By Matt Walthour
Are you ready? It’s that time of year again. The children are heading back to school. By this time, I am sure all the school supplies are purchased and the backpacks are filled with new notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons and ready to go. If you’re prepared to send your children off to another year of learning and adventure and their means of transportation is by way of a bicycle, then I have a few tips that may help ease your mind. Even if you don’t have any kids bicycling to school or you don’t have any kids at all, some of these safety tips apply to all of us. If you don’t ride a bicycle at all, it’s always good to know there are others out there pedaling, especially children.
If your children will be bicycling to school at any time during the school year, or bicycling in general, here are some important tips that are published on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Take the time to go over the rules below and your child or even you will have a more pleasant bicycling experience.
Top bicycle safety rules:
• Always wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet to protect your head – every time you ride.
• Use a bicycle that is the appropriate size for you, not one that is too big or too small.
• Before you ride make sure you don’t have any loose clothing, drawstrings, or shoelaces; they can get caught in your chain and make you fall.
• Have an adult check the air in your tires and insure that your brakes are working before you ride.
• Wear bright clothes so others can see you at all times of the day.
• Stay alert at all times; never listen to music when riding. Pay attention and watch for cars, people, and other bicyclists around you.
• Don’t bicycle at night. If you must ride, make sure your bike has reflectors and lights and wear retro-reflective materials on your ankles, wrists, back and helmet. Lights are required by law.
• Before you enter any street or intersection check for traffic by looking left-right-left to make sure no cars or trucks are there.
• Learn and follow the rules of the road.
Rules of the road:
• When riding in the road, always ride on the right hand side (same direction as traffic).
• Obey traffic laws, including all the traffic signs and signals.
• Ride predictably—ride in a straight line, don’t weave in and out of traffic.
• When riding on a sidewalk — show respect for the people walking on the sidewalk. Ring your bell or verbally alert them that you are coming and always pass them on the left.
• Look for debris like trash, stones, toys on your route that could cause you to fall off your bicycle.
Here is a bit more in depth knowledge to guide parents in assisting their children in bicycle riding to and from school.
Inspect your child’s bike
Going back to school is a perfect time to give your child’s bike a safety inspection. You’ll want to look over the following; brakes, wheel alignment, seat, handlebars, pedals, tires, axle nuts, bearings and chains. If you feel unable to do this effectively, a bicycle shop is a great place to go. If needed, replace, tighten or adjust bike components so that your child has a safe bike to ride.
Insist on a helmet! It’s the LAW!
They may not be the most fashionable item, but helmets are essential to safe bike riding. Head injury is the leading cause of death in cycling accidents, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that proper use of helmets by kids ages 4 to 15 would prevent around 45,000 head injuries annually. This is a statistic not to be part of, for sure! Insist that your child wear a helmet when riding!
Teach your child to choose the best route to a destination. Take a day to either drive the route or better yet bicycle the route. For instance, avoid busy roads when there are quieter routes to the same place. If possible, ride on bike paths. Always observe stop signs (even if no other vehicle is visible), yield signs and other traffic markers. Use extra caution when passing driveways and entrances to businesses and multiple housing and when riding in parking lots. Encourage your child to walk his or her bike across busy intersections.
Signal Your Intentions
Teach your child to use proper hand signals to alert others of his intentions:
Left turn: left hand and arm held straight out, pointing left.
Right turn: left hand and arm held straight up or right arm held straight out, pointing right.
Stop: left hand and arm held straight down.
It’s time to have a little chat with your child about basic road safety when riding a bike. For instance, teach her to ride with (not against) traffic and on the right side of the road. Ride with someone else if possible, and always ride single file. Never attempt to ride on the handlebars of someone else’s bike or invite a friend to try riding on your bike while you’re driving it.
Time to Reflect
Encourage your child not to ride his bike before daylight or at dusk or nighttime. If he must ride in the early morning or evening hours, make sure the bike is equipped with reflectors and front and rear lights. Another great idea is to wear bright clothes, or even a safety vest.
I enjoyed riding my bicycle to and from school, but safety was always important. With all the new advancements and safety equipment for bicycles nowadays, there is no reason not to have a safe, yet enjoyable experience in riding either to school, work or even a 100 mile jaunt.
Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.