What is it?father and child
Bicycling gear
Who should participate?
Learning to ride a bike safely
Glossary of terms

What is it?

Technically, bicycling is the act of propelling oneself on a two-wheeled, non-motorized vehicle. Emotionally --for kids, at least--bicycling epitomizes freedom


By teaching a child to ride a bike while wearing a safety helmet, you are giving a gift that lasts a lifetime. An ideal family activity, bicycling is one of the most enjoyable forms of cardiovascular exercise.

Learning to ride a bike can boost a child's self-esteem by giving them a sense of mastery. Bicycling also fosters socialization with other young riders. It brings kids closer to nature than any car ride could. With a bike, older children need not rely on a parent to take them to a friend's house on the opposite side of the neighborhood, or to a nearby park or soccer field.

Bicycling is nonpolluting, a real selling point for children who are concerned about the environment.

Children's bicycles and accessories tend not to be overly expensive, nor is routine maintenance.


Most preschoolers have no difficulty riding a bike with training wheels. Once those training wheels come off, however, some children have great difficulty balancing on two wheels. Even after learning to balance, children must acquire a certain skill level in order to bicycle competently. This takes patience and a willingness to practice--virtues that not every kid possesses in abundance.

Fear of falling can also hold children back. Bumps and bruises are part of learning to ride a bike, and children should be told that it is normal to fall occasionally as they learn. The key is to get right back in the saddle and try again.

Bicycles can fall into disrepair, particularly if a new rider falls a lot. Bikes can also malfunction during a ride, causing a spill or worse.

Cycling requires access to well-paved roads, sidewalks, or trails. The risk of injury or death from falls and collisions is great, especially among youngsters whose small stature makes them difficult for motorists to see. Children who do not know or follow the rules of the road court disaster every time they push a bicycle pedal.

Since schools do not generally teach bicycling, the responsibility falls on parents. If you and your spouse both work outside the home, it can be difficult or impossible to carve out enough time to teach your kids to ride a bike and supervise them until they become proficient. It is also a challenge to determine when your child is ready to ride a bike to destinations beyond your street or neighborhood.

Although inexpensive children's bikes are available, you'll probably need to buy two or three bikes over the years to accommodate your child's growing body. Before using a pre-owned bicycle, bring the bike to a bike shop where it can be inspected, tuned up, and the seat adjusted for your child's height.

Bicycling gear

Safety gear: Never let your child on a bike without an approved, properly fitted safety helmet. Research shows that helmets can prevent almost 90% of cyclists' brain injuries. Of the approximately 900 bicycle riders who are killed nationwide each year (almost all in collisions with cars), 75% die of head injuries. In many states the law requires youngsters (or bicyclists of any age) to wear helmets.

Buy a helmet that is approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. If you purchase a helmet in a bike shop, ask the proprietor to adjust it to fit your child's head snugly. You'll probably need to readjust the helmet's straps and pads (or even buy a bigger helmet) as your child's head and face grow. If your daughter (or son) has long hair, look for a helmet with a pony-tail port.

Optional protective gear includes bicycle gloves to protect the skin on the child's hands, and knee and elbow pads. These items are most useful for your child's first few rides.

Bicycles: Your child's bicycle should be the right size; buying a bike that is too big so your child can use it longer is a foolhardy philosophy. Your child should be able to reach the pedals, handlebars, and brakes comfortably. The bike should have front and back reflectors, as required by

the Consumer Produce Safety Commission. Whether to buy your child a road (touring) bike or a mountain (all-terrain) bike depends on the type of bicycling your child will be doing.

Clothing: Although specialized bicycling clothes are available, most children wear street clothes when they cycle. Street clothes do not pose a problem, except for bell-bottom or baggy pants that could get tangled in the chain or wheels. Sneakers are fine for recreational bicycling; make sure the laces remain tied and are not too long. Do not let your child ride in sandals.

Other gear: If your child is planning to ride long distances, be sure the bike has a water bottle holder. A battery-operated light on the handlebars is optional for daytime riding but a necessity if the child needs to bike at dusk or later. A younger child may want a bell on the handlebar, and older children may enjoy having a cyclometer, which measures distance, time, and cadence. You may also wish to equip your adolescent with a riding pack that contains a patch kit, tools, first aid items, and emergency phone numbers.

child on bike Who should participate?

Most preschoolers ride effortlessly with training wheels, and some can even shed training wheels before they enter grade school. On average, however, most able-bodied children learn to ride a two-wheeler between their 4th and 9th birthday.

