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Ask the Expert: How Can I Make Sure My Child is Safe When Riding Their Bike?

President of Bike and Roll NYC Chris Wogas shares tips for staying safe on a bicycle, including the safety accessories every bike should have, how to tell if a helmet fits properly, proper bike seat positioning, and what to look for in a bike maintenance check before every ride.

family bike ride

What should my child wear when riding a bike?

For footwear, the best thing to wear is a sneaker or close-toed shoe. Anything open-toe, children still have a chance of catching their foot on the ground as they ride. And the most important thing for a child or adult is to wear a helmet.

How can I tell if a helmet fits properly?

It should be snug but not too tight. A good way to tell is to put it on and clip it. It shouldn't move side to side freely. If you move your head, it shouldn't shake, it should move with your head. Then you know it fits correctly. It should be about half an inch to an inch above your eyebrows and it should come down the same distance on the back of your head.

What are the safety accessories everyone should have on their bike?

Every person should have a bell and lights. I don’t know about in other states, but here in New York City, you can’t ride at night without lights on the front and back of your bike—white on the front and red on the back, just like a car. And you have to have a bell. You can’t ride without a bell. Those are the two biggest safety things you should have. You should have reflectors and things like that, but at minimum you have to have lights and a bell.

Is there a maintenance check I should do before each time I ride my bike?

Every time you want to check the breaks to make sure they’re working right. Check the seat to make sure that the post is tight and it isn’t going to move or slide when you’re riding. Check the air pressure in your tires to make sure that it’s right. Then you just want to look at the bike to make sure that nothing looks out of place. There are some obvious things—if you see a crack or a dent, that would be concerning—but you’re just looking for something that doesn't look right. Not everyone has the mechanic ability where they can look at it and say, “Oh, I know what that is.” But if something doesn't look right, it usually stands out to someone. But the big things that you want to make sure are going to work are the seats, the tires, and the breaks.

What is the proper positioning of the bicycle seat?

That’s different for everybody, believe it or not. The clearest sort of format for that is when you’re pedaling at the bottom of the cycle—so when your leg is extended as much as can be—you’re just about straight-legged, but not everybody is comfortable with that. Some like their leg a little more bent, some like their leg a little bit more straight, so it's really a preference of what you want.

The biggest thing from a size standpoint is to make sure that you can stand off the seat flat-footed on the ground comfortable on the frame—you don't want the frame too tall where it is digging into you. You also don’t want it too low where you have to have the seat post way too high because there’s actually a point where the seat post is too high and its not safe.


Find tips on riding bikes in traffic and in groups, as well as bicycle laws in the New York metro area, here.

Chris Wogas is the president of Bike and Roll NYC, which offers bicycle tours and rentals throughout New York City and Hoboken, NJ.

Also see:

Ask the Expert: Why Should My Child Learn to Ride a Balance Bike?

Biking: Teach Your Kids to Ride Safely


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