Cycling with the family on a sunny day can be fun and liberating.
With the weather slowly beginning to warm up, it won’t be long until we see more and more families jumping on their bikes and heading out to take in all the beautiful scenery we have here in Markham.
“Something I’ve found a lot of people say is that cycling for them is a source of freedom,” said Midhat Malik, program coordinator at Markham Cycles, York Region’s first community bicycle hub. “As soon as you’re a kid and you get your first bike and you’re able to go on your own, you can go to the park or go with your friends or you’re with your mom and dad and you can ride together. The sense that you can go places and it’s just a fun activity.
“For me, I really like cycling for the joy of the wind in your hair, and the ability to nod and smile at the people that pass you by on a bike or walking. I find that you can have more of a personal connection to your community when you bike, as opposed to sitting on a bus when no one wants to talk to you because that’s not cool or driving by yourself.”
Making sure your experience is a safe and comfortable one is important, which is why having the proper equipment is a must.
“You don’t need a lot of equipment,” Malik said. The basics are a bike, a helmet, a bell and lights.”
First and foremost is finding a bike and making sure that it’s the proper fit. Malik says there’s an easy way to check if it is. Sit on the seat and reach one of your feet to the floor and see if it’s flat on the ground or how your knees are feeling.
“If you can’t reach the floor, it might be an issue,” she said. “A good testament if it fits, like if your seat height is right, if your foot is on the lower pedal and you’re on your seat and it’s not completely at a 90-degree angle, that means it’s too small. You need to have a small bend, so that’s a good way.”
You also want to make sure you can reach the handlebars in a comfortable position that’s not awkward, that’s not too big of a reach, not to tight and your elbows are coming along. The frame itself, if you’re able to clear the frame when you get on it’s in a comfortable position.
“So really you want to have a bike that is comfortable to get on and off and it fits you right,” Malik said.
All cyclists need a bell, which is the law.
“Get something that you know that you’ll use, that works for you,” Malik said. “Some people have cute ones, like a rubber duck and they’re noise-making instruments. Other people have just a classic bell.”
Make sure you have lights on the front and back. You need those if you’re riding after sunset or even 30 minutes before sunset or 30 minutes after sunrise.
“It’s also good to have because sometimes you ride during the day and it’s great and then it gets cloudy and it’s raining and gets dark and you want to be visible,” Malik explained.
A good helmet that fits properly and is not expired is a must.
“Helmets do expire after five years with manufacturers, so just making sure your helmet is in good condition and if you dropped it and there’s a crack, or if you’ve fallen before on your head, replace your helmet because it’s no use to you if it’s broken,” she said.
There’s plenty of great local areas recommended for families heading out for a ride. With trails, trees, washrooms and a pond, Malik points to the Milne Dam Conversation Park, located off of McCowan Road and Highway 7.
“A lot of families, I’ve noticed, go there,” Malik said. “Recently there’s been a great connection that opened up to Unionville, so you can go from Unionville, which is north of Highway 7, and then it goes all the way to Milne on McCowan on a trail system.
“That was a new improvement (done recently).”
Families don’t need to go all the way to the trail systems. Malik explains there’s plenty of great neighbourhood roads to cycle on provided you’re not reckless and are riding on the right side of the road.
Malik also reminds new riders to stay on the right side of trail, regardless of the way you’re going. Often there’s tight corners and there’s trees and you can’t see around the corner.
“It’s also good to just maybe make a sound so people know you’re coming, because there’s been a lot of close calls when people don’t really know what side of the trail they should ride on,” she explained. “It’s just good to be safe.”
Located in the southwestern parking lot of Milliken Mills Community Centre, Markham Cycles is done in partnership with the City of Markham and aims to build cycling culture in Markham by offering free programs and workshops to those interested in cycling.
They’ll soon be hosting drop-in hours twice a week for local cyclists who have any questions, want their bike fitted, to learn to ride, get cycling tips like what to wear or pick up a cycling map. There are also some bikes that can be borrowed for a week with your local library card.
They’ll provide in-person support for anyone who wants it.
“We have a lot of volunteers who are really interested in helping a lot of people cycle and we have a mechanic who teaches people how to fix their bikes, and we do a lot of programs to teach people how to get going,” Malik said. “We also do group rides and families really like that so they can come with their kids.”
People can visit the markhamcycles.ca website to find out when the programs start. They’ll also be holding a used bike sale. Anyone interested in purchasing a used bike is asked to keep checking the website for more information on the upcoming fundraiser.
Photo: Cycling is a great activity for families and making your experience a safe and comfortable one is important, which is why Midhat Malik of Markham Cycles says having the proper equipment is a must.