city cycling with kids: what parents should know

In recognition of the first National Bike to School Day today, we asked Lee Uehara, principal of City Bike Coach, an NYC-based bicycle riding school and coaching service that also offers free, family-friendly weekend rides, to share tips for parents.

If you are a parent who wants to explore the possibilities and pleasures of riding a bicycle with your children, here is some basic information to get you started:

Different Ways to Ride with Young Children

Today, options to suit a variety of budgets and needs are available to help you transport young children around town and to introduce them to the joys of cycling. The simplest and most economical, under $100, is with a rear or front child seat that attaches to your bicycle (photo above).  Next, in the $100-$300 range, there are trailers and trailer-bikes. Trailers attach to the rear of your bicycle, usually on the rear wheel. Trail-a-bikes, which attach to your seat post, turn regular bikes into tandems, allowing your child to pedal. Just make sure these options are compatible with your bicycle. Finally, front/rear cargo bikes, stroller-bikes and longtails – bikes with “benches” — are priced in the $1,000 to $4,000 range: Just check that your ride meets safety standards and is lawful for the age of children you plan to transport. 

Two Things Parents Should Ask Themselves Before Riding with Children

Asking yourself these two questions could save your child’s life. Remember, be honest:

1.  Am I truly able to slow down to ride safely with my child(ren)?

Just because you think you will ride carefully does not mean that you will. Some adrenalin-seeking cyclists find that they cannot or will not slow down. If that’s the case, it’s not worth it to risk riding with your child. 

2. How will I reinforce good riding habits and safety expectations?

This is just as important as conducting that pre-ride bike check. Everyone has to be on the same page regarding the rules of riding. Think about how you will carry out this important routine for riding. Since cycling is fun and rewarding, that’s half the work done. It’s the other half that you need to know how to handle. In short, are you able to model safe and courteous riding habits?

Be Sensitive to Your Child’s Developmental Stage

Young children do not have a well-developed set of reasoning skills: They may forget basic instructions, and they may not think about consequences. To help make riding fun and safe, review with your child(ren) your municipality’s bike laws and safe riding routines thoroughly and frequently. This can be done in fun ways such as read-alouds from colorful children’s books about bike safety.

Know the Law

In New York City, it is illegal for children under the age of one year to be on any bicycle; children up to age five must be carried in a properly affixed child carrier; and all children under 14 years must wear a helmet that meets safety standards. Be sure to check the laws for your town and state.

Most of all, enjoy the ride! Daily cycling with your child can make for special, memorable time together.

photo: velojoy

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  • Great article! I’d just like to add one thing. As a Montessori teacher having worked with children for many years, I know that role-modelling is one of the most effective ways parents have to demonstrate proper safety behaviour to their children. Regardless of state/province laws, if parents ALWAYS wear helmets, it is a lot easier to convince children to wear them.


  • Cynthia, Thank you for your comment!

    There are several other reasons parents should wear helmets. For example, in a crash, parents without helmets could hit their heads so hard that they are the ones left unconscious while their children are lucid and left helpless in the road or path.

    City Bike Coach does not condone helmet-less parents. Apologies for giving any other impression.

  • I’m with Cynthia as well. I always wear a helmet because last time I didn’t I had to have a plastic surgeon fix my face. Mom doesn’t like to wear one and the kids gripe when she makes them, but they don’t fuss about wearing them when with me.

    Ride on the right side of the road with the kids and use and teach them hand signals. Stay off the sidewalks as well, that leads to bad habits later and cars always stop at the end of the driveway, but not the edge of the sidewalk.


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