Do you want your children to get out of the house on their bike? Fearful that their road safety skills are just not safe enough?
Telling children only to ride on the sidewalk, or only on the street outside your home, is fine - until they reach the limits of the block.
I suggest going on family rides is a good way to check and pass on the vital knowledge they need to have - in addition to being fun for all the family!
Start by going for rides on our world-class greenway system. For real freedom, however, you will eventually want your kids to be able to ride on the roads by themselves.
We made a video in which I talk about my favorite method of ensuring safety when I'm riding with a group of children on the road (which I do a lot), and some of the road rules I focus on teaching while doing it.
Having adults at the front and rear of a cycling group on the road is great, but if there is only one adult, it is often still possible to be safe.
Here's what I concentrate on first:
- Teach kids that the sidewalk and roadway are very distinct places, with very different dangers and rules
- Teach kids to keep right when cycling on the road
- Teach them to constantly look for, recognize, and obey, intersection signs
Whatever method of teaching works for you (repetition, shouting, bribery, threats, etc) try to use it to instill these three basic things. Once they do those things reliably, you can let them cycle in front of you. There are many benefits to having an adult cycle at the rear of the group:
- Having an adult at the rear of the group increases the visibility of the group to car drivers coming up behind, who are on the same side of the road as the group, but are not in the children's line of sight
- Adults have more traffic awareness and experience, and so can anticipate traffic from the rear better than children - who are capable of recognizing traffic in front of them.
- The group will travel at the speed of the children, not the adult, so there is less likelihood that a child will suddenly run out of puff, and if anyone does stop they will not be left behind
- The adult can check the behavior of the children constantly, and correct risky behavior before a problem develops
- The children have a sense of control, and what it will be like to cycle on their own.
I really think group rides, if there is only one adult, are much more fun and low-stress when the adult brings up the rear of the group.
Once your kids are not swerving all over the place, and are stopping at all Stop Signs, you can move on to teaching them:
- Where to position themselves on the road for maximum visibility - both by them, and of them
- How to make turns, starting with right turns - and only moving onto left turns when they have mastered all the above.
- How to interact with car drivers, particularly at intersections - culminating in all-way Stop Signs
If you have the choice, start with bike routes with mainly right turns and low traffic (or sidewalk alternatives) and use those routes repeatedly, so that your children become familiar with the turns and traffic patterns.
Here are some kid-friendly route suggestions: Start with greenway-only rides, and work up to ones with on-street sections; https://www.walkbikenashville.org/maps
Do switch from on-road to sidewalk and back again as necessary for you to feel safe, but take the opportunity to teach your kids that there is a significant difference between the two environments: Switching from sidewalk to roadway is one of the most common locations for child bicycle crashes, along with exiting their own driveway.
- On the sidewalk pedestrians should be given priority, and at intersections your kids will need to act like pedestrians even though they are riding a bike
- On-road, there is the danger of moving vehicles, but cyclists have the rights and responsibilities of vehicles themselves, giving them right-of-way at driveways and intersections.
Follow all the traffic rules yourself, all the time! You cannot expect your child to yield to pedestrians, keep right, or stop at Stop Signs, if you do not! Need to brush up on your own knowledge? We have videos for that, too! https://www.walkbikenashville.org/adult_education
Then, one day, your child will say "Can I go home ahead of you, on my own?" and you will pause, and say "Yes, you can".
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