Safe cycling: a parent resource

Getting Bike Wise: A Parents' Guide to Keeping Children Cycle Safe

Riding off-road, Otaki Beach ©2006 M Richardson

Kiwi kids have been riding bikes for decades, and enjoying the independence and health benefits they provide. Regular exercise is important for our kids and riding a bike can be a really fun way for them to keep fit while getting around.

While cycling is a great form of transport and recreation, like any other means of getting around — from traveling in a car to walking — there are some dangers.

Children must be taught to be aware of their surroundings — however they get around. Helping kids minimize the risks when they ride is important.

Here are some ways to increase your child's safety while allowing them to get the most out of cycling.

Be Bike Wise When Driving

  • Be a good role model and follow the road rules as a driver and a cyclist.
  • Use your car less. Cycling and walking are healthier and environmentally friendly ways to get around, and less traffic on the roads means less risk to kids.
  • Keep your speed down — sometimes the speed limit is much too fast, especially round schools and residential areas.
  • Be aware that cars aren't the only forms of transport. Keep an eye out for bicycles, especially at night. Unfortunately not all cyclists use lights but even those that do are often hard to see at a glance.
  • Cyclists are sometimes forced to move out into the middle of the lane to avoid parked cars, road works etc. Expect that this may happen and be co-operative.
  • Leave a gap of at least a metre when overtaking a cyclist — if there's not enough room to pass safely, wait.
  • Indicate turns, especially left hand ones. Check for cyclists behind or beside you before you turn and wait for them to pass.
  • When you get out of a car that's parked or stopped at an intersection, check to see if there's a cyclist coming before opening the door.
  • Avoid cutting in close to the edge of the road on blind left hand corners on the open road: there may be a cyclist just around the bend.

Be Bike Wise about Cycle Skills

  • Children can't always judge traffic and are easily distracted. It's strongly recommended that children aged under 10 years should only ride on the road with adult supervision.
  • Teach your child balance, turning and signalling skills away from traffic, then take them riding on the road to improve their traffic awareness, initially on quiet streets. Point out any potential hazards to them and help them choose good places to ride.
  • Teach children to keep to the left side when riding in traffic, at least one metre from the kerb or parked vehicles.
  • Encourage children to ride predictably, in as smooth a line as possible. They should avoid cutting in and out of parked vehicles.
  • Make sure you and your child know the road rules and follow them.
  • If there are things that you feel can e done to make the roads better for your child to cycle on, talk to Transit NZ (for state highways) or your local council (for local roads). Your local cycling advocacy organisation can help you (see below for contact details).
  • A Safe Routes to Schools scheme can also help your child get the benefits of cycling or walking to school (see below for more information).
  • Talk to your school about running a Kiwi Cycling programme, or another cycle skills course taken by their teacher or a Police Education Officer.

Be Bike Wise about Your Child's Bike

  • If possible, buy a bike that is already assembled, and buy from a bike shop. Specialist bike shops stock a wide range of bicycle types and sizes, and they can help you choose the right one for your child.
  • Bikes are like shoes — they need to be fitted correctly. Take your child with you when buying.
  • When your child is first learning to ride, it may help if both their feet can touch the ground when seated. Once the basic balance skills are learned, they will ride much more efficiently and comfortably if their legs are almost fully extended at the bottom of the pedalling stroke.
  • Remember that kids grow! At the very least this means checking the seat and handlebar adjustments on their bikes every year or so to ensure a good fit. Ultimately, you may have to invest in a new bike.
  • Make sure your child's bike is properly maintained. Good brakes and tyres are essential for safe riding, so check them regularly and show your child how to do so.
  • Just like a car, bikes need a tune up too. Take your child's bike, and your own, into a bike shop for yearly check-ups, or learn to fix it yourself.

Be Bike Wise about Protective Gear

  • Your child must wear a bicycle helmet by law, but to be of any use the straps need to be tight.
  • Check your child's helmet regularly and if it's damaged or worn, replace it straight away.
  • Teach children that while cycle helmets can prevent injuries, wearing them doesn't mean cyclists are bullet proof. Bicycle helmets can prevent and reduce the severity of some head injuries, but they don't prevent crashes and are not designed for the impacts likely in a crash with a moving car.
  • Teach your children good cycling skills and encourage them to ride sensibly — they are the most important methods of helping to keep them cycle safe.
  • Ensure kids are visible on the roads at all times. Encourage them to wear bright colours, reflective stickers, and use a highly visible cycle helmet. If they ride in the dark, make sure their bike has lights (see the Road Code or Safe Cycling Book for more information).

More information

More information about cycling and cycling safety

    Bike Wise website (with information about cycling and cycling safety).
    Kiwi Cycling Cycling Advocates' Network Inc. This is the national organisation for people who use the bicycle as transport. Visit their website or phone 04 385 2557 for more information, including details of your local advocacy group.

Books that can help with cycling safety

  • Safe Cycling Book
  • Effective Cycling by John Forester
  • Cyclecraft by John Franklin
  • New Zealand Road Code