Everything You Ever Needed to Know About: Kids’ Bicycle Safety
Kids are pretty fearless, and they don’t usually mind falling down a few times in order to get what they want. If what they want is to ride a bike like the big kids, you can bet there will be some scrapes and bruises along the way. There are a few common sense things you can do to keep those injuries to a minimum, though.
I’m starting this article with helmets because they are so important. Everyone needs a helmet. It’s not an optional accessory, it’s mandatory. If your child wants to ride his bike, tell him he must wear a helmet. A helmet does not become less important just because a child has training wheels or is only riding in the driveway. They may be less likely to fall, but accidents happen, and it’s never too early to start building a habit of helmet use. Be sure to set a positive example by wearing your helmet when you ride, too.
It’s important to be sure that your child’s helmet fits appropriately (link to helmet post). Most helmets can be adjusted to a certain degree, but it is important to have your child try helmets on to find the one that fits best. Be sure that you buy a helmet that fits your child now, and not one that you hope he will grow into. They’re relatively inexpensive, especially compared with the value of your child’s life. It’s worth it to buy new helmets frequently if it can prevent serious injury to your child.
Getting a Bike that Fits
Getting a bicycle that fits your child is important because a poorly fit bicycle can cause injury. To determine if a bike fits, have your child stand over the bicycle. There should be 1 to 2 inches between him and the top tube of the frame if it’s a boys’ bike. For girls’ bikes this is usually not the case, because the top tube slants downward. The seat height should be adjusted to allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended. When the child is sitting on the seat, he should just be able to touch his tiptoes to the ground. Having a bike that is the right size for you child will make it easier to ride and help prevent injury or discomfort for your child.
Learning to Ride
Once your child is ready to learn to ride, you should think about how and where you plan to teach them. Training wheels are a classic tool that will help your child get a feel for riding a bike without actually having to balance the bike. This initial learning can happen in the driveway, if you have one. If not, a bicycle path or area in a park where there is no traffic works just as well. You’ll soon see your child speeding around with one training wheel consistently on the ground. At this point, the child gets the general idea (pedaling=forward motion), and rather than trying to balance is letting himself always tip to one side. It’s my guideline that when a child is riding like this, it’s time to take off the training wheels.
Once your child has mastered training wheels, it’s time to try riding without them. This is easiest if you can let your child ride for several yards in a straight line, so the driveway might not be an ideal place, but a wide bicycle path or paved area in a park would be a wise choice. Choosing a car-free environment is key, and if it’s surrounded by lush grass to fall on, that’s even better.
Taking the Next Step
Assuming you make it through the somewhat rocky transition to training-wheel free riding, you child will probably want to start going places on his bike. Maybe down the street to a friend’s house, or eventually, riding his bike to school. I’m very supportive of letting kids transport themselves in a way that gets them exercise and spares the environment, but be sure your child is ready and is educated about when and where he is allowed to ride.
It’s a good general rule to not let children ride at night, and even during the day, they should wear bright clothing. Most kids’ bikes come with reflectors on the spokes of the wheels, but if you’d like to add some to other parts of the bike, it certainly won’t hurt.
Generally, the rules of the road (link to post) require cyclists to ride on the street with auto traffic. In the case of young children however, the sidewalk is a safe option if they’re not going to be crossing any streets. So if they’re just riding two houses away, by all means, let them take the sidewalk. But if they have to cross a street, it’s safest to have them stop, get off the bike, and walk through the intersection, whether they’re alone or with a parent. The reasoning is that cars don’t expect a cyclist to come shooting across the sidewalk, but they are fairly accustomed to pedestrians. It also forces your child to stop and really look around to be sure the crossing is safe.
Of course, any street crossing should be done with a parent if the child is still fairly young. Most children under the age of ten can’t understand traffic and the concept of right-of-way. Be sure to spend adequate time teaching your child everything he needs to know before you send him out on the streets. Also spend a good deal of time riding with him and explaining as you go. Children learn by example, so set a good one!
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has some great free activity kits available online to help your children learn about safe cycling!