Bike Safety for Kids – The Important Facts
So you got your kid an awesome helmet. Excellent! Protecting your child’s head is the first and best step to helping your child bike safely.
But safe riding involves more than preventing brain damage. It’s an attitude. It’s attention to your child’s bike condition. It’s also knowing which bike accessories are more than a fashion statement but are vital to your kid’s safety.
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Have a Safe Attitude
Safe riding begins before the bike’s wheels touch the ground. At the start of your ride, remind your child to think about safety. Help them see danger, make calulated risks, and treat other riders with respect.
Remind Your Child of Potential Dangers First
If your child is riding independently, remind your child of your expectations and potential risks. Children have a short working memory, which means they forget what they are doing. We need to warn them of dangers they might encounter while biking and help them think through how to handle these challenges. Those exact dangers may be unique to your child or your upcoming ride.
For example, if you know you are passing a house with an aggressive dog, then you may want to talk with your child about how to respond to that dog.
Or you may need to remind your child transitioning to a pedal bike that they need to use the brakes instead of their feet to stop their bike.
Older children who feel confident riding may forget (or chose to forget) that they still should select safe, wise paths. (Anyone else with a daredevil preteen?) Encourage them to challenge themselves but also to slow down when appropriate.
Teach Your Child the Rules of the Road
Bicycles are considered vehicles in the United States, and cyclists — no matter what their age — are required to follow traffic laws.
Even very young children can be taught to ride close to the road, obey traffic signals, and ride with caution near cars. They may need frequent reminders and some practice, but they will become better, safer cyclists in the long run.
Ride on the Right
Just like cars, bicycles are expected to ride on the right side of the road. Teach your child to distinguish which side is their right side. You may want to put a sticker on that hand or simply require them to ride directly behind you.
When riding use easily understood words like “grass side” to indicate where you want your child to ride. If there is a white line, encourage your child to ride between the white line and the grass.
Young cyclists can learn to signal — and have fun doing it.
Once you have taught your child the basic signals, see if they can follow them. Play a silent game of Red Light, Green Light. Instead of saying “Green light,” have the kids turn in the direction you indicate with your motions. Have them stop when you show the stop signal. Take turns being the person giving the signal and make it silly!
Obey Stop Signs and Other Traffic Rules
Cyclists are required to obey traffic regulations. At stop signs, kids need to stop and look before continuing their ride.
Children may find it extremely hard to stop when going uphill. If you know that they may lose their climbing ability at the stop sign, be prepared to leave your own bike and push. Also, consider getting your child a lighter bike (like a Woom) that is easier for a child to ride.
Sandwich the Kids between the Adults
My mother called this riding formation “being ducks.” One parent “duck” is in front leading the way. The other adult, or oldest child, is in the back, keeping track, and all the little “ducklings” are lined up in between. No child will be lost by riding too far ahead or dropping behind in this parent/adult sandwich.
Trail Riding Safety: Don’t Forget Trail Etiquette
Kids should learn to respect the trails they ride and other riders while mountain biking. As children grow, they become independent and daring. By teaching them trail etiquette, they can improve their riding skills AND remain courteous, safe riders.
Ride Open Trails Only
Remind your kids that they should not ride trails that are closed or make their own paths. This can damage the natural environment or lead them to dangerous obstacles.
Ride with Courtesy
Kids should learn to smile at other riders and alert them to their presence with a simple hello. This creates an emotionally safe environment for other riders and can put others at ease.
Young riders may also use a bell to announce their presence, but remind kids to keep the bell’s sound happy.
Cyclists should be prepared to yield to non-cyclists and others using the trail. Typically, downhill riders should yield to those sweating the uphill climb.
Some kids (ahem, mine) struggle to give enough space between their bike and the bike in front of them. We tell our kids to picture another bike between them and the rider in front. No tire buzzing allowed!
Ride No Trace
Okay, not exactly a safety tip, but an important part of trail etiquette! If you bring it on the trail, bring it out. When biking, no trace includes protecting the land and trails but not riding when the trails are muddy or riding off-trail.
