Are you looking to start cycling with your family in the forest? Active Forests Coordinator at Hamsterley Forest, Laura Hull, talked to us about her experience of cycling with her family and shares her top tips for preparing for your first family bike ride in the forest.
How did you get into cycling with your family?
Family cycling is something that both myself and my partner always dreamt of when our two girls were younger. We bought the clip-on Burleys and lived on a remote hill in Scotland with oodles of right to roam tracks available. We lived the dream whilst the kids were tiny and you could scoop them up and pop them into their ‘princess’ carriage.
Reality kicked in a few years later living in a rural town in England with very few, if any, cycle lanes, an adrenaline-fueled eldest daughter aged 10 who craves challenges (along with her dad) and a younger daughter, aged 7, who fears anything that moves or isn’t flat due to her being hypermobile and dyspraxic, which affects her coordination. For us, the forest forms the perfect traffic-free and calming backdrop for both kids learning to cycle and enjoying carefree days cycling as a family.
How do you plan when and where to cycle?
We always tend to go cycling when we can avoid the busier times - there is something magical about the trails early in the morning or on a summer's evening. We also prepare by looking at what trail grades are on offer; forest roads, blue, red or black routes, a training loop, plus extreme downhill sections at Hamsterley Forest. For myself and my youngest, Sofia, we choose the forest roads and blue grade trails. For my eldest and my partner, they choose the blue grade, the training loop and look at sections of the red trail.
We would all share the first section of blue trail to do some cycling together then meet up later back at the car. If there’s time, we sometimes have a cycle up to the extreme bike park and watch some of the pro riders shredding the extreme black trails and four-cross, where four bikers race downhill on a prepared, BMX-like track, simply trying to get down first. My eldest has aspirations of shredding some of the trails in Canada after we went on a family road trip including the world-famous Whistler bike park.
How do you prepare for your bike rides?
We always plan our expected time back at the car, especially as we part company for the more advanced trails. We check tyre pressure and that the bikes are set up correctly, making sure helmets are on kids' heads and not being carried over the bars! My partner and I each carry a small rucksack with a bit of food and water, puncture repair kit, spare inner tube and a mobile phone (mainly for snapping photos and emergency calls). With Sofia, distraction always takes her mind off her innate fear of everything and I tend to plan a scavenger hunt, find orienteering posts (if they are on the route) or we listen and look for signs of wildlife.
We always check the forest's website and Facebook pages for updates on diversions, events and so on to ‘know before you go’. If the weather or trail conditions change, or one of us has a mechanical issue, we always check the quickest ways back to base on foot as a plan B before we set off.
What's your final piece of advice for families cycling in the forest?
If your kids are young or just starting out, cheer the heart out of every accomplishment whether that is a more technical feature, completing the training loop, or cycling for one hour straight! Also, I always have a change of clothes in the car and more snacks and drinks to hydrate and energise for the journey home.
In short, prepare your route, check you have all the gear before you set off, check which trails are open and plan a meeting place and time at the end of your ride.
Forestry England has hundreds of family friendly off-road routes in the forest, perfect for starting your children on their cycling journey. Discover green spaces, dedicated cycling trails, skills areas and beginner mountain bike trails. So, grab your helmet and head out for a beautiful cycle ride with your family.