Bicycle Network: Parents
Children mature at different rates both physically and emotionally. As a general rule, a ten year old has developed the peripheral vision and road sense necessary for independent riding. However, some children younger than this seem ready, and others who are older don't seem ready.
Every child is unique and the ages given here are only a guide. As a parent or guardian, please use your own judgement.
It’s not advisable to take an infant under 12 months riding, due to their body weight distribution. From around their first birthday a child’s neck can support their head with the added weight of a helmet. Most toddlers love riding around on the back of the bike or in a bike trailer.
Up to a certain age they’ll probably drop off to sleep, but as they get older they may find it boring just sitting back there.
4 to 6 years
They’ll be ready to learn to ride at this age. Most have developed good balance and can start and stop on a tricycle or training wheels.
They can be let loose in a park or along a quiet bike path, but shouldn’t be in busy places even with you riding alongside as they will most likely still lack the skills necessary to mix with cars, bicycles, joggers, dogs and pedestrians.
While most kids can ride two-wheelers with 16 inch wheels at this age, they’ll probably lack the co-ordination for handbrakes until around the age of five.
They should be ready to move up to 20 inch wheels now. Kids can master gears and handbrakes by about the age of eight.
Deciding on a destination – the park, the shops, to school – is a good idea. Under-10s do not have the physiological ability to negotiate complex traffic situations by themselves, as they can’t judge the speed of oncoming cars by looking or hearing. It is therefore a very good idea for them to only ride on the road accompanied by an adult.
8 to 10 years
Your child will become an independent rider in this age group. This is a good time to make riding social, for example by inviting friends who can support and motivate each other.
Try to keep riding interesting by stopping for snacks or to enjoy a swim or a walk. Family bike path outings allow the young ones to explore a bit in a safe environment. When you judge that the time is right, it's important to ride on quiet roads with them and teach them traffic sense. Most kids are big enough for 24 inch wheels by now.
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From 10 years old they have the potential to ride safely on the roads themselves. You will, however, have to judge their ‘steadiness’ and which trips or roads they can be permitted to ride on alone and which ones are out of bounds.
Practicing regular routes with them and modelling safe riding habits are effective ways to improve their safety. Some kids will be ready to lead the ride – heading out in front can be exciting.
From this age onwards, the bike is a means of independent transport. It is also the age where the most injuries occur to cyclists, so teaching safety skills is paramount.
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