My biggest concern when I’m biking with my son is keeping him safe. We live in the city and love to get around by bike, but that entails riding on city streets with cars and other hazards.
There’s no way to make biking with kids 100% safe (just as there’s no way to make driving 100% safe), but there are ways to reduce the danger to an acceptable level. Here are our top safety tips for biking with children.
1. Ride on bike paths and protected bike lanes where possible.
I just read a great article from People for Bikes discussing the reduction in youth bike fatalities over the last 30 years, and how it can probably be attributed to a rise in off-road bike trails. There’s no doubt bicycle-specific infrastructure, away from car traffic, is the safest place to bike.
Of course, many of us live in towns and cities that are woefully lacking in bicycle infrastructure, but when and where it is available—make use of it. It’s totally worth adding on additional mileage or going out of your way about to take the safest route possible.
To find safe routes, see if your city has a bike map. You can usually locate a PDF online by searching “your city name + bike map.”
Other good apps and tools include Trailforks, BikeMap, and Trailink.
If your child is old enough to ride places on their own, practice safe routes before letting them go solo. For instance, our son is old enough now that we let him bike to and from school by himself, but we practiced the route and safely riding it MANY times before he went on his own.
2. Wear a helmet.
Yes, I’m talking about you. If you put a helmet on your kid, but then fail to do the same, they are never going to value bicycle safety in any meaningful way.
In contrast, my son yells at complete strangers as they go by: “Why aren’t you wearing a helmet? You’re going to splatter your brains on the pavement.”
And believe me, you want your child to value wearing a helmet. Helmets reduce the risk of severe brain injury by 88 percent.
Also, depending on where you live, wearing a helmet might be the law. Which brings us to our next tip….
3. Follow the law and be predictable.
Know what the bicycle laws are in your area, and follow them. In most areas, they are going to be very similar to vehicular traffic.
Make sure you stop at stop lights and stop signs, signal before turning, and ride on the street (not the sidewalk). Model good behavior and teach your children the rules on the road.
The most dangerous thing you can do on a bicycle is ride unpredictably. Make sure that the cars around you know what line you are taking.
Teach your kids to make eye contact with drivers. Don’t pull out in front of a car at an intersection if they haven’t acknowledged your presence.
4. Mount lights on your bikes.
When biking in the early morning or evening (even if it is not totally dark yet) make sure to mount both front and rear lights on your child’s bike. It’s amazing how much good lights can increase visibility.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planned to be home before dark, and we ended up staying at the park longer than expected and needed those lights. I’d recommend everybody put some basic lights on their bike and leave them there. The Frog Knog lights works great for those unexpected moments.
5. Carry a basic safety/fix kit with you.
When going for a bike ride further than down the street, you should carry a basic kit with you. At a minimum, you should carry a pump, spare tube or patch kit, water, some snacks, and cash/credit card/insurance card in case of an emergency.
6. Keep your kiddo close.
Even if your child is old enough to ride their own bike, you might want to reconsider if riding in traffic. (Let them ride on their own on trails or bike paths).
Under 10 years of age, kids have trouble judging the speed of traffic. By having them ride with you, you can reduce the risk of them veering out in traffic, getting separated at intersections, etc.
If your child is riding their own bike, the best place for you to ride is behind them and slightly to the traffic side. You are bigger and more noticable to cars this way, and you’re able to see and give your child guidance. If you have more than one adult, it’s great to place the kid (or kids) in the middle, with one adult leading and the other herding from behind.
7. Make sure your child’s bike is in good working condition.
There’s really nothing more dangerous than a bike that isn’t well maintained. Flat tires or poorly functioning brakes can cause crashes. Spend some time looking over your child’s bike once a month or so, and at the beginning of the season take it to your bike shop for a good tune-up.
Once you’ve taken these seven precautions, take a deep breath and get out there. The health benefits (physical and mental) of riding bikes far outweigh the risks.