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Bicycle Safety

Knowing the rules of bicycle safety can help your child avoid a serious injury. Here are some facts about bicycle injuries:

  • Children ages 5 to 14 have a higher rate of bicycle injuries than older riders.
  • Injuries to the face and head are the most severe injuries for bicyclists.
  • Children riding in their own neighborhood are just as likely to get hurt as older children who ride further distances.

If your child is learning to ride or already rides a bicycle, here are ways to help him stay safe.

Know the rules of the road

Children may not have the skills needed to ride on the street until age 10. Younger children can ride on bike paths or on sidewalks. Even after age 10, make sure that your child is following safety rules:

  • Don’t ride at dusk or at night.
  • Never carry another passenger on the bicycle.
  • Ride with two hands on the handlebars unless signaling a turn.
  • Ride in a single file and only in the same direction that traffic is going.
  • Always obey stoplights and stop signs.
  • Never assume that the driver of a car sees you.
  • Look behind you before you cross a traffic lane.
  • Watch out for gravel or rocks, tree branches, cars coming out of driveways or alleys, people opening car doors as you ride by, or people walking pets with long leashes.

Use safety gear

Get a bicycle helmet before your child takes his first bicycle ride. Make sure the helmet fits properly. Even a child riding in a bicycle carrier should wear a helmet. Your child should wear a helmet every time he gets onto a bicycle. You can do a lot to encourage your child to wear a helmet. Some ways include:

  • Always wear a helmet yourself when you are riding a bicycle and when you ride with your child.
  • Let your child pick out his own helmet.
  • Let your child decorate his helmet with stickers or permanent markers.
  • Praise your child for wearing the helmet.

Also teach your child to wear shoes when riding a bike (no bare feet or sandals). Your child should not wear loose clothing that could catch on chains or spokes. Your child should not wear headphones while riding.

Choose the right bicycle size and type

Children who try to ride bicycles that are too big for them are more likely to get injured. Never buy or allow the use of a bicycle that the child will "grow into."

Your child should be able to touch both feet on the ground comfortably when standing over the bicycle. The top bar of a road bicycle should be 1 to 2 inches below the crotch while the child is standing. The top bar of a mountain bike should be 3 to 4 inches below the crotch while the child is standing. The seat should be level front to back. Adjust the seat so that your child has a slight bend at the knee when his leg is fully extended. The handlebar height should be at the same level with the seat. Your child should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably while sitting in an upright position.

Children just learning to ride on streets should use a bike with foot brakes. Foot brakes require less coordination for safe use. Older children can use bicycles with hand brakes and gear shifts.

Maintain your bicycle

You and your child should regularly check the bicycle's brakes and tire pressure. If the bicycle has rapid release hubs, check the hubs before each ride. Repair damaged parts such as wheels, spokes, or handlebars before your child rides the bike again.

For more information, contact your local bicycle shop, police station, or:

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-04-20
Last reviewed: 2014-10-20
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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