How to Ride Safely with Children

I started to introduce the subject of riding with your children as an opportunity for fun and bonding with your child. And while of course this is true, after teaching two boys to ride bicycles myself, I've found that in reality, while the experience may be fun for the child, it can be a rather frightening one for the parent. It is with this experience in mind that I offer a few tips for riding with your children.

But first a side note.

Im often asked whether its legal to ride your bike on the sidewalk. The answer is, technically, no, unless you're under 13. (Atlanta Sidewalk Code) Here's the issue. Bicycles are considered vehicles, and thus, they are required to follow the same rules of the road as other vehicles: obeying the signs and signals, riding on the right side of the road, etc, etc. However, in Atlanta, where bike facilities are few and traffic is heavy, exceptions may sometimes be necessary, especially when riding with children. The dilemma here is that while riding in the street certainly has its dangers, so too does riding on the sidewalk. Not only do bikers on the sidewalk have to negotiate curbs, root damage, and other users, but they're also vulnerable to drivers coming in and out of driveways and side streets. Drivers are not expecting to see "traffic" on the sidewalk. Riding on the sidewalk actually increases the risk of accident. Naturally, whether to ride in the street or on the sidewalk with your child is a parental decision, but if you do choose to ride on the sidewalk, you must be aware of the inherent dangers there. Use your common sense on this one.

Now back to the tips.

My first suggestion when going out to ride with children is to take only one at a time. One child is all you can look after at a time, and a second one only proves to be a distraction to the first.

Second, choose a destination. Pick a place involving some sort of treat at the end. This adds both fun and purpose to the ride. Then, determine your route. Obviously, you want to choose as safe a route as possible; one with light traffic, and preferably one with wide streets.

Third, initiate a "No Talking" rule. You dont have to be strict about it, but as you know, children have short attention spans. This rule helps keep the chatter down and keeps their attention on what theyre doing.

Now youre ready to head out. Have your child go first and you follow closely behind.

Your job will be to look out for your youngster (as well as yoursel) and to instruct him or her on how to negotiate various situations as they arise. Youll do this by maintaining a steady steam of instructions as you ride. Itll go something like this:

  • Stay a little closer to the curb,
  • You're wandering out into the lane,
  • Try not to let your handlebars wiggle,
  • Shift into gear number four,
  • Watch out for that car on the side street,
  • You have the "right of way",
  • Watch out for that parked car in front of you, etc., etc.

Youll see immediately the wisdom in tip number one for taking only one child at a time. Things happen fast and all at once.

Remember that children do not know the rules of the road that we take for granted, and remember that they are easily distracted by things around them. Be ready for unexpected moves. Children can be unpredictable, making sudden stops or turns for reasons known only to them.

You'll find that your rides together will get a little less intense each time you go out. As they do, you can gradually introduce the rules of the road, teach about biking in traffic, and point out hazards specific to bicycles. (The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition teaches courses on this very subject for adults.)

Remember to have fun in the process. Although you may find the first few rides with your child to be harrowing experiences, they'll become more enjoyable. You'll reach a point one day when your kid will "dust you" on his or her bike. And I can tell you, it's a weird feeling. I think it was the first time I ever felt old.

Hope these tips help.

Happy Trails.


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