Learning to ride a bike safely

The first step is teaching your child how to put on a bicycle helmet. It should be snug and low enough to protect the forehead but not too low as to obstruct the child's vision.

Next, hold your child up on the bike and show him how to use the brakes. Slowly walk the bike forward, having your child use the brakes to stop and put one or both feet on the ground. Do this several times until you are confident that he knows how to stop safely.

Run alongside the bike, holding your child's shoulder, not the bike itself. When you have built up enough speed, continue to run alongside but release the bike momentarily. Do this until your child gains enough skill and confidence to start and stop on his own.

Another method is letting your child ride her bike down a gently sloping grassy hill. This way she can learn how it feels to balance on two wheels and have some cushioning in case she falls.

When your child is ready for independent bicycling, provide clear instructions on the basic rules of the road. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Accident and Poison Prevention, the most important safety rules are:

  • Stop at intersections where the walk, driveway, or alley intersects a street (75% of child-bike accident deaths occur where streets intersect with driveways or alleys).
  • Keep right, with traffic.
  • Do not ride at or after dusk.
  • Obey all traffic signals and stop signs. Wait for green light.

Additionally, children should be admonished from riding a borrowed bike and riding double. Reviewing the safety rules periodically will help your child remember them.

Assessing competence on wheels: Until you have watched your child ride confidently and follow basic rules of the road, restrict her riding to sidewalks, paths, and driveways.

To demonstrate basic competence, your child must be able to:

  • Stop the bicycle quickly by using the brakes.
  • Start riding without wobbling out of a path one yard wide.
  • Stop and dismount without falling.
  • Ride in a straight line near the curb.

Children who ride unsafely should be disciplined, the AAP committee recommends. "Prohibiting the use of a bike is an appropriate disciplinary step."


The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute of Arlington, Va., offers the following guidelines:

  • Never ride into a street without stopping first. Kids must learn to stop, look left, look right, look left again and listen to be sure no cars are coming before entering a street. Looking left that second time can be a lifesaver because cars coming from the left will be closer to the child. Let your child practice these skills in your driveway or on the sidewalk. Make sure your child understands that just because she sees a car doesn't mean that the driver sees her. She must behave as though the driver has not seen her.
  • Obey stop signs. Kids must learn to stop, look left, look right, then look left again at all stop signs and traffic signals. Explain that when riding in a group, each bicyclist must stop and make sure it is clear before crossing. Teach young children to walk their bikes through busy intersections.. Kids must learn to look behind them, use hand signals, and look behind again before swerving, turning, or changing lanes. The best place to practice this is in a quiet parking lot or playground. Stand behind them while they ride along a straight painted line. Hold up numbered cards and have them practice looking back over their shoulder and telling you the number on the card--without swerving off the painted line. Children should not be allowed to ride their bikes on the street alone until they have mastered this skill.
  • Never follow another rider without applying the rules. Many fatalities occur when the first rider violates one of the three rules above, and the second one blindly follows. Running stop signs or red lights, riding out of driveways, or zipping across lanes all seem natural to the second child because they are more focused on the rider in front of them than on the rules of the road.
  • Mind the weather. Children should not be allowed to bicycle in rain, ice, or snow, or on days when storms are forecast.
  • Make sure your bike is the proper size. A bike that is too big or too small will be hard to control. When the child is standing on the ground straddling the bike, he should have a 1- to 3-inch gap between him and the top bar.
  • Adjust the seat to the proper height. When the child is sitting on the seat with his foot on the pedal, his leg should be slightly bent. This will help avoid knee strain.
  • Make sure reflectors are fastened to the front and rear of the bike. The rear should be red and should be at least 3 inches across.<
  • Be sure the bike’s chain is clean and lubricated. If it’s not, take it to the local bike shop for a checkup.
  • Check the brakes for even pressure. They should make the back wheels skid on dry pavement.
  • Make sure the tires are properly inflated.

Glossary of terms

all-terrain bike (ATB): mountain bike
banana seat: a type of seat that extends well back from the seat post
cadence: pedaling speed
coast: to move on a bicycle without pedaling
frame: the bicycle's "skeleton" on which the wheels, handlebars, and
seat are mounted
hub: the center of the wheel from which the spokes radiate
inner tube: a synthetic rubber balloon with a valve that fits through the rim and keeps the tire airtight.
kickstand: a foot-operated post for holding a bicycle upright when it is parked
saddle: bicycle seat


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Accident and Poison Prevention

Penn State Student Activity Server