Kids and cycling - is it safe?

When do you let your kids cycle on their own? My 13 yr old has just started cycling around to her friends and I want to encourage it - independence, exercise etc. Trouble is, we live in a village and those quiet country lanes are far from ideal for cycling on (God knows I know this from running along them most days) from a traffic point of view.Then there's the statistically unlikely but potential worry about sex attacks. Listened to Milly Dowling'sparents launching their new charity on the radio yesterday and felt so sad for them and torn about wanting to give opportunities for independence to my kids and protecting them.
Started 'safety conversation' but I can tell she doesn't really want to hear me/take it in. We've cycled a lot together so I do trust she has reasonable traffic judgement but...Any ideas? When do you let your kids out on their bikes on their own?


  • I seem to recall that I started cycling to school at age 9 - this was in a suburb, and the one major road was right next to the school, so I always crossed it with the pedestrians.

    I know that attacks are worrying, but the statistics are incredibly low - for incidents involving strangers, that is. And it seems logical that a child on a bike is much less of a target than a child who is walking. Just make sure she wears a helmet, and perhaps ask her to ring you when she arrives at her friends' houses?
  • I am sorry LL, while I have every sympathy with what you are saying and your concerns, you have to let children out of your sight at some point.

    The chances of something happening are so remote....

    At the age of 12 I was having to get two buses to school, which was over 1.5hrs travel each way.

    I even remember going to my granmother's with my bike, first a 3 hour train trip and then cycling 10 miles on main roads. But as H suggests I had to phone to say I was there safely. That was about the same age.
  • Not wishing to worry you, but I shall tell you this anyway :(

    A few years ago, I had gone out for a ride on my bike on a nice warm sunny day just to get some exercise really. I was cycling along, without a care in the world, when a dog from a farm started chasing me down the road. I was concentrating on removing the dog from my left foot and not where I was going. I ended up going onto the other side of the road and I collided with an oncoming car,head on. Two things saved me from very serious injury:

    1) The car driver could see what was happening and was at a virutal stop when we hit.
    2) I was wearing a helmet which split in two when my head went through the windscreen.

    My bike needed a new front wheel. My injuries were a twisted knee and a few small cuts to my face and arm.

    The car needed a new headlight, radiator grill, radiator, bonnet, and windscreen.

    So to sum up.
    I would not let any child (or adult for that matter) on a bike, on a road, without a helmet. The sex attack scenario is a major worry, but unlikely. Make sure they are never out alone and carry a personal attack alarm and be ready and able to use it.
  • Laura, I can understand your worries, and probably your children will be straining at the leash to go further afield as they get older. Set down ground rulesi.e. that they must ring when they have arrived wherever they are going, and a quick call when they are setting off back home, if on a bike, yes a helmet is a must, and if they have already been out with you they should have some road sense. My own children had a certain amount of freedom in that they were allowed to go to most of the parties, discos whatever, but I would take them and pick them up, until they were around 16/17, they didn't always like it, but they were the rules, and my youngest daughter who is 27 and still at home has to abide by some of those rules even now. And they have turned out to be not too bad adults.
  • Laura,
    I agree its a real quandary but I think 13 is about right to start. Its one of those "rights of passage" things and they'll be coming thick and fast for the next few years. Trust me, I know whereof I speak!

    A helmet is an absolute necessity but I guess you knew that already. I also think a moble phone would be a good idea. I know they get a lot of bad press but I know we feel just that bit safer knowing she can call us if she has a puncture or anything. Obviously they have litle practical use if anything really serious happens but its still nice to know you can get in touch if you need (and vice-versa).

    I take it since you also cycle you already have a bike rack for the car (assuming, of course you have a car). If not, they're a great investment. we used to go to the lakes and all sorts. In fact until I started running I used to do a lot of cycling and reading this thread has made me want to get the old bike again. It also means you can go and collect them if they go too far or have some minor bump or graze.

    Our Amy used to go on the trains a lot.
    The Rail service generally seems bike-friendly (which surprised me) so when she's a bit older your daughter could maybe get a train to some where a bit more bike friendly. Canals are also excellent for cyclists.

