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Preparing your child to cycle on the road
The thought of preparing your child to cycle on the road can be a stressful one. "When will my child be ready to ride on the road?" "How do I know they'll be safe?" and "How do I teach them to ride safely on the road?" are questions I frequently get asked.
So many of our roads are now so busy it's not safe for children to cycle on them, however, there are quiter roads, where children can and do cycle safely. There are a number of things you can do to help your child prepare for riding on the roads.
Start teaching them road sense from an early age
Carlton Reid, editor of Bike Hub, says:
"Unless you live at one end of a bike path and your child’s school is at another, at some point, your child will have to cycle on a road: cycle paths don’t go everywhere. To be forewarned is to be forearmed so teach bike-based road sense from an early age."
One way to do this is to introduce your child to cycling before they are old enough to go solo - cargo bikes, front and rear seats and later tagalongs and tow bars help to raise awareness of traffic. If your children are still young enough to benefit from this, see our article on how to build your own confidence with these methods of transport. Speak to your child as you cycle along with them - a constant dialogue about what you're doing and why will make them aware of their surroundings.
Using other methods of active transport to get around, such as walking, scooting or using a balance bike allows you to speak to them about road safety from a young age, and it's easier to stop and have a more thoughtful discussion.
Of course, at some stage your child will want (or need) to ride their own bike on the road, and the key is to ensure that your children receive adequate training before riding on the road, and only cycle on roads appropriate for their age.
Make sure they get some cycle training
Cycle training is now widely available throughout the UK, and is often provided through schools. It's worth checking with your school to see if they have anything planned, before making your own arrangements.
Training in England and Wales is arranged through the Bikeability scheme, which provides three levels of training. This ranges from basic bike control and riding away from traffic (Level 1) through to using complex junctions and road features such as roundabouts, multi-lane roads and traffic signals and reading road traffic signals (Level 3). The website has a full list of all accredited providers by area, making it easy for you to arrange training for yourself and your family.
In Scotland, Bikeability Scotland provide training, which also follows the three level approach.
In Northern Ireland, many schools run the Cycling Proficiency Scheme - see the Cycle NI website for details of providers.
The government's official advice on cycling safely with children is very bland. Carlton Reid, in his article "Cycling is safe for kids, no need to wrap them in cotton-wool" offers much more specific and helpful advice when cycling on road:
"Children under 12 tend to think if they can see a car, the driver can see them. This might be true, but what children might not appreciate is that motorists don’t always respond to such obvious visual stimuli.
The standard advice from some cycle commuters is to “claim your roadspace” but as children are smaller and slower this is clearly neither possible nor desirable. If you’re cycling with your child you can act as as ‘outrigger’, riding to one side of your child, able to claim more roadspace than is actually needed, but in the process warning drivers that there’s a potentially wobbly child ahead.
When about to execute a turn, most children know to signal. Few will have looked behind their shoulder before throwing out their hand and arm. It’s the arm bit that sticks in their mind from cycling safety lessons, whereas it’s the looking behind bit that’s critical.
Exiting driveways is one of the most dangerous road scenarios for children. Children under the age of ten are particularly likely to speed out of drives and side exits without paying adequate attention. (Even if the ‘driveway’ exited on to a cycle path, there would still be a danger of smashing into passing cyclists).
If you’re an experienced cyclist you’ll be the best placed to teach your child the basics of cycling road sense. You can chaperone them, until you’re confident they’re competent."
Thankfully there are lots of organisations who are campaigning to make roads safer for our children.
Sustran's Free Range Kids campaign is one of the most high profile, and there are some great ideas on their website.
London Cycling Campaign works tirelessly to improve cycling in London, and if their current "Love London, Go Dutch" campaign is a success this could see increased family cycling opportunities in the capital.
A number of organisations have online resources to encourage your child to think about road safety before they set out. Our article online cycle awareness for kids gives more details.
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