Riding Bikes with Kids: How to Keep Little Cyclists Safe
Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for just about every child. And for people who love cycling, it is exciting to help your children learn to get comfortable and ride safely on a bike. Of course, it can be nerve-wracking too, and many parents worry about the safety of their child while riding a bike — and especially about bike accidents without a helmet.
Luckily, the rules for riding bikes with kids are almost exactly the same as for adults. With a little extra supervision and guidance, you can easily help your young cyclist be safe and happy as they get ready to break free from the driveway or neighborhood park to hit the open road.
Just make sure you take these steps to ensure that you are giving your children the skills, safety tools, and guidelines they need to become the best new members of the cycling community they can be.
Avoid bike accidents without a helmet and use properly sized equipment
Children should never use bikes or helmets that they’ll “grow into”. Anytime your child is on a bike, they should be using gear that is properly fitted for the size they are right now. It is very important that all cyclists use protective gear, especially considering that bike accidents without a helmet can result in severe bike injuries.
If you aren’t sure if your bike or helmet is the right size for your child, you can visit a bicycle repair shop or store to help properly fit the bike — or to help you see if it’s time for a new, bigger bike. If you just need to adjust the bike they have now, though, properly fitting the seat and/or handlebars are both fairly simple adjustments that you can make yourself.
Seats and handlebars can be adjusted usually by simply loosening the lever near each piece, testing to see where it fits best for your child, and then tightening it in place.
Preventing bike accidents without a helmet involves more than just wearing a helmet. A bicycle helmet should fit snugly, with the chin strap close against the bottom of the rider’s chin (you shouldn’t be able to fit more than one finger between the trap and the chin). Fit is extremely important here for the helmet to be effective, so if you aren’t sure your child’s helmet still fits, it is worth spending time on adjustment or even shopping for a new one.
Stay off the sidewalks
Even though it might feel scary, kids are usually safest cycling on the road in a bike lane. Riding on the sidewalk may seem safer, but it can actually cause more confusion and opportunity for crashes.
The only exception would be if your cyclist is under the age of 10, and aren’t yet mature enough to make smart decisions riding on the street. Any child this young who is riding on the sidewalk should be accompanied by you or another trusted adult, who can help guide them and keep an eye out for hazards like driveways and curbs, and of course, pedestrians.
Otherwise, young cyclists are often best off riding on streets with bike lanes where they will be a normal, predictable part of the flow of traffic, and where they will be most visible to cars, present the least danger to pedestrians, and be least affected by the hazards of the sidewalk.
Teach them basic hand signals
Children should behave just like any other cyclist on the road, and that means helping to keep everyone safe by communicating clearly about where they are going.
Every child should know and use the hand signals for “turning left”, “turning right”, and “stopping” when they ride. Here is a diagram of each signal:
You can help them make this a habit by reminding them when opportunities come up during your rides and demonstrating yourself using the hand signals too.
Teach them about traffic safety
One of the most important things cyclists do to stay safe is to understand and work within the flow of traffic. Any beginner cyclist will benefit from learning how to work within these rules too.
Even if your child is far too young to drive a car, they can understand some basics about how to safe when riding around traffic.
For example, cyclists should generally stay on the right hand side of the road. If they need to merge, they should look carefully to make sure the road is clear before doing so.
It’s also good to remind young cyclists that if they’re ever in doubt, they can always pull over to the right side of the road, get off their bike, and walk it on the sidewalk through any areas they aren’t sure about. It is better to get there a little slower and stay safe than to ride through a tricky traffic scenario they aren’t sure about.
Don’t forget that riding a bike is a very big learning experience for any child, and even the most confident young rider is likely to struggle at first as they get used to their bike. Keep children excited about bicycle safety. For example, help prevent bike accidents without a helmet by letting the child choose a helmet they would like to wear.
Start out by riding on streets with as little traffic as possible, so they can get used to riding out on the road without distractions. As they get more comfortable and agile on their bike, you can begin to branch out and maybe cycle to your local coffee shop for a treat.
Try to avoid situations where there will be busy streets, lots of right-turning cars who could present challenges to the bike lane, and other hazards while your child gets their bearings on the bike. Introduce these other challenges slowly, and give the child lots of preparation that they’ll be dealing with a busier street where they need to be much more prepared.
Riding bikes with children is a fun and rewarding way to spend time with family and get fresh air and exercise. By following these steps, you’ll help your young cyclist develop a love of their bike, as well as the safety skills to be safe and happy on their bike for years to come.