What is it?
Who should participate?
Learning to ride a bike safely
Glossary of terms
Technically, bicycling is the act of propelling oneself on a
two-wheeled, non-motorized vehicle. Emotionally --for kids, at least--bicycling
By teaching a child to ride a bike while wearing a safety helmet, you are
giving a gift that lasts a lifetime. An ideal family activity, bicycling is one
of the most enjoyable forms of cardiovascular exercise.
Learning to ride a bike can boost a child's self-esteem by giving them a
sense of mastery. Bicycling also fosters socialization with other young riders.
It brings kids closer to nature than any car ride could. With a bike, older
children need not rely on a parent to take them to a friend's house on the
opposite side of the neighborhood, or to a nearby park or soccer field.
Bicycling is nonpolluting, a real selling point for children who are
concerned about the environment.
Children's bicycles and accessories tend not to be overly expensive, nor is
Most preschoolers have no difficulty riding a bike with training wheels. Once
those training wheels come off, however, some children have great difficulty
balancing on two wheels. Even after learning to balance, children must acquire a
certain skill level in order to bicycle competently. This takes patience and a
willingness to practice--virtues that not every kid possesses in abundance.
Fear of falling can also hold children back. Bumps and bruises are part of
learning to ride a bike, and children should be told that it is normal to fall
occasionally as they learn. The key is to get right back in the saddle and try
Bicycles can fall into disrepair, particularly if a new rider falls a lot.
Bikes can also malfunction during a ride, causing a spill or worse.
Cycling requires access to well-paved roads, sidewalks, or trails. The risk
of injury or death from falls and collisions is great, especially among
youngsters whose small stature makes them difficult for motorists to see.
Children who do not know or follow the rules of the road court disaster every
time they push a bicycle pedal.
Since schools do not generally teach bicycling, the responsibility falls on
parents. If you and your spouse both work outside the home, it can be difficult
or impossible to carve out enough time to teach your kids to ride a bike and
supervise them until they become proficient. It is also a challenge to determine
when your child is ready to ride a bike to destinations beyond your street or
Although inexpensive children's bikes are available, you'll probably need to
buy two or three bikes over the years to accommodate your child's growing body.
Before using a pre-owned bicycle, bring the bike to a bike shop where it can be
inspected, tuned up, and the seat adjusted for your child's
Safety gear: Never let your child on a bike without
an approved, properly fitted safety helmet. Research shows that helmets can
prevent almost 90% of cyclists' brain injuries. Of the approximately 900 bicycle
riders who are killed nationwide each year (almost all in collisions with cars),
75% die of head injuries. In many states the law requires youngsters (or
bicyclists of any age) to wear helmets.
Buy a helmet that is approved by the American National Standards Institute
(ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. If you purchase a helmet in a bike
shop, ask the proprietor to adjust it to fit your child's head snugly. You'll
probably need to readjust the helmet's straps and pads (or even buy a bigger
helmet) as your child's head and face grow. If your daughter (or son) has long
hair, look for a helmet with a pony-tail port.
Optional protective gear includes bicycle gloves to protect the skin on the
child's hands, and knee and elbow pads. These items are most useful for your
child's first few rides.
Bicycles: Your child's bicycle should be the right
size; buying a bike that is too big so your child can use it longer is a
foolhardy philosophy. Your child should be able to reach the pedals, handlebars,
and brakes comfortably. The bike should have front and back reflectors, as
the Consumer Produce Safety Commission. Whether to buy your child a road
(touring) bike or a mountain (all-terrain) bike depends on the type of bicycling
your child will be doing.
Clothing: Although specialized bicycling clothes are
available, most children wear street clothes when they cycle. Street clothes do
not pose a problem, except for bell-bottom or baggy pants that could get tangled
in the chain or wheels. Sneakers are fine for recreational bicycling; make sure
the laces remain tied and are not too long. Do not let your child ride in
Other gear: If your child is planning to ride long
distances, be sure the bike has a water bottle holder. A battery-operated light
on the handlebars is optional for daytime riding but a necessity if the child
needs to bike at dusk or later. A younger child may want a bell on the
handlebar, and older children may enjoy having a cyclometer, which measures
distance, time, and cadence. You may also wish to equip your adolescent with a
riding pack that contains a patch kit, tools, first aid items, and emergency
Who should participate?
Most preschoolers ride effortlessly with training wheels, and some can even
shed training wheels before they enter grade school. On average, however, most
able-bodied children learn to ride a two-wheeler between their 4th
and 9th birthday.
