It takes a different approach.
Cycling with kids can be a wonderful experience, and a great opportunity for a family to spend time—and get exercise—together. Whether children ride on their own, with you, on your bike, or in a trailer, there are some important considerations.
Is it easier for an adult to learn to ride safely in traffic, or a child? The fact is that each age group has its limitations and its strengths. The cycling community is fortunate to have access to the combined experience of many talented cycling instructors, as well as many important studies and observations. In teaching your child to cycle safely, or configuring a safe way for them to ride with you, you needn’t start from scratch.
You way want to read our article below. Following that is a list of resources we’ve compiled.
Some key differences
Adults generally have a better understanding of traffic—both the rules, and the ways that people interpret, ignore, break or misunderstand them. In other words, the way traffic should work, and the way it actually works. However, adults often take a bit more time to learn bike handling skills such as shoulder-checking and braking. This is partly due to our not being as flexible as kids, and partly to our having learned a few lessons in our lives that make us more cautious.
Children are generally much quicker at picking up the bike handling skills. When given a few helpful tips, they easily do a shoulder-check while riding in a straight line thanks to their flexibility.
Conversely, because of their age and experience levels, they also require greater supervision as well as consistent coaching on the fact that traffic can be very dangerous. The key here is instilling a respect for the complexity and potential danger of traffic without instilling fear.
A child’s ability to judge speed and distance is generally much less developed than that of an adult. Their ability to determine the size of a gap in traffic needed to safely ride a cross a roadway is often undeveloped, and they may take too long to get started. This means that a gap sufficient for an adult to cross safely may be too short for a child to cross in time, and they may be unaware of this.
Other key challenges for children include more limited peripheral vision and a longer time required for focusing their eyes on an object. Being smaller, a children’s ability to see over objects is more limited, as is the ability of others to see them because of their size and height.
Knowledge of traffic rules and behavior takes time to develop, but this knowledge can be gained in many ways other than riding in traffic.
Learning happens everywhere
One often-overlooked teaching opportunity is the time spent together in a vehicle. Ask your child to identify potential hazards when you’re driving, and to suggest ways of avoiding those hazards. What about the car pulling out of a driveway up ahead? Does (or can) the driver see us? Who’s driving behind us, and are they at a safe distance? If not, what options do we have?
The same thing can be done while cycling together. Using your own experience, as well as skills learned in a cycling course (we now have courses available online) or through a guide such as the Bike Sense manual, you can help pass on knowledge to your kids that can lead to a lifetime of safer and more enjoyable riding.
Of course, make sure that it’s done in a way that you’re neither distracting yourself, nor distracting your child in their riding. When you’re on bikes, the best time to talk is when you’re stopped off the roadway.
Passing on the (correct) knowledge
It’s crucial to understand that, consciously or subconsciously, kids will mimic what we do. If we take risks when driving, they will too, either riding their bike or later on when they drive. Avoid passing on dangerous habits. This might entail brushing up on our driving skills. Review your state or province’s driver’s manual, spend some time watching the RoadSense tips for drivers, and/or take a defensive driving course.
For many people, driving is a daily activity. When we’re driving, we can evaluate our actions—and attitudes—and challenge ourselves to keep improving. What we learned when we took our driver’s test may have changed. Certainly the roadway configurations have. There are installations that may not have even existed here when we took our test, such as bike lanes, complex multi-roadway intersections, and roundabouts. Do we know how to handle them properly, and do we know how to handle our vehicle around cyclists? And then there’s what can be an ongoing task of curbing impatience, controlling our temper, remembering to be courteous… We all know there are ways to improve.
There are people watching and learning from — and responding to — everything we do. What do we want our kids, and everyone else we share the road with, to learn?
Some useful resources
As not every child will have access to a cycling course, we’ve compiled some resources dealing with various ‘cycling with kids’ topics. If you have any more resources that would benefit others by being added here, please let us know.
Questions? Feel free to contact The CCE. We can help.
Teaching kids to ride
- Teaching a kid to bicycle — www.ibike.org
- Teaching children bicycle safety — www.ibike.org
- Teaching children how to bicycle safely — Ken Kifer
- Determine if your child is ready to ride — www.pedalmagic.com
- Teaching cycling to children — Fred Oswald, League Cycling Instructor
- Bicycling with children — Trudy Bell’s excellent book on the subject
General links for riding with kids
- The right tools for cycling with kids — Adventure Cycling Association
- Bicycling With Children — Trudy Bell’s excellent book on the subject