Teach your kids how to bike safely in traffic and on trails
Most kids take to bicycling like Homer Simpson takes to donuts. This natural enthusiasm requires supervision because there are hazards that new riders, especially young ones, aren't aware of. Fortunately, with a little coaching and coaxing, you can teach your kids to ride safely. Here are our top tips:
General Safety Rules
The first rule is to make sure your children always wear helmets. (This goes for you, too, Mom and Dad.)
Teach your children to assume cars don't see them and to ride accordingly.
Before hitting the roads and trails, talk to your children and explain what to expect. It's also a good idea to practice skills such as stopping quickly, shifting (proper gear use will make hill climbing easier) and signaling turns.
Don't forget to explain "hidden" hazards, too, such as poison plants they might brush against while riding off-road, dogs, dangerous drivers, even the chance of bike theft. They don't have experience with these things, so it's up to you to educate and prepare them.
One of the leading causes of accidents is children riding out of driveways without looking. Make sure your kids understand the risk and show them how to safely enter roads, looking for cars first and proceeding carefully along the shoulder.
Another important skill is being able to look around and back to check on traffic and other bicyclists while riding a straight line (not swerving). Get your children to practice this skill.
Teach your kids basic bike maintenance so they can deal with simple problems such as a dropped chain, and get home safely. Let them carry your cell phone so they can call home if something goes wrong. Instruct them to stop at a store or neighbor's house if they need help.
Although kids have endlessly energy, this doesn't mean that cycling won't tire them out. And, when they're tired, they can make mistakes and get in trouble. To prevent this, teach them to pace themselves, to carry food and water and to ride within their limits.
Statistically, the greatest cause of bicycling road accidents is wrong-way riding, so always stress bicycling on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic.
Teach your children to obey all road rules the same way you would if you were teaching them to drive. They must obey signs, signal turns, stop at lights and ride predictably.
Ride local roads with your kids to show them, which are safe to ride and to point out dangers such as pavement seams, grates, railroad tracks, jaywalkers, and how to deal with them. Explain too, that in some areas, the safe place to ride is the sidewalk.
Show your kids how to negotiate intersections safely. Left turns are especially challenging. At busy intersections it's often safer to proceed with traffic and stop on the right side of the road they're turning onto. They can then wait for the light to change and proceed straight. Sometimes, it's best to get off and walk through the intersection on the crosswalks before riding again. Teach your kids so they think about safety and make safe decisions.
Don't let your kids ride trails alone. If something happens they will be far from help. They're much safer riding with you or with friends.
Though kids develop off-road riding skills quickly, a little practice will improve their skills and make them safer. Get them used to basic techniques such as stopping quickly, riding over sticks and rocks and shifting. Do this while riding in a park or yard on grass, before hitting the trails.
Like ski slopes, there are different levels of biking trails. Kids should ride loops appropriate for their skill level. This will prevent injury and keep the experience fun. If you're not sure what type of trail it is, consider riding it alone first to gauge if it's safe for your kid.
If your off-road ace likes to do stunts such as jumping and racing downhill, equip him with protective equipment such as full gloves, elbow pads and padded pants, which will prevent serious injury in the event of a crash.
If you're not into off-road riding yourself but your child wants to be, look for a local club for kids at the YMCA, or go to www.imba.com/sprockids and see if there's a Sprockids chapter in your area.