Kids Biking to School: A Complete Guide

Everything You Need to Know When Your Kids Bike to School

A group of middle school aged kids bike to school
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Maybe you have fond memories of riding your bike to school. Maybe you want to make sure your child gets enough movement and activity on busy school days. Maybe your child wants to ride their bike to school with friends. Or maybe your child's school is hosting a bike-to-school event, and you want to prepare your child in the best way possible.

Whatever your reason happens to be, you can be certain that there are several benefits when children and teens bicycle to school.

Students are likely to experience:

  • An increase in their physical activity
  • The feeling of independence from riding a bike rather than being a passenger in a vehicle
  • Learning how to choose and stay on a route
  • Reducing vehicle congestion in busy school parking lots
  • More outdoor time
  • Practicing balance and coordination movements 
  • Increased time with you (if you supervise the ride)

If you are ready to get your child started, here are the steps you need to take to ensure safe and enjoyable commute.

Testing Routes

Be sure that you know what route your child will be riding to school, and ensure that the route is age appropriate.

Check first with your child's school. Thanks to the National Safe Routes to School initiative, many schools maintain special databases that share information about routes that kids are taking to school. Schools may even provide referrals to other families looking for commuting partners.

Individual school districts have a variety of ways that they maintain route and commuter information. Some schools may offer a commuting/rideshare board while other districts will have someone dedicated to promoting safely walking and biking to school.

If your school doesn't have a good route already mapped out, you can find a good route on your own.

Map a route out on Google maps and select the cycling option to see how long a route might take, and what the traffic would be like.

You can also use MapMyRide.com to see routes created by other cyclists in your area, along with the route terrain, distance, and estimated travel time. Keep in mind that these sites were created with adult riders in mind, rather than children who will need to find routes that avoid going through areas not suitable for children.

Once you have a suggested route, be sure to check it out thoroughly. If the route goes through areas you are not familiar with, be sure to ride the route yourself before your child attempts the ride. Watch for a variety of obstacles that your child may encounter, from road curbs that could be difficult for a child to navigate, barking dogs, or areas that do not have great visibility.

If you have trouble finding a safe route talk with your child's school. The school may be aware of alternate routes. The problems may also need to be addressed by adding bicycle-friendly infrastructure. Adding of the type of infrastructure is one of the purposes of the National Safe Routes to School initiative, so your concerns may lead to safer commutes for several kids in your community.

Once a route has been chosen, be sure that your child or teen sticks to the route. Older kids and teens who may commute without an adult should be discouraged from changing their routes. If they have a good reason to change their route for any reason, they should know to message their parent before actually traveling the changed path.

Creating Bike Trains

Unless you live within eyesight of your child's school, elementary age children are rarely ready to bike to school by themselves. This doesn't have to stop your child from riding their bike to school. Instead, partner with other kids and parents to create a "bike train, "which is similar to a carpool, only it is a group of riders who commute together.

At least one parent would ride along with a group of children to and from school. Parents can take turns to accommodate different work schedules and needs. The parent who rides with the kids should be able to ride at a child-appropriate speed and be able to do basic road and trailside maintenance on bikes.

Essential Safety Gear

Your child will obviously need to have a well- functioning bicycle that fits their body, and that they are comfortable riding. You probably also know that your child will need a well-fitted bike helmet. There are a variety of colors and styles available that meet safety standards ensuring that your child will like wearing their helmet.

There are a few other items that seasoned cyclists always keep on hand, and are often forgotten by school commuters. These include a portable tire pump, a tire patch kit, tire levers, and a spare innertube. These items may fit easily into your child's backpack.

If your child rides in a bike train with a supervising adult, the adult should carry these items. Children and teens old enough to ride with peers only should know how to inflate their tires, patch a hole and change out an innertube. 

A horn or a bell is a great tool for bicyclists to let others on the trail know where they are, and if they are getting ready to pass someone.

Bike Storage

Find out where your child can store their bike during the school day. Not all schools have bike racks available, or the bike racks may fill up during good biking weather days. Be sure your child stores their bike in an area where they are allowed to store their bike. While this may seem obvious to an adult, elementary and middle school age kids can decide on some very creative and inappropriate places to leave their bikes when they do not specifically know where the school allows bikes to be stored.

Bike Registration and Locking

Registering your child's bike will come in handy if the bike is ever lost or stolen. Registration proves ownership of the bike and will create a record that includes the bike's make, model, and serial numbers —details which you may not remember should the bike become missing.

Check to see if your local city or county has a bike registration program. If not, you can still use a voluntary open online registry such as bikeindex.org or nationalbikeregistry.com.

It is sad to think that a young child's bike could be stolen during the school day. Locking the bike during the day can prevent problems before they occur. It can also start a good habit to keep a bike locked up when away from home. A simple, inexpensive lock may be all that is needed for a young elementary school age child in a community with low bike theft.

If your child older or attends school in an area with high bike theft look for a more secure lock. Keep in mind that communities with high bike theft rates do not necessarily have other high crime rates, but seem to be places that are very popular with bicyclists.

Weather Considerations

Rain and snow do not always mean the end of bike commuting. Instead, plan for weather changes by evaluating your child's readiness, organizing equipment, or making alternate arrangements.

Younger children may find rain and snow to be too challenging for a school commute, but some middle and high schoolers may be able to continue with their commutes when the weather becomes a challenge. Understanding your child's abilities and knowing about your local weather conditions will help you make the best decision.

For rainy weather, consider packable raingear with a form-fitting hood. Rain pants should fit snugly at the ankle and go over rain boots. Fenders designed to handle rain and mud or common on adult commuter bikes, and can be added to children's bikes as well. Bike tires with water-shedding tread can be changed out for dry road tires.

Snow and icy conditions demand bike snow tires, available at specialty bike shops and online stores. Your child will also want a well-fitting winter jacket and pants. Fenders to catch snow and sleet can also help keep your child riding in tough weather conditions.

Winter months have shorter daylight. If your child is biking during dusky or dark light, or even in foggy or rainy conditions, be sure they have bike reflectors on their wheels, a light on the front and a light seen on the bike. Many communities have laws requiring bikes to have lights on different parts of the bike during darker lighting conditions. Check your local biking laws to make sure your child's bike complies, and add more lights if you feel it would be safer to do so.

Backup Plans

It's always a good idea to have a backup plan for getting to school. Planning to ride a bike to school is no exception, and can even benefit from a double back-up.

In the event that your child's bike is having mechanical issues, is lost or stolen, or needs other repairs, it is ideal to have a second usable bike available. Bike trains can work together and may have a loaner bike within the group should a child's bike become inoperable.

Barring bicycle failure, having a backup such as a school bus or a parent who can take or pick up a child from school can ensure that your child is not stranded should weather or road conditions make biking impossible for your child.

Keeping Rides Fun

Doing any physical activity can become challenging or dull at times. Always riding the same route may lead to some boredom without adding in some strategies to keep the ride fun.

  • Come up with games, such as counting how many red cars are seen on the way to school.
  • Include a fun stop on the planned route, such as a stop at a playground, place to get a snack, friends home, local library or neighborhood activity center.
  • Get the whole school to participate by coordinating a bike-to-school challenge. This could be a PTA or school run promotion in which students log how many days they bike to school during a set time, rewards and incentives can be given to students as the number of bike to school days increases.

A Word From Verywell

If you are not ready for your child to bike all the way to and from school each day, you can find ways to keep the rides short or just one day a week until you know they are really ready to ride to school regularly. You may be able to drive your child and their bike part way to the school, and then let them finish the ride to school.

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