share the road bicycle signDid you know that the bicycle was invented in 1817? This early version had no steering, pedals, or brakes and was made entirely out of wood. Lucky for us, we’ve come a long way with more comfortable and safer options today.Bicycles are a source of enjoyment and entertainment. They provide youth with physical activity and a way to visit their friends and explore their surroundings. As adults, most of us have been riding our bicycles since childhood, so it can be easy to forget what a first-time bike rider needs to know. Although lessons on safe cycling may not be met with much enthusiasm, it’s the information your children need to know! May is National Bike Safety Month, and as many schools begin summer break, it’s important to start the conversation about bicycle safety tips for children and other beginner riders before the tires hit the pavement.

Bicycle Safety Starts With Your Head First​

One of the first steps in teaching children about bicycle safety is to be a role model. Adults must always practice what we preach. To ensure that children understand bicycle safety and engage in lifelong bicycle safety behaviors, adults must demonstrate the desired behaviors when cycling. This includes wearing a helmet and following the rules of the road on every ride. Estimates on helmet usage suggest that only 25 percent of children ages 5 to14 wear a helmet when riding a bike. For teen riders, the percentage is close to zero. Youth often complain that helmets aren’t “cool” or are uncomfortable or too hot, and that their friends don’t wear them. Bicycle riders also say they don’t think about the importance of bicycle helmets or safe bicycling habits, or about the need to protect themselves from injury. This is especially true if they are not riding in traffic.

A properly fitting helmet can make all the difference in protecting your head and brain. If you aren’t sure if your helmet fits properly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers video instructions on how to properly fit a helmet.

a family riding bicycles on the roadSix Simple Rules For Cycling Safely​

  1. All riders should be on a bike that’s the appropriate size. A bike that’s too small can make the rider feel cramped and uncomfortable, while a bike that’s too big can be unwieldy and hard to control.
  2. Check for loose clothing, drawstrings, or shoelaces that can get caught in the bike chain, which can lead to crashes.
  3. Always check the air in the tires, and make sure the brakes work before you set out on your bike ride.
  4. Wear brightly colored clothing so others can see you at all times. If you must ride at night, make sure the bike has reflectors and lights. Retro-reflective materials on the ankles, wrists, back, and helmet are also helpful, especially at night when bicycles are hard to see.
  5. Before entering any street or intersection, check for traffic by looking left-right and left again to make sure no vehicles are approaching.​ Once in traffic, always ride on the right side of the road so you are traveling with traffic.
  6. Learn the rules of the road, and follow them all the time. Bicyclists need to obey all traffic laws including traffic signs and signals. A bicycle is a non-motorized vehicle, but just like driving a motorized vehicle, cycling involves taking responsibility to ensure personal safety as well as the safety of others.

Using a helmet and knowing the six rules of the road for cycling is the first part of ensuring a safe ride. The next step is having fun! Make plans this spring and summer to explore some of the great bike paths and trails across Indiana. You can find a location near you by visiting TrailLink or the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website.

2 kids ride their bikes on a bike pathHow can you best ensure that you and your family have the knowledge and skills to make your bike riding activities safe and enjoyable?

Always wear a helmet, make sure your bike is the proper size, and follow the rules of the road. If you are in an Indiana 4-H club or are a 4-H club leader in Indiana, consider hosting a bicycle safety meeting or workshop. Many local bike shops are happy to provide basic training and safety skills or the contact information for area bicycle safety instructors. You might also check with your local 4-H extension educator on any workshops planned in your area.
If you are interested in additional bike safety resources, contact Angie Frost at for more information. You can also visit The 4th H podcast website for more helpful healthy tips for enjoying the outdoors. Visit our Indiana 4-H Facebook page (@Indiana4H) and tell us how you safely cycle with family and friends.

“Pledge your health to better living” by always wearing a bike helmet when cycling! A helmet is not an accessory; it’s a necessity!

Angie Frost is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension and registered dietitian. She leads a team of county Purdue Extension staff, and collaborates with campus specialists and faculty to provide opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about healthy living.

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue ExtensionShe supports Indiana 4-H programming by creating technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities. She collaborates with Purdue Extension staff and faculty to develop new ideas for learning in 4-H for youth and adults.