Can you remember the freedom and joy from riding a bike when you were young? The wind in your hair, the miles zipping by, downhill excitement, bursts of pride at cresting a hill. But when, as a parent, when do you take the plunge and let your child cycle on their own?
Cycling is normal, just a part of a child’s daily life. In my childhood we played cops and robbers on bikes, a whole gang of us chasing each other around the neighbourhood’s pavements. I crashed into a poor neighbour’s car-washing bucket twice in one day as I careered round the corner of our road, intent on bringing criminals to justice.
It’s not just about play. Using the bike as everyday transport is promoted by children’s cycling proficiency programme Bikeability. Many children go for Level 3 once they’re in high school, concentrating on their ride to school. Some parents are happy to start their children before they leave primary school.
There is no ‘right age’ for a child to cycle on their own. There are so many variables that depend on your child’s skill and confidence, the existence of older siblings, the roads in your neighbourhood, the sorts of games and activities your children like to play.
As with every step in a child’s life, letting go is often heart-wrenching. Don’t think you have to let them out of your sight straight away. Parental support for your child to learn about riding independently can involve trailing behind them to make sure they’re safe, no matter how many rides this takes.
It’s OK to ride on the pavement when the road is really narrow or busy. But remind your child to give pedestrians right of way and to be aware of blind bends or alley ways where people could walk out of.
There are many stages on the road to independent riding. You can try letting them explore before starting to cycle on their own. For instance, let them show you how they can control the bike with their brakes on gentle slopes before letting them descend on steeper hills.
It’s never too early to learn how to fix a puncture. Get those tyre levers out, get your hands dirty, and get your child self-sufficient as a cyclist.
Letting your children ride without you is walking the tightrope between trepidation and excitement. If you can step out of worry mode and tune in with your kids’ wavelength, entering the world of imaginative play where whole stories are acted out – princesses escaping from the wicked witch; adventurers exploring woods for hidden treasure; being the fastest cheetah in Africa – you’ll discover the essence of being a cycling child.