Bike to School Safely
7 tips to teach kids to ride their bikes to school safely
At many schools, fewer hours are allotted to recess and physical education each year, but access to fresh air and exercise doesn’t have to end when summer does. Bicycling to school is a fun, fitness-friendly mode of transportation that, with a little planning and attention to detail, could replace your returning walker’s current commute. Make sure your district rules allow kids in your neighborhood to wheel to school, then read on to get your child rolling safely along.
1. Assess skills and judgment.
Research by Safe Kids Worldwide indicates that children younger than 10 have difficulty judging the speed and distance of traffic. Coordination and strong bike-handling skills are not a substitute for the quick decision-making ability needed to ride on the road, so very young cyclists should always be accompanied by an adult.
2. Discuss the route’s terrain and traffic patterns.
Before your child’s first solo trek, bike the route together with the main objective of pointing out details and identifying traffic signs and any potential hazards along the way. This is especially important for a child who has always ridden behind an adult and may not yet be confident in relying on his own judgment for road navigation. Teach him to make eye contact with drivers, particularly at intersections, to increase the likelihood that traffic will be stopped before he attempts to cross the street.
3. Require that she wear a properly fitting helmet.
Helmet use is the single most effective way to reduce bicycle-related fatalities. Here’s how to properly fit the headgear.
- New helmets come with an adjuster ring or sizing pads. Use these to keep the helmet snug so it does not shift in any direction.
- Position the helmet low on the forehead, the distance of one or two fingers above the eyebrows. Straps should not rub against the ears.
- To check whether the chin strap is tight enough, have your child open her mouth wide, like she’s yawning. If the strap is adjusted properly, the “yawn” will tug the helmet down onto her head.
- Check the fit periodically. Tighten straps that become loose and replace a helmet that has been outgrown or suffered damage.
- When in doubt, visit your local bicycle shop for a fitting.
4. Make sure the bike “fits” your child.
A bigger bike to “grow into” is difficult to control, will cause your child to swerve and will reduce his ability to respond quickly to changing road conditions. When standing over a bike with both feet flat on the ground, there should be 2 or more inches of clearance above the top tube. When seated, the rider should not have to stretch or lean forward dramatically to reach the handlebars. Leaning too heavily will restrict his ability to steer and control the bike.
5. Maintain the bike.
If you are not sure how to do this, enroll in a bike maintenance class as a family so everyone develops these skills. Regularly check reflectors, brakes, chains and tires to assure that they are in good working order.
6. Do a clothing check.
Before your child saddles up, make sure she’s not wearing long or loose clothes that can drag on the ground or get caught in gears or wheels. Safety vests in bright colors — orange or yellow — are more visible to drivers. Messenger bags are a no-no. They might be cool, but they can flop around and pull your child off balance. Instead, have him wear a backpack, using both shoulder straps and a fastened hip belt to keep the load (and the bike) from shifting unexpectedly.
7. Teach traffic laws.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bicycles on the roadway are, by law, vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities of motorized vehicles. Cyclists on the roadway, including children, should always ride with traffic, use signals and obey all traffic signs and rules.
Whether your child is begging for the responsibility of riding alone or your whole family is ready for a two-wheeled commute, take advantage of the lingering daylight this fall by cycling to school.
Freelance writer Heather Lee Leap is the mother of three girls. She is looking for more excuses to ride her bike.