Teach your child to cycle safely

Little boy with his bike
Learning to ride a bike (and falling off it) is a normal part of growing up. But some parents are delaying teaching their children to cycle because of safety fears. Camilla Chafer finds out how to teach your kids to ride confidently and safely.

Teaching your child to ride a bike is a lifelong gift. Not only will they never forget how, but they will enjoy a healthy, fun activity that teaches them road safety, personal responsibility and confidence. Throw in the Highway Code and you’re even setting your child up with the knowledge that will help them through their driving lessons later. So why are so many of us delaying teaching our children how to ride bikes?

In a study conducted by YouGov, it was found that only 2% of children cycled to school. However, 36% of parents thought that by cycling to school, their children would be helping to reduce congestion and pollution. Improved physical development was noted by 59% of parents and 25% thought that their child’s mental development was helped through cycling.

Despite these findings, parents are still cautious about letting their children ride their bikes.

Parents have fears of road safety, ‘stranger danger’, children not being mature enough to deal with problems, of straying from agreed plans when out alone and the potential for injury. All these factors contribute towards a natural desire to keep children safe by reducing their exposure to risk, including not riding bikes. However, sometimes this can be counter-productive. Without risk, children lose the ability to mature, gain confidence and learn what is safe and what isn’t through trial and error. Without learning experiences, children do not develop the natural abilities that adults take for granted. So why not let your child have a go, practising at home or in the park first.

Top 5 safety tips for bike riding

  1. Always ensure your child wears a helmet that is up to standard – look for the ANSI, SNELL or E marks. Other safety gear such as arm or knee pads will be suitable for younger children, and reflective vests or bands should be encouraged for children who cycle when it is dark.

  2. Make sure the bike is the right size for your child. Can they touch the floor with their feet while sitting on the saddle? Are the pedals an easy reach when riding? Have new bikes assembled at the bike shop and regularly check them to ensure the brakes, tyre, frame and lights are safe and fit for use.

  3. Don’t plan marathon-style bike riding sessions, instead take your child out for a ride around the block after school or on weekends to practice little and often. Short bursts will keep your child enthusiastic rather than bored and tired.

  4. Practise road safety rules such as signalling, turns and single file riding, so your child knows how to be a responsible road user. If you are unfamiliar with the rules, try signing your child up for a class. Schools and local councils often run bike riding classes during holidays that will cover practical and theory lessons. The Highway Code will give you and your child all you need to know about road rules in the UK.

  5. Make sure they know their route. Think about where they are going and what type of roads this will involve. Do they understand what will happen on the approach, at traffic lights and at roundabouts?