Taking kids cycling

Cycling is sometimes perceived as a dangerous activity, which is often a big factor that discourages parents from taking their kids cycling, however, despite some fears about dangers of cycling, it is still a relatively safe activity. As far as shock to the body, bones, ligaments, and joints; cycling has less impact than football.

Age, development, ability

Nodding dog Paediatricians recommend children under one should not be carried on a bike. Babies learn to sit unaided at around nine months of age. Until this age, infants have not developed sufficient bone mass and muscle tone to enable them to sit unsupported with their backs straight. About half of the postnatal growth of the brain volume occurs during the first year of life, and attains about 75% of its adult size by the end of the second year making the head heavy in proportion to the rest of the body, add a helmet and this gives the head more weight. I have witnessed babies in a carrier on the back of a bike nodding like the toy dogs in the back shelves of cars, with the parents blissfully unaware that every bump, every vibration, and every lateral movement, jolts their child’s head. This repetitive movement puts strain on the neck and has a detrimental effect on the brain of the baby, shaking it around like a pea in a can. After eighteen months old, the neck development of some babies approaches the point where they can tolerate the weight of a helmet while awake, but a baby seated upright in a child carrier seat frequently goes to sleep due to the vibration. The advice here is the parent should stop and wait until the child is awake, though I doubt many parents would want to do this.

A child around five should be able to ride their own bike (hover over the image to see), with or without stabilisers. You should know your child and how far they can go, a child’s physical size and endurance vary enormously, some five year olds could pass as eight year olds, but are likely to have the same stamina as their class mates. This shouldn’t put the parent off, with lots of breaks, and at their own speed, it’s possible infant kids can ride up to 5 miles, but remember; they will need longer to recover than older children. Post ten year olds can ride greater distances, and by the age 16, most kids would have reached 80% growth, but their muscles will continue to develop. So dependent on the fitness of the parent, the kid is more likely to outlast you certainly in distance, but sleep is very important (especially in multi-tour days).

Suitable bike or carrier

More than a third of the injuries to children in baby carriers occur when the bicycle falls over while standing still. The carrier makes the bike unstable and top heavy when stopped, it’s best to lean against something when stopping and remember a stand on the bike is not suitable to support the bike with a carrier on. It’s clear by now I’m not a big fan of rear cycle carriers, especially on live roads. However, I am fan of cycle trailers. Trailers with low-mounted hitches are generally more stable than the ones that attach to the seatpost. Both types are expensive; choose one with a five point safety harness; Infants and children restrained by a lap belt (in either a carrier or trailer) have a greater chance of being projected over the belt because their centre of gravity is located above the belt. Also choose one with plenty of padding and an in-built roll cage. New they vary in price from around £70 to about £350, obviously second hand ones are cheaper. Then there’s towing or tag alongs (hover over the image to see a trailer then withdraw for a tag along), it’s not as simple as attaching a rope to you and your kids bike, there’s specific attachments. They come in two types; purpose made mini-bikes that attach to your seatpost, or the ones that attach to a full kids bike. I would suggest these tag alongs are not suitable for the highway.

Kids can have their own bikes, and there’s an abundance of ones to choose from. There are charts that match the age of kids to the bikes, but really, for the younger child it’s best if they just sit on it and see what feels comfy. To begin with the little one will feel more comfortable being able to sit on the saddle and place their feet on the floor. My first bike was given to me by an older brother, it was so big I had to sit on the cross bar to ride it. Don’t be tempted to get a big bike that they'll ‘grow into’, there’s enough second hand bikes around to allow your child to fit their bike at the specific height they are now.

Safety stuff

A full foam padded suit with a helmet and gloves are essential for chasing a cheese rolling down a ridiculously steep hill, but for cycling; the whole joy of cycling is being free to feel the wind rushing past. On a car free cycle path the biggest danger is hitting another cyclist; even so a helmet wouldn’t hurt, or would it? Theory’s on helmet safety are a double edge sword, evidence for the effectiveness of a helmet comes from the experiences of helmeted cyclists who have hit their heads in a crash (click here to read my own experience of a cycle helmet in a crash) and believe that the helmet saved them from injury. However, there is no evidence that cycle helmets on adults save lives or prevent serious injury at all, this astonishing statement is true. To elaborate on this, incorrectly sized or improper fitted helmets are more likely to have a negative outcome than positive. If you consider a cycle helmet is most effective if hit from a blunt force from above, however that force rarely happens in a crash, it comes from the side or from the front. A well fitted helmet slightly tilted forward is the best you’re going to get. I’ve seen kids with their helmet tilted right back or worn like a French beret or with the strap very loose, those are useless and dangerous, there’s probably less risk wearing a hanky on your head (unbelievably the image on the right comes from a government advice leaflet, hover over the image for a correctly fitted helmet). The front strap should be as vertical as possible, with the buckle under the chin on the back of the lower jaw against the throat. It should not be under the front of the jaw. If you try to move the helmet, it should only give a slight movement on the head. If it is easy to roll the helmet around the head, it is not tight enough. The helmet should sit level on the cyclist’s head with a finger width between the eyebrow and the helmet brim.

I can imagine the horror some parents feel when they hear their child say, ‘look mum, I can ride with no hands’, but this is a genuine skill needed for safety. Specifically, riding one handed is essential for looking behind. I’m not going in to the ‘how to do’ the skills, but there is an unconscious trait, making us veer to the side we are looking, this needs trained out to be able to ride straight while looking over your shoulder. Cycling on car free tracks is great, but sooner or later your child will ride on a live road. It’s important to get exposure to traffic and how it moves. Before I was a motorcyclist, and a car driver, I was a pedestrian, and then a cyclist; each has given me a diverse perspective as a road user, allowing me to predict dangerous situations. Cyclists sometimes put too much onus on the driver to be able to see them (compounded by having no lights at night, and dark clothing). That is a very naive and dangerous attitude, cars have blind spots caused by the pillars within the car, cars have blind spots on their mirrors, heavy goods vehicles, and buses have massive blind spots- if you’re in their blind spot, to the driver of that vehicle; you’re not there! This doesn’t give drivers a ‘it’s not my fault, I didn’t see you’ free get out of jail card, but it’s you who's going to have the worse day. All this paints a picture of doom and gloom, but don’t be dismayed, predicting drivers actions and riding defensively takes time to acquire, it’s something that can be taught at a young age, once you’ve got it; you’ll be a better road user (hover over the image to see).


Cycling, whether it’s a day to day activity, or an occasional adventure, is a great way to help keep you and the rest of the family healthy. There is no reason why anybody needs to be left at home, because it is now easier than ever for you to cycle with your kids, regardless of their age. There is a huge range of products available which are designed specifically for young families. If you don’t want to ride on roads, there are thousands of miles of former railway lines across the country open to cyclists. Trust your kids, and work with them to increase their responsibilities and range. There is a particular danger for 10-16 year old boys, they’re natural risk takers – believing they are immortal, but don’t be afraid to let them ride by themselves once they have shown that they are competent in traffic. Cycling doesn’t have to be restrictive, everybody is a winner.

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