By setting a good example, parents can teach their children to be safe cyclists from a young age.
Riding a bicycle on public roads entails a significant amount of responsibility. It is critical that children are taught the rules of the road, as well as how to ride a bicycle safely and responsibly.
The benefits of cycling for children
Learning to cycle is a rite of passage for many children, and it has health and fitness benefits as well.
Cycling is a great way for your child to get some exercise during the winter school holidays, and it can be a fun day for the whole family. Cycling represents all that is good about being a kid: fun, freedom, and fresh air. It’s also a simple way to lose weight and improve coordination.
As children get older, teaching them how to ride a bicycle develops patience, discipline, self-reliance, and personal responsibility. Cycling also teaches important skills that will help them become safer and more courteous motor vehicle drivers later in life.
Riding with children allows a parent to supervise their cycling, particularly at high-risk locations such as street crossings.
Children, no matter how responsible they are, should NEVER be allowed to ride alone or unsupervised.
Pedal Power Association general manager Karin Pohl says, “Parents should model consistent behaviour by stopping and looking both ways before proceeding, and inviting the child to assist in assessing traffic conditions.”
In South Africa, cycling on a sidewalk or pavement is illegal unless there is a designated cycle path, which means your child will likely have to ride on the road. Children between the ages of seven and ten can, however, learn the necessary traffic and handling skills to drive safely on two-lane residential streets, so long as these are streets with very low traffic.
The South African Pedal Power Association provides useful information that parents should share with their children starting at a young age:
- Always wear a helmet (this is NOT negotiable – ever).
- Ride in a single file, even when riding in a group.
- Do not grab onto other vehicles
- You may not swerve from side to side on purpose.
- You may not ride with another person or object that prevents you from seeing where you’re going and having complete control over your bicycle.
- If there is a bicycle lane on a public road, you must use it.
- Never ride on a highway or a road that is closed to cycling.
- Follow all traffic laws, including stopping at red lights and at all stop signs.
- Only drive through intersections if it is safe to do so.
It is critical that parents inspect their children’s bicycles before riding. You don’t want your child to break down on a busy road or far from assistance! Together, inspect the bikes and set an example for your children.
Before you go for a bike ride, make a safety checklist:
- Are there any holes, cuts, or embedded stones in the tyres?
- Are the tyres properly inflated?
- Are the wheels securely fastened?
- Check both brakes to see if they’re working.
- Do the gears appear to be in good working order?
- Is the chain lubricated and clean?
- Is the saddle and handlebar securely fastened?
- Do the frames or forks have any cracks?
- Do you have a saddlebag on your bike with emergency spares such as a spare tube, a patch kit, and tyre levers?
- Is your bicycle equipped with lights and reflectors – red at the back, white at the front?
Top tip: Long bike rides can be exhausting or boring for kids, so start small and break up longer rides with stops every 20 minutes or so. A round trip to a place of interest, such as an ice cream shop, restaurant, or park, is particularly effective.