Cycling Alongside Children: Safety

Safety is always my first concern when riding with my children.  I was much happier when they were quite young and I could pop them in a trailer.  I knew where they were and I felt they were significantly more visible to the rider.

Plus they were shaded and I felt protected from most elements.

Also, it removed one huge factor, them!

Riding alongside children is a HUGE exercise in your faith.  It becomes a workout, both physically and mentally.  You learn gratitude because there will be times when you know you avoided serious injury and blind drivers yet again.

But, in my opinion, your children will be blessed with knowledge, self-confidence, wisdom and understanding that takes years to learn in any other setting.

There are many ideas as to the best way for children to ride on streets.  We have different methods if we are out with two parents or just one.  Typically it is just the kids and I.  Believe it or not, I sometimes adding my husband frustrating because I’ve taught them very specific methods for cycling with traffic and my husband isn’t as familiar with them and I find that we get into more ‘near’ experiences when we ride as a group.

I find as a cyclist, I have far fewer ‘near’ experiences riding with the children than I do when riding alone.  I’ve been right hooked dozens of times alone, but only once has someone nearly right hooked my child.

Which leads to the first item of safety:

Brakes: I am fanatical about brakes.  They must be very tight and finger sensitive.  We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on brakes for the bikes.

Over time several other children have gone biking with my family.  If I don’t approve of their cycle’s braking ability I remount them on one of the family bikes… or in one case where I knew the sole source of transportation was the cycle I paid to have the brake system replaced.

As far as I am concerned, as a parent, how stupid of me would it if I were sitting in a hospital beside my injured child who got there because they couldn’t brake in time to avoid an accident!

Position on the street:

I prefer to ride with my children in front of me.  This is because we ride with traffic (the vast majority of the time) and I am bigger and I take more of the lane so I hope it helps drivers see us cycling.

We call the lead person the Captain.  Typically it is my more cautious daughter, partly because having the slower rider leads avoids situations where the group splits.

If my husband rides with us, either he or myself take the lead and the other the rear.  Unless he and son are in a mood.  In which they’ll draft by the daughter and she and I ride as a pair.  Not at all something I like!

Crossing the Road:

We use various methods.  I gauge familiarity with the area, number of lanes to cross, number of vehicles and type, sun/visibility, and how the kids have been riding that day.

Typically we operate much like a car.  If I am at the rear I’ll signal a turn, call it up the chain, signal and take half the lane, have the kids move over and then we rest in the middle of the turning lane.  This is to avoid drafting of the cars coming the other direction.

Turning I’ll take what I consider the most dangerous edge of the turn, and try to get the kids to ride single file with me kind of riding parallel and placed right in between them.  I try to be the visible person.  Then there is a bit of jostling as we return to position.  Our mantra for crossing is this: cross and then turn.  In other words, get across the traffic to the farthest lane and then cross the on coming traffic.  It works out into a big arc.  Cars tend to like this because they can turn within our radius and move along their merry way.  If we can we try to be the first at a left turn and once the kids are on the go I’ll signal to the cars to turn within our arc.  This keeps them from getting annoyed at kids on a cycle and I think is good bike culture.

If traffic is really bad we’ll simply pull to the edge of the lane, dismount and walk across as pedestrians.  Again, we use the cross then turn method.  It works the best.  Once we get to the far corner we’ll remount and continue on the road.  Sometimes I’ll signal that we’re re-entering traffic if it is busy enough to warrant this.   I actually find that this method of turning annoys most drivers the most.  We’ll use it where there are 6 lanes of traffic or more.

Another method we use but that I don’t like and don’t endorse for adults is to use pedestrian only cross-walks.  Right by our house are two of these.   Our house is right on a main highway with really wide lanes.  Typically we have to turn left into our driveway to get home.  We first tried to get cross as a vehicle.  But because the road lanes are wide… we discovered that the transport trucks would just blow by us on the outer side of the lane.  This meant that 3 times I saw my daughter tipped into the on coming traffic.

Now I have them cross at the crosswalk which is 5 houses before our home.  They then salmon up the outside of the oncoming traffic lane.  I know that this is panic inducing to the oncoming traffic and they move to the opposite side of their lane.

If there are no pedestrians I have the kids ride the sidewalk but typically there are because this is a University student rich area.

So we salmon.  And… not once has my child been knocked off in front of another vehicle.

But my husband and I do not salmon if we are without the children.

Health of the Cyclist:

In the heat of the summer I find exhaustion and dehydration factors to seriously consider when talking about road safety.  A tired child will rub their head.  A dehydrated child will start to wander. They’ll be slow to respond and just plain dangerous to themselves.

We have actually all ridden while sick.  In fact we’ll ride sick to the doctor’s office and often feel better for doing that.  But there is something different from heat exhaustion.

In certain situations I will chain the bike up to something and have the child mount my rear rack and cycle them home.  I’ve done this once or twice.  Once that I can remember.  This is why I say water is your number one safety item.  A cell phone works too, but water on hand is gold.

Communication:

Last point I’ll mention today.  Clear communication is key.  Before we go and at every stop we discuss the next steps of our route.  We plan where we’ll be on the road, for example that we have to cross a lane to be ready for a turn.  We’ll check the road ahead for bumps, glass, etc.

We try to be clear about which route we take.  We will sometimes pull to the side and allow the cars to pass so that we can be in the place we choose on the road.

If turning we deliberately get the attention of the drivers.  We’ll try to hand signal our intentions.

If crossing traffic and its bright and sunny we talk about making sure that on coming traffic is stopped.

We’ll rehearse scary cycling mishaps and talk about how we could have handled the situation better.

When cycling past cars we yell ‘DOOR ZONE’.

Remind each other: “Don’t ride THROUGH the puddle!”

Lots of yelling, laughing, singing.  We communicate on our cycles a lot.  We encourage.  We warn.

Really, its the communication part of cycling that I love the most about cycling with the children!

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