Risky Business

I am all for children taking risks. I think it is essential that all children grow up being encouraged to take risks. It is only through taking risks that they can learn how to manage risks.

We all want to keep our children safe all the time. No parent wants to see their child hurt. But they have to learn to keep themselves safe.

We can’t always be there to catch them, they need to learn how to fall.

I don’t mean that we should encourage them to jump down the stairs or run in front of buses. In fact it is a daily battle to prevent my daughter from engaging in just such acts of assured self destruction.

I mean measured risks.

If the consequence of taking a risk and failing at something is a bruise or a scrape then I will let my children take that risk. Bruises and scrapes are not that big a deal. If the consequence could be broken bones or being flattened by a bus then I will not let them take that risk.

I see it as my job as a parent to keep my children safe and I take that responsibility very seriously.

But it is not my job to prevent them from ever falling over.

I am happy for my children to take risks and discover their own limits.

Two weeks ago, my nearly-five year old son decided it was time he learnt to pedal his bike. He got a balance bike for his second birthday. When he got too big for it, we got him a pedal bike. But he insisted on riding it as a balance bike with the pedals off. Until now.

In typical my son style, he decided out of the blue that he was ready to pedal, and that was that. Off he went. He is brilliant on the bike. He handles it really well and is absolutely flying.

He is clearly a child after his mother’s heart – he loves to cycle.

He is used to bikes for transport. We have been using the cargo bike to get most places for over two years.

So naturally, he wants to ride his bike everywhere we go. After all, that’s what I do.

So far, this has worked fine with his bike attached to the cargo bike. He goes in the cargo bike on the roads and on his own bike on the cycle paths. Another huge benefit from owning a cargo bike. We get to race along the paths and ride together chatting.

But, he doesn’t really want to keep getting on and off. He just wants to ride his bike.

He wants to ride on the roads, just like Mummy and Daddy.

I’m not talking main roads. I mean the ‘quiet’ roads that are part of the cycle routes.

I am happy for my children to take risks and discover their own limits.

But this doesn’t feel like my child taking a risk. It feels like other people (drivers) taking risks with my child.

And the potential consequences are huge.

I am not happy with that. Not at all.

So what now?

Do I:

A) Let him start riding on the roads with lots of instruction and guidance.


B) Explain to him that the roads are unsafe so no, he cannot ride on them.

The trouble is, neither of these options sit well with me.

Here are my issues:

Option A:

I know how some drivers choose to drive. On a daily basis, cars cut me up, pass with centimeters to spare, pass on blind corners, drive straight at me, and share their views on my chosen mode of transport with some colourful language.

I know really that this is the minority of drivers. Most are absolutely fine. But that minority of drivers are taking a risk with my life. The potential consequences of that risk are very very serious.

I cannot let them take that risk with my son.

Option B:

There are so many problems with this option.

I want my children to love cycling like I do. I want them to love cycling like Danny does at the moment. If cycling becomes a frustrating experience of being told no all the time I am going to take this away from them.

I want my children to grow up believing that people are inherently good. We all make mistakes but people are good at heart. I try to believe this despite the close passes and colourful language. I cannot expect my children to believe this if I tell them that some drivers make the roads unsafe for cyclists. They make the roads unsafe just so they can get where they are going 2 minutes faster.

And then, how do I answer questions like:

“But you and Daddy ride on the roads, does that mean you are not safe?”

“But you ride the cargo bike on the roads with us on it, does that mean we are all not safe?”

“When will I be old enough to ride on the roads?”

And here’s the thing. When will he be old enough? My mum regularly tells me how much she hates the thought of my cycling on the roads. I’m in my 40s.

So option A and option B are both unsatisfactory.

I need an option C.

Anybody got an option C?

12 Replies to “Risky Business”

  1. Well, I haven’t got an option C and I don’t know exactly what the roads around you are like, but it seems to me that you’ll have to be the judge of which roads are safe for him. Take him on the quieter roads and bike paths to get confidence in riding, and let him start to learn about cars and bikes. Maybe the sooner he gets out there and learns, the better.

