Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Everyday Life On A Shoestring Tour de France Cycling Special!

Husband and Son are still glued to the TV every evening watching the Tour de France.  It's all the more fun indulging a passion for cycling when Team Sky, with its British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, look as if they have a chance of victory!

Our family cycles with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Husband regularly cycles the 12 hilly miles to work (and back), and celebrated his 40th birthday by cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End.  Son is very keen too and is always begging to go for long cycle rides.  Daughter grumbles but usually enjoys a ride once she gets going, and I really ought to get out on my bike more often.

One of the success stories of the economic downturn has been the upsurge in UK cycling, both as a leisure pursuit and as a form of commuter transport.  CTC statistics suggest that the mileage cycled is up 20% over the last 12 years, and it is even higher than this in urban areas.  I know that on my journey to work in the car (*cringes*, although in my defence it’s usually a liftshare) I see a lot more cyclists on the road than a few years ago.

The increase in cycling has created a big opportunity to consumerise cyclists.  I can’t help but smile to myself when I see a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra) out for an afternoon ride wearing gear that makes him look as if he is just about to tackle une étape de montagne dans Le Tour!  I’m not being sexist here; men are three times more likely to cycle than women in the UK (according to the National Transport Survey 2010).  The gender gap in cycling is being addressed through schemes such as British Cycling’s Breeze campaign, (which encourages women to get on their bikes, and organises social groups and women-only rides).

‘Smart materials’ have undeniably made sports activities a lot more comfortable, and I know that Husband and Son love to spend time dreaming about the bits they can buy that will improve their bikes, but family or everyday cycling does not need to be an expensive pursuit.  

Here are our top tips for cycling on a shoestring:

  • Choose your bike carefully.  You’ll probably get a better quality bike from a specialist bike shop than you will from buying a new, cheap bike off the shelf from the supermarket.  Good bikes can be found secondhand on Ebay and Freecycle and we’re lucky enough to have a community bike maintenance scheme in our town, where your old bike can be serviced or a refurbished one purchased.
  • Make sure you have a helmet.

  • Buy lycra if you must, but look out for good deals.  We've bought the odd item from Wiggle but Aldi and Lidl regularly sell cycling clothing and accessories in the spring and summer.  Padded cycling shorts are a good investment if you’re cycling more than 5 miles.  The rest of the family have cycling gloves, but I get by with ordinary woolly ones.  Otherwise, your usual sports gear will suffice – trainers and tracky bottoms.  And of course, if you’re in the UK, invest in a good waterproof!
  • Learn how to maintain your bike yourself.  I have a live-in bike maintenance man so I’m lucky, but if I didn’t, I’d check out the University of Youtube or invest in a good manual, such as The Bike Book.
  • If you have kids then jump at the opportunity for them to do a cycle proficiency course such as Bikeability.
  • Always take snacks on a family bike ride, however short!  Flapjacks or cereal bars, and bananas are our favourites.  Jelly babies are well known for giving a quick energy burst.
  • Always take a drink.  Water is fine, but for a longer ride the boys in our house make their own energy drink: for a 500 ml drinks bottle, use 50% fruit juice and 50% water with a quarter of a teaspoon of salt.
  • Our family is now at the stage where we can all cycle safely on the roads, but we started out with the kids on bike seats and tag-along bikes on traffic-free cycle paths.  We're lucky to have the Bristol to Bath cycle path not too far away.  If you're in the UK, check out Sustrans for cycle routes close to you.

  • If you have reluctant cyclists in the family, then aiming for a destination where there might be a small treat, such as an icecream, may help!
Please share your top tips for successful family cycling!


  1. Thanks for such an informative post. Cycling can really save some cash and is a great family activity. Great tips for saving money on cycling!

  2. A balance bike is a bike without pedals that lets kids push with their feet to propel themselves along, to learn to balance and steer naturally on a bike.

    Balance bikes are sometimes known as runner bikes, walker bikes or trainer bikes and can be used by children from a young age (from about 2 years onwards). As long as the bike seat is low enough for their feet to touch the ground, kids can start to learn.