Parents want their kids to be active. They want them to develop healthily. They want them to socialize and be safe at all times. Parents wish for their children to build confidence and achieve, but parents of cyclists and even parents who cycle themselves often find themselves confused in the face of a sport with a myriad of disciplines and a confusing spectrum of bicycle product. Cycling in South Africa is not the most structured and regulated sport. It is not completely unstructured, but fairly confusing at times. This Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa will offer parents a framework to make better choices when choosing the correct bicycle, a program, a coach and to be prepared when they arrive at an event. This guide consists out of seven parts.

PART 1: Why cycling? - you are here! 

PART 2: So let’s play cycling 

PART 3: The battle of the disciplines 

PART 4: Rather safe than sorry

PART 5: The bicycle, the set-up and important equipment

PART 6 A: Riding, training and competing – Primary School Children

PART 6 B: Riding, training and competing – High School Children

PART 7: Cycling in South Africa

Why cycling?

Scenario 1

I am a cyclist myself and I enjoy the sport. I would love my daughter to get into cycling. We could ride together. It is after all a sport you can enjoy, participate and even compete in till late in life. How can I make this work?

If this is your scenario, you are in a strong position and leading from the front. Ask yourself how you got involved in the sport. If you started in later life, why put pressure on your child at the much earlier age? Let it evolve naturally. If you took up cycling for health reasons, it is your journey, not your child’s. Ask yourself why you enjoy the sport. What keeps you motivated? If you could instil these same values, you’re off to a great start. If you however start to toy with the idea that your child could one day excel in the sport, then you will be fiddling with your main objective. Remember; as a career cyclist a rider will need a lot of love for the sport to carry her through the hard times of injury, illness, bad form and bad luck. Such a love for riding a bicycle is at the core of a happy life in cycling, competitive or not. Enjoyment and social bonds should always form the centre of your involvement with your child.

While you are experimenting with cycling, you have to be conscious that people differ. The sport has technical, mechanical and physical demands that is not for everyone’s appetite. Luckily, cycling boasts an infinite number of disciplines and recreational cycling can take on many forms. It is good to learn about all these options. In this 7-part Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa you will get to learn more about some of the popular cycling disciplines.

Scenario 2

There is a cycling program at my son’s school. We are happy that he chose to do a sport to stay healthy and develop physically. My son did not respond well to the other sports at school and ended up doing no sport. How can I support him?

Physical education in many schools are not up to standard. You have all the reasons to be excited that your child picked a physical activity he can enjoy for a lifetime. There are a few reasons why children struggle to tune into the standard school sports programs. It could be valuable to understand your child’s choice.

1. Many children do not enjoy team sports. A large number of sports offered in school programs are team sports. Team sports have enormous value for the developing child, but it is relentless on the child who struggles at the back of the pack, dropping the ball and missing the tackle. Mountainbiking, BMX and many track cycling items are individual sports. Competitive road cycling, however, is a team sport.

2. Some children do not enjoy the physical aggressive culture promoted by some mainstream sports. To be tasked to physically intimidate the opposition is a burden not every child wants to bear.

3. Some kids simply feel frustrated with sport in general. When I analyse the mainstream school sports presented at my child’s school here in Johannesburg, it is clear that the majority of these sports benefit the child with natural speed and explosive power. Let me put it this way; being really slow is rarely ever an asset. Even long distance running requires a good measure of leg speed. All children enjoy the feeling of success and accomplishment. What makes cycling unique is the adjustable bicycle set-up that accommodates all body types and the gear ratios which allows the slower child to move at a similar pace to the fastest over the longer distance. Longer distance swimming is also a sport to consider.

4. It is not always what children don’t like about the other sports, it often has more to do with what cycling has to offer that the other sports don’t. Firstly, the technology that is part of the sport is gripping. No other school sport even comes close. Secondly, bicycles take you places and many children enjoy the adventurous character of the sport. Lastly, and this parents probably do not want to hear; the sport offers some extreme thrills that most school sports will not offer you. High speeds and even jumps are all part of these thrills.

Scenario 3

My children got reeled in to participate in a cycle event at a local sports day. They enjoyed the event and they proudly walked around with their participation medals around their necks. We literally had to pull them of the bikes to go home. We, as parents, see the value in the sport over the long period and would like to learn more about cycling.

What can I say; cycling can be addictive. Maybe the bicycle is nowadays competing against the Nintendo Switch and a drone for the position of ‘favourite gift’ for a child, but take my word for it, it is still right up there with the best of toys.

The bicycle = freedom

Scenario 4

Our daughter is 12 and is a true sportsperson, she loves to compete, plays first team hockey, swims and participate in cross country running. Her school’s cycling team pulled her in and she seems to have found her passion. We are professional in our approach to sport; we want her to be well equipped, receive proper coaching and be as successful as possible. What is the next step?

You are blessed. Your child is developing all-round. Some schools put a premium on winning. Some even offer bursaries! We can encourage a child to give his/her best, but in cycling it is simply too early to expect them to be the best. In fact, an all-round development is what she needs. Cycling equipment can be quite expensive – especially considering your child’s head-start and ability. Our suggestion: spread the love across all the sports and let it develop organically. I would be critical of any sport program that expects the child to specialize at too early age or demands of them to build excessive body-mass in a gym. This could damage a child’s chances in cycling and other sports alike. Use this guide to learn about a scientific approach to cycling talent development.

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Whatever your scenario, this 7-part guide aims to educate the parent as to what they would encounter on the journey and where they could get involved. Knowing what lies behind all the activities will make your appreciation for your child’s efforts so much more.

by Attie Koekemoer:
Attie is a keen cyclist since 1985 and was the publisher of Ride Magazine from 2000-2018. In 2008 Attie got involved in High School mountainbiking and has been involved with school cycling ever since. Attie is also a parent and passionate about the sport and health literacy among South African parents and children. After being involved in what is now known as the Spur Schools Mountainbike League for 13 years, Attie decided to put pen to paper and write this seven-part Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa.

Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa – Part 1