Kids love bikes! Bikes are a child’s first freedom machine, and teach independence to kids while they provide fun physical activity. Riding a bike is one of the most grown up things kids can do, as they are really operating on their own. Here are some tips to keep your youngster safe when he or she is riding a bike. These tips are intended for kids under the age of 13.
For children who can’t ride solo, there are a variety of transport systems you can use to bring children along with you, including bike seats (for kids under 40 lbs), trailers, and “Trail-a-Bike” systems (basically a rear wheel and seat that attaches to the seat post of an adult’s bike—great for kids 6 and up).
Whether your kid is riding in a seat, trailer, or on their own bike, a helmet is a critical piece of safety equipment, and required by law for kids under 16. And set a good example—you should wear your helmet, too, when riding with your children.
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How Old to Begin Riding?
This varies from child to child. Some kids are able to balance and ride a bike as young as 5, while others may take until 10. Tricycles can be used to get your small child used to pedaling movements, and push bikes (bikes have just two wheels and no pedals or chain that a child can push around using his feet, like Fred Flintstone) can help develop balance.
Choosing a Kid’s Bike
- What Kind of Bike Should a Kid Ride? When kids start riding solo, a good choice is a simple bicycle with a coaster brake from your local bike shop. DON’T BUY A BIKE THAT IS TOO BIG SO THE KID CAN “GROW INTO IT”! They won’t enjoy riding it, and they won’t be safe. Get a bike that the child can stand over without the frame touching their body. Safety begins with a properly fitted bicycle! Some kids’ bikes have both coaster brakes and handbrakes, which help the child get used to operating a handbrake, but also provide the coaster brake as an extra guarantee of stopping ability. Don’t bother with gears until the child is demonstrating skill with a simple single speed bike. Remember to check the air pressure, brake operation, and chain condition every time your child rides.
- A Few Words on Training Wheels. They work! Training wheels should be mounted initially so that they are flush with the rear wheel on the ground with the rear wheel, and the bike stands up with a minimum of wobble. As the child practices, the wheels can be gradually raised above the ground to encourage balancing, but to provide support should the child loose balance. When the child is balancing the bike without relying on the training wheels for support, they can be removed. WARNING—as mounting training wheels requires loosening the nut that holds the rear wheel in place, you may want to consider speaking with a shop bike tech before you attempt putting a set on your kid’s bike.
- First Two Wheeler When your child is able to balance the bike and the training wheels come off, spend some time in a parking lot, quiet street or multi-use trail to review road rules and practice skills. Download our Be a Safe Bike Driver resource to help coach your child in the basics of responsible riding and bike safety.
Where Should My Child Ride?
- Young Kids Kids under 10 are safest in somewhat controlled,traffic free environments—driveways, parking lots, multi-use paths. If you let your child ride in your driveway, emphasize the need to stop at the end of it, and not to just ride into the street—young kids are often hit at the end of their driveways, because they fail to stop. Stick to low or no traffic environments until you know your child has the skills to control the bike in on-road situations.
- Older Kids Older kids with decent control skills can beexpected to operate safely on streets in quiet neighborhoods and on multi-use paths. It might help to ride some with your kids to identify roads that you’re ok with your kids riding on. In general, kids under twelve should stick to quieter roads with posted speed limits 30 mph and under. Teens should be coached on the tips for safe cycling presented on our “Basics of Bicycle Safety” page.
- Sidewalk Riding Parents often wonder whether their kids should ride in the street or on sidewalks-- Sidewalk riding is ok for young children (age twelve and under), but be aware that sidewalk riding has its own risks, too, because it puts bicycles in places where other traffic might not be expecting them. Riding on sidewalks is also illegal in some towns in Maine—check your local ordinances to be sure. The safest place for bicycles to operate is in the roadway, in the same direction as cars. If your kids do operate bikes on the sidewalk, make sure they:
- ALWAYS alert pedestrians that you are near by saying, “Excuse me,” or, “Passing on your left,” or use a bell or horn. ALWAYS yield to walkers.
- Watch for vehicles coming out of or turning into driveways.
- Stop at corners of sidewalks and streets to look for cars and to make sure the drivers see you before crossing.
- Enter a street at a corner and not between parked cars.
Kid Friendly Places to Ride in Maine
The easiest place to ride with your children is in a traffic free environment, and Maine has many miles of multi-use path trails that provide great rides for you and your kids. Some of our favorites include:
Mountain Division Trail
Portland Bikeways (Eastern Prom, Back Cove, Bayside)
Kennebec River Trail
Down East Sunrise Trail
Acadia Carriage Roads
Any flat and smooth dirt trail