By David Bender:
Many parents are anxious about cycling on the road with their children. The reality is that there are real risks involved in allowing the children on the road; however, it is not cause for being extremely phobic. The key is teaching your children to assess the risks involved and training them to be good road users. Expose them to the road gradually. You can begin with bringing them along as passengers or co-riders on your rides, while teaching them cycling skills and on-road safety skills.
Co-riding with your child
Co-riding is a good way to introduce your child to the road while maintaining direct control of them. Trailer cycles and tandems have a co-rider seat while mountain bikes, trek bikes and road bikes can be fitted with a passenger’s seat. With tandem bikes and other bikes that offer a co-riding option, the role of braking and shifting gears is primarily that of the main rider, while the co-rider just assists in pedaling. You are therefore able to control the major part of riding.
Expect that your riding will be slower and less smooth when you co-ride. This is because you will tend to be more careful when co-riding with your child, and the extra weight also slows down the pace at which you accelerate. When approaching corners, begin to slow down and switch gears accordingly. A major way to cycle safely with children on busy roads is to strictly adhere to traffic rules. Preferably, take quieter and less busy routes when riding with children, especially the first time. Besides, you can easily chat and give your child riding instructions on quieter routes, as the traffic noise will not drown out your voice, and trying to keep up with busy roads will not consume all your attention.
You can engage children during rides by asking them questions about traffic and riding, or by asking them to give you a heads up if there is something you should know about while on the road. You can co-ride with children between 8-12 years old, when most children are bike trainable, because they already have developed an awareness of traffic.
Cycling side by side
Once children have become accustomed to the roads, you can allow them to ride their own bike beside you. Inspect both bikes to ensure that they are roadworthy. It is best that you cycle side by side with your child or follow closely. Your child must clearly understand and be able to take either a left or right, as these are some of the common instructions as you ride.
Ensure that you are close enough to each other that traffic cannot cut between both of you, thus separating you. Let your child be on the inside lane and at least 50m away from the gutter while you are on the left side. On the quieter and less congested paths, you can ride behind your child and give him/her room to maneuver through traffic on their own. Give clear and calm instructions. Encourage your child to communicate with you throughout the ride also.
If you and another adult are riding with your child, your child should ride between the adults, with one adult ahead and the other behind. When you are riding with more than one child, let the more competent child lead the way as the less competent follows, with the adult last in line. You can allow an older child cyclist to cycle behind you as you focus on the younger, less competent ones.
Older, competent children may be able to ride safely on the road on their own, especially on roads that are not very busy. Such children understand safety measures and are able to adhere to traffic rules. Some children opt to cycle to school. Parents of such children can organize so that their children cycle with other neighborhood children to and from school. Cycling in groups offers the children company and heightens safety.
There are some accredited cycling instructors whom you can hire to train your child to cycle on the road. The instructors offer a wide range of training skills ranging from beginner level, to intermediate, to advanced. The intermediate level training focuses on teaching your child road cycling with an emphasis on skills such as turning left or right and overtaking.
Key skills that your child requires in order to cycle on the road on their own include traffic awareness, ability to maneuver junctions, proper bike positioning, and the ability to inspect and tune up a bike for roadworthiness. Often, as children grow older and practice their cycling skills, they become more competent and more skilled.
Before embarking on your ride and during your ride, it is important to take the necessary safety precautions. Ensure that your bike is tuned up and that it is roadworthy. Instruct your child to follow your instructions keenly on the road. When starting out to cycle with your children, it is best to begin with quieter routes that have less traffic before graduating to the congested ones. Depending on the nature of the route, there are areas where you may be required to get off your bikes, especially on steep or rocky areas. At the beginning, go for the easiest terrain possible and eventually try out more challenging terrains as your child becomes used to riding outside.
David is an avid cyclist. He’s travelled to over 10 countries with his bike. He writes a lot about bikes and biking at his blog. When not attending to his blog, he’s biking in the neighborhood.