by Fred Oswald, LCI #947

We must give our children the best information available.  This will make them safer and provide a lifelong source of healthy exercise.  The general concept can be summarized in two simple sentences:

      1.  A bike is not a toy, it is a child's first vehicle.
      2.  Drive your bike.

Need for Cycling Education

  • "Bike Safety" is usually taught by untrained "authority figures" (parents, teachers, police).
  • This training lacks a planned program.  They make it up as they go.
  • Much of what is taught is wrong (see below).  Some is dangerously wrong.
  • Most people ride dangerously because they were mis-taught.

Why Concentrate on Children

  • Children have fewer preconceptions about what they know.
  • Children are accustomed to being taught.
  • Many children depend on bikes for their own transportation.
  • Opportunities include schools, after-school programs, youth groups and community recreation.
  • In teaching the children, we can (and must) reach the parents.
  • Cycling is a lifelong activity that helps combat a sedentary lifestyle and obesity that starts in childhood.

Opportunities for Educational Programs

See the reference section below for materials for training volunteers and parents' hand-outs.

  • Bike Rodeos provide a "one shot" program.
    • Rodeo is only a start -- must not be the only educational activity.
    • This requires a few properly trained people to run program (try a cycling club).
    • Best benefit of rodeo is opportunity to teach the parents.  (Give them "Parent's Guide" below).
    • Beware of rodeo that degenerates into a trick riding contest.
  • BikeEd "Kids" Class.
    • These are classes taught by a certified "League Cycling Instructor" (see below).
    • Kids I is a presentation & optional 3-hour practice for kids & their parents.
    • Kids II is a Road I class tailored for children.
  • "Bike Club" after school
    • This requires a properly trained advisor who enjoys cycling.
    • Program combines skills practice with recreational rides.
    • Activities must be fun as well as properly supervised.
    • Parents must be taught enough so they understand the program.
  • Scout programs
    • Cub Scout parents should be shown A Kids Eye View video & given "Parent's Guide" (see below).
    • Boy Scout cycling merit badge book is good source.
    • Scouts can use "Bike Quiz" as activity.  (Use Street Smarts for reference.)
  • Training the teachers.
    • Arrange a BikeEd adult course for leaders.
    • Send a few leaders to a BikeEd instructor workshop.
    • Provide good reading materials (see below) for leaders.
    • Ask for help from your local cycling club.

Avoid Repeating BAD ADVICE!

"It's not what he doesn't know that troubles me.  It's what he knows for sure that just ain't so."
--- Will Rogers

A major problem with traditional "bike safety" programs is that the people conducting the effort have little cycling experience and no training.  They are not properly informed about the subject.  Indeed, they are usually misinformed..  As a result, they repeat bad safety advice because it "sounds good."  See below for several examples of typical bad advice with a brief explanation for why it is wrong.

Bad Advice

Why the Advice Is Wrong

"The roads are too dangerous for bikes." While safety can always be improved, a knowledgeable cyclist on the road is actually pretty safe.  The alternatives (sidewalks, multi-purpose paths or separate bike lanes) are significantly more dangerous.  The roads are safe because the "rules of the road" make traffic orderly and predictable.  The only rule of the road for sidewalks and paths is that there are no rules.
"Always ride on the sidewalk" Sidewalk cycling at moderate speed has about double the collision risk as the adjacent road.  This risk goes up with speed.  Drivers do not look for fast traffic on the sidewalk.  Sidewalk cycling is moderately safe only at walking speed.
"You could be dead right." You are more likely to be "dead-wrong".  This is often part of a fear campaign.  We don't teach swimming that way.  When you have the right of way, use it.  You are much better off riding predictably and acting like you know what you are doing.  Of course, defensive driving is always wise -- plan an escape route, just in case.
"Stay out of the way of cars." There are situations where it is safer to obviously be in the way.  For example, if the travel lane is not wide enough to share with passing traffic, move LEFT so following drivers are not tempted to "squeeze by".  At intersections and driveways, cyclists who try to stay out of the way by riding on sidewalks may "appear out of nowhere" and be hit.  Experienced cyclists, who stay in the travel lane, are easily seen and avoided.
"Ride as far right as possible" This is a misinterpretation of the law that actually says ride "as near to the right side as practicable" (practice+able).  There are several situations where "hugging the curb" is not safe.  These include where the right lane is not wide enough to share with a passing vehicle and if there are hazards at the edge of the road, or where other drivers can see you better if you move left.  Always maintain a "safety zone" to your right.
"Ride as though other drivers can't see you." It is usually much better to make sure other drivers CAN see you.  This means, use lights at night, wear bright clothes in daytime and ride in or near the travel lane where other drivers are looking for traffic.
"Always signal before turning." Signal when you can but not if you risk losing control of your bike.  It is much more important to YIELD to any traffic that has the right of way.
"Always STOP at stop signs." That's what the sign says.  The problem is this ignores the most important function of a stop sign.  It is much more important to YIELD to any traffic that has the right of way.  Stopping complies with only part of the law.
"Drivers are crazy." This is often part of a fear campaign.  Actually, U.S. drivers are pretty good.  Almost everyone obeys the most important rules of the road.  This makes travel fairly safe and efficient.
Helmets provide "courage for your head." This is an irresponsible advertising slogan that implies a helmet makes dangerous riding OK.  It is much better to prevent a crash than just to survive one.  A helmet is your last line of defense.  Good to have one, but far from the most important aspect of safety on a bike.


 

Resources & Materials (both adult - reference & kids or parents info.)

  • Bicycling Street Smarts by John Allen (commercial edition, 46 page booklet).  This is a good concise reference for proper cycling technique.
  • Ohio Bicycling Street Smarts, issued by Ohio Dept. of Public Safety. Available at some city halls, license bureaus, etc. or call ODOT, 614-644-7095.  Other states that have a similar "bicycle driver's manual" include Pennsylvania and Florida.
  • Effective Cycling, by John Forester, published by MIT Press, 1993 a terrific reference (but difficult for beginners).
  • Effective Cycling Video (for adult training) $25 from LAB, 202 822-1333 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  • A Kid's Eye View bicycle safety video for parents & kids, $10 from LAB, 202 822-1333 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  • "BikeEd" courses: Road-I/II, Kid's, etc. See bikeleague.org/programs/education/index.php for instructors & descriptions.  Consult a local BikeEd instructor for your program.
  • Bicycle Driving Seminar by the author.
  • North Carolina Coalition for Bicycle Driving, an excellent summary of "vehicular cycling" technique.
  • Effective Cycling Training.  Describes proper training for cyclists.  Courses for age 8 to adult.
  • Bike Safety for Kids - A Parent's Guide
  • Bicycle Rodeos by John Andersen.  How to get the most out of a rodeo.
  • Bike Quiz was developed for a Scout group.  The questions are not easy!  Street Smarts or similar source of information should be provided.  1/2 page, 2-side flyer plus 1/2 pg answer sheet, (pdf file).

For comments or questions, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
The author is a certified "League Cycling Instructor, and a Professional Engineer in Ohio.
Rev. 1/27/08.

© Copyright 2004-2008 Fred Oswald.  Material may be copied with attribution.