After such a long winter, it’s finally bike-riding season: Hooray! And, whoa are you all getting on those bikes! I’ve seen so many kids riding bikes in our neighborhood, that my son’s mountain bike team has doubled in size since last year. Bike shops and bike departments at major chains are even having trouble keeping bikes in stock. (Tip: get a new one now if you’re in the market.)
In fact my husband has a “side hustle” bike-repair business that he started at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s ramped up with bikes coming and going almost daily.
But, as thrilled as we are to see so many people on two wheels, we’re also big believers that cyclists have to do everything in their power to try to be safe on the roads, especially when those cyclists don’t weigh more than 75 pounds. So I really wanted to put together some comprehensive bike safety tips for kids.
We can yell about the importance of cars giving cyclists room and the need for more bike lanes, but the truth is that our kids can also do a lot on their own to be safer on two wheels. So I think this is a terrific list to share with your kids, and have some really good, clear discussions about bike safety tips, so that our kids can get out there, have fun, and help us parents all worry a little less about them.
Top photo: © Christina Refford for Cool Mom Picks
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Bike safety tip for kids 1: Get a tune-up
Same kid from the top photo, eight years later (sniff)
© Christina Refford for Cool Mom Picks
Just like you might bring your car in for a once-over before you embark on a long road trip, getting an annual tune-up on a bike that has been sitting unused in a garage or basement for the winter is a great idea. So get those air pumps and bike tool kits out, or hit your trusted bike repair shop. After all, you don’t want your child to find out their brakes aren’t working the moment they go tearing down your neighbor’s hilly driveway, or have the chain snap on your first family bike outing an hour from home.
This is also important if you’ll be passing your bike down from an older child to a younger one as you can also ask your bike shop to refit the bike for your new rider.
This 9-in-1 multipurpose bike tool from Schwinn is a great buy, and so handy
However, if you find that your local shop is swamped and won’t be able to take a look at your kids’ pint-size ride for weeks, there are some great DIY videos out there to help you cover the basics.
I love this short four-minute video on how to tune up your bike from CityTV, though there are plenty of more in-depth videos on YouTube should you need more detail.
Bonus Tip: Many road and mountain bikers know a ton about how to fix their own bikes and will be more than happy to talk to you about their favorite subject — in excruciating detail –as long as you aren’t interrupting a ride.
I’ve also heard that many of them appreciate craft beer in payment for their time. (ha)
Related: Turn signal gloves, inflatable helmets and other cool bike safety gear for the whole family
Bike safety tip for kids 2: Check that helmet
Did you know that bike helmets have a lifespan? I recently sat in a webinar with the bike experts at Trek, who explained that a bike helmet should be replaced every four years, because after that the foam padding starts to degrade. This is especially important for those of us with multiple kids of varying ages — hand-me-downs are great, but only if the baby of the family isn’t peddling around with a 10-year-old helmet on their head.
And, if a helmet has been in an impact fall, it should be thanked for its service and retired, much like you’d retire a car seat after it’s been in a crash.
What to look for in a bike helmet
All bike helmets sold in the United States must comply with mandatory federal safety standards, so you can feel pretty good that any commercially sold helmet will do the job of protecting your child’s noggin around the neighborhood. These Schwinn Thrasher bike helmets for kids (above) are affordable, well-rated, pretty stylish, and do the job they’re meant to do.
If style and safety are of equal importance, check out our roundup of the coolest bike helmets for kids are stylish and safe. Though a few years old, many of these brands are still churning out awesome styles.
And also don’t miss my personal favorite for style points: Thousand Bike Helmets (above) is a terrific brand, and they happen to be coming out with a kids’ helmet — which includes stickers! — this May.
(Please note, if your child joins a mountain bike or BMX team or wants to race downhill, please talk to experts about the helmet they need!)
Make sure they’re wearing it right!
After shelling out for a decent helmet, don’t throw your money away by letting your kids wear it wrong.
My husband has literally stopped kids on the street to readjust their helmets so their entire forehead isn’t showing. If you don’t have my husband in your neighborhood, this bike helmet fit guide from Trek is a great starting point, though bike shops will also be happy to take a look at fit.
Tip for BIPOC bike riders
For our BIPOC readers, if you or your child has afro-textured hair, take a look at these tips for wearing a helmet with afro-textured hair from Kristin Collins Jackson on Bustle.
