Wondering what the health benefits are to family cycling?
Let’s go for a family bike ride!
Can you remember the thrill of riding your bike as a child? Feeling the wind in your face as you flew through your neighbourhood with friends, your bike transformed by imagination into a noble steed or jet-propelled aircraft – the exhilarating feeling of freedom and independence, before time forced you to grow up and the morning commute took over.
If you’ve ever longed to go back to those carefree days of your childhood, it’s time to turn back the clock and rediscover those feelings – and the multitude of benefits to be found in family cycling.
Cycling for the very young
The joys of cycling can be discovered from as early as 12 months old. Guidelines state that your child must be able to support their own head and neck whilst wearing a correctly fitted helmet and sit safely in an Australian Standards approved bike seat or trailer.
There are a range of bike seats available to suit children from 12 months up to four years old (20kg). Babies and toddlers often find the movement of the bike soothing and fall asleep during the journey, so consider a bike seat that reclines or offers a place for baby to rest their head. Remember that sometimes the ride can be bumpy so you must consider your child’s level of development and always get a professional to recommend and install the right bike seat for your bike.
Another option when taking young children cycling with you is the bike trailer. Bicycle trailers can be used by children from one to 10 years old and offer the added advantage of covered weather protection.
A tag-along bike is a great option for young children (recommended age 4-6 years) who want to cycle with their parents but who may not be able to keep up independently on a long bike ride. The tag-along bike is like a regular bike, but without a front wheel. The front of the tag-along bike extends over the back wheel of the bike it is attached to, so the child can stay close to their adult whilst still enjoying the bike riding experience.
The health benefits of cycling in childhood
Children who learn to cycle from a young age, whether on balance bikes, tricycles or traditional bikes, can expect to see a number of health benefits. Cycling improves balance, muscle tone and coordination, and is great for getting blood pumping and little bodies oxygenated.
Cycling is wonderful exercise for children of all ages, and many studies have shown that children who cycle to school are more focussed and ready to learn after their morning exercise.
Cycling is also a great independent hobby for older children. BMX (bicycle moto-cross) can take the form of dirt-track racing (like traditional motor cross) or Freestyle, which involves tricks, somersaults and stylised routines. There are lots of registered BMX clubs across Brisbane and SE QLD for children who want to take their outdoor hobby seriously. Visit the BMX Queensland website to find your nearest.
Mountain bike riding is also great fun for older children and thrill-seeking adults. Many local councils have caught on to the popularity and health benefits of mountain biking and have created mountain bike tracks and courses in their local parks and bushland, complete with obstacles, challenges, and even bike cleaning and maintenance stations to help you get back on track after mishaps. You can download maps of these tracks, which detail their level of difficulty and skill required, from your local council website.
The health benefits of cycling in adulthood
If you feel you’ve let your health and fitness slip over the years, cycling is a great introductory exercise, and potentially far more enjoyable than a gym membership!
Cycling is a non-weight-bearing exercise that can burn up to 600 calories an hour. A one-hour family bike ride can leave your metabolism performing at a higher rate for several hours after, and regular cycling increase lung capacity, heart health, and mental well-being.
One of the immediate benefits you will feel from cycling is a reduction of stress. Your higher riding position opens you up to noticing things about your neighbourhood and environment that you don’t see when travelling by car. Surrounding yourself in the sights and sounds of nature, clean fresh air and natural daylight works wonders for your mental health, and doing all that with your family by your side is a fabulous way to spend time with your kids and set a healthy example.
Safety benefits of family cycling
A family bike ride is a great way of familiarising your child with their local neighbourhood. With you as guide your child can learn local landmarks, the safest and easiest route from one place to another, and benefit from improved road and traffic awareness.
With this knowledge and awareness comes independence. Having modelled the safest way to and from a friend’s house, grandparents place, school or park, your child will be equipped with the skills needed to navigate their own way to these regular destinations – once old enough, of course – without your guidance, or the need to get the car out.
Cycling regularly can make the transition to driving much easier for your teenagers too. They will already be familiar with road rules and may have a greater sense of spatial awareness. Being a cyclist themselves, your teenager will likely be far more considerate of other road users, less of a risk taker, and more confident behind the wheel.
Environmental benefits of family cycling
Our children are developing a far greater awareness of our planet’s health than previous generations and are concerned enough to actively seek ways to lessen negative human impact. Cycling is an environmentally friendly and sustainable form of transport; it uses no fossil fuels and cycle tracks require less heavy maintenance (and space) than roads. According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, cycling 5km each way to school saves 1500kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year as opposed to being driven there by car.
Quality family time
A family bike ride is the perfect opportunity to spend quality time together. Cycling opens up opportunities for conversation and discussion, shared memories, and the joy of simply being actively involved in the same experience.
You don’t have to restrict your cycling to within your own neighbourhood. Queensland Rail permits bikes to be taken on trains outside peak hours, or you can invest in a bike rack for your car to discover new areas. For inspiration, enter ‘bike’ in the search bar at www.familiesmagazine.com.au to see which cycle paths we recommend.
Family cycling tips to consider
For a handy guide to Queensland road rules for cyclists, click here.
This article featured in Issue 34 of our printed magazine, published June 2019.