Is the coronavirus lockdown driving a boom in families exercising outdoors?


Is the coronavirus lockdown driving a boom in families exercising outdoors?

9 in 10 children want to exercise outdoors during the lockdown


Finding ways to get kids active continues to change dramatically with the UK’s lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic extended until at least June for most. While the significant health benefits of cycling and outdoor exercise for families are well known, many of us are now discovering outdoor activity in different ways; in our gardens, on our doorsteps and while out exercising in the local parks and countryside. Following the government’s most recent announcement, people can now also drive to areas of natural beauty to get active and go cycling.

To find out how families are changing their behaviours, our engineers and cycling experts teamed up with leading market researchers to produce a study into British children’s and parents’ attitudes towards outdoor activities such as cycling.

By surveying 2,000 UK parents while they were in lockdown at home, we set out to discover whether children are becoming more or less positive about outdoor fitness, how confident parents feel in taking their children outside of the family home for active pursuits, and to what extent mums and dads understand the importance of sizing their child’s bike correctly and their awareness of safety considerations when it comes to social distancing. 


Cycling or video games? A resurgence in children’s enthusiasm for outdoor exercise


Our study of first-hand data (2,000 British parents) and analysis of recent research indicates that the lockdown may be changing children’s attitudes towards outdoor family fun and family outdoor activities– with the majority of children eager to spend more time getting active outdoors and only a minority anxious about leaving the house.

With schools closed, parents working remotely and most children now spending more time at home with their families, there has been a significant increase in the number of children looking to exercise outside and for fun activities for kids outside. A massive 9 in 10 (89 per cent) of the 2,000 mothers and fathers interviewed in our research during the coronavirus lockdown now believe that that their children are currently interested or very interested in doing outdoor exercise such as cycling, jogging, walking and nature trails. The government in Westminster is now actively encouraging people to cycle during the day. Some parts of the UK, such as Scotland, have already seen a substantial increase in cycling during the lockdown borne out in the official figures¹. This is significant, as it contradicts considerable research prior to the lockdown, most of which concludes that kids had been increasingly turning to technology and becoming progressively less active over the last few years. Research by Bristol University², published in just November 2019, found that primary school children are doing less physical activity with each passing year.

Our study suggests that the lockdown itself, combined with the fact that people are living more locally, may be driving a situational resurgence in outdoor exercise and families choosing to do physical activities together. Interestingly, our study also found that parents in Northern Ireland, the South West of England and East Anglia are likely to have the most restless kids during the lockdown, while parents in Wales and the North West of England may be up to 15 per cent less likely to be have kids pestering them to exercise outside. 

The overall trend mirrors other studies which suggest that families are spending more quality time together and even limiting use of technology during the lockdown³, as well as the fact the demand for energy in the UK is forecast to drop dramatically as families stay at home more often4.  

That said, there is also some evidence that a smaller proportion of children are more reluctant to leave the house or garden due to some anxiety about the coronavirus. According to another recent survey completed during the lockdown, 17 per cent of the 1,500 parents questioned said they had young children who are anxious about leaving home during the pandemic5.


Which outdoor activities do parents feel most ‘confident’ in during lockdown?


Although the government is starting to ease the lockdown, parental concern around going outside is understandable at present. Our research suggests that while apprehension certainly exists, most parents feel ‘confident’ when it comes to outdoor exercise. A recent survey, carried out during the lockdown by the University of Oxford, found that nearly 1 in 3 parents are generally apprehensive about leaving the house6. However, when it comes to outdoor activities and fun things to do outside with the kids, our poll shows that over 4 in 5 (82 per cent) of the 2,000 UK mums and dads questioned felt ‘confident’ in taking their child outdoors to do physical activities together such as cycling, jogging, climbing and walking. This reflects other studies which suggest that families are becoming more community and family orientated during the lockdown. Interestingly, fathers (86 per cent) are slightly more confident about this than mothers (80 per cent).

Of those parents who are happy to embark on outdoor family exercises, cycling was the most popular physical activity that parents felt ‘confident’ in taking their child outside of the house for, followed by walking, jogging and climbing.


From sizing kids’ bikes to social distancing: Do parents understand the safety challenges of outdoor adventure?


