Learning to ride a bike is one of the most exciting childhood milestones. It often involves a few falls, scrapes and tears, but as parents we know it’s worth it because it opens up a whole new world of adventure and freedom for our kids.
Exposing children to new risks can be nerve-wracking, but by understanding specific dangers and getting kids actively involved in their own safety, we can help them avoid unnecessary injury. Our bike safety guide will help you prevent injury and protect your children, while still allowing them to have fun on two wheels.
Prevention: The ABC Quick Check
Safe riding starts with having a good understanding of how a bicycle works, what equipment and accessories are needed, and what purpose they serve. The ABC Quick Check, which is part of the League of American Bicyclists’ Smart Cycling curriculum, is a great way to introduce kids to these ideas, and is something that every bike rider should do to identify mechanical issues that could become hazards.
- A is for air. The wrong tire pressure will affect your ability to make turns and could lead to a flat. Make sure they are inflated to the recommended pressure listed on the tire’s sidewall; it will be the number with “PSI” after it. If you don’t have a pressure gauge, press down on the tire with your thumb and it should feel firm.
- B is for brakes. Make sure your brakes bring your bike to a quick and sure stop without any squealing. You should be able to fit your thumb between the brake levers and handlebars when you apply your brakes. Check your brake pads for wear, there should be little grooves visible where they contact the rims.
- C is for chain and cranks. Wiggle your crank arms to check that everything is secure and rotates freely. Your chain should be clean, free of rust and coated with a thin film of lubricant.
- Quick is for quick release. If your wheels have quick releases, make sure they are closed all the way and in a position where the levers will not catch on anything when you are riding. If your bike has a quick release on the seat post, check that as well.
- Check is for everything else. Do a short test ride to make sure there are no loose bolts, hanging straps or anything that feels out of adjustment.
If you find anything that’s not right, it should be corrected by a knowledgeable cyclist or a bike shop before riding.
Performing the ABC Quick Check, learning and practicing bike handling techniques, and following the rules of the road are all key injury-prevention measures.
Protection: Helmet basics
Though a helmet won’t keep you from crashing, it could save your life. Wearing a helmet when riding will reduce your risk of head injury by at least 45 percent. That’s a pretty convincing reason to wear one, and in Massachusetts, as well as in many other states, kids 16 and under are required by law to wear one.
You don’t need to spend a lot on a helmet. As long as it is designed for cycling and meets Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards (almost all do), a $10 helmet provides just as much protection as a $200 helmet. What’s really important is that the helmet is not cracked or damaged and that it fits right.
Nice extras: Accessories
For casual riding, a bike in good working order and a good-fitting helmet are all you really need, but there are a number of accessories that can enhance your level of safety and make your riding more fun.
- Cycling gloves. Gloves provide a secure grip on the handlebars and prevent nerve compression, which can cause numbness on longer rides. If you should take a fall, they will protect the palms of your hands from painful abrasions.
- Water bottle. Staying hydrated is very important, and on longer rides you can’t always count on having a source of drinking water available where and when you need it. Have a water bottle mounted on your bike or in a place where you can reach it while riding and remember to drink before you are thirsty.
- Lights. Modern LED lights are brighter, more reliable and cheaper than just a few years ago, and you can now buy a basic front and rear set for $10 or less. These will get you seen in the dark, but if you need a light to see where you’re going, you’ll want to opt for a more powerful headlamp. Bike lights are rated in lumens so look for one that is 200 lumens or higher and mount it at a slight downward angle so it illuminates the pavement in front of you and doesn’t blind those coming toward you.
- Bell. If you ride on multi-use paths or rail trails, a bell is an invaluable accessory. When overtaking someone, ring your bell before you reach them so they know you’re coming, and always pass on the left — never on the right.
- Mirror. This one’s more for parents than kids, but a mirror mounted to the helmet or handlebars will allow you to see any approaching traffic coming from behind and keep track of your entire group if you’re riding in the lead position.
- Cyclocomputer. A basic unit that displays speed and distance provides kids with the real-time results that come from the effort they make. It also enables kids to communicate the pace they are comfortable with and how far they think they can go on the next ride.
Having fun while building skills
Bike riding is great fun and provides children with a lifetime of health benefits, and in cities like Boston it has also become a necessary life skill for young and old to get to work or school. Spending time teaching kids about bikes and assessing risks and consequences when they are little will give them the knowledge they’ll need to be safe on the road when they’re older.
About the blogger: Patrick Bibbins is a League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor and rides his bike to work every day.