A mum of three, engineer, scientist, educator, and all around dabbler, I'm far better at finding interesting things to do than I am at doing housework.
Published July 24th 2012
Once the kids master the art of bike riding, whether with or without training wheels, going on a family ride can be a fun weekend activity. However, unless you're lucky enough to live near a large park or bike trail, the question of where to ride becomes an issue.
Although riding around the block, or to the local park can be fun, occasionally a longer expedition is called for. But when your kids are too young to ride safely on the roads, the choice of where to go is an important one.
When riding with young children there are a few features of a ride that will add to the enjoyment:
If the ride is going to begin and end with loading bikes into a car, somewhere safe to park and load/unload is essential. Ideally there will also be a safe place for the kids to play while the loading is going on.
The ride should suit the skill level of your riders. The combination of hills, an open creek and a rider who hasn't mastered braking yet is a terrifying one!
When riding with young children, interesting stopping points help keep everyone happy. It's amazing how quickly tired little legs get moving again when given the chance to play in an unfamiliar playground. Ice-cream shops can have a similar effect.
And, last but not least, when riding with the very young the availability of toilets can make the difference between a relaxing ride and a fraught one. Rides through parks and along beaches are good in this respect as facilities are usually available. If all else fails on a remote trail, a tree or bush can suffice - if an adult has some wipes and a rubbish bag tucked in a backpack.
So, with these points in mind, where are the best bike rides to go on with young children? Here are a few of our favourites; The Bay Trail is always popular. Following the edge of Port Phillip Bay for much of the distance between Geelong and Carrum, there's 69 km of path to choose from. The section between Elwood and St Kilda is always popular, but is worth avoiding on sunny weekends unless your children (and you) are comfortable riding in crowds. If you do choose to ride this section, the car parks at the end of North road, or at Elwood Beach are a good place to start. Depending on the stretch of track you choose, there is a good assortment of playgrounds, cafes, kiosks, and, of course, the beach to keep your brood interested. Most sections are flat and away from traffic, so this track is suitable for all.
Jells Park is another good option. Although not as crowded as St Kilda, the park can still get busy on sunny weekends. There is plenty of car parking and a number of playgrounds, plus a kiosk and restaurant. Tracks wind through the park, with gentle slopes that will challenge the beginner rider to master their brakes. There are several unfenced ponds and one large lake, although these are generally far enough off the track to avoid any problems. Ducks can be seen on the lake, and although feeding them is discouraged, watching them swim can make a pleasant rest stop before climbing the hill to the cafe.
Ruffey Lake Park in Doncaster is another favourite. The rolling hills can be challenging for the beginner, but there are two excellent playgrounds with carparks that serve as starting and stopping points for a ride (allow plenty of time to play before and/or after your ride to avoid a mutiny). The park is large enough for a good family ride without being so large as to overwhelm small legs - although on at least one occasion we have ridden from one playground to the other and then sent an adult back to fetch the car rather than everyone completing the loop!
For further ride selections, this site has a wealth of information.
So why not take your budding cyclists on an adventure sometime soon? And if you have a favourite ride that isn't listed here, please let us know!