I also recommend checking out these two recommended hair styles for Black women wearing bike helmets, from fitness professional Elle on Simpelle. It may take a little prep time, but getting your child’s helmet to fit snuggly on their head is important. Though I’m definitely hoping that more cycling companies will address this issue directly, to find helmet that work for all kids.
Bike safety tip for kids 3: Light them up, day or night
WheelBrightz are not just fun, they make bike rides safer for kids!
While most of our kids are probably avoiding major roads and riding in daylight, you’ll still want to make sure they stand out to drivers who may be zoning out as they get closer to home. And that means lights and reflectors.
For frequent riders, like kids who peddle daily to school or teens who go on long rides alone, Bontrager’s Flare RT Rear Bike Light is a small, but super bright clip-on light that will get your child noticed as they’re peddling down the street — a bit pricey but that cost will allow them to be seen from as far as 2 kilometers away!
A little more affordable:The rechargeable BrightRoad Bike Rear or Front Headlight, which offers 650-foot visibility and some other nifty features.
Related: 10 ways to make driveway bike riding more fun for kids
It’s not just the bike that needs to light up
The specialists at Trek recommend thinking about highlighting all “moving parts,” which includes kids wearing neon shoes on their feet or bright socks like these from Champion. since their feet will be in constant motion as they cruise down the street. Adidas is showing some very cool neon sneaker styles this season.
Back to the bike safety tips for the bike itself, I also love WheelBrightz (shown above) which will turn a simple bike ride into a moving rave with bright neon lights in a bunch of color option. Because they spin with each turn of the wheel, they illuminate the entire bike.
Do a final check
Once you think your rider is all set, stand outside and take a look at your child coming. This way you can determine whether they are lit “enough,” even in the middle of the day. Make adjustments as necessary.
Bike safety tip for kids 4: Follow the rules of the road
We’ve probably all had that heart-stopping moment when a bike comes out of seemingly nowhere and darts across the street. Kids having fun on the bikes with friends or even teens who realize they’re running late sometimes forget that despite their agility, they need to still follow the same rules of the road.
Teach your kids to be predictable riders
I love that phrase, ‘predictable riders.” That means no weaving back and forth across the road or against traffic. Ride on the same side of the road as cars. Make full stops at stop signs or stop lights. Use hand signals when turning.
And, please please please: No headphones or AirPods while riding. That’s a really important bike safety tip for kids these days.
Bike safety tip for kids 5: Make your own block safer for riding.
I don’t mean you have to repave a street or anything! But no matter how deserted your own road in front of your house may seem, delivery trucks, mail carriers, and neighbors coming and going from their homes can pose a much bigger risk to your child than you might think.
If you live on a cul-de-sac and want to let your kids ride in circles, or if you have kids who love nothing more than to swoop down your steep driveway onto your quiet street, my suggestion is that you put out orange safety cones across the roadway to signal to drivers that they should expect the unexpected.
It doesn’t just have to be your own block
Of course if you’re not sure your kids are even ready for “the road,” there are other options. Consider riding in places without cars: Empty parking lots, nearby parks, and local trail systems can give kids a ton of space for vehicle-free bike riding practice.
Bike safety tips for kids 6: Share the space
My family riding in Jasper National Park where we had to look out for walkers, hikers, elk, and bears!
© Christina Refford for Cool Mom Picks
As your kids get older and more confident about heading out on their own bike rides, talk to them about sharing their space with others.
On a local wooded trail, a bike path, or even just cruising around your urban neighborhood, they’ll be sharing their paths with walkers, runners, dogs, and maybe even horseback riders and it can’t hurt to remind them.
My husband even owns a motion-activated bike bell that is so effective at giving people a head’s up! Though of course a loud and friendly, “on your left!” should do the trick as well. But, when in doubt, slow down or even stop to give pedestrians the right of way to avoid collisions.
And hey, if you happen to be biking somewhere that you’ll encounter horses (ideally with riders on them!), take extra care to stop, get off the bike, move as far off the path as possible, and listen to the rider for additional instruction. A spooked horse can inadvertently cause harm to its rider by throwing them, so, please, teach your kids to give a wide berth to anyone on horseback.
While this may sound like SO MUCH to do before going out on a simple bike ride, if you follow these bike safety tips for kids, it will become second nature in no time at all. Plus, it makes for a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Now, get out there and start biking!