Riding skills

An emergency stop is definitely up there on the list of more important riding skills that your kid should know. Have them practice slamming on their brakes suddenly so that they understand how much force they have to apply to get their bike to stop on a dime. If their bike has rim brakes (the kind that you need to pull the lever on the handlebars to engage), have them practice applying force to the front and back brakes evenly. They can also practice moving their bodies forward off the seat so that they can easily put both feet on the ground. You can also have a conversation with your kid about what kind of situations they might have to use their newfound emergency braking skills (pretty much anytime you see something entering your path, whether it be a squirrel, a person or a car). 

Signaling can be tricky for younger kids to learn because it requires them to take a hand off the handlebars while they’re riding. It’s also something that they won’t need to know until they are older since they will probably be riding on sidewalks and crossing at pedestrian crossings. Though it’s never a bad idea to start practicing while they’re young and you can demonstrate them as you ride together. 

Older kids who are more comfortable on their bikes will probably be able to pick up the hand signals without too much trouble. You can take turns quizzing each other before your next bike ride. A hand signal should be made with your left hand (unless you’re practicing the alternate right turn signal). If your kid is anything like me and has trouble telling their left from their right, you can try putting a piece of coloured tape on the left side on their handlebars to help them remember. 

Remember to teach them to check over their shoulder for oncoming traffic before they begin executing their turn or lane change, then they should signal and shoulder check once before making their turn. You can have them repeat the sequence a few times so that it sticks in their head: shoulder check, signal, shoulder check, turn. 

Traffic lights and stop signs

Youth on bikes with one foot on the ground

Teach your child that when you come to a stop sign, it’s best to stop and put a foot on the ground so that you don’t have to worry about staying balanced while you look for people walking or driving who may be entering the intersection. 

You’ll also want to teach them that green means go, that red and yellow lights mean stop, that the person walking icon means it’s ok to walk through the intersection and that the red hand means you have to stop and wait. 

Where to ride on the road

If your route to school has sidewalks, that will probably be the best place for your kid to ride their bike. In Toronto, kids aged 13 and under are allowed to ride on the sidewalk though it’s different depending on what municipal bylaws are in place where you live. Just remember to teach your kids to be courteous to other people using the sidewalk; slow down and ring your bell when passing people, give extra space to people using mobility devices or walking pets. 

Instruct your kid to slow down when they’re riding past a driveway. A car that has it’s engine running or someone sitting in the driver's seat might pull out of the driveway quickly, so try to teach your kid to make eye contact with the driver so that they are sure they are seen. 

If there aren’t sidewalks on your route to school, you’ll want to ride on the right side of the road (always with traffic) and leave about a meter of space between you and the edge of the road. This will make it easier to navigate around potholes and other road obstacles. Other people using the road are legally required to give you at least a metre of space when passing you.

Keep a good distance from parked cars. Resist the temptation to ride into gaps

Maintain a straight line while riding. Keep a good distance from parked cars and resist the temptation to ride into gaps.

Remember that people riding bikes are listed as vehicles under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and therefore have just as much of a right to be on the road as anyone else. If you’re on a particularly narrow road or if there are obstructions (like construction), it’s fine to take up the entire lane by riding down the middle of the lane. This will also help stop people driving from passing you too closely. Just remember to signal, shoulder check and signal again before moving into the middle of the lane.