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Cycle safely with your kids during the school holidays

Cycle safely with your kids during the school holidays

Parents can teach their children to be safe cyclists by going out with them and leading by example. South African roads are public spaces and cyclists have the right to ride their bicycles on them but riding a bike on public roads is a huge responsibility and it is vital that children are made aware of the rules of the road as well as how to handle a bicycle in a safe and responsible way.

Learning to cycle is a rite of passage for children and has the added benefits of health and fitness. Cycling can be one way your child gets enough exercise during the winter school holidays and it makes for a good day’s entertainment for the whole family. Cycling represents fun, freedom and fresh air everything that good about being a kid. It’s also an easy way to burn calories, become flexible and to learn co-ordination.

Teaching children to travel effectively by bicycle as they get older develops patience, discipline, self-reliance and personal responsibility.  Learning to negotiate traffic by cycling also teaches essential driving skills that will make them safer and more courteous motorists later.  Like swimming and motoring, the safety of cycling is determined primarily by behavior; education and skill development are key to success. As a cyclist’s skills and maturity progress, safe cycling becomes possible in an increasingly wide variety of environments. An important consideration for cycling with children is matching route selection and adult supervision to the developmental and skill levels of the child.

“Riding with children affords a parent the opportunity to supervise their cycling, especially at edge locations such as street crossings.   Parents should model consistent behavior by stopping and looking both ways before proceeding, and invite the child to assist in assessment of traffic conditions,” says Karin Pohl, general manager of the Pedal Power Association.

Although many parents and children are tempted to think of sidewalks as safe places for children to ride, traveling any distance on a sidewalk inevitably results in crossing intersections and driveways or crossing roadways mid-block.  Such movements are associated with the most common collision types for child cyclists, in part because of children’s errors, but also because motorists are less likely to notice bicyclists entering their path from sidewalk locations when they are focused on traffic approaching in the roadway.

A leading contributor to car-bike crashes is cycling on the wrong side of the road.  At intersections, where the vast majority of car-bike collisions happen, other drivers aren’t expecting or looking for traffic approaching from the wrong direction. When riding with a child to supervise their bicycling, an ideal riding position is slightly behind and to the left of the child, with the child setting the pace. This position allows the parent or instructor to watch and communicate with the child, while also diverting overtaking traffic to pass at a larger distance from the child

Children between the ages of 7 and 10 can develop the traffic and handling skills to operate safely on low speed, low traffic two-lane residential streets.  By their early teens, they can develop the skills to handle multiple lane streets. “Although some cyclists may prefer more direct, important roads depending on their travel objectives, low traffic streets and greenways are often the most enjoyable places to ride for a wide variety of cyclists,” explains Pohl.

The Pedal Power Association of South Africa offers helpful information that parents should share with their children from an early age:

  • You must always wear a helmet
  • You must ride in single file
  • You may not hold onto any other vehicles
  • You may not deliberately swerve from side to side
  • You may not carry another person or object that prevents you from seeing where you are going, and from having complete control over your bicycle
  • If you are riding on a public road where there is a bicycle lane, you must use that lane
  • You may ride on any road, EXCEPT on a freeway
  • Obey all traffic laws, including stopping at red traffic lights and stop streets. Proceed through intersections only when it is safe to do so


It is important for everyone to check their bicycles before setting out – you do not want to break down in the middle of a busy road, or far from help! Check the bikes together and set the example to your children.

Checklist before your bike ride:

  • Are the tyres free of holes, cuts or any embedded
  • Are the wheels pumped hard enough
  • Are the wheels tightly secured?
  • Check both the brakes are they working?
  • Are the gears working as they should?
  • Is the chain clean and well oiled?
  • Is the handlebar and saddle firmly fixed?
  • Are there any cracks in the frames or forks?
  • Do you have a saddle bag with emergency spares attached to the bicycle that includes a spare tube, a patch kit and tyre levers
  •  Do you have lights and reflectors on the bicycle (red at the back, white at the front)


Long bike rides can be tiring or tedious for children; it’s useful to start small and break up longer trips with stops every 20 minutes or so.  Planning a round trip to a destination of interest such as an ice cream shop, restaurant, or park works especially well.