Kids & bikes – 101

MN. Parent Magazine- May Issue

Kids love to ride bikes. And Minnesota loves bicycles. Minnesota has been ranked among the top “bicycle friendly” states in the country by the League of American Cyclists. The season is short, yes. So it’s time for families to take full advantage of the bicycling seasons. But before you dust off your bikes from their winter storage place, it’s a good idea to make sure your kids are aware of some basic safety concerns. It’s not rocket science, just learning how to stay safe on the road while on two wheels.

Safety 101

(note: children less than 10 years of age are not mature enough to make decisions necessary to safely ride in the street. Sidewalk riding only is recommend-Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Head – Brain – Helmet

Although everyone has already heard the safety stats on wearing a helmet, here’s some more. It’s safety rule #1 for bikers, and there’s a reason that the safety stats are so prevalent. According to the Kids Health organization, 300,00 kids go to the emergency room because of bike injuries, and at least 10,000 kids have injuries that require a few days in the hospital.  Ouch. Whether you child is going out for a long ride, or just hopping on the bike to go to the neighbors house, make sure that helmet is on their head.

But don’t go buy any old helmet at the local garage sale. The U.S. government has created safety standards for them. A sticker should appear on the helmet saying it has met standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The helmet should also fit properly (not be too big or too small). The helmet should sit level on your forehead. Kids might want to tip the helmet back so it doesn’t hug the forehead. I’ve even been guilty of this, as it doesn’t pull my hair as much….but if the forehead is showing, the helmet isn’t doing the job. And a reminder to little boys who love wearing their Twins baseball hats in the summer. NO wearing your hat under your bike helmet. The strap also should be adjusted so it’s snug under your chin. They shouldn’t be twisted or loose. If the straps are hanging to the sides of the helmet, the helmet is likely to fall of your child’s head when they need it most.

And if your child still whines about wearing the helmet, remind them that bike helmets are WAY cooler now than they were back in the 70’s and 80’s. Today’s helmets are lightweight and come in super cool colors for both girls and boys. My son loves to personalize his with his favorite Transformers stickers. Better yet, how about reflective stickers since they will make your child more visible to people driving cars.

Be Seen – Be Safe

Kids should be riding only during the day.  Their smaller bikes and bodies are harder for drivers to see. Some precautions that can be taken either in early morning hours or dusk can include bright clothes and reflectors. Bright clothes and reflectors of all kinds can be found in most stores. It’s important that other people on the road see your kids.

And avoid riding at night. If you must ride at night, wear reflectors on the front and rear of your bicycle.  Most states have laws requiring bicyclists to use lights and/or reflectors during nighttime hours. The laws do differ from state to state on how bright the lights need to be and where they are located.  (note: MN. Statute 169.222- requires front-facing white light visible from 500 feet; attacked to the bike or the rider; rear-facing red reflector; reflectors on each side of both pedals; 20 square inches of reflectors on each side of the bicycle. A red-flashing rear lamp is optional)

Also, make sure nothing is dangling while your child rides his or her bike. You don’t want things to get caught up in the bike chain, including loose pant legs, shoelaces or backpack straps. Kids shouldn’t wear sandals, or worse, flip flops when riding. NO bare feet, please. Take it from this author, who broke her leg by getting it caught in the bicycle spoke when she was 6…no dangling.

Rules of the Road- not just for cars

Bicycles are considered vehicles in many states, and have the same rights AND the same responsibilities to follow the rules of the road as motorists. Especially if your riding in a more populated area (a busy Minneapolis park), or riding on a busy city street versus a bike path. Kids should be aware of these basic rules, and be sure to follow them yourself if your all out on a family bike ride:

  • Go with the flow of traffic, not against it.
  • Obey all traffic laws, including stop signs, signals and lane markings
  • Attention kids-  watch out for those parked cars! Ride far enough out from the curb to avoid the unexpected, like the door opening suddenly, or the car pulling out.
  • Look before you turn. When turning right or left, always glance behind you for a break in the traffic, then signal before making the turn. Keep an eye out for left or right-turning traffic.
  • Keep an eye out for possible path or road hazards. Potholes, rocks, gravel, leaves and broken glass are everywhere. All these hazards can cause a wipe out.
  • Control your vehicle…or bike. ALWAYS ride with both hands on the handlebars. Older kids who ride frequently can graduate to just one hand, but never 0 hands! You might even suggest your child wear riding gloves, it will help them grip the handlebars better. And they’ll look like a professional. Cool.
  • Carry your books and other items in a bike carrier, or a backpack.
  • No crazy driving! Be predictable, not unpredictable. Ride in a straight line and not in and out of cars. Signal your move ahead of time.
  • And last but not least….no wearing headphones while riding the bike. Music can distract kids from the noises around them, such as a car honking its horn so they can get out of the way.

Armed with safety information, your kids will be able to enjoy the Minnesota biking season. Did I mention it’s short? Get out there and enjoy!

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