Do you have experience leading a group of child cyclists? Were you, for example, a volunteer at a child cycling club? I want to hear from you.

Context: An adult is leading a group of 2-6 children aged 8-12 on a bike ride. They will ride on a path that goes through city streets as well as through cyclist-pedestrian mixed-use paved trails.

What rules should the adult leader observe, and what rules should the adult leader communicate to the children?

This is a separate problem from those leading 13+ year-olds, who may anyway ride alone. It’s also separate from leading 6-7 y-o kids, who may be too absent-minded for riding on city streets (and who may not be ready for real rides anyway). The exact age for independence may be different in different jurisdictions. Here we focus on a group of kids riding 20” and 24” bikes.

I learned (the hard way) that the set of rules should start with the following ones. (I’m listing the first few rules to tell you what I’m looking for—I’m not looking, for example, for “carry inner tubes for every bike travelling along” or ”teach the kids how to shift gears.” I’m looking for safety-critical rules.)

  • Even on usually empty side streets, the leader must insist that kids follow and never go ahead of the leader (because we cannot depend on kids observing traffic rules such as yield and stop signs that automobile drivers learn before getting a driving license).
  • on long stretches of side roads, the leader should slow down and let the front-most kids pass (breaking the first rule) to make sure every kid remains close to the curb, then accelerate to be at the head of the group before the next intersection.
  • At main street crossings, the leader should act like school area crossing guards: stop in the middle of the road; signal to the kids to cycle across; wait until the last kid crosses; then accelerate to be at the front of the group.
  • During left-turns on side streets, the leader should again block the road, and also remind the children loudly “stay close to the curb.”
  • Optional, but a good idea: do the same during right turns. (Here it would complicate the wording to use inclusive language for an international forum; in this question one drives/cycles on the right side of the road.)

Suppose you’re training child-group volunteer leaders in a cycling group, what would you do to train the adult leaders, in addition to or instead of these five points?


  • In the UK children 12-and-under shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk/pavement. They should only ride on the road.
  • In Canada it varies by jurisdiction, but the general rule is that it is perfectly legal for children 12 and under to cycle on the sidewalk/pavement. (But it is illegal for adults, even if they're riding with children cycling on the sidewalk/pavement.)
  • The US NHSTA has some pretty basic safety advice.
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    "Shouldn't ride on the pavement" is unambiguous? Say "road," if you want to be clear.
    – DavidW
    Jun 13, 2022 at 10:49
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    Do you also have an adult helper?
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:13
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    @AndyP the CUK page linked in the question says they don't try to stop children. I know they do sometimes stop cyclists in the pedestrian areas and nearby pavements in Cardiff, even ones doing walking pace with a foot halfway down - but not very often. I found riding in the road while supervising a child riding on the pavement really difficult - all of a sudden I'm looking out for hazards ahead in twice as many places, and people back out of driveways blind.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2022 at 16:44
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    @DavidW if there's a cycle path, a road and a pavement, "shouldn't ride on the pavement" is not the same as "ride on the road".
    – Rеnаud
    Jun 14, 2022 at 8:16
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    It is okay to answer your own question, but answering a question in the question seems questionable to me.
    – Carsten S
    Jun 14, 2022 at 14:24

5 Answers 5


I have worked for over 15 years full time as a 'Bikeability' instructor in the UK. The official 'Guidance' for instructors leading a group of up to six children (9 to 11 years old) states that instructors must maintain 'line of sight at all times' yet be 'in a position to intervene', if necessary, which most cycle training organisations interpret as 'leading from the back'. In my personal experience this creates far more difficulties and safety concerns than it supposedly addresses. Children in this age range are very different in terms of their capability, fitness levels, and spatial awareness. Riding at the back of the group often requires the instructor to shout loudly, especially in traffic situations, whereupon most children will react adversely. Passing side roads can be problematic, particularly when one trainee forgets that they have right of way and stops suddenly if a vehicle arrives at the intersection. Turning into a side road can also be difficult, when the instructor cannot see the prevailing conditions around the turn. Over-enthusiastic lead riders will often set a pace the rest of the group cannot maintain, causing the group to stretch out, with a commensurate loss of control. Since being ordered by my manager to ride at the back (on pain of dismissal) I've had more near misses and close calls than previously, where I tended to head up the group and the children would literally follow my lead.