Safe Bikes, Trailers, and Seats
No matter how cautious a rider is, if their bike fails, they are in danger.
Inspect the Bike
Before each ride, make sure your child’s bike operates well. When loading the bike or wheeling it out of storage, glance over the bike.
Give the pedals a spin to make sure everything operates smoothly.
Check the tires’ pressure. Give them a squeeze. They should be firm but slightly compressible. If using a pressure gauge, fill it to the amount indicated on the tire. No label? Most children’s bike tires should be between 20-40 PSI.
While you are at the tire, examine the tread. In our house, kids’ bikes get passed from child to child, and the tread is one of the first things to wear out. Look for bludges, cracks, or fraying as these may be signs that the tires should be replaced.
Select the Right Bike
The type of bike your child rides can also reduce the likelihood or extent of the injury. Look for lightweight bikes with child-specific geometry, and reliable brakes (preferably handbrakes). Children can operate and control lightweight bikes more easily than heavy bikes.
Child-specific geometry can reduce accidents. A long wheelbase and a low center of gravity help children balance better, resulting in fewer spills.
Reliable brakes are essential to safe riding — especially on trails. We highly recommend handbrakes on pedal bikes and balance bikes. Handbrakes stop more quickly than coaster brakes, which operate by backpedaling. They are also easier to operate.
Handbrakes have some drawbacks. They don’t operate as well in the rain and may take a little practice to use. Companies like Woom make the handbrakes with adjustable strength so that your child can learn how to gently squeeze the brakes without flipping their bike.
Alternatively, the Guardian bike’s SURESTOP system prevents the front brake from locking up. Both the rear and front brakes are operated by a single lever rather than two. Children do not need to learn which hand brake to squeeze harder in this system. (For more about Guardian, check out our review!)
Safe Trailers and Bicycle-Mounted Seats
If so, this can be accounted for by several factors. Trailers are lower to the ground, resulting in a shorter fall during an accident. A trailer’s wide frame stabilizes it. Finally, the bars surrounding the child provide some protection.
Trailers have several drawbacks. Unlike bike seats, they are farther from the adult pedaling and much wider than mounted seats, possibly even extending into the road. Additionally, drivers may not spot a trailer’s low profile although the safety flag increases its visibility.
If you plan to take your child on narrow paths or on roads, mounted bicycle seats may be safer.
Whichever you choose, put a helmet on your child and buckle the seatbelt.
Bike Safety for Kids: Necessary Equipment
Bike Helmets for Kids
We all know that helmets are an essential piece of safety gear.
However, it can be tricky to get some kids to wear a helmet. One way to avoid this is to ensure that your child wears a bike helmet from their earliest years. As they grow, they will feel exposed without one.
Some children refuse to wear a helmet because they are uncomfortable. Check to see if the helmet fits. A helmet with an improper fit will feel uncomfortable and not protect your child in an accident. Make sure that the helmet is snug –but not restrictive.
Also, if your child has thick or long hair, the helmet may irritate them. Try different hairstyles, such as low braids or look for a different helmet that feels more comfortable.
All helmets are required to meet specific safety standards and will protect your little one’s noggin in a crash, but if you are choosing to take your children mountain biking, you may want to look for a helmet with MIPS. Helmets with Multidirectional Impact Protection System have been shown to have some advantages over traditional helmets.
(For all our favorite helmets and more about helmet fit and technology, check out this post!)
Biking Clothing and Shoes
I remember the days of flared jeans. As a girl, I loved bootcut jeans. So did my bike chains. The chain would catch my pants if I were lucky, leave them stained. If I were unlucky, I would have holes in my jeans or be suddenly stopped by the bike.
To avoid these mishaps, dress your child in close-fitting clothes that cannot get tangled into the bike’s parts. Shorts are also an awesome choice. If your child insists on loser pants, use a strap or belt to wrap the pant legs closer to your child’s body.
