With the longer days of spring and summer, nothing beats a sunny bike ride, with the wind in your hair, the open road ahead and kids humming along behind you. Tons of cities are making it easier for families to tool around town, with designated bike lanes, bike-share programs and fun community events.
You won’t want to miss the Beach Streets Toyota Grand Prix View on Tuesday, March 28, the Garden Grove Open Streets festival on Saturday, April 1, or the Beach Streets University event Saturday, April 29 in Long Beach, when streets will be closed off just for bikers, walkers, skaters and strollers. Watch the Kidsguide Calendar for even more family biking events.
But before you hit the road, start with these six biking basics.
1. Choose a Bike
Kids’ bikes are sized according to the wheel diameter, from 12″ to 24″.
Some parents choose a bike their kids will “grow into.” Bad idea! When they’re riding a too-big bike, kids are more likely to lose control (and their confidence!). Your little one should be able to stand over the top bar with both feet flat on the ground.
Brand-new riders (around age 3) can build up their confidence and their leg muscles with training wheels, but try taking them off as soon as they seem ready to ride (usually around ages 4-8).
2. Protect Their Melons
Even more important is the helmet! ER doctors know that even a simple fall can cause life-altering brain injuries. That’s why all California kids under 18 are required to wear a helmet when they’re riding a bike, scooter, skateboard or inline skates. (And yes, that means with the strap connected under the chin!)
Have your little one try on a few at the store, and look for a snug fit. Make sure they wear their helmets according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. Track Your Wheels
The California Vehicle Code lets cities choose whether to run a bike licensing program. (Los Angeles and Long Beach do!) Call City Hall to see if your town participates.
Either way, police say you can “self register” your bike by writing down the serial number, make, model, color and any other unique features that you would need provide for a theft report. Stash the information, along with sales receipts, in a safe spot. And always lock up your bike!
4. Teach Them to Ride
When your little one is ready for a spin, head to the wide-open blacktop at your neighborhood school so he can wobble without worries. Try these tricks from REI for teaching your kid to ride, or register for the store’s How to Ride a Bike class for kids ages 4-11.
5. Know the Safety Rules
Once he’s up on two wheels, take some time to go over the rules of the road before you head out onto the streets. In general, bicyclists should wear a helmet, ride with traffic, be visible and alert, and communicate with nearby pedestrians and motorists.
Find the full list of Safety Tips for Bicyclists and Motorists at the California DMV website.
California motorists are also required to leave a 3-foot buffer zone when passing bicyclists. But let your little ones know they should always watch out for cars.
6. Hit the Road
Until they’re at least 10, kids don’t have the decision-making skills to ride on their own. Family bike rides — and open streets events — are a great way to practice!
Strap on your helmets, wear something bright, pack water and snacks and double-check your brakes and tires.
Choose a flat, paved path, preferably away from traffic, with a nice rest stop that’s a mile or two out. (An ice cream or smoothie shop might give your new rider a little motivation.)