The Goal: Make Cycling Fun
When starting out, keep the end in mind. In this case, your goal is a child who says something like, “This is fun!” The goal is not distance, speed, endurance or perfect technique. The goal is just fun, even if it means frequent stops and snacks, so that they’re eager to participate the next time around.
So, what are the key ingredients to making bike riding fun and helping your child develop a positive attitude toward the sport? For many older kids, just riding the bike is fun in itself. For younger kids just starting out, it pays to be prepared.
Tips for the Trail
Keep instructions brief: Kids learn better by doing rather than listening. Keep instructions short and to the point so they can get on the bike and learn through experience.
Review basic skills: If your child is still a bit uncomfortable on a bike, start out practicing braking slowly. Eventually move into using hand signals (see below) and passing other riders on the trail.
Use powers of observation: Tell kids to use their eyes and ears to "stop, look, and listen" to avoid potential hazards such as cars, potholes, curbs and broken glass. Also help hone their powers of observation by pointing out interesting sites along the way like animals, road signs, creeks and trees.
Enjoy a treat: Include a special treat on the ride, either by stopping for something yummy or bringing something they don’t usually get to have (consider healthy motivators like a novel fruit leather or a chocolate-y granola bar).
Tune into your child’s cues: Tune in to what your child might be needing throughout the ride. If they’re lagging behind, complaining or looking hot, it’s probably time for a break. If they’re keeping right up and looking content, ask if they want to go further, add more challenge, or keep the ride as is.
Be positive: Model a great attitude; your enthusiasm is contagious. Offer kids lots of specific praise for their effort, e.g., “You’re pedaling really smoothly,” or “I like how safely you’re riding” or “It’s fun riding with you!”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children less than 10 years old do not yet have the maturity to make decisions necessary to ride safely in the street, and are better off riding on the sidewalk. (But, first, check if sidewalk riding is legal in your town.)
If you feel that your older child is ready to ride in the street, follow these tips:
- Bikes are vehicles: A bicycle is considered a vehicle, and you and your child are both expected to obey the same traffic laws, signs and signals that apply to cars and drivers.
- Be alert: When crossing the street or turning, always look both ways and make eye contact with drivers to make sure they have seen you. Watch out for doors opening from parked cars.
- Be visible: Wear bright colors, make sure you have both front and rear reflectors, and mount a bell or horn to be heard in traffic.
- Ride with the flow of traffic: Always ride in the same direction as traffic, not against it, and ride in single file.
- Familiarize your child with rules of the road: Rules of the road include such things as using arm signals, how to position your bike in the road when turning right or left, obeying traffic lights and signs, dismounting when crossing in crosswalks, letting pedestrians know when you’re passing and slowing down at intersections and railroad crossings to ensure it’s safe to cross.