Article: Raising a future cyclist

Tour D'Ottawa: Raising a future cyclist

By Jason Haug, Program and Project Management Officer, Ottawa Public Health 

Whether it is a tricycle or a real big-kid bicycle, spring and summer are the months to get out on your wheels. Cycling is a great way to see your neighbourhood, to get from place to place, or to get some good old-fashioned physical activity.

What is a safe age for a child a start cycling?

Your child can get started with a tricycle at age 3. Before this age, most children have not developed the motor skills they need to use a tricycle. Use age-rated toys instead. Remember to start good behaviours early and have your child wear a helmet. Check out the Indoor Safety Page for Babies and Toddlers to learn more. 

Children are faced with certain challenges that can affect their safety on busy streets. They are less visible to drivers because of their height, and they tend to be more trusting that drivers can see them or will stop for them. From a development point of view, children have trouble gauging distance and speed, and their peripheral vision is not fully developed. 

It is usually not recommended for children under the age of 10 to ride a bike on busy streets, but this can vary based on skill level. Make sure your child is always accompanied by a parent or guardian when learning to cycle. Taking them to places with little to no distractions and minimal traffic is ideal. You want your child to be able to focus on your words and direction in a safe and controlled environment. Some suggestions include multi-use pathways, parks, or grassy areas (that will cushion their inevitable falls). The best way to socialize biking is the family way. Model to your child what you want them to do. This includes everything from wearing a helmet, to signaling, to having an enthusiastic attitude. Small trips are great opportunities to use your bike instead of your car - such as to school, grocery stores or the park.

What skills does my child need to know and where can they get trained?

It is not intuitive to think of a training course to ride a bicycle, as many of us were just taught by a parent or older siblings. Cyclists share the road with other vehicles. This makes skills (how to properly signal, how to properly fit a helmet, how to use a bell, and knowing how to cross an intersection) an important part of safety. The City of Ottawa offers a variety of short and affordable cycling programs variety of short and affordable cycling programs that can help anyone improve their skills. The Ministry of Transportation also has a great guide that has all of the basics of biking. Their Young Cyclist Guide is available free online. 

What safety equipment does my child need to start cycling?

The most vital piece of safety equipment is the bicycle helmet. In Ontario, all cyclists under the age of 18 years MUST wear a bicycle helmet. Learn how to choose and fit a bicycle helmet by visiting our Child Safety page

Looking for a way to help convince your child to wear a helmet?

In 2012, Ottawa Public Health launched a new social media campaign aimed at youth, "Adopt a Helmet," to increase helmet use in Ottawa. The "Adopt a Helmet" campaign takes an innovative approach to promoting the use of these life-saving safety devices by portraying helmets as if they were pets available for adoption.

Cyclists are not as loud or as visible as cars, which can be a challenge. Teach your child to make eye contact with drivers when they are crossing the street - either on foot or on bicycle. Have your child wear bright colours and clothing with reflective strips when possible to increase their visibility. The Highway Traffic Act states that all cyclists must have the following safety equipment to increase your chance of being safe and being seen:

  • A bell or horn in good working order
  • At least one braking system on the rear wheel capable of skidding that wheel on dry, level pavement
  • A white front light (visible from a distance of at least 150 metres)
  • A red rear light or red rear reflector
  • Two strips of white reflective tape on front forks (each strip to be 125mm by 25mm)
  • Two strips of red reflective tape on rear forks

Quick money saving tip: Don't buy a bike your child will grow into. Consider buying one second hand, as children grow quickly. Just make sure your child's feet can touch the ground when sitting on the bike seat. If uncertain, make sure it is inspected by a bike mechanic before taking it out. 

children running in a field You may also be interested in our Active and Safe page

Do you have more questions?

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