    Finally, I think there's nothing sadder than a kid of that age who wants to do nothing more than stay at home playing with computer games (I sound like an old git dont I?). If your daughter wants to get out and get some fresh air in her lungs i reckon you should do everything you can to encourage her. Just make it as safe as you can. Life's never risk-free but you can minimize risk.

    Our Amy has now discovered boys (she's 17) so the bike is now gathering dust in the garage along with tha ab roller and excercise bike. They're not kids long (God I DO sound like an old git)

    Now where did I put that pump?
  • Laura - I'm in the same quandry. MiniSS is 8 and a 1/2 - and I went out on a bike ride with her today. No way is she safe to go on her own (all her school friends do) - we live in rural area and the cars go along these lanes at >60mph - on the wrong side of the road - it is really dangerous.

    I hated today's ride - the most dangerous time for her is when she looks over her shoulder - and the bike drifts out into the road - that even happens to me - so I guess it's a common problem.

    I've a friend who's broken his neck twice in bike accidents - when car doors were opened by the drivers without looking to see if there was a bike passing by.

    And someone at a Local Authority near here is now strapped to a back board - hoping he'll be able to walk again - having had a car come out of a side turning without looking for cyclists on the main road.

    We'll be getting an Alsation in a year or so - cos I guess I'm going to have to let her start walking out on her own - but I'm petrified about it - especially as we live next door to a really twisted character who's driven his landrover at me deliberatley when I've been out running.

    It's not as safe as it was when we were kids - I can remember then my parents getting really excited when they did their first ever 60 mph on a motorway - now people do it on country lanes all the time.

    Growing up isn't easy - but neither is being a parent!
  • I was always encouraged to cycle by my dad, an avid cycle commuter, and he managed to drum into me from an early age the importance of always wearing a helmet, advice which I still follow. I suppose I was about 13 when I began to ride to school (15km each way, too!), but this was in bike friendly Canberra, along bike paths a lot of the way.

    I would say that a kid is ready when they are traffic aware, and realise that they are as much a road user as a car driver. You can't let them take it for granted that drivers will see them, etc, so it's usually a good idea to err on the side of being ultra cautious and conspicious.

    I remember at primary school we spent a whole day at a cyclist education centre run by the police. Basically the entire class was bussed out to this place and had to cycle around this mini track while obeying roundabouts, stop signs, lights and give ways. Of paramount importance was teaching the much neglected skill of _indicating_ before turning! I don't know if you have something similar here, but I can remember it being a fun and realistic way to learn.
  • Laura - I've made it a rule that my kids can't go out on the roads until they've done the cycle proficiency test (usually organised by your local council, and you have to be at least 11). It can be quite hard to find a course sometimes, but I've found having this inflexible rule quite helpful!

    Having said that, even after doing the course it doesn't guarantee that they'll be sensible or safe, so I still limit which roads they can go on.

    I wonder if our parents worried about giving us freedom in the way that we now worry about our kids? But children need freedom to grow, and if they never face any risks they don't learn how to assess them or how to respond to them.
  • Thanks for telling me what you've done with your kids, it's helped me think through the ground rules. I always had great ideas about how I would parent teenagers, of course the reality is completely different! Just had the conversation with some friends about how much more protective we are than our parents - like Swiss Bobby I was out and about on my bike from age 9 (and walking to school etc when I was 7) but I grew up in the suburbs of Stockholm where the roads were much more cycle friendly even in the '70's. That didn't stop me falling off and getting concussion 'cause I wasn't wearing a helmet!

    Yes, we have the helmet rule and I have made her promise always to wear it; she has a 'phone (or should that be a 'texter'??) of her own and she did the cycling proficiency at primary school. It's not her traffic sense I'm concerned about, but those boys in Astras who also around here are driving farm machinery around the lanes from an early age with less care than they should. Sorry to generalise but unfortunately the stereo types of boy racers are too true around here at least.