As part of our study, we also delved a little deeper into how much parents know about their preferred outdoor activities during the lockdown. While our research did not highlight concerns with families’ abilities to do basic exercises such as jogging or walking, it did reveal that many parents are not clued up when it comes to cycling safety. Specifically, some may have misunderstood social distancing for outdoor exercise, and many did not understand the safety and performance benefits of a correctly fitted kid’s bike.


Do parents understand the outdoor exercise and social distancing rules?


The lack of clarity on the rules around outdoor exercise and social distancing has been widely highlighted by behavioural scientists and reported in the media. Google Trends also shows that search volume for questions such as “can I go to the beach?7” and “can I go cycling?8” have been climbing since the lockdown. Out of 2,000 parents in the survey, 21 per cent felt ‘confident’ taking their children to the local playground with other families or to have a picnic at a local hotspot. This indicates that a very small minority of parents could either be unclear on the social distancing rules or are finding creative ways to enjoy the same outdoor activities they always have while also maintaining a safe distance. 



4 in 5 unable to size a child’s bike correctly


Measuring children’s bike size may seem unnecessary to some, however poorly fitted bikes for young children are common. A child’s bike that is too small can limit performance, stability, comfort and enjoyment – with too low gearing meaning the child has to pedal like crazy and small wheels limiting riding progression. Conversely an oversized bike that the child will grow into will likely lead to a lack of confidence and inhibit their riding skills. Falls when learning on bikes that are too big can quickly undermine confidence, and the greater size, weight and high gearing ratio can make it difficult to climb even mild gradients, which can quickly ruin a family ride and put the child off riding.

A well fitted bike, or better yet a lightweight bike that grows as your child develops, will do more than just improve performance and confidence. Ill-fitting bikes can put children at a greater risk of minor accidents. With 1,600 UK children suffering minor injuries associated to cycling in a year, it is not an insignificant concern, particularly when learning to ride beyond the safety of a balance bike.

To find out how common kid’s mountain bike sizing issues are in families, we spoke to bike fitters about their experiences and surveyed 156 parents in the South of England. Our survey found that 2 in 5 parents admit to either having no experience in sizing a child’s bike or not knowing how to do so.

Reacting to the poll, Adam Roberts, a bike fitter with over 10 years’ experience said: “it is refreshing to see that many parents are open about their lack of bike sizing knowledge, however this number excludes the many who tend to overestimate their abilities. On average, around 4 in 5 of my clients, many of them parents, underestimate what it takes to size a bike correctly. They often have some basic knowledge, but when it comes down to doing it for themselves, they soon find that they are unable to fully meet the challenge.”

The issue may be increasingly prevalent during the lockdown; Google trends suggests that searches for children’s bike sizes are hitting an all-time high in April 20209.

So, how exactly do you measure a kids’ bike or balance bike? At Black Mountain we take a unique approach to sizing – both in terms of our design and how we fit kids to our bikes.

Our EPOK Series of bikes that grow with your child as they develop – with the smaller models starting off life as a balance bike, then converting into 14” or 16” pedal bike. Our bikes are designed around the wheel size and then “dialled down”, scaling the geometry proportionally. The result is a bike that fits now, but then grows with your child, insuring optimal fit and saving money in the long run. Your child doesn’t grow into the bike – the opposite - the bike grows with the child.

Our handy kids bike guide and children’s bike size guide has been designed by engineers to help parents find the ideal bike for their child’s height and size without the need of a conventional ‘inside leg’ bike size chart.

We developed the geometry of our bikes on the understanding that a bike is an extension of the body – it’s not enough to only ensure that the rider can touch the floor. The rider’s reach, upper body and hand proportions are equally important and every aspect of our balance bike and pedal bike design is based on the full-body ergonomics of the young rider. We’ve collated all of these factors and then use height as the main measure for ensuring a proper fit. Height is also easier to measure than the traditional inside leg, especially when dealing with wriggling 4 or 5 year-old child!

Our experts have then put together an interactive tool and kids bike size guide, using height and rider experience & confidence to help parents understand the size of bike that best suits their child. At Black Mountain, our passion for children’s bikes is unrivalled, but if you need a little more convincing, explore our collection of customer reviews.