    We live in the countryside, and your post reminded me of my youngest (now 26….) son’s first visit to school 2 miles away- on his little old bike that had been passed on to him. I didn’t let him ride down a local very steep hill (we walked it) and we only rode one way as I picked him up later, but it’s a very special memory to me, of that little boy cycling all the way to school at only just 5 years old.

  2. I think most drivers are a lot more forgiving of kids & give them more space &/or stop -assuming they see them. Try on a very quiet road first with parked car to teach them to look behind before they pull out. Having taught P6 kids how to cycle on roads that is the worst thing they do, pull out without looking. Also I’ve read that you should cycle in front so that if you feel it’s getting too dangerous you can stop & they will stop behind you although naturally you feel like you’re protecting them more from behind.

  3. I have a son who is 5 and is very confident on a bike he took up pedalling when he was 3, we ride on the roads in our village. He always rides in front and is in high vis. I live in a rural area where quite a lots of the roads don’t have pavements and the roads are quiet, very quiet so I am comfortable with him riding. My experience of other road users is that when they see him as a small child they slow right down and pass at a crawl, this is usually across the board too either direction, but our roads are country lanes so no white line down the middle. If I am out on my own I have experienced all the usual cyclist / motorist problems that you mention above on the same roads. I cannot think of An option C but thought my experience may give some some insight.

  4. I have an option c – kind-of. I have been using it on the roads with my two since the youngest was 3 (she was riding a pedal bike at 2), and still use it now and she is 5. I’ve almost always had the two to supervise, but it works as well (if not better) with 1. Its just positioning yourself in the right place.
    First of all, if there is a pavement, let him ride on it. Sounds obvious I know, but… Then simply ride next to him on the road. Cars will have to go around you, and as long as you stick next to him (him on the pavement, you on the road), then it gives him a much bigger safe area (in which to crash, fall off etc without getting run over). With my two, I have then ride one in front of the other, with me along side, The strongest rider it the rear of the two, so the weakest sets the pace.
    Where there is no pavement, the same trick works, but generally I change the position a little. So I let them ride one in front of the other, whilst I hang a length back and further out into the road. Again, gives them a little more space.
    I should point out they are still briefed that they must not mess around etc, and they get sergeant major type shouts and commands if they set a pedal in the wrong place, but they understand – “no messing and best riding on the roads. You can try no hands when we get to the woods….”.

    It has worked really well for us over the years, and we have covered thousands of miles together (mostly off-road, but not having an issue when we need to be on them).

    I also agree with the earlier comments that most drivers are very polite and careful, especially with the kids. Just remember to be polite to them too. And if you are riding (technically 2 abreast – perfectly legal btw) on a road where its difficult for cars to pass – pull both of you to the side and let the car past. Takes seconds and prevents Mr angry trying to squeeze past where its not safe.

  5. Here in Stockholm we use quiet roads at quiet times. For the smallest ones I suggest you ride behind and on the outside – you can keep an eye on the lil un and instruct them while passing drivers will need to go wide to pass you. If there’s drivers behind pull in and let tgem pass with a friendly smile.

    A little tale – once V had a bit of trouble ceossing a main road. A van behind started to toot. He came up along me to have a word. Then his colleagues in the van behind came up to him to tell him off for tooting at a child. There are a few idiots out there, but they are a few.

    Here in Sthlm we are seeing more kids riding to work leading to more driversbeing aware. It’s not perfect but option A is much better than option B.

  6. Since he started school in September, our son (now 5yrs old) cycles there and back on his pedal bike most days. When there are no cycle paths, he cycles on the pavement and I cycle our cargo bike next to him (on the road – with his little brother on board). This seems to work pretty well for us now, however when we started it was quite nerve wracking. Sometimes I ‘run’ with the buggy, staying behind him which also works relatively well. We live in a semi-urban area, so our journey is not without hazards. As time has gone on we have adapted our route and road crossing points to minimise risk. Now we both enjoy the journey – most of the time… Best of all, working out the logistics has bought us closer together and, dare I say, it has been quite fun! Best of luck discovering an option C that works for you

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