A Seasoned Bike Commuter Dad Agrees the Best First Bike For Kids is a Balance Bike
Cory is a ByK Dad who considers riding a bike just a part of everyday life for his family. We know Cory because he loves ByK and has been shouting out about them for years now in thousands of posts in online forums and networks.
Here we have a chat to him about life with bikes and kids. He has some great tips on learning to ride but the best thing about interviewing Cory was the good bike vibe he brought to the table. He just loves seeing kids experiencing that freedom and joy that comes with owning a bike.
What do you do?
I work at Velo Electric and Folding, (http://www.veloelectric.com.au) as well as our main shop, Velo Cycles, (http://www.velocycles.com.au/). Previously I was the Ride2Work Coordinator for the Bicycle Network (https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/) after a career in adult education.
I've been commuting by bike for about a decade – and now I'm really passionate about transport cycling. I used to work in the CBD, and I realized that riding a bike was more convenient. All of those 5-10km journeys made by car – stuck in traffic and then looking for a park at the end. And it got me thinking, if a regular guy like me can – anyone can.
How many children do you have?
2 girls - aged 8 (G) and 5 (J)
What do you do in your spare time (pre-kids and post-kids!)
Pre-kids we did the odd Round the Bay and other organized rides but I wouldn't say I'm an exercise-orientated person. I love photography, socializing and getting up to the snow or down for a surf if/when I can. I used to go and see a lot of bands.
Post-kids its much the same except in our spare time we do things together - read, play the guitar, go to the park, play games, etc. It's riding with them that's about the only recreational riding we fit in – so it's not terribly far. I'm actually far more sedentary than most people realize – riding for transport is about the only exercise I get these days.
How many bikes live at your house?
What bikes do your kids own?
We have 3 ByK Bikes - E-350, E-450x3i, E-540x16. G is loving her new E-540x16 and J has just said goodbye to her balance bike, but she's been on G's original 4 year old E-350 for over a year and will soon to be upgrading to an E-450x3i – she can ride it, but still needs an inch or two before she's confident.
How do you and your kids use your bikes in daily life?
Riding is our main form of transport. I ride pretty-much every day, as does my partner when she's going to work or has errands to run; we ride to school, to work, to the park, etc. If we have to drive then it means we are going a fair distance, or carrying a load, so its more of a necessity.
Wherever we go, it's natural for us to reach for the helmet instead of the car keys.
Do your kids ride to school?
Currently I ride to school with the kids a few times a week - its about 1.5 km. G on her E-540 in front of me, and J on the Trail-Gator (http://www.trail-gator.com.au/) attached to her E-350. We often walk as well, it just depends upon what's convenient. The ride home is downhill, so at some point this year J will ride home unattached, and then also perhaps manage the hill to ride to school of a morning before the end of the year – that's what G did in her first year of school.
At what age do you think they would ride to school alone?
Some time in the near future we will trial G riding on her own. She rides around our local park OK, and is happy on the quieter streets around us so she's not too far off – she's been riding her school route for over three years now.
Would you consider a bicycle bus to share the parenting supervision with other local families?
Certainly, but you really have to be confident of all the kids being able to manage on their own - even with an adult, it still is only 1 adult, so something to consider but not until some of the little ones are a bit older and more confident – and then the older ones can help. We already do some unofficial walking bus mornings – so it's just escalating that to the next level.
Where's your favourite family ride?
Our favorite family ride is something I wish more people would do - just to/from our local park.
But one we've done a few times is the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail to the Essendon Traffic School (https://goo.gl/maps/rRf7Z). A great place to have a birthday party. Our girls obviously rode their own but they have heaps of different sized bikes (including balance bikes) for kids to try.
Do you take your bikes when you go away with the kids?
Yes, we love to go to Southend in South Australia - we have a bike rack on the back of the car that holds 3 bikes and we have a bike rack on the roof that holds 1 bike, as well as a luggage case. It's a classic caravan park we stay at, so all the kids have bikes, balance bikes or scooters.
