As a passionate cyclist himself, Cycle SOS consultant solicitor Paul Darlington was keen to make sure his daughter developed cycling skills and bike confidence. Here he shares his tips on helping your child to build a life-long love of bike riding.
“With my work and interest in cycling it was inevitable that Pippa was going to find herself on a bicycle,” says Darlington. “Luckily, she didn’t have any resistance to it and from her first ride has always loved cycling.”
Paul Darlington is a consultant solicitor at Cycle SOS but also trained as a Bikeability instructor, “It’s essentially a more developed and modernised version of the old Cycling Proficiency,” he explains. “It was really a no-brainer to apply my training to teaching my daughter to cycle.” Here are Paul’s tips on developing bike confidence…
Start in a safe environment
We started by riding round the cones in a school car park before going out on to the road. That is where she developed her skills. Cycling skills begin with balance and learning control, pushing off down a grassy slope is great way of getting a feel for how the bike moves when it has momentum.
Make it feel fun
Before taking a child out on their bike, it’s important to ensure that they feel happy and confident on it. If a child is scared of biking, they won’t enjoy the activity. That’s why it’s crucial to choose the right bike for a child and make sure they are comfortable and confident riding it before going out on the road or into any challenging environment. For instance, before I took Pippa out for a ride, I made sure she was comfortable and confident on her bike, and we worked on building her confidence gradually. All those laps of the playground with her hand on her head gave her handling skills and confidence. When we first started cycling together on the road we began by going around the one-way system together on Sunday mornings when the traffic was quiet. We built up the challenges as her own confidence grew.
Cycling should be as natural as walking
Children must be able to ride a bike as naturally as they walk or run before you take them into more difficult environments. If all their focus is on staying upright, they don’t have the capacity to negotiate hazards. The same applies to any newcomer to cycling – if they can’t ride a bike as second nature then, when they get out on to the road, they are having to think too much about the mechanics of cycling and are therefore not paying attention to traffic and road conditions.
Competition can help develop skills and confidence
Practising skills, playing games on bikes and competing all help to develop skills to the point where they become instinctive and natural. My daughter Pippa was a member of the local children’s cycling club, CogSet and attended weekly coaching sessions. The club also encouraged the children to race and, luckily, we live near a closed-road racing circuit. The first race she did, she came home with a trophy! After that there was no stopping her.
I think competition is a great way of building confidence and skills proficiency that can then be applied on the road. That’s why we at Cycle SOS sponsor a local children’s triathlon club – The City of Lancaster Triathlon: COLTS
Cycling safety doesn’t just happen on the bike
From the very start I taught Pippa about the importance of checking her bike before every ride, so it has become an ingrained habit. Teaching your children the importance of bike and equipment checks empowers them to become more independent as they get older. However, even though she knows how to look after her bike I am still there as a safety net double checking for her, particularly before competitions.
Pippa is now 16 and successfully competing in cycling and triathlon. Of her early experience of cycling, she remembers: “I think one event that really made me want to take cycling to another level was when I had my first proper crash. I was so happy to get back onto the bike as I had missed it, although I may have taken some convincing and gone a few steps back. Now, every time I go for a ride I get a rush of adrenaline and always want to discover new roads, to push myself to go faster, to get my lines right round a corner. It’s an amazing opportunity to escape from the real world.
Paul Darlington is clearly proud of his daughter’s achievements, “My biggest worry about Pippa’s cycling now is being able to keep up,” he laughs.