I remember many years ago when I was a child of perhaps 9 years old…I used to enjoy sliding down the hill of pebbles at a construction site near my house. Nowadays in the age of high safety awareness it seems unusual that a boy of 9 could simply play the fool within a construction site with his best buddy. We would drag up to the top of the hill a discarded wooden board from the site, sit on it, and slide down holding and lifting the front edge. We enjoyed ourselves immensely for days right up to the point when we lost control of the ‘sled’, cut ourselves and tore our clothes to the consternation of our mothers!
As a result of that we were barred from the construction site by our mothers and so we started riding our bicycles instead. Our mothers were reluctant to leave us on our own, but being working mothers they really had no choice. So we had a lot of fun in our quiet neighbourhood, tearing up and down the street racing each other, without any helmets being worn. I don’t think we even realised that we could wear helmets when riding bicycles!
Everything was well and good until one day when a truck drove up our quiet neighbourhood during one of our afternoon races. My buddy was behind me when the truck suddenly honked from behind, which shocked both of us. However with my friend being closer to the truck, he panicked and somehow lost control of his bike, ending up in a drain and him sprawled by the roadside!
In retrospect, we were both lucky that we managed to avoid the truck. Also while seemingly dangerous, the truck was actually being prudent and careful by honking us and following slowly behind us. Nonetheless, despite these efforts we did panic, with my friend ending up worse than me! Final damage was some minor bruising and also a damaged front wheel for my friend’s bike.
As a result, we stopped cycling for a long time after that! In fact, personally I was never a serious cyclist until only recently.
This brings us nicely to the topic of bicycle safety for kids or subtitled ‘how I could have ended up cycling for a much longer time!’
Avoid cycling at the roadside….or be extremely careful
It really isn’t good or sensible to cycle on the road when one is only just a wee little child. It makes it that much harder to spot and notice your kid. If there is no other alternative such as a park then it would be good if you as an adult are able to accompany and look out for dangers on your child’s behalf.
If you really absolutely unavoidably have no choice and have to leave your child alone (like my mother did), then make sure that your child knows to be really careful. Make it a rule to cycle along the street by your house – and that the street is a quiet one. Never cycle on a busy street, no matter how competent the child. Being a child means one could easily get distracted without the maturity of always being careful.
Being extra careful includes ensuring your child is conditioned or even brainwashed to be aware of safety hazards. This includes stopping the bicycle and even walking (really, just get off the bike), if the risks are too high. A simple guide would be, “if you see or hear a car, stop by the road and let the car pass!”
Be highly visible
As mentioned earlier, being a child is already a disadvantage when it comes to cycling. Your size is a bit smaller and that much less noticeable. So put the effort for your kid to visually attract attention while on the road. That would mean bright clothes, bright helmet and some good lights and reflective devices on the bicycle. Nowadays we even have luminous wheels and decals to make your bicycle highly obvious.
Who knows? The bright attire and flashing lights might just put your kid off cycling…until he/she is much bigger and more aware! Jokes aside, there are some serious kids cycling attire out there which can make your child look good and noticeable at the same time.
Make sure your child’s bike is in good condition
Being a kid’s bike, it may be easy to forget or discount the need to ensure everything is in good working order. Make no mistake though, a good condition bicycle will minimise unwanted surprises when your kid is cycling.
There are a few key areas to check. The most important component is of course the brakes. Make sure they work well, if not send it to your local bike shop and get it fixed. Make sure the wheels are properly inflated. Check the saddle, make sure that it’s firmly in its place, if not tighten the seat post.
Once again…be careful
Your child needs to really understand the risks of cycling along the road. It would be best that you have guided your child and observed his awareness and understanding of being safe. Guide your child for a few weeks. Remain in the sidelines and observe. As a child one could get distracted with the fun factor of bike riding (I know I was), so before letting your kid out without you, you must be sure and confident of your kid’s competence in minding safety.
Once again the golden rule – if there is traffic, stop. Even get off the bike and walk if needed.
Help your child to pick the right times for cycling. Weekends are definitely quieter and perhaps you could also accompany your child. Avoid weekday peak hours when people rush to and return from their offices. Hours outside those would be much quieter for sure.
If possible, get your child to play in a group of kids from the neighbourhood. It would be more fun and obviously makes your child more visible as part of a group. The group will also serve as lookouts for each other.
Stay safe – and enjoy cycling
My experience earlier as a child, despite my friend’s accident, was really peppered with a lot of fun wonderful memories of tearing up the road in our own bicycle world championship. We even made other friends from the neighbourhood through cycling.
Fast forward some 25 years later, and I have kids of my own. We were blessed with an ample and wide street in front of our house, and it was a relatively quiet street.
It was just too good an opportunity…and as a result we had many wonderful hours in teaching our kids to ride and also watching them have fun. There were a few scrapes and spills due to them learning how to cycle, but in general they managed to stay safe by being much more aware.
Now some 20 years later, my kids still cycle, with one of them being a regular bike commuter. What’s important if they have the skills and sense to ride safely now as adults, while always learning and picking up new safe skills. They may still get into some scrapes as adults, but that is a story for a later post.
My wish is for you to have similar wonderful experiences too…so do watch out for your kids safety while cycling and enjoy these moments! Until next time, stay safe cycling.