    I actually think traffic is a worse problem in rural areas as in cities/suburbs the density of traffic/population makes cycle lanes, speed limits etc. a higher priority.
    Also the timing is just sensitive because I felt really affected by Milly Dowling's death, being the same age as my elder daughter and, don't know if you remember the video footage of her at home after she first went missing, she had that confident, slightly challenging, nothing-can-hurt-me look and body language that's typical of 13 year olds and heartbreaking to see in that context.
  • LL,

    I think you are right, I grew up in a rural community and I think what you say is right about the other road users. But lets put it into context. The chances of an accident are very small.

    The other bit that makes all my friends laugh is that when I take a holiday and go and stay at my mothers, if I go out for the evening. I have to wake her up when I get home and tell her that I am back.

    I am now 34, but it is nice to know that mum cares.
  • Oh Laura, it's such a dilemma isn't it. 'Small (my name for my daughter, which I'll have to give up one day because she's started responding, "Yes, Big?")' is also 13. Since changing schools in September she gets herself there and back on the train. One day she didn't appear at the station after school. I was in pieces. Couldn't get her on her mobile, and the school office was shut. I just had to wait. By the time she arrived (an hour late) I was a wreck, grabbed her, babbled incoherently and wept all over her (good job her friends weren't there!). It turned out she'd had choir practice (which she HAD told me about) but I'd forgotten!

    But I still don't let her go out on her bike without an older friend......... and a helmet............. and her mobile. But then we have a rapist on the loose here (police confirmed), so I'm a bit paranoid at present.

    And I'm sure this ramble has helped you not one iota! Sorry!
  • Ok - now for a different point of view... I used to travel home from school by bus - of which there were 2 that I could catch after a 1/2 hr walk - so I'd get home either at 5:40 or 6:40, or have to get a lift/taxi!

    I wasn't expected to phone home unless I'd actually missed the last bus - after all, what difference would it make?

    The only rules I had about cycling places were to not cycle in the dark - but that meant I ended up finishing a journey with no lights when I really ought to have had them sometimes!

    Maybe the best tip wrt. trafic is to make sure your daughter knows that she's responsable for avoiding it! Far too many cyclists believe that having right-of-way will keep them alive!
  • My kids are all boys, and it has therefore been easier for me. We didn't have a car, and therefore it was also easier for me. We live in a city, which is therefore, actually, easier.

    But I believe it has been crucial that they have had their freedom to get about.

    One small matter about helmets: I have used a bike for 30 years as principle transport. I have fallen off three times. Only once every ten years. Hardly seems worth the helmet does it?

    But one of those times, in no traffic, on a quiet road, turning right, the wheels simply slipped out from under me and deposited me on my head.

    Helmet in three pieces, me a little wobbly for two days, and that was all.

    Story had I not been wearing helmet? I shudder to think.

    Hate to see kids cycling with helmet dangling from their handlebars. But I know many of these kids, and know that their parents never bother with a helmet, so what can they expect?

    Good luck, be brave. Marj
  • understand the dilemma

    female teenager wouldn't be seen dead on a bike (not cool) and never has been, bit older than yours LL.

    Male teenager always on it, to school, jumps etc. Rule = helmet but last night appeared at 17.00 with sore head (don't ask how) after hitting tarmac (left the helmet behind).

    risk = life = learning.

    No easy answers - each child needs to be judged on merit and parents best placed to do that.

    Good Luck
  • No, I wasn't drunk when the wheels slipped out, it was black ice.
  • I think the helmet rule should be the only hard and fast one, and although I was told to wear it as I began to cycle, I now pick it up automatically as part of my kit, and get a new one every other year. Sure, they may look dorky to kids nowadays, but I'm sure it's dorkier to be a) dead or b) a drooling wreck after massive head injury.

    Yes, the helmet-as-handlebar-decoration is a cringe worthy sight (I'm always reminded by Hamlet's words to Osric: "Pray put thy bonnet to its proper use, 'tis for thy head").