Leading from the front has its issues, but an experienced instructor can set an appropriate pace, make good rearward observations and is far better placed to anticipate prevailing traffic situations and react accordingly. Conspicuity has never been a problem for following traffic, in my experience. My personal take on it is that an instructor should adopt the riding position most suited to the situation and circumstances at the time. If and when I'm coaching a group of competent, sensible trainees who can be relied upon to make good decisions independently, then I'm happy to ride at the back of the group and only intervene when necessary, otherwise I will adopt whichever position I believe to be the safest for all concerned at that moment in time. In short, riding with a group of inexperienced children, of mixed ability, in a highly dynamic and potentially dangerous environment requires the utmost vigilance and flexibility in terms of approach, and suggesting that one 'mode' of ride leadership is inherently safer than another is nonsense. I've yet to have a serious incident or accident in all the time I've been an instructor but I'm never complacent. Any ride leader or instructor who consistently rides at the rear or the front, since that is what they've been told to do, is failing in their duty of care, in my considered opinion....ride where you need to be!

  • 1
    1/2 Excellent answer, even if you do not (yet) tell us (I know it would be a very long answer) when to lead from the front or the back. Let me add a first one, also from experience: if you're leading from the back and have any doubt that the child at the front of the group will indeed stop at a stop sign, then you may end up with a serious accident or even a fatality in your group. In that case you must lead from the front.
    – Sam7919
    Sep 9, 2022 at 17:53
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    2/2 "Stopping at a stop sign" is far more complex than we adults think. It involves determining that a stop sign should be there but is invisible because, for example, overgrown trees occlude it. And that's before we even consider that two children are prone at any moment to tell one another "let's race" and run stop/yield signs with no sense or reason. They're just children, after all.
    – Sam7919
    Sep 9, 2022 at 17:55
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    Also, what are your thoughts on having two adults if possible?
    – Weiwen Ng
    Sep 10, 2022 at 12:26

Tl;dr: leading from the back is a good idea most of the time

I'm going to assume that you are the only adult in the group, but in that case you'll need to delegate some responsibility to a competent kid.

Personally, I'd lead from the back if the group is small enough that the front riders can easily hear you, and you can easily see them. This has several advantages:

  • No one falls off the back of the group and gets left behind.
  • You can observe all the riders, helping with any coaching, and instantly warning any that drift out too far into the road, or more likely, that drift so close to the kerb they're getting likely to hit it, or debris, or a drain.
  • The biggest threat is from cars coming up behind, and at the back you can ride wider than the kids so that most close passes only affect you (and I assume you can handle them). You're far more visible than kids, being taller and having more surface area to spot; you may have more visible clothing too (I'd also run a rear flashing light bright enough to be seen in the light levels you've got, even during the day)
  • You also have a clear view behind, whether using a mirror or over your shoulder, and without swerving all over the road, or coming off if there's a sudden bump as you shoulder-check. You can warn of big vehicles coming up, instruct the group to tuck in, etc.
  • This is particularly important if you have to move out a lane to make a turn - compared to kids, you're big, obvious, and capable of both signalling clearly and looking behind you; you know what you're looking for.
  • You can still navigate, if you've got a loud enough voice to pass on instructions. An important instruction is for the front rider(s) to wait.
  • If there's a problem - accident, mechanical etc., you see it and are already approaching it to deal with it. You don't have to hear a shout, call a halt, and backtrack, which may not be easy on all roads (e.g. no pavement/sidewalk, country roads with a bit of traffic so you can just U turn or walk down the wrong side of the road).

If the group is too big to be managed by a single adult at the back, it's too big to be managed by a single adult - you need a leader and a deputy front and rear, working as a team.

You then need to designate a front marker, or rotate that responsibility among the kids. "No passing Alice unless I say so" would be the rule as there may be times it's safe to let them climb the hill at their own pace and regroup at the top - obviously depending on their skill and behaviour. Clearly your front marker needs to be willing and able to follow the rules of the road, not just the written ones, but the unwritten expectations - but you can and should prompt them (and by extension the whole group).

An adult assistant could also take this role, though they could be a back marker too.

I use leading from the back in some adult groups; a useful concept from whitewater kayaking translates well to group cycling. The leader should be in the position of maximum usefulness and that means one where they can see both their group and the threats to it.

If you want to lead from the front (perhaps navigation is complicated and only a "follow me" approach will work) you really need a helper, adult or older kid. While you are still responsible for not losing anyone, you now have a last helmet (hopefully a distinctive one) to look for in you mirror. A mirror is extremely useful if leading a group from the front. Your designated back marker has to:

  • Not come forwards in the group, with the possible exception of stopping the others and catching you up in cases like a mechanical just after you as leader has just gone round a bend out of sight.
  • Be able to call out loud and clear if there's a problem
  • Warn of threats coming up behind. This is probably the trickiest for an older kid, as it means a lot of shoulder checking, while other kids in front may do something unpredictable.
  • Ride assertively, signalling clearly and positioning themself wisely.

A random parent who can ride may not be the best choice of back marker, but may be all you've got - so you'll need to point out their responsibilities.

