With many people getting back on their bikes during the strict lockdown lots of working dads are continuing to cycle to local meetings and to take the kids to school
Catherine Bedford is the founder of environmentally friendly cycle helmet firm Dashel. With many more working dads on two wheels she offers her tips on staying safe when cycling to work or to local meetings. And she’s vital advice for dads whose kids have started cycling to school.
The increase in take-up of cycling over recent months has been phenomenal! First people started digging old bikes out to make their daily exercise more varied during lockdown and then many people decided that cycling was a far better option for their commute to work than public transport.
As a working dad, you may well have been bitten by the bug yourself, whether getting out on your own for exercise or enjoying some cycling with the kids. If you are keen to continue cycling in the ‘new normal’ here are some things to consider.
If your new-found love of cycling means you could really do with a new bike, the best way to decide which bike is best for you is to think about what you will be using it for and where you are likely to be cycling.
If you are looking for speed to commute to and from work in the quickest time possible, then a road bike, or racer, is probably the right bike for you. They’re lightweight and designed for speed. A tourer is similar to a road bike but is slightly sturdier so if you are likely to use your bike for longer journeys where pannier bags might be useful this is worth exploring.
Alternatively, if you’re considering weekend adventures with the kids and fancy taking your bikes off-road, perhaps on forest trails or over hilly paths, then a mountain bike is probably what you need. These have better suspension and thick tyres designed to grip in muddy or loose terrain.
If you can’t decide or fancy a bike that you can commute to work on but ride off-road at weekends, have a look at the hybrid bikes. They are lightweight but also sturdy and comfortable and a good all-rounder.
And there is a lot more choice than these three, too. If you have a long commute but still want to cycle either side of the train ride, a folding bike is lightweight and practical.
Once you’ve decided on your bike you need to ensure you’ll be safe. Starting at the top, helmets are not actually legally required but I do feel it’s important because, in the unfortunate event of an accident, it will protect you! If you think helmets mean looking silly, think again. There are some really stylish helmets on the market these days which means you can make a fashion statement while keeping safe.
Also key is visibility. You must have lights on your bike and, if you are likely to be riding in traffic, consider one you can wear on your (stylish) helmet too. This will make you even more visible to 4x4s and buses. Even if you’re not planning on riding after dark, it’s wise to carry something reflective with you at all times. Who knows, you might enjoy your ride more than you thought and want to go for a bit longer. You don’t have to be clad head to foot in day-glow; a simple sash that can be easily carried with you is enough to be sure you are seen.
Gloves are also a good idea, not just to keep you warm in cooler months but they will protect your hands in event of coming off your bike – these are generally the first thing you put out to save yourself. Also cycling glasses are not only good for protecting your eyes from glare and UV rays, they also protect your peepers from wind and rain, bugs and dust.
Wear light and comfy clothes and avoid things like jeans for long cycle rides as thicker denim can chafe after a while.
If you are commuting on your bike or using it to get to meetings locally, look out for cycling gear specifically designed to transition between bike and office. Not only can you get helmets that don’t cause ‘helmet hair’, there are stylish jackets which look great in a meeting but glow at night when you’re riding home. Similarly, there are some amazing shoes out there, perfect for cycling in that really look the part when you are sitting at your desk. Similarly, this gear is great if you are cycling to meet friends for a pub lunch, cream tea or picnic.
Do invest in some rain gear – after all, this is England. A lightweight jacket and over-trousers are good to have to hand and a poncho is great for showery weather too.
Whether you are cycling to work or for pleasure, consider sensible routes when starting out. You don’t want to begin your new favourite pastime weaving in and out of inner-city traffic. Not only is it dangerous to do so without experience, you are highly likely to put yourself off before you start.
When commuting, ask about and find some quieter routes that go through parks, for example, or beside the river. It may take a little longer but it will be safer and far more pleasant. Also consider the difficulty of your route. Novice cyclists are unlikely to enjoy hilly rides initially and would be much more sensible to opt for easy terrains and low gradients. You can always build up as you gain confidence and fitness. Best of all, use your early days cycling to explore local routes and find some you really enjoy.
If you are planning to tackle the school run on two wheels with the kids or go cycling as a family at weekends, there are additional considerations. Again, safety is key.
With children, as adults, until they’re fully competent, I advise keeping them off roads or sticking to safe, quiet roads. Let them gain their confidence and mastery of their bikes. Make sure that their bikes have a bell and that they know how, when and where to use them. Teach them hand signals and relevant points of the Highway Code.
Make sure their helmets are correctly fitted to their heads and ensure they’re wearing brightly coloured clothes at all times, even if it is a bright and sunny day.
If and when you decide to take them on the roads, they will be lower down than adults in the group and, therefore generally less visible. Children are also likely to be more wobbly on their wheels and drivers should be aware that they need to give them a wide berth. I’ve found that children can brake unpredictably if scared by traffic revving past them, which could cause other cyclists to collide with them. So, if the roads are too busy and it doesn’t feel safe just walk the bikes along the pavement and try another time when it will be quieter or another route.
Remember not to get overambitious with your early family cycling. Start small and build up according to your child’s age and ability. There’s no point putting them off by asking them to do too much too soon. I’m certain that, as their confidence and ability grow so will their enthusiasm for new, different and longer routes.