As an adult winter can be a tricky time of year to get out and on your bike. The wet and cold, the Netflix boxset, heart attack inducing winter treats… it is oh so easy to just pour yourself another drink, open a new box of mince pies and basically veg-out! But come on, you are better than that, and you want to set an example for your kids don’t you!?
Cycling with young children can occasionally be a bit of a mission even in the dry and warm days of summer, but in the dark winter months it can become even more trying. But don’t let that put you off, and don’t just pack your kids’ bikes away until the spring. If you follow our guide below hopefully your winter will be full of great riding experiences and memories.
Preparation – all the gear.. and the right idea
It may be a bit of a cliché but the saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes” is true. These days some parents are accused of wrapping their children up in cotton wool, that they are becoming soft, but in my experience if you are cycling with kids in winter (especially with those under the age of about 8 years old) you need to wrap them up in as much as you possibly can… maybe not in cotton wool though! The key thing is to try to keep your child warm and dry, the two go hand in hand really.
When I was a kid (way back in the 1970s) I’d be out all day in soaking wet jeans, sponge like jumpers that smelt of stinking sheep, a cagoule that dripped water like an cave, but that was when I was about 9 or 10, when I could kind of look after myself. Younger children don’t know what hypothermia is, or how painful numb toes can be until it’s too late. Breathable waterproof fabrics didn’t really exist back in the 1970s, especially for children, but you can now go to any high street or use a quick online search and find amazing kid’s wet and cold weather gear. There is not really much cycling specific clothing for the under 8s, but most ski, snowboard or walking gear is great. Here’s our hit-list of the key things you need to look out for.
These have to be the greatest invention for kids to keep their feet dry. They are cheap and most children already have a pair. Don’t forget to allow their trousers to come over the top of their boots, that will help to keep mud, debris and wet from getting in, and help to keep everything snug. The only problem with wellies is that they don’t really keep your feet that warm, so make sure that you use a good thick pair of socks. Wellies are also easy to clean and relatively easy to dry.
It is the same for kids as it is for adults. Sure you can put them in a cotton t-shirt and woolly jumper, but the modern way is to build up layers made of breathable wicking materials that help to pull moisture away from their skin, keeping them dry and warm. A base layer, a mid layer, a fleece, followed by a waterproof shell is the perfect combo (depending on the temperature). Long johns are great too. Most of these are made from plastic based materials, but you can get mid and base layers made from merino wool. It is more expensive, but it’s good. GoreTex waterproof clothing is the king for outer layers, but it is expensive and there are many great offerings from other brands on the market. As with most things, you get what you pay for.
Bib and braces
There’s nothing worse than a cold back when your child is out riding. A pair of ‘bib and brace’ pants help to keep all their tops nicely tucked away, and helps to keep their core toasty warm. Going for a pee can be a bit of a problem… you just need to plan ahead and nail those pit stops!
Your child’s body, torso, arms and legs will be doing a lot of work whilst they are cycling and will stay pretty warm, so they should be OK. It is the extremities of fingers, toes and face that you have to watch out for – these will all get really cold quite quickly. Try and encourage your child to wiggle their fingers and toes, this will help with blood circulation and retaining some warmth.
Hands and Fingers
Good gloves are essential, and they are probably the single most important piece of cold weather riding kit your child will own. We have seen plenty of good winter rides cut short by freezing hands, so invest in a good pair. But be careful not to choose ones that are really bulky, as your child won’t be able to control the bike properly. Also be aware that many cycling specific gloves are vented and meant for summer use. If you use these your child’s hands will get colder in a much shorter time. Try and choose some winter specific gloves that are not too bulky, and that are wind and water proof.
As mentioned earlier we think wellies are the best option for winter riding, but they are normally not insulated so you need to use a really good, thick and warm pair of socks. You can get some wellies/boots that are fleece lined, and these can be a great option. And don’t forget to wiggle those toes every so often.
This is probably the most difficult to keep warm, because you need to keep the airwaves open so that your child can breathe! There are cycling masks that can be used, the type that commuters use to keep pollution out, but these tend to be sized for adults only. We find that the best option is a snood/neck warmer, a tubular piece of material that can be used as a scarf, hat, helmet liner… there are loads of uses. There are plenty of brands now on the market, but the original and best are Buff. They have a massive range, including a great selection for kids.
Pick your moment
It may be your day off and you want to go riding, but there is no point dragging your children out when the rain is horizontal outside and the temperature below zero. It may be ‘character building’ but sometimes you need to pick your fights, and it could end in disaster! Winter temperatures vary wildly from plus and minus the mid teens centigrade, so try and choose a day when the weather gods are going to be on your side. Clear blue skies and crisp fresh air can be great, and you can have a lot of fun when the temp is a bit milder and it is raining.
Food and treats
We are not saying that you should treat your children like dogs, but as you will be well aware, the odd bit of bribery doesn’t hurt. “There’s a bag of sweets waiting for you at the top of that hill”, and “you can have a nice hot chocolate when we get back to the cafe… with cream… marshmallows, a Flake, sprinkles, rum… anything, just get back on your bike and ride!” Fill your pockets with high energy treats, forget their teeth for a bit, sugar is your friend. And don’t forget the water.
Keep it clean
This is the most boring bit, but when you get back home it is a really good idea to give your child’s bike a good clean. A quick wipe over will usually do, but if you have been riding off-road, in mud or even areas where the roads have been gritted with salt it is a good idea to get the hot soapy water out. And don’t forget all the riding kit too that is festering away in a plastic bag in some corner of the house. Clean and dry it all as soon as you can, all ready for next time.
The most important thing?
It’s the F word… FUN. Winter rides are usually shorter than those at any other time of year, so keep the fun factor high. Don’t go out for too long, or go on for miles and miles. You want your child to enjoy riding their bike, so find interesting places to visit, maybe places that you can’t get to by car, amazing buildings, crazy landscapes, cool little pumptracks. Don’t let the winter put a stop to riding bikes.