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    I'll pick up on a couple of points in the question here in comments, then maybe incorporate them in and edit - the answer is big enough for now and I'd like to keep it generic.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:42
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    Even on usually empty side streets, the leader must insist that kids follow and never go ahead of the leader (because we cannot depend on kids observing traffic rules such as yield and stop signs that automobile drivers learn before getting a driving license). If you can insist on them not passing you, you can insist on them not passing the signs, teach them, and remind them.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:43
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    on long stretches of side roads, the leader should slow down and let the front-most kids pass to make sure every kid remains close to the curb, then accelerate to be at the head of the group before the next intersection. actually makes sure that they're willing to pull out to pass an obstacle - you. Yes, you can check that they pull back in afterwards, but you don't get the chance to see if they're drifting around because they're not paying attention when you're not looking. That's far worse than holding a line a touch further out than ideal.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:45
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    During left-turns on side streets, the leader should again block the road, and also remind the children loudly “stay close to the curb.” I hope you've checked that there aren't any hazards close to the kerb before issuing an instruction that might mean the ride into debris or potholes, which seem to accumulate on corners. Of course they should tuck in properly as sound as they've safely made the turn, but there's a difference in emphasis That's probably more important on your right (my left) turns as you can't often see the surface just round the bend.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2022 at 12:46
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    This lines up with hiking, the first person on a hike only needs to be able to navigate and not do something like fall off a bridge, the last person on the hike is responsible for making sure everyone is actually OK. And put the slowest person as the first or second person. Jun 15, 2022 at 21:24

The whole discussion shows that having only one adult is unsafe for the kids. Lead from the front, you'll be unable to supervise them correctly (even with a mirror) and address dangerous behaviours on time. Lead from the back, you'll be unable to manage the group if it splits because the child leading was too enthusiastic and missed a turn. I didn't search extensively, but it looks like only France has written legislation on that topic: 2 adults per group of max 12 kids, each group is indivisible an adult rides in front and another one at the back. These rules make total sense. Of course, if you know the kids, it's a bit different, and you wouldn't need guidance on how to lead them (X is responsible enough and can be given a navigation device to lead the group, Y is not focused enough and needs to be close to me,...).

Also, organizing "activities for unrelated children" might obey to additional rules that are not written in the traffic law. Even if it doesn't reply the "educational aspects" of the question (that are already covered in other answers), these aspects are also important if you want to organise activities without putting yourself (or your possessions) at risk.

For example, if you are organising for a club, there are some additional legal requirements, and one of them is typically that the club subscribes to a third party liability insurance policy for its activities. The insurance company can impose condition to accept to insure - like having certifications for the group leaders, and will more than probably verify that these conditions are met if an accident occurs (especially if it's serious). If they are not met, the activity leader can be held personally liable.

So it's worth having a look to the conditions of insurance policies too (either personal/family or clubs). If your family insurance for instance only covers your children, you may want to question the idea to lead an activity in the first place. Enumerating the boundaries depends on the juridiction, so I won't do it here.

Also, if you really commit to organise such activities, the best answer is probably to follow a training from a recognized local association, that will provide guidance about the local rules in place and also provide a context that is probably safer for the organiser compared to organising it 'personally' based on advice read online.

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    There are also rules around child protection which apply (in the UK) to clubs and similar settings when the child is under the care of an adult who isn't family (grossly over-simplified).
    – Chris H
    Jun 14, 2022 at 8:32
  • @Renaud uh.. exhausting.. The question addresses specifically the safety of a tight-knit group of children. What you said may be valid and important, but it does not answer the question. In this question: 1- we are “not concerned about hurting others” (kids riding, hence third party liability issues are not of importance, at least not in this question); and 2- it is not a club or a group of strangers. In this question we are focused on maximizing the safety of the children.
    – Sam7919
    Jun 14, 2022 at 14:23
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    @Sam, you do imply a club-like situation is relevant with "Were you, for example, a volunteer at a child cycling club? I want to hear from you." And liability insurance requirements vary hugely with jurisdiction, which you're (deliberately?) keeping broad; in some places the responsible adult would need to take that into account even if taking their own kid's friends for a ride, if the kids caused a crash
    – Chris H
    Jun 14, 2022 at 14:44
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    @Sam you also wrote in your question: "Suppose you’re training child-group volunteer leaders in a cycling group, what would you do to train the adult leaders, in addition to or instead of these five points?" I followed training to be youth camp leaders, and was board member of caving club. In both cases, liability was a very important topic - and in the first case there was a dedicated section on liability in the cursus for the official certification. So by experience I know it's an important point (in Belgium at least), and yes it's something I would add to the points you mentioned.
    – Rеnаud
    Jun 14, 2022 at 16:58

I'll offer a counterpoint to ChrisH's view, because whether one adult group leader should be at the front or the rear of the group is a good way to constrain this open-ended problem.