Shoes and Pedals
Closed-toe shoes protect the feet while riding and are another piece of essential riding gear.
If your kiddo’s feet slip and bounce off the pedals when she’s riding trails, consider adding a pair of bike shoes to her kit.
FiveTen shoes have an extra grippy flat tread designed for the pedals to bite. These shoes provide a solid platform for kids to push against.
Kids Biking Accessories
Biking accessories are fun! They make great stocking stuffers and Easter basket fillers, and some give kids a second layer of protection.
Safety glasses, sunglasses, and goggles protect the eyes while riding. On roads, dirt may be kicked up by other riders or passing cars and irritate the eyes. Even a momentary loss of vision can danger a rider, and the pain caused by the debris may derail your entire ride.
When riding trails, glasses protect children from branches of passing trees as well as dirt and dust.
If riding in sunny locatoins, look for polarized sunglasses with UV protection. They should fit snuggly on your child’s head and be comfortable under the helmet.
Many of our team members use Goodr sunglasses for themselves and their kids. The no-bounce fit is perfect for cycling, and they slip easily under the helmet. For an inexpensive pair of glasses, these outperform.
For tykes under 5, Knockaround Premiums Polarized sunglasses are well-reviewed. Reviewers say they are comfortable, stylish, and durable. The curved and flat arm follows the shape of the head and should stay in place without irritating your child.
Kids who are getting into downhill, who race, or who ride their pedal bikes as if they were dirt bikes will appreciate goggles. Goggles protect a child’s eyes from debris flying in all directions.
While initially used by motocross athletes, more mountain bikers are adapting them. The Fly Racing Focus Goggles come in lots of colors and sizes. Its anti-fog coating will keep your child’s sight clear.
Bike Gloves for Kids
Biking gloves increase a child’s grip on the handlebars. For sweaty kids, fingerless gloves may help them stay cool and hang on. During a crash or a brush with a tree, the gloves protect the hand’s skin and may reduce injury.
For additional protection, some gloves have soft padding to reduce the impact on the heel of your child’s hands or her knuckles.
Safety pads are becoming increasingly common in the biking world and for good reason.
For a fearful children, safety pads can provide a sense of security and increase their confidence. Children may be more willing to ride faster or try new trails knowing he is less like to get hurt.
Aggressive riders may also need safety pads. If your child loves thrashing the downhill portions of the trail and pushing her limits, you may want to put some pads on him. These pads might keep him out of the ER for stitches or other injuries.
Consider what type of closure your kid would prefer for her pads. If your son runs hot, he may want hook-and-loop (a.k.a Velcro) closures that maximize breathablity. For your daughter, who is irritated by scratchy closures, try sleeve-style pads.
After determining what type of closure, select the level of padding your child needs.
Soft pads allow for the greatest mobility but may slip while riding. These are ideal for less technical terrain and long rides.
One soft pad that gets love from our team are the 7iPD Kid’s Transition Knee Pads. These come in large to tiny sizes! These soft pads are designed specifically for kids and can be used with scooters or pedal bikes.
Hardshell pads provide better impact protection. These are a great choice if riding downhill or on technical terrain, but some kids may find these unbearable because this style pad reduces mobility and holds heat.
Several of our team members have kids who rock the G-Form Pro X3 pads. These flexible pads are designed to harden on impact and are prefect for kids who send it.
While the legs usually take the biggest pounding during rides, kids may also injure their elbows either through falls or brushes with obstacles. Elbow pads can reduce the effect of these impacts. Little Rider Co. Armour carriers breathable elbow pads designed for comfort, flexibility, and coolness. Their Lite Protection for ages 2-6 will be released soon and is a held in place with Velcro. Their elbow sleeved, called Beast Protection, is available for ages 3-8.
Ride Hard, Ride Safe
While safety is never a sexy topic, it does keep you and your kids riding longer. Your kids should shred the trail — not their bodies.
Safe Riding for Kids
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