Every year in May, the League of American Bicyclists sponsors National Bike Monthgiving riders a chance to celebrate an activity that’s good for the body and the planet. And with warm weather starting to arrive, now’s the perfect time for the whole family to dust off their bikes and hit the pavement. But before you head out, you and your child might want to freshen up on safety and riding skills first. So whether your little one is setting out to learn on her first set of training wheels, or your big kid’s gearing up to try out his brand new 10-speed, we’ve got tips for parents of riders of all ages.
Give your bike a proper tune up Just like a car that hasn’t been used in several months, you want to make sure your bike is in good working order before hitting the road. Have your child help pump air into the tires, check reflectors and headlights (or attach them if you haven’t already), and check the brakes and handlebars. You also want to make sure the seat is properly secured and that the chains are oiled and good to go. The League of American Bicyclists offers easy-to-understand tips and instructions for bike upkeep at bikeleague.org/resources/better/maintenance.php.
Wear a helmet This may seem obvious, but it’s certainly a safety rule worth repeating, since according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 91 percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets. If you establish–and enforce–a helmet rule as soon as your child starts riding, it will become a habit for life. And if she seems resistant to the idea because she thinks helmets are ugly or uncomfortable, talk to her about why you want her to protect her head. While there’s not much on the market in terms of eco-friendly helmets, you can find helmet-buying tips and advice, as well as a list of the Consumer Reports top rated bike helmets for kids at and adults, at squidoo.com/kids-bike-helmets. And if your child chooses a helmet himself, it might be more likely he’ll want to wear it.
Follow the rules of the road Explain to your child that even if they’re on two wheels instead of four, bicycle riders have to follow the same rules as cars and buses, and then some! Make your child feel like she’s part of a special club now that she’s big enough to ride a bike (riding on the right side of the road and following traffic signs are for everyonewearing bright colored clothes and a helmet are special rules for kids in the Bike Riding Club only!). Need to brush up on your bike safety rules? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a list of riding tips for parents and kids.
Practice, practice, practice! Take your younger child to a school or church parking lot to get a handle on the basics, like starting and stopping, and looking both ways before crossing a street. Even if your little one is still on training wheels, this is good practice for when she decides to take them off. If your child is on two wheels, have him ride in a circle, as well as a straight line, to master balance; and then along a painted line while looking back at you without swerving, to get the hang of straight-riding. Remind him to keep an eye out for possible dangers, like potholes or broken pavement.
Plan a neighborhood ride Once your child seems comfortable and ready to ride, map out a neighborhood ride to take together. Encourage her to take the lead, finding the best routes to take to get to school or a friend’s housethis will enable her to put the new rules she’s learned to use. Or check out websites like traillink.com or maps.google.com to find nearby bike trails you can hit together.
Bike riding can be a fun and healthy activity for the whole family, and the safer and more prepared everyone is, the better! For more bicycle safety and maintenance advice, during National Bike Month and all year along, visit bikeleague.org.