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Steve and I really, really, really like bikes. We ride them and occasionally race them. We take them on day trips, long weekends, and on vacation, both in the winter and in the summer. We wear bikes on our clothing, decorate our home with them, and use old parts to make jewelry.
Because bikes are awesome.
As the parents of teenagers, we are often asked if our kids are “into” bikes. The answer often surprises people – Occasionally the kids will ride with us. Occasionally.
Our teenagers’ lack of enthusiasm for cycling took me a long time to come to terms with – but the reality is, there is no guarantee that a child is going to enjoy the same things as their parents. And while I may be accepting our kids have other interests, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep encouraging them to ride. Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way:
Make sure the bike fits Your teenager doesn’t necessarily need a new bike, but they do need one that fits properly. A bike that is too big will feel awkward and scary. Too small and they will be uncomfortable.
And don’t forget to check the saddle height – we regularly see kids and teenagers riding on bikes with saddles that are much too low, which puts excess stress on knees and greatly reduces power and efficiency. When properly adjusted, you should see a slight bend in the knee with the pedal at 6 o’clock.
Keep the bikes ready to ride There is nothing worse than convincing a teenager to ride, only to realize their bicycle is not ride ready. Start the season by ensuring bikes are in good working order and tires are inflated. Speaking of tires, flats are a common roadblock – keep a pump and spare tubes on hand and, if you are so inclined, learn how to change a flat (it’s easier than you think!).
Don’t stop riding It’s great for our kids to see us staying active and taking time to take care of ourselves. But going out for a ride in the woods while our kids are consuming mass quantities of digital content at home can cause a killer case of parental-guilt. To avoid that feeling, Steve and I will ride while the kids are otherwise occupied (mornings are great because they are still asleep!)
Keep asking Almost every time we go out, we ask the kids if they want to join us. And, you guessed it, almost every time they tell us no. It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s also easy to get completely annoyed when they lay a guilt trip on you the ONE TIME you don’t ask.
Ride with others Some of our best rides with the kids have been with others – they may complain later, but they are almost always displaying their best attitude when riding with friends or strangers.
Try a different discipline We started the kids mountain biking because it felt safer, particularly when they were younger. While our daughter is a strong mountain biker, she wasn’t enjoying going out on the trails in part because the activity triggered her asthma. After some gentle encouragement, we finally got her to try a road bike which she found more to her liking.
Never say never Our son has always been a reluctant rider, so we were happy when he asked to bring his mountain bike to overnight camp. Picking him up a month later, you can imagine our surprise to learn that not only had he ridden every day, but had started making minor bicycle repairs and been voted “most likely to lead the mountain bike program.”
Finally… remember, change is inevitable Our childrens’ enthusiasm for cycling has ebbed and flowed over the years, and I suspect will continue to do so. The key, when it comes to getting our teenagers on bikes, is to be persistent, to be patient, and play it cool.