My kids and I made a goal to ride our bikes to school more often than we ride in the car and we’ve had a successful start to our school year–only missing a few days due to bad weather.
And while we’ve enjoyed this new fitness activity that has become part of our daily routine–I’ve had to review safety and defensive bicycle riding techniques with my kids every single day to make sure they truly understand the importance of being a safe cyclist.
These are the rules we have determined are ‘non-negotiable’. Meaning, if we don’t follow these rules, we don’t ride our bikes to and from school:
1. Always Wear a Helmet
2. Cycle Defensively
3. Ride Single File
4. Wear Appropriate Clothes & Shoes
5. Stay Focused
1. Always Wear a Helmet We do not leave our house on our bikes without our helmets. Even when the kids are riding around in our cul-de-sac on the weekends, helmets must be on and straps snapped into place. Even our littlest rider wears a helmet!
Why are we so overly cautious about protecting our heads? Because the CDC reports that every year there are approximately 515,000 sustained bicycle-related injuries that require emergency care. And 26,000 of those bicycle-related injuries to children and adolescents are traumatic brain injuries. Parents, lead by example and wear a helmet too– show how important it is to protect our kiddos’ heads by modeling it in your every day bike riding.
2. Cycle Defensively Just because we have the right of way doesn’t mean we should take the right of way. The most common way to get hit by a car when riding your bicycle is by a car pulling out from a side street, parking lot, or driveway on the right.
Even though we live in a family friendly community and for the most part drivers are great about driving safely, especially when they see my posse of cyclist riding by, during the busy rush hour of going to school and work–drivers can be distracted and in a hurry.
I make sure that each of my children know they must slow down and look both left and right when they approach streets where a driver comes up to a stop sign, and ride cautiously past driveways where cars can be backing out. Because even though we don’t have a stop sign –drivers can often roll right through the stop signs or are only looking in one direction while we are coming from the opposite direction.
Also, be proactive in searching out the safest route possible. For us that includes some bike lane riding and some sidewalk riding. We no longer ride on one road near our school because of the huge amount of traffic and distracted drivers focused on finding parking and pulling in and out of the bike lane–it’s just not the safest route possible so we use an alternate route.
If improvements in your neighborhood need to be made–don’t wait for others to make them. We ride by our community center parking lot and it’s a common area for dropping off kids for school. This large and busy parking lot has two entrances and exits. The exits didn’t have a clearly marked stop sign, so drivers would often roll right through, with lots of close calls of nearly hitting bike riders and pedestrians. It took one email for me to get stop signs installed and provide a safer route for all.
3. Ride Single File Because we are often riding in the bicycle lane which is narrow and meant for single file riding, that is the formation I have taught my children to ride. Protective mamas may be tempted to ride on the outside of the bike lane to act as a buffer between their children and cars–but that simply isn’t safest for anyone. And when we do ride on the sidewalks, we also want to keep the pedestrians safe–so we ride single file and use our bell to signal we are coming up behind them.
4. Wear Appropriate Shoes & Clothes We make sure our clothes aren’t going to get caught in our wheels or pedals and we don’t wear sandals or flipflops while bike riding. This means if my dress-loving twin daughter wants to wear a dress to school that day–we ride in the car. For picture day we had to forego riding our bikes because both of my daughters wanted to wear a dress. And because our school requires closed-toe shoes, it’s never a struggle for us to decide on wearing shoes that will protect our toes. It took one time on a Saturday for my daughter to scrape her foot while riding barefoot to never want to ride barefoot again.
5. Stay Focused My twin son can be a complete ham. He loves to play jokes on his sisters and act silly. But he knows when we are riding our bikes to and from school that is not the time for being silly. One of his favorite things to do when riding his bike around our cul-de-sac is to put both feet in the air–but when we are riding on busy roads he takes his job as a cyclist seriously and I know I can trust him to follow the rules or we simply don’t ride.
Don’t let that goofy grin fool you! He’s all business when riding!
We’d love to hear–how do you get to school?
Never Give Up,