Family Biking Tips to Keep Your Rides Safe and Sound

Jostling for space on busy streets can be scary, but with the right know-how, it doesn't have to be.

Watching kids whizz by on bikes is fun until a parked car’s door swings open unexpectedly. 

Thankfully, navigating safe biking is something parents can learn and pass onto their kids. With the correct gear, knowledge and training, biking with little ones doesn’t have to feel scary, says Lesley Tweedie, the co-owner of Roscoe Village Bikes in Chicago. 

Tweedie and her husband opened the shop in 2007 and have since had two kids of their own, riding with them from when they were infants to now, at 8 and 11 years old.  

“I rode a lot before I had kids, so I was really comfortable riding in the city without kids,” Tweedie says. “For me, it was a no-brainer: when I had kids, I didn’t want to have to then drive everywhere.” 

“So if you want to be comfortable riding with kids, be comfortable riding without kids,” she says. 

For those looking to bike with kids this summer, read on for safety tips and resources. 

Choose the right gear for safe riding 

“There’s the non-negotiables–good helmets, adjusted properly,” says Lesley Tweedie. “It’s also nice to have a bell.” 

“Lights, reflectors, daytime lights are great, too,” Tweedie adds. “You can’t be too visible.”

While there are many ways to safely bike with kids who can’t ride on their own yet, the three most common ways are with a baby seat, trailer or cargo bike. 

Tweedie used all three with her kids, and though she preferred the baby seat over the trailer option, she says there are specific advantages to each. 

A baby seat can be attached in front of or behind the rider. Kids who are too little to wear a helmet should not be in a baby seat. Fortunately there are helmets approved for babies. 

Bike shops can also install baby seats for parents who are worried about safe installation, says Tweedie. 

She says that while she preferred the ease of parking a bike with just the baby seat and the benefit to the child of being able to look around, her husband preferred using the trailer for their kids. 

The trailer can hold two kids, so you know, that can be really useful,” she says. “It also has extra space for a backpack or blanket, so those are some advantages for the trailer.” 

The last option for safe biking with small kids, an e-cargo bike, is more expensive than the baby seat or trailer, but it’s a good option for families looking to go for longer distances. 

“I don’t think they necessarily make sense for everybody, but for those riding on a daily basis or for longer distances, it can work really well,” she says. 

Common mistakes to avoid 

“When you start riding with your kids in the street, or even on the sidewalk, they need to be able to follow your verbal instructions,” Tweedie says. 

Kids who are too little to follow commands quickly should stick to bike paths until they get a bit older, she says. 

One big mistake parents make is letting kids ride in front of them in the street instead of behind the parent because it “feels” safer. 

“If you’re coming up to an intersection, or crossing an alley, or a delivery driver is pulling back out onto the road, you see that and know to slow down, but a kid might not know,” she says. “All a kid should have to do is follow you–that’s a lot less to process.” 

Another dangerous mistake Tweedie sees is people biking the wrong way on a one-way street. 

“People really shouldn’t ride the wrong way on one way streets,” she says. “They feel like it feels safer, but actually it’s really dangerous because when cars are turning they aren’t expecting you to be coming from that direction.” 

Another safety tip for parents is to check their gear before heading out on a ride.

“It’s always good to do a safety inspection,” she says. “Check that brakes are secure, tires are inflated and inspect where the gear is connected.” 

“Also make sure your helmet is fitting properly and that there are no loose straps from things like backpacks or shoelaces,” she adds. 

How to become more comfortable biking as a family

Parents who want a refresher on biking laws or safety tips can find resources from the city of Chicago online.

Becoming comfortable with biking safety rules is easier when riding with friends and other families, says Tweedie. 

“It’s probably a more fun way to learn by finding other families to ride with and connecting with other families,” she says. 

Tweedie volunteers for the group, Chicago Family Biking, which organizes a monthly family bike ride called Kidical Mass. 

“It’s a great way to meet other people who are interested in riding with their kids,” she says. “You can take it at a slow pace and ride around the neighborhood and build that confidence.”


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Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn is a freelance journalist and copy editor. She is a graduate of Wayne State University’s journalism school and of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University. Amanda is a lover of translated contemporary fiction, wines from Jura and her dog, Lottie.

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