Kids on two wheels – will yours be road ready?

Site Manager Claire Scott (far right), and three of her instructors, who welcome up to 150 young cyclists each week to Leaside Pedalheads.
Site Manager Claire Scott (far right), and three of her instructors, who welcome up to 150 young cyclists each week to Leaside Pedalheads. Photo by Holly Reid.

Cycling culture definitely has a future in Leaside if the number of children participating in local Pedalheads camps is any indication. Pedalheads is a skills-based camp that teaches kids to ride a bike safely and with confidence – skills to draw on throughout their lives. Wander past Trace Manes Park on any weekday in the summer and you’ll see kids of all ages pedaling across the grass. Some are learning to ride without training wheels, others are practising bike-handling skills, and older campers are getting to know the rules of the road.

Learning to Bike 2.0
According to Matt Raponi, regional manager, Ontario at Pedalheads Bike Camps Inc., parents are primarily concerned about their child’s safety and want them to develop a positive relationship with their bike. So skinned knees are out and building confidence and bike-handling skills are in. This is “Learning to Bike 2.0” and the appeal to parents is not surprising.

Graduating from training wheels
A big draw for parents of young kids is to see them develop cycling skills so training wheels are unnecessary. At Pedalheads, kids earn the right to remove training wheels by demonstrating the pedaling ability to propel their bike forward and the control to manoeuvre around pylons and stop on demand.

Getting road ready
In Toronto, only children under age 14 are allowed to ride on the sidewalk. Ontario law requires approved helmets for everyone under the age of 18. Pedalheads introduces road rules and cycling with traffic to older kids with strong bike handling skills, a group classified as Level III/IV riders. The main difference between levels is maturity and only Level IV riders are taken out on the road. A simulated road experience in camp tests bike-handling ability – can they ride in a straight line, ride single-file within a group and navigate around a simulated parked car? Maturity is evident when riders listen to instructors, follow the rules of the road and demonstrate responsibility. When Level IV riders have met the criteria on the road skills checklist, they will practise on quiet local roads with a speed limit no greater than 40 km/hr., bookended by instructors.

How parents can help
Leaside was one of Pedalheads’ first camps in the GTA and today is its largest in Ontario. This summer they expect to welcome 1,500 kids to the Leaside camp. The City of Toronto also runs cycling lessons and workshops for all ages through Parks, Forestry and Recreation. And while kids can learn to bike at camp, there’s still a role for parents to play. “Parents can reinforce the camp experience by modeling safe cycling practices when riding with their kids – wearing a helmet, following the safety rules and riding responsibly,” says Matt Raponi.

Steps for success
• Right-sized bike. No need to buy an expensive bike, just one that fits. Toes should touch the ground when seated.
• Helmet on tight. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDDmkRV48kg to see how a helmet should fit. Pedalheads counsellors 
check this.
• Protective gear. Plenty of kids wear kneepads and wrist guards to feel more secure – nothing wrong with that.

Holly Reid is a recreational road rider and cycling commuter who has lived and worked in Leaside for 30 years. An advocate for safe cycling, she writes the Ask a Cyclist column for Cycle Toronto (cycleto.ca).