Biking with kids: crashing and learning

Yesterday I wrote about my 4 year old’s success with her first cross-town bike trip. I closed with a promise to tell the story of her ride with an unfortunate ending the day before.


Here’s that story, with more thoughts on kids and bike crashes.

We had ridden about 1.5 miles uneventfully through Richmond to
drop off a package at the Post Office. A Cardinal Greenway trailhead is practically behind the Post Office, so we proceeded to ride up to Springwood Lake Park. Heading home, she had ridden just over 4 miles when she was suddenly thrown over the handlebars in a tangle of body and bike.

It seemed like the safest of conditions: She was on a flat stretch of paved trail, with no one else close to her (except for me following her). I soon found there had been a singular rock on the trail– a golf ball-sized stone that had a similar color to the pavement. She impacted the front of her helmet. I think she would have had no injury at all, except she had recently bumped and bruised her forehead on a fall while she was running. This time the helmet pressed against the bruise and made it hurt.

I had not had the foresight to bring a kid seat on my bike to carry her home, so her bike trip ended there and she got picked up in mom’s car.

This was not her first crash in her relatively short history of learning to ride a bike.

She once went down a grass hill a little too fast and went over the handlebars when they twisted to the side. Another time she slid out going too fast around a gravel corner on a sidewalk. While these are always hard to watch, they are valuable lessons to have had at low speeds when the consequences have been minimal and parents have been nearby. Her response is always is to return and try again. As a result, her riding style has already been tempered to be more aware and moderate: she looks out for gravel, slows down for turns, and brakes going down hills to keep herself at a safe speed.

I was not as fortunate to learn about gravel in turns under such safe conditions. I really “got it” in my early twenties when I took a sharp turn off a well-traveled street at full speed. I went down hard and fast at more like 20 miles per hour, and had no one around to help scrape myself and my  road rash out of the street before the next car might come. Fortunately, the intersection was empty at the moment.

As a parent, I can’t remove the risks of cycling for my child. I can help create an environment where the stakes are lower, and support and encouragement are available to recover from the mistakes and accidents that are bound to happen.

For my daughter the risks must be worth it as she continually asks to go out and ride. I think she’s developing rapidly as a cyclist because of her early failures and accidents, rather than in spite of them.

For more on young children and bicycles, I recommend the post Start ’em Young by Henry Cutler, as well as the Totcycle blog, particularly, Is Family Cycling Safe?.

What are you thoughts on kids and bike crashes?