Riding a bike can be a wonderful experience for every child. It’s an activity that offers fun, freedom and fitness while developing a child’s self-confidence and sense of accomplishment. Like most activities with such great reward, there is also the risk of injury. Teaching your child the fundamentals of bike safety is the most important step in the process of learning to ride a bike.
Helmets are Not Optional
Head injuries account for more than 60% of all bicycle related fatalities involving young cyclists. Generally, kids dislike wearing a helmet. To encourage use, let them select their own helmet and remind them that the reason they have to wear it is because you want them in your life forever. No helmet, no bike. Period.
For kids ten and under, most cycling accidents are caused by some lapse in judgment or loss of concentration. Kids injure themselves running into stationary objects like parked cars or mailboxes. They collide into each other or ride off the curb. Teach your child that being alert is even more important than wearing their helmet and riding safely matters. Let them know you are proud of their ability to make good decisions and ask them to be a leader when they are riding with friends.
As you grant new freedom for your child to roam on their bicycle, take the time to walk them through the new areas they’ll be allowed to ride. Point out danger spots; parked cars that obscure vision, busy traffic areas, steep hills and ask them to explain how they will handle each situation.
Obey the Traffic Rules
For most adults, recognizing and reacting to traffic signs and rules is second nature, but we sometimes forget that kids have not taken driver’s education classes. Teach your kids which direction to ride, how to negotiate intersections and the meaning of the traffic signs in their riding zone.
While riding with your child in a car, quiz them on the various traffic signs and talk about what they would do if they were on their bike instead of in the car. Point out examples of drivers who are not paying enough attention and use this to call attention to the importance of staying alert.
Practice Makes Perfect
Learning to ride a bicycle comes down to one fundamental skill – balance. Many experts recommend an approach that does not use training wheels. This has been the method in Europe for some time where many children learn to ride using a balance bike which has no pedals, chain or sprockets and is powered by the child’s feet.
When teaching your child to ride, put the focus on balance, not pedaling. If you don’t have a balance bike, remove the pedals, lower the seat as low is it will go and let the child test out their balance by walking the bike.
As they begin to master their balance, move them to the top of a gradual incline and have them drift down, dragging their feet along as they go. This will accelerate the learning process and save your back as you won’t be the one pushing the bike around the neighborhood.
Bicycle Equipment Maintenance
Always make sure that your child’s bicycle is in good, working condition. Pay close attention the brakes, both front and back. These can degrade quickly when used frequently and kids have a way of improvising stops when they do. This may lead to a rapid deterioration of sneakers as they become the primary braking mechanism.
Check the tire pressure and rotation. Make sure all the spokes are intact and the gears and gear shifters are functioning. Check the seat, handlebars and tires to ensure nothing is loose.
Share the Ride
The best way to demonstrate bicycle safety is on a bike. So get out and ride with your son or daughter and show them how it’s done.
Rob Mabry is a former Army journalist, father of five and owner of Balance Bikes 4 Kids. He writes about operating an online business, parenting, history and travel.