Eye on Nature

Free-Wheelin’ Fun
Family bike rides are healthy adventures.
Here are 7 great locations to try.

by Suzanne Koup-Larsen

Bicycling is a great way to spend time together as a family, and it has the added benefit of exercising in the great outdoors. So where’s the best place for a family bike ride? How should you prepare?

For More Info

Local bike clubs are a great resource for bicycling information. Find them at www.a1trails.com/biking/bk_clat.html.
The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy website, www.railstrails.org, has tools for finding trails by state. Also visit www.trails.com for maps and info on trails all over the country.

Things to Consider
If you’re selecting bikes, keep the most likely riding surface in mind. There are three types of bikes: racing (with skinny tires) for streets, mountain/all-terrain (with fat tires) for off-road routes, or hybrids, a combination of the two.

“I think mountain biking is a great option for families. It removes cars from the equation and puts you in the woods,” says Jim Ireland, director at large for the Delaware Trail Spinners.

When choosing where to ride, consider whether the terrain is dirt, gravel, or asphalt. Dirt roads are softer, but have the potential to be muddy. If you’re thinking of riding mainly on roads, consider the potential traffic and your kids’ knowledge of road rules. In many states, cyclists on the road have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.

Also consider the distance you’ll be asking your kids to cover. Up to 30 miles is a good challenge for kids age 12 and older, but 3 to 5 miles is probably appropriate for new cyclists.

Along with the terrain, consider elevation changes. Long ascents and fast descents could discourage and perhaps scare new riders.

Keeping young kids motivated is the key. “You don’t want to turn them off to biking or they’ll never want to do it again,” says Bob Ingram, publisher of Liberty Sports Magazine. Try to keep biking to half hour segments for younger kids, and make sure you’ve got goal destinations along the way: playgrounds, places to get food, picnic areas or places to rest or play. And don’t forget restrooms!

Before you head out, make sure every member of your riding party is wearing a helmet. (See next page.)

Hydration is key, especially in warm summer months. Take water with you and make sure your kids drink before leaving the house. Know your equipment and be prepared for repairs on the road if necessary. At minimum, carry what’s needed to fix a flat tire.

Kids’ Bike Helmet Checklist

To avoid potentially devastating head injuries, kids and parents need to wear bike helmets that fit well and are worn properly. A bike helmet:

• Should fit squarely on top of the rider’s head.

• Should cover the rider’s forehead, with the front of the helmet coming down to approximately one inch above the eyebrows.

• Should be strapped securely enough that it will not twist or rock when the head moves.

• Should be the proper size. If adjusting the straps does not make the fit secure, the helmet may be too big.

Time and the intense heat break down the material in helmets, making hand-me-downs not always a good idea. Just as children outgrow clothes, they also outgrow bike helmets.

Every couple of years, or sooner if necessary, parents should select a new helmet for their children to ensure a good fit. www.medem.com (search: bike helmets)

Places for Free-Wheelin’
Looking for a family bike-riding spot? Area bicycling enthusiasts recommend these locations.

Martin Luther King Drive (Phila.) — The drive is closed to motor vehical traffic on Saturdays and Sundays, April through October. So on weekends, the formerly-named West River Drive is a great open space for kids to bob and weave around the roadway, though they must share it with runners and walkers.

The drive’s width provides a big advantage compared to crowded, narrow sidewalks or trails.

Valley Forge National Historic Park (Valley Forge, PA). To avoid hilly parts of the park, younger cyclists should try the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail, a relatively flat, three-mile round-trip. Start at the Welcome Center, which offers bicycle rentals
if needed, and has snacks for incentive on the return trip. At Wayne’s Woods (the turn-around point), there is a restroom, picnic area and ample space to get off the bikes to run around
a bit. www.nps.gov/vafo/planyourvisit/hikingtrails.htm

Perkiomen Trail (Montgomery County, PA).
The 19-mile Perkiomen Trail runs west through the Perkiomen Creek Valley from its junction with the Schuylkill River Trail at Oaks, Upper Providence Township to Green Lane Park.

“It’s a great ride for kids because it’s an unpaved trail, designed more for leisure than performance,” says Bailey Fucanan of the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The chance to stop at Moccia’s Ice Cream Junction in Schwenksville is a big motivational factor! www.montcopa.org/parks/ perkiomentrail

D & R Canal Path (Titusville, NJ) A segment of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Towpath runs from Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville north to Lambert-ville, NJ, a great place to shop or get something to eat. The path is flat (approximately 7.6 miles each way, with only occasional auto traffic crossings. “It’s boring for anyone with experience,” according to Bob Ingram, “So it’s great for kids.” www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/tours.shtm

Pine Barrens River Ramble (Batsto, NJ) – This course is better-suited for older kids because of the distance (almost 30 miles using the “shortcut”) and because the course crosses roads with traffic. However, the trail is an easy, flat ride and offers natural and historic scenery. www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/tours.shtm

Hagley Museum (Wilmington, DE). Bike & Hike Nights are held every Wednesday 5-8pm in July and August. Visitors have access to a three-mile loop on the former duPont estate, with terrain suitable for all skill levels and a riverside landscape for scenery. Cost is $2 per person. www.hagley.lib.de.us

White Clay Creek State Park (Newark, DE). According to the Trail Spinners’ Jim Ireland, this Delaware state park with 37 miles of trails is the best in the region because of the great trail design. “The trails are well marked,” he says, “so it’s easy to find your way around.” www.destateparks.com/wccsp

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a local freelance writer.