Bike or Trike, Pick What You Like
May is Bicycle Safety Month — and there isn’t a more perfect month to dig out those two-wheelers from winter storage and hit the road. After the winter months of cold (though not bitter this year, but still not bike riding weather), and April showers, May flowers are in bloom and it’s time to get out and smell the roses!
It’s also the perfect time to pry those video game controllers out of your child’s hands and point them in the direction of the great outdoors! Biking is the perfect hobby. It’s a great family activity where the whole gang can cruise around the community, or on bike paths and trails. Friends can ride together through the neighborhood, proving that fitness and fun go hand-in-hand! It also gives kids a sense of independence — getting from point A to point B without needing mom or dad to give them a ride.
But, contrary to popular opinion, a bicycle is not a toy — it’s a vehicle and there are road rules and precautions that must be followed in order to ride safely.
Use Your Head, Wear a Helmet
The single most important thing to do to reduce head injuries while riding is to wear a helmet. This is not a choice — it’s the law! In the state of Connecticut, any child, 15 or under, must wear a bike helmet. Forget the wind-in-your-hair philosophy — bike accidents happen. More children ages 5-14 are seen in emergency rooms for biking related injuries than any other sport. While accidents can’t be prevented, reducing bicycle related fatalities can!
Let your kids pick out their own helmet and they will be less likely to give you a hard time about wearing it. It should have a sticker that says it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Make sure the helmet fits and your child knows how to put it on correctly. It should sit on top of the head in a level position and not rock forward, backward or side-to-side. The straps should be buckled, but not too tightly. There is a helmet-fit test that kids can take to make sure they are properly protected.
• Eyes: The helmet should be one to two finger widths above the eyebrows and when it’s in place, kids should look up and be able to see the bottom rim of the helmet.
• Ears: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a “V” under the ears when buckled — snug, but comfortable.
• Mouth: When your child opens his mouth as wide as he can, he should feel the helmet hug his head. If not, the straps need to be tightened.
Getting the Bike in Gear
Before hopping on the bike, especially the first time this season, make sure everything is in working order and properly aligned.
Double check the tire pressure to ensure they are properly inflated. Try the brakes and see if they stick and are working — that’s something you don’t want to take for granted as you go flying down a hill! Check the chain, oil it regularly and make sure the gears shift smoothly.
Kids have this habit of growing over the winter! So, a bike that fit perfectly last September, probably needs some adjustments this May. As your child straddles the top bar of the bike so that both feet are flat on the ground, there should be one to three inches of space between your child and the top bar, and three to four inches if it’s a mountain bike. The seat height should be adjusted to allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended. The handlebar height should be at the same level with the seat.
Dress for Success
Riding during the daytime hours is the safest time to be out on a bike. Fortunately, it stays light out much later, so there is lots more time to ride safely! But whenever you hit the road, putting on bright colored clothing is the way to go. Also, wearing something that reflects light, such as reflective tape, markings or flashing lights, is a big help. It’s important to remember that just because you can see a driver doesn’t mean the driver can see you.
Also, make sure that nothing will get caught up in the bike chain such as loose pants legs, backpack straps or shoelaces. Wear sneakers when you bike. Sandals, flip-flops, shoes with heels and cleats won’t help to grip the pedals. And, never ride barefoot! If you want to look like a professional, riding gloves may help you with gripping the handlebars! Never wear headphones because the music can be a distraction from the surrounding noise and you won’t be able to hear oncoming cars and horns.
Just like cars, bikes have to obey traffic laws. Of course, a bike path free of cars is the best choice for a leisurely, safe ride. But that option is not always available. Since there is a good chance you will be sharing the road with cars and other motor vehicles, you need to keep your eyes open. You never know when a car may suddenly pull out of a driveway or veer into your lane. Also, don’t ride too closely to parked cars, doors can open suddenly.
Go with the flow — ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as the cars. Obey all traffic signs, signals and lane markings. A stop sign means stop whether you are in a car or on a bike. If you are on a smaller road, you must wait for oncoming traffic to pass before it is safe to proceed. The safest way to cross the street is to walk your bike. You must also wait for pedestrians who have already entered the cross walk.
It would be nice to ride along taking in the scenery — BUT you must stay alert at all times. Watch out for potholes, (especially this time of year), cracks in the pavement, wet leaves, gravel or rocks, curbs or anything that could make you lose control of your bike. When you are out with your friends and family, always ride single file with at least one hand on the handlebar at all times.
Learning hand signals will be a big help. These are like turn signals and brake lights for bikers. This way cars, trucks and other riders will know your next move and have a chance to slow down, avoiding any mishaps. An outstretched left hand signals a left turn. Left arm bent upward at the elbow indicates a right turn, or extending the right arm out straight signals the same thing. To show others you are stopping, bend the left arm down at the elbow.
The road ahead is just waiting for you. Go for the ride of your life — pump the pedals and gear up for a summer of fun and health. Enjoying a bike ride on a beautiful spring day isn’t just for kids. It’s a sport that can be enjoyed for a lifetime — and what’s good for you, is also good for the environment. Now, that’s a winning combination.
Information for this article courtesy of www.nhtsa.gov, kidshealth.org and www.safekids.org.
Photo by Nathan Rupert, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.