressure (or until it passes the thumb test). This is hard work with a small pump, so get all your riding buddies to take a turn.
  9. Put the wheel back on, in the right direction.
  10. Don’t forget to reconnect your brakes! Well done on mending your first puncture!


If you carry a spare tube whilst riding, you can skip steps 4 and 5 above, and repair your tube at home (with this website or YouTube in front of you). And if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, your local bike shop can do the whole job for you.

Hint: Waterless hand cleaner is great for getting grease off hands. Or wipe them on the grass. Perhaps this is why lycra bike shorts are usually black!


February is BikeWise month. Throughout New Zealand events are held to encourage people to get out and ride their bikes. These include ‘Go by Bike day’ and ‘Big Bike Tune Ups’, opportunities to:

  • Pick up maps and information
  • Get a free breakfast (‘go by bike’ breakfasts)
  • Watch puncture repair demonstrations
  • Get a quick maintenance check for your bike
  • Meet other bike riders
  • Win prizes
  • Get free safety gear

Local organisations run other events throughout the year, including beginner bike maintenance and skills sessions.

Never too young to learn the art of puncture repair.

Putting on a dropped chain

As my skill levels have improved (and my local terrain become less hilly) I don’t drop my chain nearly as much as I used to. However being able to put it back on without getting covered in grease remains a useful. Some people can do this without stopping and getting off, I cannot – I usually find I have ground to a halt anyway. So I stop, move off the road or path, and ensure I am safe. Then I lift the rear of my bike so the rear wheel is off the ground. After growing some extra limbs I gently turn the pedals whilst changing gear down. This usually causes the chain to move back on. Then I turn some more to ensure it is happily engaged, and change gears a bit to ensure all is good. Then off I go. No touching the chain, no black hands!

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