Guest blog: The story of ‘Little Devon Explorer’
A Mum and son's journey in to the cycling world
Arthur is a three year old cycling nut who lives in Devon with his (surfing mad) mum and dad. Arthur's travels can be followed on his Instagram here (and what a life he leads!). We caught up with Sam, Arthur’s mum, who's given us this brilliant background on Arthur's love for all things bikes, and shares some knowledge she wish she'd known sooner...
And then there were three
Before we had Arthur his dad and I enjoyed an active and outdoor lifestyle. We ran several times a week, I commuted to work on my bike, we surfed whenever we could and we were generally outside as much as possible. So, we did have a think about how we could maintain an active lifestyle with a little one in tow. One of the first things we bought was a buggy that I could run with as soon as he was old enough, and I think if I had let his dad purchase one, a surfboard wouldn’t have been far behind! At that point cycling with him hadn’t really crossed our minds.
From when Arthur was only few months old, I regularly took him to Haldon Forest and to the Exe Estuary Trail to walk and run with him in the buggy. So, looking back, I suppose he watched bikes from a very young age. When he was around six months old we bought a tiny bike helmet and a second hand centre mounted bike seat so that we could go for bike rides at the weekend with friends. I wondered then if he may be too young, but he loved it! He watched everything and seemed to adore the speed. When we went surfing we had to take turns caring for him whilst the other surfed but cycling meant that we could all do something active together as a family. I still ran with him in the buggy but bike riding became a regular thing for both of us and he enjoyed it more so it began to take over.
Once he could walk he would gravitate to anyone on a bike. We would cycle to a pub garden at the weekend or go for a walk at the forest and Arthur would make a beeline for anyone on wheels. We’d politely apologise and detach him from whichever bike he had managed to get to, but he was like a dog with a favourite toy and would keep returning to the bike until either we left or the bike did! When he was 15 months old we gave him a scooter with a little seat on it for Christmas thinking this would probably help his bike cravings and be manageable for him at that stage of his development. He was whizzing towards the pump track at the local forest within a fortnight and although he loved it, it didn’t seem to curb his bike cravings!
Arthur’s first bike
Despite it only having just been Christmas we thought we could probably get a balance bike for him off eBay but found that because he was still so tiny he could barely reach the floor on any of the ones available. We found one in Mothercare that was not really intended for outside use, but it was small enough for him to reach the floor. So that was it really, decision made! Arthur finally had his first bike at age 18 months!
He loved that bike so much that we had to put a limit on how much he could ride it each day. No bike riding before 7am and no more than two hours in one go! His confidence and balance improved each day and he progressed riding mostly on pavements and through little trails at the forest. However, the wheels clogged with dirt easily and would stop until they were cleaned out, so it did become a bit of a pain. We visited friends in Wales during the summer and their little boy had a bigger and better bike with real tyres )rather than solid plastic wheels). The balance bike had a little platform on the frame that meant Arthur could place his feet on once going and stand up. He was in love! So back on Gumtree we went to find another bike…
At two years old he was really building up speed and could whizz round a pump track, along pavements, in a skate park and drop down steps, all whilst standing up. He loved riding over any kind of ramp and spent hours trying to bunny hop. Luckily I didn’t mind running after him and most of the time Arthur was good at listening and good at using his shoes to brake, but it was terrifying for me to watch (and expensive to replace the shoes!). I devised the unorthodox strategy of always dressing him in something grab-able, like a hooded top, just in case! He had a few falls and crashes most of which thankfully resulted in only grazes and one black eye, but one day the inevitable happened: he had a pretty fast-paced full frontal face plant over the handle bars onto tarmac. It was awful but luckily no major damage was done. After that I took his bike to three different bike shops to see if they could fit a brake but it didn’t seem possible without spending a lot of money so I looked into buying a small pedal bike for him for his next Christmas present.
First Pedal Bike
With 12’’ wheels the bike we bought second hand was the smallest decent bike with pedals we could find. We did initially take the pedals off to see if he could master the brakes first before trying to coordinate balance, pedalling, steering and braking together, but he kept bringing us the pedals and it was clear he wanted them on. We took him out on Boxing Day (with the pedals on) and started him off on a gentle slope. Initially pushing him with his feet already on the pedals but then encouraging him to push with his foot to get himself going. He managed to pedal straight away and it wasn’t long before he was beginning to stand up to pedal and balance. He really began to find his feet with it all but despite tweaking the brakes as much as we could he only seemed strong enough to slow himself down with the brakes and couldn’t actually stop.
I looked in to swapping the brake levers but I wasn’t convinced that this would work or that I had the skills to facilitate that, having very little knowledge of bikes myself. The other issue we found quite quickly was that the bike was too heavy for him and was much more difficult for him to manoeuvre than his balance bike, so I ended up carrying it a lot and it was really quite heavy. There were several light weight bikes on the market then but they were very expensive and at only just two years old he was still too small in stature to reach the floor on most of them.
And on to a Black Mountain!
A few months on we heard about Black Mountain Bikes and contacted them to try the PINTO. Although Arth didn’t need to try it in balance bike mode it was small and light weight and that instantly had a huge impact on his bike riding skills. He was able to use the brakes straight away and that meant it was safe enough for me to do more riding alongside him rather than running behind him. He has come on leaps and bounds since being on this bike, he can carry it up steps himself and help lift it into the car. He constantly tries to do more and has loved moving up into big pedal mode which has a different gear meaning that he can go faster.
As he’s getting older more and more little friends are starting to ride bikes and this is even more fun for Arth. It’s amazing watching him whizz round with his friends. And myself and my husband have recently bought mountain bikes and now bike more regularly than we surf! It’s something that as a family we can all do together, even if our three year old is better than us!
Kids Bike Equipment… three things we have learnt
Biking in general, and especially kids biking, has been a steep learning curve for us. Arthur is three years old and has had four bikes so far and three bike helmets – if only we’d come across Black Mountain sooner! Having a close friend that knows his bikes and bike gear has helped enormously, but there are a few things we’ve learnt in the past two years that we regularly pass onto other parents of little shredders...
- The bike itself really makes a difference! It’s something we over-looked to start with, and we certainly didn’t expect to have bought Arth 4 bikes by the time he was 4 years old! Quality parts and components might cost more, but it made a real, noticeable difference to his riding ability and enjoyment.
- Finding small kids bike clothing is hard. Cheap kids bike gloves don’t fit little kids. We ended up buying some from eBay and adjusting them with needle and thread by hand. You can buy small bike gloves but they retail at around £20.
- Hills are tough on little legs – a tow rope of some kind is the way to go if you want to go a bit further and not end up carrying a toddler and a bike. These can be bought online for around £40 or we made a makeshift one for around £3 which works perfectly well with him at his current age and weight.
Until next time...!