Nine tips for cycling to school safely
Cycling is not just a fun form of exercise that helps kids become more confident and independent – it can also be a brilliant way of getting to school provided you put in a little bit of preparation.
Whether you're the child or the parent, riding to school won't come without its challenges. As an adult, you'll find all sorts of questions going through your mind. What is the safest route? What are the potential hazards? Are our bikes fit for the road? How do I prepare my child for riding to school? As safety is your priority when it comes to your kids, we've put together some top tips to put your mind at ease.
1. Revise the traffic regulations for cyclists in your country
Please bear in mind that the age at which children are allowed to ride their bikes on the road without adult supervision varies from country to country – as does the list of equipment that your bikes may need to be fitted with. In Austria, for example, bike bells are mandatory, and children have to be 12 (or 9 if they've passed their bike test) before they can ride unaccompanied on a road or bike path.
Make sure you check the current regulations in your country so that your child and their bike meet the legal requirements. To get you started, this video introduces the most important rules and regulations.
2. What's the best way to school?
The question of whether your child will ride to school or not largely depends on where you live; the first thing you'll need to consider is the route from your home to the school gate as well as your local surroundings.
Don't automatically assume that the shortest route is the safest. You may find that your child gets a bit overwhelmed by busy main roads and hills to start with. We would recommend going for a quieter route with as few junctions and crossings as possible. It is well worth taking a slight detour if it will make the school run safer and more relaxed. If busy crossings and junctions are unavoidable, instruct your child to get off their bike and push it over the pedestrian crossings.
Lots of councils and schools work on ways to make the journey to school safer. This includes generating designated safe routes by mapping out the area around a school and highlighting potential hazards.
- UK: Find safe walking or cycling routes to your child's school
- Germany: bast School route planning
- Austria: School route mapping
- Switzerland: School+Velo
3. Reducing car use around schools
The area immediately outside a school needs to be made as safe as possible. As a parent, you have the right to urge the school or local council to take precautionary measures to keep kids safe when they are cycling (or walking) to school. For example, traffic-calming measures near schools can have a huge impact on safety. And every parent has the power to make schools a safer environment. After all, if more children travel to school on foot or on a bike or scooter, the number of cars around the school will drop drastically and that can only make the school run safer. “Unfortunately, lots of parents still drop their kids off at school in the car without realising that’s often the worst thing they can do,” says traffic expert Werner Palfinger from pro-cycling organisation Radlobby Klosterneuburg. “More needs to be done to spread the word that cars ultimately put children in more danger around schools.”
4. Performing safety checks and keeping bikes in perfect working order
The golden rule of cycling also applies to the school run: your child's bike must always be in perfect working order. In this video tutorial, our mechanic Tim outlines how to take proper care of your child's bike.
The best way to make sure your child's bike is safe for them to ride is to check it over every so often and take it for regular services. That way, you'll be able to confirm in no time that all the components are working perfectly and the bike is good to go.
Checking screws, brakes and air
5. Go on a practice school run
Your child needs to be familiar with the most important road signs they'll see on their way to school, such as stop and give way. Talk about what each sign means. As a general rule, you should prepare your child for the challenges of cycling on the road from a young age and allow them to build up experience as soon as possible. They need to be able to identify potential hazards – like hidden exits, car doors opening and kerbs – and know how to respond. Read >>this blog post for more on spotting potential hazards and considering traffic from a child's point of view.
Keep practising the journey to and from school with your child until they are confident they can tackle it on their own. Picture the route through your child's eyes, remembering that their view will be more restricted than yours because they are lower on their bike. Stick as close as possible to your child to start with, so you are never too far away to tell them what to do. It's also really important that you allow enough time, so your child doesn't feel stressed or under pressure.
"When children are riding a bike on the road, there's a lot going on. They need to be able to process everything going on around them, distinguish between left and right and get to grips with the route. That's all on top of being able to ride their bike safely in the first place. And don't forget that children often get distracted too. That's why it's so important to help your child practice what to do in different scenarios over and over again until they can respond instinctively," says specialist Palfinger from Radlobby. "It all depends on their age, of course. Parents of little children need to be by their side at all times but will find that their children can manage the journey to school on their own once they've left primary school – provided they've had all the relevant practice and preparation."
