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How to have fun cycling with kids during winter
Cycling with kids during winter can be fun (honest!). It's great to get wrapped up and enjoy the fresh air and exercise, while everyone else is cooped up inside.
Whether it's cycling to school every day or weekend family rides out, I really believe cycling with kids during winter is well worth the effort - you just need to be prepared. Here's how we've managed over the years.
1. Keeping them visible
Some winter days are clear and crisp and others are dreary and grey (and usually a bit warmer). It also gets dark early during the winter months.
Visibility is so important if you're cycling with kids on the road during winter. Often children (and adults) fail to realise how difficult it is for road users to see them. I don't particularly like hi-viz clothing and accessories (in a perfect world all kids would be on segregated infrastructure safely away from the traffic), but at the moment that's a dream in the UK. So we use hi-vis to help others see them in low and no light conditions.
Both items were sent to us for review and the boys were happy to use them for several winters, which speaks for itself! Unfortunately it seems that the Motionfox jacket has gone out of production (at the time of writing there were a couple left on ebay), which is a pity as it fitted over a rucksack to make a shell!
Provis do make a hi-viz kids size rucksack (which sadly isn't as much fun!)
Other Kids size hi-vis vests are available, but we found that they can get covered up with a rucksack on the way to school. So a long sleeve jacket with reflective detailing on the arms is better if they carry their own rucksack. While we have found the Altura Night Vision jacket to be the best, we've been served well by Aldi special offers over the years.
For several years now, my eldest has used the Team Sky rucksack on a daily basis. This pack has good reflective detailing and it can also be bought with a waterproof cover - great for wet days. It's not quite as much fun as being a turtle for the little ones (but it's much cooler as they get older!)
Sometimes it's easy to forget how quickly it gets dark during December and January. After getting caught out once when we cycled much slower than planned, we always carry bike lights when we go on family bike rides during winter.
2. Keeping them warm
At this time of year the temperature can fluctuate greatly and it's often been a challenge keeping the boys comfortable. One minute they're boiling, the next freezing!! We've found that layers are the best way to regulate their temperature and we usually take an extra layer for when we take a break for food or photos.
In the early days the boys have been in cargo bikes, bike seats and trailers or on the FollowMe Tandem (above). When they're not moving they need even more layers - Chris and I may been working up a sweat whilst pedalling, but they lose their body heat quickly.
The Polaris Zoom kids cycling tights have been a firm favourite of our youngest. He's just gone up a size and still loves them for both on and off the bike. They've proved to be more or less indestructible, and he now wears them under a pair of regular mountain biking shorts to provide additional warmth and padding.
Long fingered gloves help prevent cold fingers! ly designed children's winter cycling gloves will help them to brake and change gear safely. The Altura kids waterproof cycling gloves served us well for about 4 years of daily school run and weekend riding and have just been passed on to another younger cyclist.
Keeping warm also includes keeping them fuelled up with food and warm drinks. A flask of hot soup can work wonders on a day ride. Plus don't forget those all important stops for hot chocolate and cake along the way!
See our post on Kids Winter Cycling Gloves to find the best glove for the type of winter cycling you'll be doing.
3. Keeping them dry
If you regularly cycle in the UK, it's inevitable that you're going to get caught in the rain at some point, regardless of season! However, if you're cycling with kids during winter then the temperature and wind can make it totally miserable if they're not wearing waterproofs. Even when it's not raining, it's possible for our boys to get damp and cold just by the number of muddy puddles they ride through!
When they were smaller, we tended to buy Hi Vis jackets for going on the road to school, and then whichever waterproof was on special offer at Go Outdoors. This would see them through weekend cycling, walking, sledging and everything else.
Now they're doing more serious cycling we're starting to look at kids sized winter cycling jackets, but as they grow so quickly we do still tend to mix and match.
Finding cycling specific waterproof trousers for kids can be difficult - we used the thicker Spotty Otter ones when they were little, and now they have pairs from Mountain Warehouse. Decathlon have started selling a pair of kids waterproof cycling trousers with built in overshoes, which get mixed reviews, but are less than £10.
Beware of wet and icy surfaces
Things get slippy during or after rain - particularly tree roots and rocks. A route they may have attempted during the summer when dry can be so much more difficult during the autumn and winter months. I'm not sure we'd have managed this one whatever the weather though!
Of course, when you're riding in the wet braking distances to come to a safe stop will increase - both on and off road.
If it's been sub-zero overnight, then watch out for icy patches - especially in shady areas.
4. Keep inflated
If there's one thing I don't like about cycling during the autumn and winter, it's the increased risk of getting a puncture. Freshly cut hedges mean thorns in the road. Debris from trees, shrubs and bushes seems to lurk and wait for my unsuspecting tyres. Over the years we've had our fair share of punctures, and there have been several rides that have gone done in the family history books where there were more punctures than riders!
I've found that when I'm with the kids a puncture is even more stressful than usual (especially if I've been carrying or pulling them, or had a puncture where there is traffic around).
My advice would be that it's worth spending a few minutes thinking about how you'll cope with not just one puncture, but possibly multiple punctures. Make sure you're carrying all the equipment you need. We carry several spare inner tubes these days - yes, they are heavy, but far easier to use than a puncture repair kit (which we still carry just in case). Slime can help to stop the punctures - although we've regularly forgotten to apply it when the boys go up a bike size or when Chris and I have updated our bikes.
And don't ever leave the pump at home on the kitchen table when you're heading out on a December bike ride. That would be really stupid, wouldn't it????!!!!
Don't let punctures put you off though. The golden rule seems to be when we're fully equipped and have plenty of hours of daylight we don't get a puncture. When we're not, then I guess it's an adventure they can tell their friends about the next day at school!
Cycling with kids during winter can be fun!
If you can keep your kids warm, dry and visible, and are fully equipped to cope with punctures, then there really is no need to stop cycling when the weather gets colder.
I hope that you can see from the photos that we've had some fabulous winter rides out and enjoyed cycling to school year round - until last year when we moved across the road from the school! Cycling with kids during winter does need a bit more planning than cycling during the summer. However, the effort is really worth it for the feeling of being outside in the fresh air at a time of year when we can start to suffer from cabin fever.
I hope this post about cycling with kids during winter has inspired you to give it a try!
Do you cycle all year round? Or do your bikes go into hibernation as the weather gets colder? Do let me know your thoughts on cycling with kids during winter, via the comments section below, or the Cycle Sprog Facebook page Thanks!
Other posts you may like:
- Be bright on your bike now winter is here
- Kids winter cycling jackets for cycling to school all year round
- The Polaris Fang Kids Winter Cycling Jersey review
- Polaris Mini Attack Kids Winter Cycling Gloves review
- 8 tips for your first family bike ride of the year
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This post was first published in October 2016 and updated in January 2018
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