Author: Anthony Robson

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Thursday, December 21st, 2006 at 2:55 am
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Out and About

Christmas Bikes (or How to Pedal Long After December)

Getting a bike for Christmas is almost as much a festive tradition as mince pies and eating too much turkey. Children all over the land will have demanded of Santa the latest, coolest bike, which will be met with whoops of joy on Christmas morning, before being consigned to the garden shed for much of the rest of its life.

However, a bike isn’t just for Christmas…. Whatever your reasons for buying your offspring a bike there can be little debate over the potential benefits. At a time when the government is seriously suggesting stomach-stapling for teens in worst-case scenarios, the simple task of a regular bike ride can be a great start towards a generally healthier lifestyle. Only 15 years ago I cycled to school, while the majority of other pupils walked up to 2 or 3 miles to get there. It was incredibly unusual to be driven by your parents; the situation has now been virtually reversed.

But even if you’re not keen on your child riding to school every day, just having a bike in working order, and doing the right things to encourage its use, can bring the same benefits. And there are some easy ways to ensure this:

1. Buy the right bike

It may be too late by now, but in general it’s best if you avoid budget full-suspension bikes. Your particular child may be absolutely adamant about what they want, and if you do everything else right then the choice of bike shouldn’t matter, but there are a number of pitfalls here.

Firstly, the budget full-suspension bike is as cumbersome as an HGV. It requires a lot more effort to get going, especially uphill, the bounce caused by a cheap spring sucking energy which would otherwise be transferred into forward motion. Secondly, the parts are, naturally, chosen more for their cost-effectiveness than performance. Things break, bearings aren’t sealed, and as things start to fail it becomes a hassle to fix them and so the bike is consigned to rust.

False economies and peer pressure abound. If you’re willing to look after the parts that need the work on them then the budget option is one which can work. Otherwise I would definitely suggest getting either a hardtail (front suspension only) or rigid (no suspension) mountain bike (or even a road bike/racer). For the same cost you are going to get slightly better components (especially on the rigid) and the bike will simply be easier physically to ride (especially the road bike). Not as comfortable, I’ll give you that, but you’ll get where you’re going with less effort, and less chance of anything going wrong.

2. Encouragement

If your kid is old enough to go out on the bike on its own, at the earliest opportunity ask for some milk to be fetched from the shop, or point out how nice a day it is and don’t they want to go and see their friends. With the bike still a novelty the chance to go out on it will be jumped at, and the hope will be that the interest is piqued enough for that novelty to be maintained into habit.

If we’re talking about much younger progeny then the onus is on you to get out. To teach. To ride with them and set the right example. Who knows, it might spur you on to try and achieve that fitness you’ve always been promising yourself.

Off-road cycle routes prove great learning grounds, but you have to remember not to neglect the possibility of riding on the road. This will put many people off, but it’s worth pointing out that there are more accidents every year involving serious injury to cyclists on off-road shared use paths, than there are on the road. It’s kind of a strange-but-true statistic, and while I won’t delve here into my dislike for the proliferation of such cycling ‘facilities’, by moving out onto the road the bike can be promoted not only as a toy, or a recreational device, but as a legitimate means of getting from A to B.

Whether it be going to school, or later on commuting to work by bike, you will be guaranteeing a healthier lifestyle and future.

3. Getting Your Hands Dirty

Or someone else’s.

Things will inevitably go wrong. There will be punctures. Brake blocks will need to be replaced. Chains will become worn. We think nothing of putting our heads under the bonnets of our cars, or sending them to the nearest mechanic – but the bike is often left to languish at the first sign of trouble.

There are a huge amount of books out there on how to fix your bike. One of the best is a Haynes Manual which looks at all sorts of bikes and gives an indication of how difficult things are to sort. I started with this and only a small amount of technical knowledge, now all three of the bikes which live in my garage were built by me from a bare frame, and there is something satisfying about getting them on the road, and keeping them there, with your own hard work.

But however the bike is fixed, whether by you or your local shop, the main thing is that it is – bad habits are easier to form than good ones, and it might not be long before that desired bike is left lying in the garage against a pile of old carpet, sadly fading away.

After doing all the above the hope is that your kids will not only still be riding, but might have taken an interest in something which is healthy and active. Everything else is an aside. Do you need a helmet? Waterproofs? Should you use cycle lanes? It’s all personal choice, and depends on how the bike is being used. The only thing to watch out for is your child becoming hooked, for the true cyclist one bike is never enough, and you might well find another one on their list next year!

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