The joy of seeing your kid riding his or her bike independently presents a perfect milestone moment, right alongside first steps, first words, etc. Especially if you’re a cycling enthusiast yourself, this is an opportunity to make cycling a part of family quality time. Not to mention, kids feel proud and empowered when they start riding their first “big kid” bikes, which is another reason why cycling helps kids grow and develop mentally as much as physically.

But amidst all that, let’s not forget that bicycles are actually vehicles—not toys. It’s important to teach your child bicycle safety so that both you and your kid can feel confident and at peace when they go for their first independent ride. Here are some common misconceptions so you don’t overlook them and we’ll talk about key points as well as the best methods of teaching your children bicycle safety.

Hand Signals

First things first: hand signals have to be used when riding a bike, and if you think your child could lose their balance when signaling, then they’re not ready for an independent ride just yet. Hold them back a while, teach them all the proper signals first, and practice with them until they’re confident enough. Also, make sure to teach your child to think independently and always signal for themselves when they’re riding behind someone.

Many accidents happen when children ride in groups, behind each other: the leader signals and makes a turn or crosses the road while the rest follow without looking, which can cause accidents and confusion. Teach your children traffic signs and proper signaling with educational videos, coloring books, and pop in an occasional quiz at home so they always keep this in mind (nothing fancy, just “Give me a signal for turning right”).

Facing Traffic

Another misconception we see all too often is parents believing their children will somehow be safer if they ride against traffic. Do not, under any circumstance, allow this to happen, let alone teach your child it’s the right thing to do. Riding against traffic confuses drivers and almost a quarter of bicycle-car collisions result from such instances. Teach your child to ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, and if they’re under 10 years of age, it’s best they stay on the sidewalk for good measure.

A Proper Bicycle

“Children grow like grass; it’s best to get my kid a bigger bike to grow into.” NO. Oversized bikes are dangerous, especially for somebody who is new to cycling and thus doesn’t have the coordination needed to control a bigger bike. This is not something to overlook, and it doesn’t have to present a hefty expenditure; you can always find kids bikes for sale at reasonable prices and resell or trade your children’s outgrown bikes. Plus, it’s not like you’ll be changing bikes all the time, considering you can adjust the seat height as your child grows.

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Just make sure they are able to sit on the seat, both hands placed firmly on the handlebars, with the balls of their feet touching the ground. Also, a first bike should be equipped with foot brakes, considering that a child’s skills and coordination are not developed enough to control hand brakes.

The Helmet Conundrum

Thinking that short rides around the neighborhood don’t require a helmet is a very common mistake that parents make. There’s some debate about when the helmet must be worn, when in fact there should be none at all—your child must wear a properly fit helmet at all times when riding a bike, no matter how short the ride. It prevents from serious injury in case of a fall, and believe it or not, the majority of bike accidents happen near home when children are least alert.

Instill this as a rule while your kid is still young, so wearing a helmet becomes a habit they will stick to. Let them pick their own helmet and get them excited about the whole idea of prepping themselves for the rides; that way they will be much more likely to wear the helmet gladly.

Riding at Night

You might think it’s perfectly safe for your child to ride at dusk or night time if they’re equipped with reflectors and a reflective vest, but that’s not really the case when it comes to fresh cyclists. Never allow your child to ride in the dark because even with all the proper equipment, this requires additional vigilance that comes with age and experience with cycling. Also, have your child wear bright clothing when riding their bike, as a safety measure.

Lastly, it’s important to establish ground rules: only one person may ride a bike at a time, both hands must be kept on the handlebars, no headphones whatsoever, wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes when cycling and of course, always follow the basic rules of traffic. Most importantly, set an example for your children and they will find it much easier to follow.

Cycling is one of the most fun exercises possible and an incredible way for kids to spend the whole day outdoors, so teach them how to approach it properly at an early age and they’ll have a hobby for life. Organise family rides that demonstrate safety and hands-on activities that teach them bike maintenance—these are all great ways to nurture their enthusiasm!

Featured Photo Courtesy: Richard Masoner via Flickr