Learning to ride
a bike safely
The first step is teaching your child how
to put on a bicycle helmet. It should be snug and low enough to protect the
forehead but not too low as to obstruct the child's vision.
Next, hold your child up on the bike and
show him how to use the brakes. Slowly walk the bike forward, having your child
use the brakes to stop and put one or both feet on the ground. Do this several
times until you are confident that he knows how to stop safely.
Run alongside the bike, holding your
child's shoulder, not the bike itself. When you have built up enough speed,
continue to run alongside but release the bike momentarily. Do this until your
child gains enough skill and confidence to start and stop on his own.
Another method is letting your child ride
her bike down a gently sloping grassy hill. This way she can learn how it feels
to balance on two wheels and have some cushioning in case she falls.
When your child is ready for independent
bicycling, provide clear instructions on the basic rules of the road. According
to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Accident and Poison
Prevention, the most important safety rules are:
- Stop at intersections where the walk,
driveway, or alley intersects a street (75% of child-bike accident deaths
occur where streets intersect with driveways or alleys).
- Keep right, with traffic.
- Do not ride at or after dusk.
- Obey all traffic signals and stop signs.
Wait for green light.
Additionally, children should be admonished
from riding a borrowed bike and riding double. Reviewing the safety rules
periodically will help your child remember them.
Assessing competence on wheels: Until you have
watched your child ride confidently and follow basic rules of the road, restrict
her riding to sidewalks, paths, and driveways.
To demonstrate basic competence, your child must be able to:
- Stop the bicycle quickly by using the brakes.
- Start riding without wobbling out of a path one yard
- Stop and dismount without falling.
- Ride in a straight line near the curb.
Children who ride unsafely should be disciplined, the AAP committee
recommends. "Prohibiting the use of a bike is an appropriate disciplinary
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute of Arlington, Va., offers the following
- Never ride into a street without stopping first.
Kids must learn to stop, look left, look right, look left again and listen to
be sure no cars are coming before entering a street. Looking left that second
time can be a lifesaver because cars coming from the left will be closer to
the child. Let your child practice these skills in your driveway or on the
sidewalk. Make sure your child understands that just because she sees a car
doesn't mean that the driver sees her. She must behave as though the driver
has not seen her.
- Obey stop signs. Kids must learn to stop, look left, look right, then
look left again at all stop signs and traffic signals. Explain that when
riding in a group, each bicyclist must stop and make sure it is clear before
crossing. Teach young children to walk their bikes through busy intersections.. Kids must learn to look behind them, use hand signals, and look
behind again before swerving, turning, or changing lanes. The best place to
practice this is in a quiet parking lot or playground. Stand behind them while
they ride along a straight painted line. Hold up numbered cards and have them
practice looking back over their shoulder and telling you the number on the
card--without swerving off the painted line. Children should not be allowed to
ride their bikes on the street alone until they have mastered this
- Never follow another rider without applying the rules. Many fatalities occur when
the first rider violates one of the three rules above, and the second one
blindly follows. Running stop signs or red lights, riding out of driveways, or
zipping across lanes all seem natural to the second child because they are
more focused on the rider in front of them than on the rules of the road.
- Mind the weather. Children should not be allowed to bicycle in rain,
ice, or snow, or on days when storms are forecast.
- Make sure your bike is the proper size. A bike that is too big or too small will be
hard to control. When the child is standing on the ground straddling the bike,
he should have a 1- to 3-inch gap between him and the top bar.
- Adjust the seat to the proper height. When the child is sitting on the seat with
his foot on the pedal, his leg should be slightly bent. This will help avoid
- Make sure reflectors are fastened to the front and rear of the
bike. The rear should
be red and should be at least 3 inches across.<
- Be sure the bike’s chain is clean and lubricated.
If it’s not, take it
to the local bike shop for a checkup.
- Check the brakes for even pressure. They should make the back wheels skid on dry
- Make sure the tires are properly inflated.
Glossary of terms
all-terrain bike (ATB): mountain bike
banana seat: a type of
seat that extends well back from the seat post
coast: to move on a bicycle without pedaling
the bicycle's "skeleton" on which the wheels, handlebars, and
hub: the center of the wheel from which the spokes
inner tube: a synthetic rubber balloon with a valve that fits
through the rim and keeps the tire airtight.
foot-operated post for holding a bicycle upright when it is parked
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Accident and Poison
Penn State Student Activity Server