Monday, December 31, 2012
First Published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, March 1, 2010
by Rick Price
Children five to ten should learn the rules of the road as pedestrians before they begin bicycling: teach them how to walk through parking lots, crosswalks, driveways, and sidewalks. The rules they learn walking (“look left, look right, look left again . . ,” stop at the edge, and so on) will serve them well when they begin bicycling.
Smaller children should not ride alone on the street (your cul-de-sac excepted, perhaps). They don’t have the cognitive ability to judge distance and speed. Encourage them to ride behind you until they learn the concepts of keeping right, watching for hazards, and making way for those passing. While they ride behind you they imprint on you as goslings do on their parents. So follow the rules of the road: signal, keep to the right, use two hands, and wear a helmet. How many parents do you see without a helmet? They are, effectively, teaching their kids that it’s ok for adults to not wear a helmet.
By the time children are 10 (4th grade) they are ready to ride on neighborhood streets with parked cars and light traffic. They’ve developed their peripheral vision and have the judgement necessary to be allowed freedom to discover the world. But now they need real instruction in bike handling, hazard avoidance and they are able to understand that bicycles are vehicles and must follow the rules of the road.
Those of us concerned about bicycle policies in the community advocate that the education of a cyclist should be focused on 4th and 5th graders where we should set a goal of training every single one of them in PE classes over a ten-week period. If they can get pedestrian rules of the road earlier and apply them in 4th grade we’d have a much safer bicycle community. Continue that teaching on the bike into middle school and we’d also have safer young drivers of motor vehicles.
About that bicycle. Get out to the garage right now and check: “A,” air in the tires; “B,” the brakes; and “C,” the crank, chain and cassette if it has more than one gear. If the ABC Quick Check shows that the bike is ready, you’re good to go. We do this regularly in elementary school bike parking lots, though, and find that 60% of the bikes need air AND a brake adjustment. This last one is serious. Your child needs to learn how to ride his or her bike but he or she needs to learn how to stop it effectively. Most brakes on kids’ bikes won’t stop the bike because they are not properly adjusted. If the bike didn’t pass the ABC test and you can’t fix the brakes, please take it down to the bike shop today.
If you are buying a child’s first bike please go to the bike shop, not a department store, and get professional help with proper sizing.
Rick Price, Ph.D., LCI #2347 lives and pedals in Fort Collins where he is the Safe Cycling Coordinator for the Bike Co-op. If your school or group would like a safe cycling presentation