by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com
All around the country, bike paths are being built as quickly as possible. Many of these paths are routed from neighborhoods to nearby schools in an effort to get more kids riding to school. To get your kids riding to school safely and comfortably look at our helpful tips below.
Riding to school safely starts with a helmet
First and foremost, a well-fitting helmet cuts down the risk of serious injury by half. As a result, helmets are the single most important piece of cycling gear for kids. Sadly, many bicyclists under the age of 14, are not riding with a helmet that fits properly. As an example, a well-fitting helmet will be snug on the rider’s head. When fitted properly, the strap toggles should be located about a ½ inch below the ear lobe with the chin strap tight enough to hold the helmet on your head, but not so tight it chokes you. Important to realize, is that helmets lose effectiveness over time, so review its production date. Therefore, be sure to consult the manufacturers recommendations for when to replace your existing helmet.
Why is riding to school good.
There are tons of organizations that encourage children to exercise. In the US, child obesity is a real issue, and any activity goes a long way to help. In studies, it is shown that activity before school increased attention span, boosted mood, improved fitness and BMI. And it only took one ride to start to see those results! In fact, based off these results, Specialized Bicycles have invested a substantial amount of resources to develop programs for kids suffering with ADHD to substitute exercise for medication with great results. Overall, the quick trips of riding to school help kids kickstart their metabolism, gain focus, and learn valuable skills.
Bike Maintenance and safely
Be sure that your child is comfortable on their bicycle and it is sized properly. Bikes that are too small or too large are difficult for children to control. If you have concerns about the fit, visit your local bike shop to have the bike adjusted.Verify that the brakes work, tires are inflated and controls are tight. Be sure that your child can squeeze the brake levers easily and stop the bike. Additionally, kids bikes are required to be sold with reflectors on the bars, seatpost, wheels, and pedals. Those reflectors should be considered the most basic level of visibility. Add to that visibility, by having your kids wear brightly colored clothes, installing lights and a flag on the bike. With young kids try to avoid riding at night or at twilight.
Teaching basic skills can be fun and easy. Find a flat section of low grass (like a high school football field) and have them practice riding with one hand off the bar. Use the Board Trick to learn how to handle riding over obstacles. When riding a bicycle on the road, you are required to follow posted traffic laws as well as signal your directions. Teach your kids the basics of signaling turns and navigating on roads.
Riding to the right is the most basic rule of riding on sidewalks and bikepaths. What is more important than that rule is the courtesy of riding around others. Being courteous is the best way to make sure everyone has fun. It’s tempting for kids to try and bring a phone or iPod on a ride with them. Those distractions are a detriment to your child’s safety. Keep your digital toys in a backpack or better yet at home.
Figuring out the course
For your kids to be comfortable riding to school, it is very important that they are familiar and comfortable with the route. An easy way to practice the route is on the weekends. Weekends are free from school traffic and give plenty of time to explore alternate routes. Look for clear roads and intersections with lighted crosswalks. Even if the route is not the most direct, as long as it is safe and clear your child can feel comfortable. Additionally, try to avoid large hills (either up or down) as not to exhaust your kids.
Locking the bike during class
With the route, and skills covered, let’s talk about how to keep the bike safe during the school day. The easiest way to protect your bike is to lock it up properly. Locking a bike in the same place for extended periods of time makes it a target for theft. The best locks are also some of the heaviest and burdening your child with that weight as well as the weight of school books is not an option. For that reason, I recommend you lock your lock to the bike rack and leave it there rather than carrying it back and forth each day. Periodically lubricating the lock mechanism will keep your lock working well year-round.
Putting it all together
After teaching your kids how to ride, equipping them, and working to create a safe course, continue to reinforce all those things throughout the school year. Evaluate their equipment frequently to ensure its working properly. Additionally, ride with them to reinforce their signaling and riding safe. Finally, be cognizant of traffic patterns as the year progresses. Above all else, make riding to school fun, your kids will appreciate it.