“I don’t think you’re ready for the London to Brighton Bike Ride just yet.” My husband looked down at me, red faced and sprawled on the pavement, laying alongside my new bike. My ego was almost as bruised as my legs after smacking straight into a stranger’s garden fence. As New Year’s resolutions go, I can’t imagine that learning to cycle is high on the list for many 34-year-old women. Yet here I am, attempting to do something which is a rite of passage for those some thirty years my junior.
It’s not that I didn’t try to learn to ride a bike when I was a child, but I never particularly enjoyed it and my cycling career was over before I left junior school. To be honest, I probably could have happily lived the rest of my life without going near a bike again. But all that changed when I became a mother six months ago.
My husband is a keen cyclist and craftsman, and has already set about designing a balance bike for our daughter, such is his enthusiasm for getting her on two wheels as soon as possible.
I also want her to ride a bike of course, but how could I expect her to learn without setting a good example myself? We ask so much of our children in terms of learning new skills - academic, physical and social - especially during their early years. Research published by Facts of Life show that the first five years of a child’s life are fundamentally important. They are the foundation that shapes a child’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school, in the family and community, and in life in general.
So while my daughter is busying herself with this mammoth undertaking, it seems unfair of me not to attempt to learn one tiny new skill myself. And it is a skill which will, ultimately, enrich both our lives. Obviously being able to cycle together will be a great thing to help us bond as a family, not to mention provide a cheap and healthy day out. But being a cycling family means so > > much more to me than just a way of keeping my daughter entertained for a couple of hours during the weekends over the summer months.
Cycling helps a child to discover new places, get closer to nature, and stimulates the senses with a plethora of new sights, sounds and smells. It is a learning experience that extends way beyond the physical act of putting feet to pedals. It sharpens the mind and heightens awareness, both so often blunted and dulled by the alluring blue glow coming from various electronic devices.
A bike ride provides an opportunity for the rider to stop, take in surroundings and be fully present in the moment. There is so much that can be missed when you are looking out of the rear window of a car travelling at 60mph.
The desire to teach my daughter to cycle is also part of my desire to raise an environmentally conscious child. And I believe cycling is a prime example of practising what you preach. It would
be very hypocritical of me to explain to her the environmental impact of food miles and extol the virtues of recycling all the while we are cancelling out any good we may be doing by driving everywhere.
As well as caring for the environment, cycling also plays a role in teaching children the importance of self care. The physical benefits of cycling are fairly self-explanatory, but with childhood obesity on the rise, they are not to be glossed over. Figures released by NHS Digital in October show 9.6 percent of children in reception classes in 2016-17 were obese, compared with 9.3 percent the year before. One fifth of Year 6 children were found to be obese. Experts recommend children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, which a third of children don’t currently achieve. By introducing a healthy activity, such as cycling, to a child during those early years, it is setting them on pathway to healthy habits.
“I want my daughter to ride a bike of course, but how could I expect her to learn without setting a good example myself?”
Mental health charity Mind says that physical activity helps to reduce anxiety, feelings of stress and the risk of depression while promoting clear thinking, happier moods, increased self-esteem and a greater sense of calm. Who doesn’t want that for their child?
And as touched upon earlier, cycling also helps to promote mindfulness. This was eloquently summed up in a beautiful quote by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in an article written for Scientific American: “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking”.
Grumbling about my poor battered legs, I haul myself and my bike up off the pavement. As tempting as it is to chuck the bike in a skip and once again call time on my cycling endeavours, I stop and remind myself once again why I am doing this.
I am doing this to set my daughter on a path to good health, to aid her physical and mental wellbeing. I am doing this to give her a greater awareness of her surroundings, to help her appreciate and care for the world she lives in. I am doing this to introduce her to the concept of mindfulness, to teach her how to live in the moment. I get back on the saddle and suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad after all.
At the tender age of six months, my little girl is still some way off her first proper bike ride, but I’m determined not to miss out on this important chapter in her life which will ultimately help shape the adult she will become. And who knows - by the time my daughter’s stabilisers come off, I may actually be able to stay upright on my own bike.
Laura is a mum and journalist, living in Sussex. When she is not falling off her bike, she acts as a fundraising officer for a mental health charity.
READ: Cyclecraft: the complete guide to safe and enjoyable cycling for adults and children
PHOTOGRAPHY: Jez Harris