How do you inspire a young child to enjoy exercise in the great outdoors?
While the allure of online gaming and social media are every-present, getting your kids into a sport like cycling doesn’t have to be difficult.
“When your kids get to that age when they can start learning how to ride a bike, it’s natural if you’re a cyclist to want to share that passion with them,” says Rick Robson of Merlin Cycles.
“Naturally, though, you’ll want to avoid being a ‘pushy parent’ — but it can be tricky to curb your personal enthusiasm a little and let them find their own passion. It would be a fairly dull world if youngsters could only do what their parents did!”
So what’s the solution?
We looked at how some of the world’s greatest cyclists — from Eddy Merckx to Jason Kenny — got into the sport. To our delight, we found that there were, in fact, a handful of environmental factors that gave them that initial push to start their cycling journey… and the rest is history.
5 common factors that inspired professional cyclists in childhood
1. Encourage other hobbies
You might think that many of the world’s top cyclists lived and breathed the sport since they took their first steps, but in fact, many had quite a few different hobbies as children.
Bradley Wiggins wasn’t interested in cycling until he was in high school. In fact, he was an avid footballer and a huge Arsenal fan. Similarly, Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx partook in a whole host of sports as a child; he played basketball, football, table tennis and even took up boxing before he took cycling seriously.
And it doesn’t have to be limited to sports. Jason Kenny, one of the only British athletes to hold six Olympic gold medals, was actually a budding musician as a teenager. He played keyboard and guitar while he was steadily growing his cycling talent on the track.
The theme? Nurturing any passion is a good thing. When kids learn that they can explore any hobby freely, they’re far more likely to get a taste for one that’s good for them like cycling.
“I got into cycling after I’d been doing swimming for quite a while,” says Bex Rimmington, an Ironman finalist who works for Merlin Cycles. “Because I’d nurtured a passion for something before, it meant I knew what to expect when it came to pushing through a steep learning curve and later getting past a plateau in performance.”
2. Seeing is believing
TV makes kids lazy… right?
Well, not quite. In fact, many of the world’s top cyclists took their inspiration from what they saw on ‘the box’.
It might sound strange, but Chris Hoy was first inspired to ride when, at six years old, he watched E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the first time. Bradley Wiggins had no interest in taking cycling seriously until he watched coverage of the individual pursuit in the 1992 Olympics.
Of course, live events can have a massive impact, too. Jason Kenny was inspired to take up track racing when as a teenager he went to the Manchester Velodrome to watch racing with his uncle.
“I got into cycling because I saw my older brother racing,” says Rick. “He stopped when he realised he could get served in the pub, so I thought I would have a go on his bike. Four years later, I won the British under 16’s time trial championship.
“For me, watching races and joining a cycling club, sparked a passion within me that has stayed with me through my adult life.”
3. Make cycling a regular part of life
Yes, cycling is a serious sport — but it’s also a useful way of getting around and staying active and healthy.
Cycling with your kids as their first taste of independent transport allows them to access the enjoyment of cycling without the pressure of a competitive sport.
For Laura Kenny — the most successful female track cyclist in Olympic history — cycling started as a bonding exercise with her mother, who took it up to lose weight. Both her and Jason Kenny took regular cycling holidays with their families in childhood.
Even something as simple as a cycling commute can sow the seed of a bigger passion. Eddy Merckx cycled to and from school with his friends from the age of eight before his interest in cycling as a sport emerged.
4. The gear can come later
It’s natural to want to get your kids the best bike you can straight away, but it’s far better to start them off with something basic while they’re still coming around to cycling as their own hobby.
When we look at how the pros started out, getting an expensive bike was never how it started. Chris Hoy’s first bike, for example, cost just £5. Wiggins rode and even raced on an entry-level bike until he was able to buy his first racer using the settlement money he received following a road accident.
The best time to go and enjoy bike shopping with your kids is once they’ve expressed an interest in pursuing it as their own hobby. That’s your opportunity to teach them what you know about finding the right bike so that they can pick out their own one day.
5. Don’t be pushy
This is the golden rule. That doesn’t make it easy, of course — it takes a lot of self-restraint to step back and let things take their course.
The world’s top cyclists grew up outside of unhealthy pressure. Despite his father being a professional cyclist, Bradley Wiggins wasn’t pushed to do cycling as a child — he discovered it for himself as an adolescent. Jason Kenny’s parents even went so far as to explain in an interview how they were dead-set on not being pushy parents: “Seeing parents shouting at their children on the football field, for example, always upset me,” said his mother, Lorraine.
“I’ve been careful not to push my boys towards cycling,” says Rick. “Though they’ve both trained with a club before, cycling is something they do for fun. Now, one’s a skateboarder and the other is a swimmer.”
“As a parent, it’s encouraging to see how letting them freely explore their interest in sport has started them on their own unique journey. I could never have done the stuff they do in their sports!”
A recipe for success?
Making cycling a regular part of life and understanding that inspiration can come from anywhere may certainly help nurture a child’s passion for cycling, but it isn’t a guarantee of a full-on conversion to two-wheeled living.
However, what it will do is create an environment of mutual respect. Whatever your child goes on to do, they’ll grow up in a household where cycling was made available but never pushed on them. That respect for cycling, both as transport and a sport, will stay with them for a long time.
If your child is already gearing up to go to the next level with cycling, check out our guide to cycling gear for kids.