While there is a lot available, riding a bike doesn’t require much in the way of specialist gear. There are just a couple of things you need to begin your child’s learning to ride journey.
Most important, the helmet. Wearing a helmet is an imperative part of riding a bicycle. Falls are common and a helmet provides the best protection for your child’s head. A major international study of bike helmet use around the world recently found helmets reduce the risks of a serious head injury by nearly 70% (Farrell, 2016). It is important to encourage your child to wear a helmet every time they get on their bike.
Most helmets are covered in a strong, puncture-resistant plastic shell which is designed to hold the entire helmet together in the event of an accident and which allows the helmet to slide across the ground in the event of an accident. The lining of the helmet is made of expanded polystyrene which disperses the force of any impact.
There are three main types of helmets on the market: recreational helmets (suitable for recreational use); road bike helmets (generally for competitive cyclists); and mountain bike helmets (generally for mountain biking). All helmets sold in Australia should meet the minimum Australian Safety Standard so this doesn’t have to be a big expense. Look for a sticker that reads AS/NZS 2063:2008 approved to double check. When choosing a helmet, think about how your child rides their bike, any level of (extra) protection they might need, and their sensory needs.
If your child is involved in an accident, the helmet is likely to be damaged, even if not obviously. The helmet should be replaced after any significant impact or, if incident-free, after five years. Components in the helmet break down over time due to pollution, UV light and weathering.
Getting the right fit
It’s important that your child’s helmet fits well and is adjusted properly. Below is a checklist to ensure the helmet is fitted correctly.
- The helmet should be level on the head. When your child looks up you should just be able to see the rim of the helmet. A good way to remember this is by placing two fingers between the eyebrows and rim of the helmet.
- The strap should form a V below the ears when buckled. The chin strap should be tight but comfortable. When the rider opens their mouth very wide the helmet will pull down a little.
- The rear stabiliser should be snug (If present on your helmet). This can be adjusted by turning the dial on the back until it feels firm but comfortable.
- The helmet should be comfortable but firm. Have the rider shake their head. If the helmet dislodges or moves about a lot then adjust the straps, and stabiliser if present, until the helmet doesn’t move.
- Wearing anything under a helmet stops it from fitting properly. Sun hats or pony tails lift the helmet higher on the child’s head and reduces its protection. Sun protection helmet covers or shaded play areas are preferable.
- Choose a helmet that is lightweight. Not too heavy for their heads and necks to carry.
- Regularly check the fit. As your child grows, keep checking that the helmet still fits properly. Some helmets come with padded inserts or a ‘ring fit’ system to allow you to adjust them.
Wearing a helmet may present a challenge for some children with additional needs, they are meant to be relatively firm fitting and buckled under the chin. If you think your child may struggle, spend some time working on wearing a helmet before you look at bikes at all. Make this comfortable and familiar before introducing any other tasks. If a helmet is too much to start with, work out what it is that troubles your child. Is it the chin strap and being ‘locked in’? Is it the disruption to their field of normal vision? Work to find stages to support them to get to the helmet. This might be wearing earmuff (pressure around the head) for a while, or a low brimmed hat to get them use to changes in visual field.
When riding, footwear is also important. Shoes should be enclosed, preferably with a stiff, strong sole. This will provide protection for the feet in case of falls and will allow the child to push down properly on the pedals. Good grip is also very important as it helps your child make stronger contact with the pedals. A level of ventilation is also useful to keep feet cool and comfortable. Runners or trainers are ideal.
For the more serious cyclist, cycling shoes are available. Typically, these are paired with a pedal which holds your feet securely on the bicycle. These are not suitable for those still mastering their riding skills. It can be difficult ‘un-click’ the pairing which may present an additional risk to novice riders.
There is plenty of specialised cycling clothing available. None of this is necessary. It is most important that clothing is unrestrictive, comfortable, easily visible, and appropriate for the weather. However, if you and your child intend to ride regularly, or if your child needs some extra engagement in the ‘learning to ride’ process other items to be considered may include:
- Gloves: If you do happen the fall, the first response is to put your hands out. Gloves may prevent cuts and scratches in the event of a fall and can also provide extra grip and potentially prevent falls.
- Cycling Shorts: these may be of the lycra skin-tight variety, or of the ‘shy’ variety, which look like normal shorts but come with a lycra liner. These are typically padded to provide a little added comfort for your bottom.
- Cycling Jersey: a light weight, form fitting top, most often with a zipper at the front to allow for extra ventilation.
- Extra Padding: knee or elbow pads are available and may lessen the impact of a fall.
- Lighting: If you are riding at night, in bad weather or on by roadways it is essential you have lights fitted. This may include single beams to the front of the bike, and/or flashing red warning lights to the rear of the bike.
- Cold weather gear: there are loads of options for managing weather. Long sleeve jerseys, light weight vest or jumpers, and light weight, breathable rain protection are just a few to explore.
It is important to remember that some of these extras will be more suited to the particular needs of some children than others. If your child benefits from pressure to regulate their behaviour tight fitting cycling clothing may help them. They may be sensitive to the feeling of rubber of the handle bar grips and would be more comfortable wearing gloves. If they have high levels of anxiety, they may like to wear pads on their elbows or knees. It really important to keep in mind these sensory needs and consider how best to support them, and what may make them more problematic.
While the options for cycling gear are almost endless it’s important to remember, these are just optional extras! To begin with keep it simple (and make is cost effective!).
- A Bit of Basic Bike Knowledge
- Choosing a Bike
- Setting the Scene
- What to Wear