Bicycle Education and Training

Bicycling is an excellent form of physical activity, a healthy and economical mode of transportation and a great way to have fun! Children learn to ride bicycles at a young age and as they grow older take their bicycles out on the road with little or no training. Unfortunately, errors made by bicyclists in traffic too often result in crashes and needless injuries.

Bicycle-related injury is a leading cause of hospitalization and injury-related death. In New York State, almost 19,000 people are treated in hospital emergency departments each year and more than 1,650 people require hospitalization. More than one third of those hospitalized have a traumatic brain injury. New York law requires that children under the age of 14 wear an approved bicycle helmet while bicycling. When fitted properly, bicycle helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries by 85 percent and traumatic brain injuries by 88 percent. Providing bicycle safety education to children can help increase helmet use and reduce the incidence of bicycle injuries.

Public health and traffic safety professionals play an integral part in raising awareness about bicycle safety and increasing opportunities for bicycle safety education. New York State encourages the use of bicycle helmets for all ages because of their proven effectiveness. Local health departments and traffic safety boards are also encouraged to work with partners to implement s trategies from a variety of disciplines, including education, engineering, and enforcement, to promote safe bicycling and encourage sharing of the road with other users. Effective bicycle safety education teaches children how to ride safely and how to be a responsible bicycle owner.

Bicycle Education and Training Curricula

The following provides an overview of the four key components of bicycle safety education and training curricula, descriptions of the various methods of curricula delivery and resources available for bicycle education instruction.

  • Bicycle Handling Skills

    • Novice Skills: Starting and stopping, riding in a straight line, steering control and signaling while maintaining a straight line.
    • Intermediate Skills: Understanding and using gear systems properly, "rock dodge" (a steering maneuver to avoid a rock in a cyclist's path) and "bunny hopping "(a maneuver to hop over sticks, holes or other hazards in a cyclist's path).
    • Advanced Skills: Emergency maneuvers like a quick stop and instant turn.
  • Crash Prevention

    Knowing how to operate a bicycle and share the road is key to avoiding conflict that may result in a crash. Traffic laws and traffic patterns, personal behavior, bicycle maintenance and awareness of surroundings play a role in crash avoidance.

    • Rules of the Road: Bicycles are vehicles on the roadway. Bicycles may be smaller and slower than motor vehicles, but they are not exempt from traffic laws. And motor vehicles are not required to make special provisions for bicycles. Therefore, it is critical that bicyclists know, understand and follow all traffic laws.
    • Traffic Behavior: Being visible when riding, using appropriate bicycle lights at night, signaling to other vehicles in traffic to let them know your intentions, practicing scanning at intersections and teaching a child to "creep and peek" when they cannot see beyond parked cars are essential behaviors to learn. Bicyclists should also have the ability to interact successfully with pedestrians, in-line skaters, and other cyclists when riding on paths or trails. They should stay to the right, signal or verbalize intentions and respect the "right of way" of others.
    • Identification and Avoidance of Hazards: Bicycle crashes do not always involve a motor vehicle. Falls often occur when a bicyclist tries to ride on hazardous surfaces such as loose gravel, oily pavement, or metal surfaces, or over sticks, rocks, holes or uneven pavement. Bike education and training should teach awareness of hazards and how to navigate them.
    • Bicycle Safety Inspection: Bicycles need routine maintenance to ensure they are in proper working order. Cyclists should go over a simple bike safety checklist to look for loose components or parts that may need adjustments. Using the "ABC" Quick Checklist is an easy way to make sure a bicycle is safe before riding.
      • A -- Make sure tires have adequate air.
        B -- Squeeze front and rear brakes to make sure that they stop and lock the wheels in place. Ensuring that breaks work properly is critical in crash prevention.
        C -- Make sure the crank, chain and cassette are not loose and are functioning properly.
  • Injury Prevention

    • Equipment: The most important piece of injury prevention equipment is a bicycle helmet. Bicycle helmets are proven to decrease the risk of bicycle-related traumatic brain injury by 88 percent. It is critical that bicyclists learn about the reasons behind helmet use and accept that riding without one is not an option. They need to learn about brain injuries and the consequences of NOT wearing a bicycle helmet. The elements of a helmet and techniques to properly adjust and wear a helmet should also be taught.

      Also important are cycling gloves to improve grip and protect hands, and glasses to protect eyes from objects kicked up by other vehicles. Bicyclists should understand how unexpectedly and quickly a mishap can happen when bicycling.

    • Advanced Injury Prevention: More experienced bicyclists can be taught skills to minimize adverse effects of bicycle crashes. These skills can help protect hands, wrists and shoulders during a fall.
  • Enjoyment Skills

    Choosing the right size bicycle, adjusting the seat to a comfortable position ideal for pedaling, learning how to fix a flat tire, performing routine maintenance and using gear systems efficiently foster continued cycling by building a rider's confidence and making it easier and more comfortable to ride.

Methods

There are different education and training models available to educators, but the most ideal strategies get children on bicycles repetitively, so that lessons and skills are reinforced with practice. It is also preferable that students ride to a destination in a group setting so drills can be applied in a realistic cycling environment. A variety of formats should be used to teach bicycle safety instruction.

  • Classroom/Assembly: This format offers an inexpensive, easy way that can reach a large number of children at once. It also removes risks associated with putting inexperienced children on bicycles. The disadvantage is that such instruction does not offer the "hands-on" experience of actually practicing on a bicycle. Classroom methods usually include a short film, written or verbal activities and safety information to take home. Interactive exercises can help engage the audience and make this format more interesting.
  • Bike Rodeo: A bike rodeo consists of a series of stations in a closed setting where students learn specific bicycle skills. These skills include how to: fit a helmet, do a simple bicycle inspection, and perform essential handling skills and traffic maneuvers. The advantages of this method are that it offers a "hands-on" experience and can involve several community partners. The disadvantage is that they can be a challenge to organize. These events require publicity, a safe and convenient location, and a large number of staff if several stations are being run. However, the closed setting with stations does not allow for repeated practice and does not offer the experience of riding in a realistic traffic environment. See An Organizer's Guide to Bicycle Rodeos.
  • Physical Education Classes/After School Programs/Summer Camps/Bicycle Clubs: Ongoing programs that provide children with the opportunity for instruction and practice over the course of several days are the optimal form of bicycle safety instruction. Utilizing physical education classes to teach bicycling instruction can be challenging due to the limited time allowed per class. Getting children helmeted and matched with the correct size bicycle can take a good deal of class time. Scheduling a series of classes at the end of the day in combination with an after school program allows ample time required for this type of instruction. Summer camps offer another venue for bicycle safety instruction. However, both school-based and camp programs can be expensive to implement, as secure space, a fleet of bicycles and safety equipment is necessary to conduct these programs.

Resources

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