6. Tune up your child's bike skills
Work with your child in a safe space to practice what they need to do in certain situations. When riding on the road, it is crucial that your child has mastered the following:
- Precise braking so that their bike comes to a stop before obstacles, crossings and other hazards
- Giving clear hand signals when turning left and right
- Communicating with other road users by making eye contact
- Looking over their shoulder before turning (to check that no vehicles are overtaking)
- Giving way and crossing open junctions – ideally pushing rather than riding their bike over
Fun little games to practice riding technique can be a great way of teaching your child how to react in specific situations on their bike. If you're in need of a little inspiration, check out our list of fun drills here.
7. Bike helmets and equipment
Your child needs a helmet that fits them perfectly before they can go anywhere on their bike. Helmets are a legal requirement in many countries, including Austria, where kids have to wear one up to the age of 12. >>Not sure which size helmet to order for your child? This video should help you with that.
As kids are smaller than adults, they are also much lower down while riding their bikes. Add in the fact that the start of the school year coincides with the arrival of shorter days and longer nights, so it should come as no surprise that you need to make sure your child is as visible as possible.
- Bright and reflective clothing is key. Why not give our FLARE Reflective Vest a go for added visibility?
- In low-light conditions, it can be a good idea to top up the legally required bike lights with safety reflectors or reflective stickers like our GLAM Reflective Stickers on your child's helmet, school bag and clothes.
- In many countries, bikes legally have to be fitted with a bell, which can provide your child with an easy way of drawing attention to themselves if needed.
7. Carrying school bags safely
If your child is going to be riding their bike to school a lot, a bike basket or rack with straps for securing bags could be a worthwhile investment. The woom NOW, our innovative urban lifestyle bike, is purpose-designed with an integrated front rack and straps, meaning kids can safely carry their school bags, skateboards and the like; they simply stash their cargo on the rack and hook the straps over for security.
Depending on other factors like muscle power, motor skills and sense of balance, the extra weight of a school bag worn on your child's back could make it more difficult to ride their bike. However, many schoolkids will insist on riding with their bag on their back. Make sure they do so safely by following our tips:
- Practice: Your child should practise turning and braking whilst carrying a full school bag on a dry run. Can they steer properly and still keep their balance?
- Shoulder straps: Your child should always carry their bag on both shoulders and tighten the straps to stop it swinging about, which could put them off balance. The ideal school bag would also have chest and waist straps to keep it even more secure.
- Weight distribution: Make sure your child packs their school bag properly. Heavy items like books need to be at the back.
- Weight: Encourage your child to only pack things they really need. Can they leave laptops or heavy books at school overnight?
Important: Anything attached to the bike or rider needs to be secure. There should be no chance of any straps getting caught in the spokes – the same goes for long hair, scarves and shoelaces.
9: No-gos on the school run
We're not saying that your child's bike ride to school can't be fun, but there are certain things they need to steer clear of. Here's a list of no-gos that your child should follow whenever they're cycling on the road:
- Loud music: In some countries there's no law against listening to music through headphones when cycling and yet doing so will no doubt distract your child and make them less aware of what's going on around them. If they turn the volume up loud, they may not be able to hear cars or emergency vehicles on the road. This could put them (and others) in danger and ultimately mean that they are not able to follow the rules of the road to the letter.
- Mobile phones: Cars and bikes are no place for mobile phones. If your child tries to use theirs whilst cycling, they will be distracted and may not respond to a hazard on the road quickly enough. In Austria, your child will have to pay a fine if they're caught using a mobile phone at the same time as riding a bike.
- Bikes left unlocked: Leaving a bike unlocked at school is asking for trouble. Your child should always use a good-quality lock to keep their bike safe – even if they are just popping into the shop on the way to school. Looking for a decent bike lock? Take a look at our LOKKI Bike Lock, which is made of hardened steel and provides levle 8 security protection.
- Careless cycling: Cyclists need to respect other cyclists on the road. It's about keeping a distance from other riders, not jostling for space or overtaking in a hurry.
- Cycling side by side: We know that kids always have an awful lot to chat about. That's why you often see two young cyclists riding next to each other on their way to or from school. It's important to note, however, that the rules on this vary by country. In some countries, cyclists may only ride side by side if they are not obstructing traffic. In others, riding side by side is only permitted on bike paths, designated bicycle streets, residential streets or in shared spaces.