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Gear Up for a Spring Ride

Gene Bisbee. CC BY 2.0

  In this energy-efficient, go-green era, everyone is looking for ways to reduce pollution and their carbon footprint on the world. This is also the age of being active, getting fit and eliminating childhood obesity. Both of these problems can be solved with one simple solution — bicycling! Biking is the perfect exercise to get you in shape, transport you from point “A” to point “B,” and the best part is — zero emissions! You are helping both yourself and the world at the same time!

  May is National Bicycle Safety Month, and with the weather warming up, it’s the perfect time to dig out those wheels, hop on and go for a spin. But wait, not so fast! Even though you haven’t ridden in almost a year, you might think it’s not a big deal — it’s as easy as, well, riding a bike — nothing to it.

  But even though biking is lots of fun, accidents do happen. Approximately 300,000 kids go to emergency rooms annually because of bike-related injuries, and at least 10,000 of those kids need to stay in the hospital for a few days. But there are ways to keep them on the right path, making sure they’re safe while pedaling their way to summer fun.

Helmet Help

  The most important starting point for everyone — mom, dad and every child — is to make sure to wear a helmet. No matter how long the ride, whether its back and forth in the driveway, around the block or a several mile trip, the helmet goes on before you even sit on the bike. Many bike accidents involve a head injury, so a crash could mean severe brain trauma, or even death if your head isn’t protected.

  Even if your child had a helmet last year, it might be time for a new one. If you let your children pick out their own helmet when you go shopping, they’ll be more likely to willingly wear it for each ride. Pick one that has bright or fluorescent colors so that they are visible to drivers and other cyclists. Look for one that’s well ventilated, and make sure that it has a CPSC or Snell sticker inside. These indicate that the helmet meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the Snell Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group that tests helmet safety.

  Check that the helmet fits correctly and can be adjusted. The helmet fits well if it sits level on the head, isn’t tilted forward or backward, has strong, wide straps that fasten snugly under the chin and is tight enough so that after fastening, no sudden pulling or twisting could move it around. Kids should always fasten the straps and shouldn’t wear any other hat underneath it. There is a helmet-fit test that kids can take to ensure 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.

Clothes Make the Rider

  You’ve got their head covered, literally, now what about the rest of the outfit? Just like when you selected a helmet, wearing bright colored clothing will also help to increase visibility on the road. They’re easier to see than white, and dark clothes should be avoided, especially during early dusk hours. Using reflective tape will also help in being seen.

  Pant legs shouldn’t be too loose-fitting or flared. These can get caught up in the chain while riding. If wearing a backpack is necessary, like traveling to and from school, make sure the straps are tied up and can’t get tangled in the spokes of the wheels. Select shoes that grip the pedals. Sneakers are best, but make sure the laces are securely tied because those can also get caught in the spokes. Cleats, shoes with heels or flip-flops can all be problematic while riding, and never ride barefoot!

  It may seem like a good idea to plug in and listen to some favorite tunes when out riding, but avoid wearing headphones. The music can distract cyclists from surrounding noise such as cars, horns and other warning signals.

Bike Fixer Upper

  Funny thing about getting the bike out of storage and getting ready to ride after a year — kids grow, and the bike that was perfect last season is way too small now. How can you tell if last year’s bike still fits? When they’re on the bike, stand and straddle the top bar so that both feet are flat on the ground. There should be 1-3-inches of space between you and the top bar. The seat should be level front and back, and the 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 as the seat.

  Go over this safety checklist to make sure everything is in order — because that’s how you roll!

 • Make sure your seat, handlebars and wheels fit tightly.

• Check and oil the chain regularly.

• Check the brakes to be sure they work well and aren’t sticking.

• Check the tires to make sure they have enough air and the right amount of tire pressure. 

Road Test

  Helmet on, check. Shoe laces and pants secured, check. Proper bike fit, check. Now, it’s time to hit the road. But, just like driving a car, cyclists must follow and obey the rules of the road. That means stopping at all stop signs and obeying traffic lights, just like other vehicles. Make sure to yield to pedestrians, and be especially careful at intersections. When crossing a busy street, use the crosswalk, follow traffic signals and walk the bike across the road.

  Always ride in the same direction as the cars, never ride against the traffic. If there is a bike lane or designated bike route, that’s best to use, especially for older kids. Children, under 10, can ride on the sidewalk. It’s not a good idea to ride at dusk or in the dark.

  Before heading out into the street, whether from the driveway or at a curb, always stop and check for traffic in both directions. Watch closely for cars that are turning or leaving their driveways. And don’t ride too close to parked cars — doors open suddenly.

  When riding in a group, it might be tempting to chat along the way, but always ride in a single file. When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left and call out “on your left” so they’ll watch out for you. Only one person should be on the bike at a time — don’t share the seat with a friend or ride on the handlebars. And never stand up while riding.

  Make sure to first look behind you and always use the correct hand signals before you change directions or lanes. 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.

  On your ride be alert for hazards in the road. Pot holes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, and even dogs can come up very suddenly and make you loose control and crash. It’s always important to be aware of what’s around you at all times.

  Make biking a family affair. Moms and dads can set a good example by encouraging family rides and demonstrating what safe riding looks like. And there is no better way to enjoy the beautiful spring weather than by staying active together.

  You are now ready to hit the streets (or the bike path), feel the breeze in your hair and enjoy the exhilarating feeling that only a bike ride can bring. So, for a lifetime of fun, bike long and safely on the road to a better you. ™ 

Information for this article courtesy of kidshealth.org, www.nhtsa.gov and www.safekids.org.

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