The Six Stages of Teaching a Child How to Cycle Safely
For many parents, a keen love of cycling is something which has to be put on the back burner for a while during the early years of having little ones.
There are so many headlines which focus on the dangers of cycling, particularly on the roads, that it is no wonder so many of us balk at the thought of taking our kids out cycling with us.
Yet, these days, there are more cycling products on the market which have been designed for parents than ever before.
With everything from support seats to trailers, and training, balance, and tandem bikes now widely available in a broad range of shapes and sizes, it is possible to introduce kids to the joys of cycling from an early age.
As long as safety is always a top priority, there should be nothing to fear from taking a shared bike ride with your children. In fact, this can be a great way to bond and spend time together, as well as teach kids how to ride properly and show them why it can be such a superb skill to have in their arsenal.
The bottom line, however, is that you must always use the appropriate safety equipment.
This handy guide to cycling safety whilst riding with children will help you to learn which products are suitable at which age, how to keep kids interested in the hobby, and how to support them with the transition from assisted rider to independent cyclist.
The Transition from Passenger to Cyclist
The journey from passenger to fully independent cyclist should be a gradual one, because even grown adults can find it difficult to master their bikes sometimes, especially on tricky terrain or busy roads. Yet, there is no reason why it cannot start very early.
There is certainly no reason why you have to wait until kids can pedal for themselves to start showing them the joys of cycling.
There are plenty of baby carriers and seats on the market, as well as toddler trailers, which clip securely onto the back of adult bikes and allow little ones to come along for the journey from an early age.
Whilst these products are all designed to provide children with the highest level of safety and comfort possible, it is ultimately up to a parent to decide whether the security offered feels adequate.
If you would like your kids to share your love of cycling, you need to show them why it is such a wonderful hobby from an early age. It is often no good waiting until they get much older, because outdoor pursuits then tend to start competing with things like video games.
Whilst you should not try to push children into a hobby that they do not enjoy, you will find that younger kids often take to cycling like ducks to water.
It is worth pointing out that children should be provided with a well-fitting helmet from as early an age as is physically suitable.
This will not only keep them safe in the event of a fall or a collision, it will also instill the importance of safety right from the off and make it much less likely that a young one will find helmets too ‘uncool’ to wear in later years.
Stage One – The Child Bike Seat
In order to be strapped in safely to a child bike seat, a little one must first be able to sit up and support their own head without any great effort – very young babies cannot be taken on cycling trips.
There are some areas which actually have laws dictating when it is appropriate for children to use bike seats (usually around one year), so make sure that you know what the rules are in your town.
The child must be wearing a helmet at all times whilst strapped into the child seat. Whilst these detachable carriers are designed to be extremely lightweight, they can make it harder to manoeuvre a bike.
If you are not comfortable or confident riding with your child on the back of your bicycle, wait until they are older to take them out. If you take a tumble, your child does too.
Stage Two – The Bike Trailer
The bike trailer is a popular choice for toddlers and kids of up to six years of age. It tends to offer parents a much more secure and comfortable way of taking little ones out on the road, because a trailer is a sturdier structure than a bike seat and it will not fall or tip quite as easily.
Plus, it is an easy piece of equipment to use – it simply clips onto the back of an adult bike.
This product essentially looks like a mini tent on wheels and usually accommodates up to two healthy sized children. There are straps fitted to the back for extra security and you can fill the interior with lightweight pillows or blankets so rough terrain does not cause any discomfort.
The only downside is that trailers sit low to the ground and are a little more exposed to car exhaust fumes.
Stage Three – The Balance Bike
This is the classic bike which anybody who has ever learned to cycle has had to start off with at first. You must remember that it is not suitable for the road, even with a safety helmet.
This bike is for learning and training purposes only, so that you can get a child proficient enough to cycle alongside you. It is extremely basic – it has no pedals or chain, just two wheels and a simple frame.
The main aim of the balance bike is obvious – it is designed to help little ones find their feet and stay on top of their wheels. Whilst this can take some time to learn, you will be surprised at how fast children pick things like this up.
This product is suitable for children of 2 to 5 years and requires parental supervision at all times.
Stage Four – The Trailer Bike
If your child is making good progress with a balance bike and looking forward to getting their first pedal vehicle, it could be time to take them out on a trip with you. The trailer bike is a good way to do this, because it allows parents to introduce little ones to the sensation of being on a proper bike ride, without putting them under too much pressure.
This is because the trailer bike is more about the illusion of independence, so a child can feel grown up and engaged in cycling, without putting too much physical effort in.
It clips securely on to the back of an adult bike and whilst the child can pedal, it is the adult who provides balance, control, and momentum. It is a suitable choice for children of 4 to 7 years.
Stage Five – The Training Wheel Bike
Once a child has learned how to keep their balance on top of a basic bike structure, they are ready to start learning how to pedal, brake, and turn on their own.
If they do have some proficiency with a balance bike, it probably will not be long before you remove the training wheels from this bike and allow them to become an autonomous cyclist.
It is important to keep supervising your child at all times until it is absolutely clear that they can handle a bike with security wheels. The training bike is usually only single speed anyway, with coaster brakes, but it is still a good idea to keep an eye out for trips and falls.
If a child does take a tumble, dust them off and encourage them to get back on the bike – falling is a necessary part of learning to ride.
Stage Six – The Child Bike
At this stage, your child is ready to start their life as an independent cyclist. However, do not make the common mistake of investing in a bike which your child will ‘grow into,’ as an over sized vehicle will be extremely difficult to manoeuvre and can end up knocking their confident.
The standard child bike is measured in accordance with its wheel size, not its frame dimensions, so keep this in mind.
To shop for a suitably sized bike, look for one that your child can sit on comfortably and still have their feet more or less flat on the ground. The most common commercially available wheel dimensions for modern child bikes are 16, 20, and 24 inches.
Once again, adult supervision is important until a child is deemed old enough to be able to ride without accompaniment. Plus, it is best to keep a child away from busy roads, even if they are skilled on a proper bike, until they are old enough to handle the risks.
The Benefits of Family Cycling
The benefits of taking family cycling trips are numerous. They encourage children to spend time outdoors, get involved with physical activity, and take a pride and interest in developing personal abilities.
Whilst it is perfectly possible that older children will lose interest in cycling trips with mum and dad later on, the surprising thing is that most tend to return to them with a renewed sense of enjoyment at an even older age.