Advice for parents

Most of us remember learning to ride a bike: those first, few triumphant wobbly yards undertaken without stabilisers, our proud mum, dad, or even grandparent looking on and smiling.

Cycling is fun and great way for kids to get fit. But, given the increase in traffic on our roads, it’s understandable that parents can worry about letting their children get about on two wheels – which is why we’ve put together this safety advice.

Getting a bike - size does matter!

Whether your child is five or 15, it’s crucial that they have a bike that is the right size for them. Avoid the temptation to buy one with the idea that they will grow into it.

One of the factors in cycling accidents involving children is loss of control. This is why bike size is important. If a bike is too big and a child can’t touch the ground with the ball of their foot, then the bike is too large for them to control safely.

But equally, don’t get a bike that’s too small – it will make peddling very tiring and steering clumsy.

A bike is the right size if a child can:

  • reach the handle bars without stretching
  • sit in a position where they are not leaning too far forward
  • reach and easily use the brakes
  • touch the ground with the toes of both feet while seated on the saddle.

Obviously, in these times of austerity, not everyone can afford to buy a new bike. So if you’re buying a second hand cycle, make sure you check its condition. Our M-check video and checklist can show you what to look out for.

We do recommend that children wear cycling helmets. This is a sensible way of protecting the head, especially with loss of control accidents. But we don’t advise getting a second hand one, unless you a certain it is undamaged. Even the minor cracks that come from dropping helmets can affect their integral strength.

Learning to ride and cycle training

Good places for children to learn to ride a bike are gardens, parks and playgrounds. Avoid steep hills and areas close to busy roads.

Small children may need stabilisers to help them balance initially, whilst some bikes are sold without pedals and the children scoot along. Once they can balance and are taking their feet off the ground pedals are attached.

Steady your child as they start to pedal and run with them, holding the saddle. Gradually let go, but stay alongside them so they think you are still supporting them. Make sure they use both brakes to stop and encourage them to look around before they set off, while riding, and before they stop.

Games, such as following a course or weaving in and out of objects, can also be a good way to help children gain the skills to control and ride a bike safely.

For older children, cycle training helps them gain confidence and to know how to safely control their bikes. Many schools offer Bikeability training in years 5 and 6, if not the Bikeability website can signpost you to training in your area.

RoSPA has produced a handy booklet Starting to Cycle, which is packed with more information on choosing and maintaining children’s bicycles and learning to ride.

Carrying children on bicycles

RoSPA has a handy factsheet on choosing, using and fitting child seats to adult bicycles.


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