Training Wheels: Biking Safety Education Curriculum

This blog post was written by the Safe Routes Partnership's research reviewer, Christina Galardi.

“It’s just like riding a bike.”

This is an expression we often use to refer to a learned skill that comes naturally and is retained for a lifetime.

But how do you learn to ride a bike—and do so safely—in the first place?

kids on bikes

The Alliance for Biking and Walking’s recent Bicycling & Walking in the United States: 2016 Benchmarking Report notes that youth represent 21 percent of the U.S. population and 39 oercent of all bike trips, but in 12 states youth are also disproportionately represented among bicycle fatalities. An important component of establishing a strong Safe Routes to School program is integrating bicycle and pedestrian safety education curriculum with skills training to address parents’ safety concerns and to encourage more students to walk or bike to school.

The following three research articles document hands-on bike safety and skills training programs funded by Safe Routes to School that provide ideas for adaptation in other communities.

Bike Skills Training in PE Is Fun, Keeps Kids Safe” describes the Bike Smarts program established in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WFCS) district in North Carolina. The SRTS coordinator tailored the program, which consisted of four sessions with components both in and outside the classroom, to fit into existing physical education curriculum for fourth and sixth graders. When teaching the program, elementary, and middle schools could reserve use of a trailer, bikes, and helmets purchased for shared use by the district. Additional considerations in program development and implementation included bike maintenance, appropriate sizes of helmets, and teacher and student skill level (Wallace and Sutton, 2015). Although no outcomes on knowledge or behaviors were gathered, this article provides a thorough description of how the program was developed and how logistical challenges were addressed. The authors noted that the curriculum could also be appropriate for other youth-serving organizations like Scout troops or churches.

Teaching children about bicycle safety: An evaluation of the New Jersey Bike School program” compares two training models for grades 4 through 6 implemented by the New Jersey Safe Routes to School Resource Center: a structured program in schools and a less structured program in a summer camp that included on-road practice. Across both groups, knowledge test scores improved by 55 percent before and after the program, with greater change in the summer camp program, which the study authors attributed to lower knowledge levels in this group prior to the program and the additional on-road practice. The article presents detailed analyses of changes in knowledge on each question of the test, which identified topics that 15 percent or more students answered incorrectly even after the program, including street positioning, negotiating unsafe street situations, stop sign behaviors, and hand signaling a stop. Students could have answered these questions incorrectly after the training program for two reasons: the evaluation question might not have been clear, or the training program might not have adequately taught students about that topic. By identifying program content that students answered incorrectly after the program, the program practitioners can take a closer look at these topics and consider whether revisions are needed in future program implementation.

BikeSafe: Evaluating a bicycle safety program for middle school aged children” shares results from a four-session “off-bike” educational curriculum tested with grades 6 through 8 at six schools. The BikeSafe program, supported by the Florida Department of Transportation and Safe Routes to School, used a train-the-trainer format to prepare P.E. teachers to implement the program. Bicycle safety knowledge improved across all students, with only one school seeing an increase in scores that was not statistically significant. The program evaluation also compared knowledge scores assessing helmet fit across class periods and schools. Knowledge test scores did not vary by class periods, which suggests that curriculum was implemented consistently within a school. Differences in knowledge post-tests between schools might indicate that teaching styles varied between schools and influenced the level of program success.  The researchers also recommended adding a hands-on evaluation to the paper-based knowledge assessment to allow students to demonstrate proper helmet fit and other bike safety skills.

One final study we’ll share, “A Community-Based After-School Program to Promote Bicycling Skills and Knowledge: Kids Can Bike!” profiles a seven-week bicycling education program for third through fifth graders at after-school and summer day camp programs in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kids Can Bike! was developed through a unique partnership of location organizations: the state child obesity coalition, a children’s hospital, the city parks and recreation department, a local university, and the city transportation planning organization, rather than with Safe Routes to School Funding. The first two weeks of the program consisted of a bike rodeo to test the participant’s existing bike skills and a bike and helmet fitting. In the third week, participants were trained in “Safety City,” a mock version of downtown Knoxville with roads, sidewalks, traffic lights, and crosswalks run by the local police department. In the final weeks, students were bused to local greenways to practice.  Participants showed significant increases in bicycling knowledge through a four-item evaluation that matched each participant’s response before and after the program, although this was only a four-item test.

Planning your own training program? Check out our page on Traffic Safety Programs for links to curricula and resources. We also recommend you plan a process for evaluation from the beginning. The best evaluation designs will match pre- and post- tests for individual students. This information can help you track changes in knowledge and behaviors and improve your program’s impact.

Finally, we emphasize that bike and pedestrian training for students must be complemented with an environment that supports safe active transportation through road design. “It’s just like riding a bike” should not be a phrase referring to partaking in a risky behavior – it should be an expression for an activity that is comfortable and builds confidence for a lifelong skill.


  • Alliance for Biking and Walking. (2016). Benchmarking Report.
  • Flynn, J. I., Jr, D. R. B., & Zavisca, E. (2015). A Community-Based After-School Program to Promote Bicycling Skills and Knowledge : Kids Can Bike! Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 33(4), 90–99.
  • Hooshmand, J., Hotz, G., Neilson, V., & Chandler, L. (2014). BikeSafe : Evaluating a bicycle safety program for middle school aged children. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 66, 182–186.
  • Lachapelle, U., Noland, R. B., Ann, L., & Hagen, V. (2013). Teaching children about bicycle safety : An evaluation of the New Jersey Bike School program. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 52, 237–249.
  • Wallace, J.L. & Sutton, N.P. (2015). Bike Skills Training in PE is Fun, Keeps Kids Safe. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance. 86(2), 41-46.