Xmas gift ideas for biking kids

Recently I was asked for three suggestions for Christmas gift ideas for biking kids.  But how to stop at three!  Here are some ideas for all budgets (including no-budget) that will put a smile on the face of all kind of biking kids (and the not so young). Continue reading “Xmas gift ideas for biking kids”

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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!

Trail Tales: Hauraki Rail Trail – Part 1

“Let’s do it again.”  That was our kids response after we completed the Otago Central Rail Trail a few years ago.  So after talking them out of taking the exact same holiday, we started scanning around for alternatives.  Thanks to the growth of the NZ Cycle Trails, we were spoilt for choice.

Decisions, decisions

Choosing to ride the Hauraki trail was influenced by:

  1. Suitability
    • Distances. Some trails are more readily adapted to ‘family size’ chunks than others.  Daily distances need to be manageable, with suitable accomodation and services at each ‘break point’.
    • Grading.  We needed a trail graded ‘Grade 1 – Easiest’.  For more on the grading system see: Trail grades for riders – NZ Cycle Trail
  2. Services
    • Established trails are serviced by businesses who can make your life easier in all sorts of ways, such as: food, accomodation, luggage forwarding, shuttle buses (for bikes and riders), bike hire, accessory hire, guided rides and tours, etc
    • Generally speaking, the longer the trail has been established for, the better the range and experience of the businesses servicing that trail.
    • There may also be services such as accomodation booking services, which can make life much easier.
  3. Interest
    • Riding is fun, but we all need variety in our lives and our holidays.  Having a great variety of activities, sights, and point of interest along the trail and nearby add to the overall attractiveness of the destination and your enjoyment of your holiday.  It really increases your chances of your holiday having ‘something for everybody’ so that everyone comes home with a special memory.
    • It really helps a lot if the terrain and scenery along the trail itself is interesting. Bridges, tunnels, rivers, and bits of history all help break the day into smaller goals.

A Good Match

The Hauraki Trail looked like a good match for us. With the kids aged 6 and 9 it wasn’t going to be too hard for them, yet it held plenty of interest along the way.  Particularly with a child interested in geology/rocks/mining (aka big holes in the ground).  It had the added attraction of being able to invite friends and relatives from that part of the country to join us for some/all of the trail.  However for our friends in Aussie with older kids, Hauraki looked less attractive: they were looking for bigger challenges.  Fair enough too: if you’ve got older kids this might not be the trail for you, or you might want to do it in bigger chunks.

We were also happy to wait a few years after the official opening of the trail (circa 2012), reasoning that this would be enough time for the services to get going.  We are reluctant to ‘wing it’ when touring with kids.

A Plan of Attack

Having made that decision it was time to get down to details.  When considering Hauraki as an option I’d looked at daily distances and made sure there would be somewhere to stay each night if we did shorter than the usual suggested daily distances.  So it didn’t take much more effort to convert those margin notes on the brochure into an itinerary that looked a bit like this:

Our Itinerary

Origin Destination Mode Distance en-route Notes
Day 1 Thames Hikutaia Bike 22 km Cheese Factory
Day 2 Hikutaia Wahi Bike & Train 24 km to Waikino Goldfields Railway 8km extra if don’t take train from Waikino to Wahi
Day 3 Wahi Paeroa Bike 22 km 1 hour windows walk
Day 4 Paeroa Te Aroha Bike 21 km
Day 5 Te Aroha Relax Gold Discovery Centre in Wahi.

Hot Pools!!!!!!!

When making your itinerary, consider:

  • Daily distances (see below)
  • Hills and likely wind directions (this may determine which direction you head in)
  • Attractions and interests along the way (factor in enough time to enjoy them, perhaps planning a rest day)
  • Availability of accomodation and food at each ‘break point’
Tip: How far in a day?

My rule of thumb for choosing an appropriate distance for cycling with kids is to pick what a reasonable distance for an adult would be and halve it.  Thus if a multi day ride suggests doing it in 50km days, change that to 25 km per day with kids (or less).   Choose shorter distances to start with, and increase the distance gradually.  Follow longer or hillier days with less challenging ones, or rest days.

Logistics

Originally we planned to use a luggage transfer service and leave our car at one end, just as we had done when we did the Otago Central Rail Trail.  In the end we scuttled that idea and chose the ‘leap frog’ option:

Leap frog for extra exercise

Leave the car at previous nights accommodation, cycle together to next overnight stop, then one person cycles back and gets the car.  You won’t need a luggage transfer service, you can dry your laundry in the car, and you have a car for getting around at your destination.

Our only disagreements were over whose turn it was to go back and get the car.  We both wanted to!

Accomodation

We made use of the accomodation booking service offered by the local trail trust.  I liked the idea of just being able to give them dates and locations, along with our basic requirements and have them do the legwork.  I also like supporting the trail trust in their work: they get a commission from the accomodation operators.  It worked out pretty well, and we had a good variety of suitable accomodation, and the one booking botch-up was quickly and professionally rectified (thumbs up!).

When choosing accomodation we like the option of self catering; we also look for: proximity to shops (for essential provisions) or the pub (for dinner), child-friendly (whether that means swimming pools or highchairs…), laundry facilities (wash and dry), and bike friendliness (safe place to lock your bike and an attempt not to wrinkle their nose when you turn up sweaty or drenched ….. well you would expect that wouldn’t you!).

In Part 2 I’ll share our experiences on the trail, including our highlights.

Let it rain

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

In New Zealand we are fortunate that we can cycle year round.  For most parts of the country, our winter temperatures are reasonable and our weather challenges consist of rain and wind.  Deeper south there are snow days to contend with, but they are the exception rather than the rule.  Elsewhere in the world winter means months of snow and ice, and not seeing grass until spring.

winter cycling in copenhagen by Mikael Colville-Andersen
Afternoon Traffic – Winter in Copenhagen by Mikael Coalville-Andersen

Continue reading “Let it rain”

A Very Useful Trailer

A Chariot CX2 cycle trailer was our major purchase when expecting our first child.  After two children and six years of use we were sad to see it go.  I made a photo slide show celebrating its usefulness:

We chose the ‘Chariot’ brand double trailer for its safety, versatility and protection.  We used it extensively not only for cycling, but also as a jogging pram, single and double stroller and cargo trailer for errands around town.  On outings, we’ve even put our daughters balance bike in the trailer with her, so she could self-propel from time to time.  It was light and easy to tow.  Our biggest accident with it was when we misjudged the track width and it jack-knifed off the trail and down a bank.  Our child, although surprised, was unharmed (and thought the whole incident was a blast).

Width and length of the overall ‘rig’ are the main downside of trailers.  Our local bike trail uses very narrow pinch point gates to discourage motorbikes.  To get past we had to unhitch it and lift it over, which is definitely a two person job.  As a stroller it was wide and not always easy to maneuver around shops and through doorways.  We found that the  disadvantages were outweighed by its versatility, durability, excellent weather protection and its gear/groceries carrying capacity.

What piece of family cycling equipment would you like to nominate for a hall of fame?

Riding on the road

The best way to teach children cycling skills is to ride with them.  Awareness, caution, predictability and visibility skills are grown layer upon layer with lots of practice, guidance and positive reinforcement.  When you introduce them to road riding, your position relative to them should enable you to be constantly observing and coaching.  And remember, a great coach tells us what we are doing right as well as where and how we need to improve. Continue reading “Riding on the road”