Over 50% of parents cited safety concerns as one of the main reasons they don’t cycle more with their children in a family biking survey, yet cycling comes with a number of health benefits for the whole family. It can cultivate confidence and socialization in children and is a great way for families to spend time together, improving their fitness at the same time. Confidence in our children’s cycling safety will make us feel less apprehensive about going out together to play and explore the world by bike, and that begins with teaching them to be safe cyclists. So how do we get there?
Step 1: Start Young
Introducing bikes as early as possible is a good idea for encouraging confident cyclists, and confident cyclists mean fewer safety concerns. Every child is different, but at roughly 18 months, most children can be introduced to a balance bike, which will encourage them to become familiar with a bike without the need for pedaling. At 3 or 4 years, they can then make the transition to a pedal bike, often without the need for training wheels, having grown accustomed to a two-wheeled model. Don’t be afraid to let them fall: this is part of the learning process, and worrying about it may encourage them to feel anxious about falling, which will make them less safe as they get older. An element of risk is important in a child’s learning experience and allows them to learn first hand what is and isn’t safe.
Step 2: The Right Equipment
The size of a child’s bike is important to their safety and comfort, but the good news is that most children’s bikes are designed with safety in mind. Seats are usually positioned to encourage upright cycling, which promotes sensible speeds and allows them to keep their eyes ahead of them. The correct size frame is found in the same way you would size an adult bike: there should be an inch of clearance between your child and the bike frame when they straddle the middle of the frame, and they should be able to touch the floor when they’re in the saddle. The bike should be equipped with full safety equipment, including reflectors, lights and a bell, and children should always be encouraged to wear a helmet when cycling. For younger children and those who are more adventurous in their play, you may also want to consider knee and elbow protectors.
Step 3: Road And Cycle Safety
You can enroll your child in a road safety class to teach them the rules of riding a bike in public, and there are arguments for doing this rather than teaching them yourself: sometimes children take instruction better from a teacher, and you can be confident that trained professionals will have up-to-date road safety knowledge. However, it’s possible to teach road safety rules yourself too. Familiarize yourself with the rules, and teach them skills like signaling and single-file cycling. Some states have specific laws, so check local laws to make sure they know everything they need to know for safe cycling in your area.
In addition to the rules of the road, teach your children the importance of reflective clothing and lights for cycling after dark, and encourage the use of long pants and secure shoes when cycling. If you have older children and you’re allowing them out on their own or with friends, give them clear boundaries about where they’re allowed to go and when you expect them to be home. Make sure they know the route and are prepared for the sorts of things that might come up along the way: might there be stop signs or traffic lights, for instance?
If children are prepared for cycling and armed with confidence and knowledge of road safety rules, there’s no reason that they should feel any more vulnerable than adults. Cycling as a family will only work to improve their safety, as you’ll be able to correct any mistakes they’re making while spending quality time together, encouraging them to be active, and exploring the wider world on two wheels.