Say you take the tail. The following scenarios can occur.

  • You take two kids on a ride. One is exhausted and lags, but you stay behind them. You assume the child at the front knows the way, but they take a wrong turn. The group is divided and you're not even free to race to a branch on the trails.
  • You decide you can handle three kids. One struggles with a slight uphill (because, despite you imploring, they don't drop their gear). The two at the front decide to race. They run a stop sign. Your (and their) luck depends on whether they and the car drivers can react in time. Worst case scenario: the other road does not have a stop sign.
  • The front-most child correctly reads a green light, but doesn't wait afterwards to make sure everyone crossed. You're stuck behind a red light and you lose the child at the front.

Now suppose you take the front.

  • At every stop-light or yield-sign intersection you raise your (left) arm. You wait until everyone joins and you proceed, staying at the front.
  • At every red or green light at a minor intersection, you stop, regroup, evaluate whether enough time is left for everyone to cross, and start to cross if you estimate there is enough time. You remain at the front, biking in a tight group. If you get it wrong, it's not a disaster. We assume the drivers are civilized and will wait for all kids to cycle across, or else you signal to the rest of the group to wait for a red-green cycle, and you wait on the other side of the road.
  • At every red or green light at a major intersection, you stop and regroup before the intersection . You start cycling only at the moment the light turns from red to green. You act like a crossing guard, perhaps establishing eye contact with drivers in both directions. You signal to the kids that it's ok to cross. You leave the intersection after the last child, then accelerate to take the lead.

From this reasoning it would be reasonable to expect that a policy of staying at the head of the group has less risk of a disaster (cyclist-car accident) than staying at the tail of the group.

The other problems that can occur when you're at the front (a child is too slow and you lose sight of them momentarily, a child brakes on a sand patch and falls, ..) are, relatively speaking, far less serious than an incident with a car.

The second-most dangerous occurrence is for a child to cycle at a speed above their balancing ability and to fall at speed. In practice this can only happen on downhills. Once again it's better to be at the front. The leader can then slow everyone down.

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    If your group members can't obey instructions then consider reducing the group size. Some kids might need 1:1 ratio.
    – Criggie
    Jun 14, 2022 at 0:30
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    @Criggie They're kids. It's not Boolean. Even if they obey instructions 39 times out of 40, that's still an intolerable risk, depending on what they do on that 1/40.
    – Sam7919
    Jun 14, 2022 at 0:44
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    @Criggie But another phenomenon is a factor. Even adults , not just kids, lose common sense in a swimming pool. They will, for example, stand on a flotation device without thinking that they would fracture their cranium if they fall and hit the ledge (or another swimmer). Perhaps it's because swimming is so liberating (moving in three dimensions?). Cycling is likewise liberating. It enables people to self-propel faster than they could ever run. This sometimes makes adults, but especially kids, somewhat also lose common sense.
    – Sam7919
    Jun 14, 2022 at 0:47
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    You make some good points, and it seems like where we differ is on weighting risk factors. My daughter and her friends are at the young end of the age range in the question, and good at following instructions but less good at not swerving unpredictably when looking over their shoulders or dodging potholes - really not good if there's a car close alongside. The older kids I know are pretty trustworthy and sensible too, but I can see how older kids would need holding back if they were prone to racing each other.
    – Chris H
    Jun 14, 2022 at 8:24
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    @ChrisH, that's a very good point too: the risks with leading from the front mostly involve the children's ability to control the bike, while the risks with leading from the back mostly involve their ability to control themselves. The relative severity of these two types of risk can vary a lot depending on the children's age, personality, family background, group dynamics, etc. Jun 14, 2022 at 13:37

I will instead focus on a couple of general principles that the adults should bear in mind.

Children are developing neurologically. Their physical coordination and situational awareness are less than adults. The OP clearly recognizes this, but it’s worth stating explicitly. Translated into practice, this suggests some situations to be aware of, which might require extra monitoring:l

  • When negotiating turns, kids may stray into the oncoming lane or otherwise lose formation.
  • In heavier bicycle or foot traffic, it’s possible they’re more likely to get distracted.
  • There are probably some other scenarios. Ride leaders need to exercise judgment to detect these.

This is easier said than done, but adults should remember that their own situational awareness can be impacted if they have task saturation. It might be preferable to stop to regroup for a second if you think you may be starting to lose track of everyone. As a cyclist who sometimes encounters kids on mixed-use trails, I typically assume that kids may have less control over their path as I pass. I usually give a wider berth and monitor them as I pass more closely than an adult cyclist.

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