What bike do you ride yourself and how often do you ride?
>My commuter bike with 3 speed internal gears, guards, rack - everything I need for everyday commuting. Occasionally I'll ride my 'fast bike' as J calls it if I'm going further, or my older bike set up with the Trailgator with the kids.
It's rare that a day goes by when I don't ride – after all, most people have to get somewhere each day. For me, it's convenience is the key – but it's also fun too!
What bike gear could you not live without?
Being mainly transport-based bike riders, so we don't have a lot of technical equipment that we consider mandatory for our rides. I'd have to say the Trail-Gator has to be the piece we couldn't live without as a family. It benefits the parents and the children in so many ways - the kids not only get to tag along on a ride, but they watch and learn the adult in the front - the first time I put my hand out to indicate a right turn, I could see in my mirror that G was doing the same and it was one of those riding moments in time I will always remember - I had to turn around, and do the turn again so I could take a photo of her with her hand out behind me! But it's the versatility it provides. You can go for extended family rides (or for transport) .
It was semi-common for G to do 25kms in a day with nearly the whole ride solo, and just attaching her for steeper sections or if there was an area without a bike path or lane. It meant we could go out as a family for that ride which wouldn't have been possible with any other setup. G has graduated so now it's J's turn.
Another one are mudguards. We sometimes have to ride in the rain, but moreso, we do have to ride on wet roads and paths. Guards make a huge difference keeping the filth off you, and your bike. We're very happy ByK now has guards available across the whole range of kids bikes.
What's your most endearing memory of riding bikes as a kid?
I got my first bike when I was 6 and it was a 3spd dragstar with really high handlebars so it wasn't exactly easy to learn to ride on – in fact it took me 18 months.
My most endearing memory of riding bikes as a kid is the freedom it gave me - not just the freedom to ride on my own and have my own adventures, but the freedom to imagine. I was out there saving ET from the government.
What one piece of advice would you give to other parents who want to get their kids started in riding bikes?
I'm a massive balance bike advocate. They just make sense. They also give younger kids that sense of self-reliance and independence. And when it's time to try pedals, first take the pedals off and drop the saddle to suit the kids height. They'll have more confidence if they're lower to the ground and when starting, can stand flat footed.
This is where ByK are great - the geometry is built to not only suit the kids' body, but the saddle is designed to be lowered as required. At about aged four – both our girls rode both. If we were walking, they were on their balance bike – if we were pedaling, so were they.
Cheap bikes are not built for learning to balance ride - they're heavy and built for training wheels so the seats are generally too high. Sure - There's some kids that need training wheels, but it's nowhere near the percentage of kids you see on them – a balance bike is the way to go.
What teaching tips do you have for mums and dads helping teach their kids to ride?
The first piece of advice would be to ride yourself, as parents. Your kids will learn so much more if they watch you in action, and of course, they will be more likely to want to ride if you do it as well. It will just be a 'normal' thing to them.
What's your advice for kids moving from a balance bike to their first bike with pedals?
In addition to what I said before, it's probably common that when a kid upgrades to a bike with pedals, it is quite a lot bigger than they're used to. Let the child choose when they are ready - I guess this really goes for any stage of learning in a child's life – although if you're a keen cyclist, it can test your patience. G took 20 minutes. J took quite a few afternoons.
Another tip is to maybe have a trusted friend like an uncle, or friend's parent, to do some of the teaching – kids know how to 'play' their parents. Also, don't forget the power of peer pressure - organising a play date in the park with your child's friend that already knows how to ride, or is also learning. It will make it more fun but also give your child someone to watch and learn from, and someone that will naturally cheer them on.
Your love of cycling helps to explain the thousands of posts you have on various forums...!
Yes, its quite a lot! Cycling is just part of my life and I like to help others teach their kids to enjoy the love and freedom it provides. In our family, it's 'normal'. We hope that more people find it's a good option for some of their transport needs too.
His own recommendations on teaching kids to ride without training wheels.