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When accompanying children (in my case roughly in the 5 to 9 range) on a moderately busy (by rural standards) road on our commute to their school I'm sometimes ahead, sometimes beside (at least the smaller one) and sometimes behind.

What is best practice?

Bearing in mind:

  • ahead of them I can control their speed and demonstrate to them safe cycling

  • beside is good, but this only takes care of one child (I'm cycling with two)

  • behind them I can see what's going on

The third option is what I tend to favour most.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted

For safety reasons I prefer to be behind them. That way I can position myself on the road slightly further out then they are. This forces any overtaking vehicles to negotiate past me first and makes them provide a little more breathing space for my child in front. It certainly seems to prevent them trying to squeeze past.

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Agreed. And you can position yourself out far enough to encompass the unpredictable "weave" that young cyclists tend to do. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 20 '11 at 11:23
2  
How do you handle vehicles who pull out in front of the leading child or when they don't stop when they should? –  James Schek Jan 1 '12 at 6:37

Interesting in that what you describe what you're actually doing seems fine to me.

Given that, if I trust the 9 year old to stop at stop signs, lights, intersections, etc, ...I'd tend to go with behind. Namely, because you can see what's going on.

The problem with "ahead" is when a child lags behind and you don't realize it. And also, you're constantly looking back; which may very well take your experienced eyes off of the road ahead.

I say behind, but close, so that you have voice control at the very least.

As for "beside", it'll depend on the road or path situation. Side-by-side riding may or may not be more dangerous, so, you'll have to make a judgement call. On beside, I'd ride beside the less experienced child with the more experienced child ahead.

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If you run ahead you most definitely should have some sort of mirror.

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Mirror - of course. That should be at the top of my shopping list. –  hawbsl Oct 19 '11 at 23:15

My children are 5, 9 and 11 and as the eldest ones are reasonably proficient, my 5 year old has not been cycling very long so she is a bit erratic, so I tend to go with:

Eldest in front - I know I can trust him to stop at junctions correctly. 9 year old next - she is good at cycling, but doesn't always pay attention, so having her brother stop at junctions in front of her helps a lot. 5 year old next, with me beside her so no matter how far she weaves she will not be the furthest out into the road. In an emergency I could also grab her or push her over onto the kerb (not ideal, but preferable to going under a car...)

This also means I can see all three of them at all times.

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I follow behind, but some topics need to be reviewed before and during the rides. And also, for all our best intentions, the group gets split, or you coast ahead or they drift behind. I tend to review these points with my family or picnic group:

  • The intended route, and I try and ask the kids if they know what and where I'm talking about. It is important to get the kids thinking about their local geography and not mindlessly following mom and dad.

  • Marching order: if I'm solo with kids, I'm usually following. If I'm with my wife or another parent, often we have a parent leading, or in second place, and a parent as caboose. Kids that drift left into the lane sometimes need to be placed immediately behind the lead parent to give them a more distinct target to follow.

  • Verbally agree, assign or describe the next stop. This not only allows the kids to participate in the navigation, gives them some measured independence towards leading the way, but also is good practice for parents to think ahead about what the next intersection is, and if the kids should lead thru it. Not agreeing on a stopping point leads to kids wandering far ahead parents changing course pursuing kids buddies that just "wanted to check that thing out."

  • Leading when you cannot describe the route clearly. Often this is leading slowly, so that the slow pedalers are not left behind. Sometimes traffic is loud, and shouting from behind doesn't work well, so them seeing you lead off can be effective as well.

  • If you do lead, lead ahead no more than a block/signal. Sometimes, especially if you are coasting downhill, or your group is split by a changing signal, you have to wait on the other side of the light. I find that on my cargo bike, I end up coasting far faster than the kids can pedal. I've found that I can get caught up in moments of riding just looking at the traffic around you, and suddenly no-one is ahead of you.

  • How to handle turning left at a green light. This matter of right-of-way is not intuitive to elementary school kids. Such intersections are important to agree on stopping at, or a block before, and possibly changing your marching order so that you lead when there is a proper break in traffic.

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