    The skid lid is compulsory back in Oz, and enforced by law, which I think is a good idea, but it is just as important to have it fit properly than wear it in the first place.
  • Agree with the sentiments you've all expressed. Marj, if, as I think you live in Cambridge, it's practically against the law NOT to have a bike, isn't it?! (used to live down your neck of the woods). And I certainly believe in taking risks and developing your own judgement.
    Helmet, yes obviously that's a sensible precaution but it isn't the be all and end all of cycling safety.
    I looked after myself from a young age, and had virtually left home when I was 15 so it's difficult to know what the right balance of freedom/protection should be in our circumstances which are totally different.
    Thanks for your thoughts - and Sassie, it does help to read your story and know we all have the same vulnerability where our kids are concerned.
  • My daughter is almost 13 and my son is 11. We live in a village and I agree entirely with the views about drivers - mostly townies taking a short cut or grotty youths in their novas.

    The only sfae option would be to stay at home and vegetate - not an option really is it?

    I've just asked my son about this, and his words of wisdom were "keep on the left watch put for cars and tractors and be ready to get into the hedge" (just the same as runners really.

    I would add the obvious - be visible and wear a helmet. Some kinds of helmet are apparently cool, but regardless, they really should be worn. My daughter certainly knows this after wrecking her helmet hitting a pavement ( we don't have many of those around here).

    The risk of attack is really remote, and the kids always seem to cycle in groups of 3+ - it seems like hard work cycling on your own.
  • Oh yes - and oil the chain, not the brakes (don't ask!)
  • I cycled all over the place after about the age of 12, without a helmet, but in small town America where the roads were twice the size they are here. Bought a helmut when in university (in Chicago) after working with a lady who was very pushy about it. About a month later I was hit straight on by a lady pulling out of a petrol station. I flew over the top of the handle bars on to the road, but only suffered minor scrapes. My helmut suffered a major scrape down the front of it and I'm really glad that wasn't my head!

    Not to scary you, but besides the evil serial rapist that has twice attacked girls on bikes in the area, a 28 year old woman cyclist was just killed recently. You're never to old to be vigilant.
  • I've known several people who are cyclists who have had accidents that could have been more serious BUT FOR THEIR HELMETS, so please insist on them wearing them - and have them fitted correctly. So many kids nowaways (and adults)push the helmets to the back of their heads, leaving most of their brow exposed.
    Hubby has had two serious accidents in about 18 years of cycling - both would have been bad if not for the helmet (one was black ice similar to Stickless, the other was a car that tried to turn left through him).
    As for the age to start? When they are ready and can do a cycle test that you set them. My dad (OK< it was years ago) set my sister and i a test. We had to mend a puncture, put a chain back on, demonstrate an emergency stop when he jumped out in front of us and follow a convoluted course he drew on the road with chalks (we lived in a cul-de-sac). It was such fun that most of the kids in the area gathered in our driveway to participate. We also all did the cycle proficiency test run by ROSPA at school.
  • Laura,
    WE do cycling proficiency with our Yr 6s in the summer, and Mini Barkels is 10 now, and wants to be out on her own.
    It's a question of me acclimatising to her wanting independence. We started with allowing her to go round the block, then of to her mates house that didn't need a road crossing, then a little further and so on. Everytime she's out of sight I'm agitated, but sheseems ok.
    Yo can't account fot the nutters in life, but you can't wrap 'em up in cotton wool either.
    I bought ther a watch and taught her how to use it, and she knows if she's late she's had it.
    Santa may bring a moblie phone so I can nag from afar!!!!!
  • I've been cycling seriously for over 20 years now, and worn a hard shell helmet for about 12 of those.

    I must have crashed on the road about half a dozen times (mainly ice and silly things - nothing serious), and loads more when I used to race Mountain bikes. On none of the on road occasions has my head ever hit the ground - but I still wear the helmet.

    Can't understand parents going for rides with kids, and making Jr. wear the crash hat whilst they wobble away without one.

    Take your kiddies down to the forest and get them to ride some trails round there - that should bring their bike handling skills on a treat, so they won't be quite as wobbly ?
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