The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. The trees are blossoming. With warmer weather upon us, what better way to enjoy it than with a family bike ride?
Unfortunately, accidents can – and do – happen. In 2014, 2,177 children living throughout northeast Ohio were treated for a wheeled sport injury either at Akron Children’s Hospital or another local hospital. This was the 7th leading cause of injury for northeast Ohio children.
So before you dust off your bikes and hop on, make sure your family’s covered with these 4 bike safety basics.
1. Wear your helmet
Make sure everyone in the family wears a bike helmet every time you ride, even if you’re going for a short ride. Head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability in bicycle-related crashes, according to the CDC.
In addition, approximately 33 percent of all bicycle-related ER visits and 67 percent of all bicycle-related hospital admissions involve head injuries.
“We have a simple saying: ‘Use your head, wear a helmet’,” said Heather Trnka, injury prevention coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It is the single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes.”
It’s important the bike helmet fits properly. You don’t want it too small or too big. If you’re unsure whether the helmet fits your riders well, Akron Children’s offers fittings to ensure maximum safety. The hospital also sells bike helmets for $10.
Once each family member has the right helmet, they need to wear it the right way so it will protect them. It should be worn level and cover their forehead. Don’t let them tip it back so their forehead is showing. Typically, you don’t want the helmet more than 2 fingers above the eyebrows.
The straps should always be fastened. If the straps are flying, it’s likely to fall off their head when they need it most. Make sure the straps are adjusted so they’re snug enough that they can’t pull or twist the helmet around on their head.
If someone in your family does fall down and puts their helmet to the test, be sure to get a new one. They don’t work as well after a major crash.
2. Bikes have sizes, too
Riding a bike that’s the right size for your riders also helps keep your family safe.
Have each family member get on their bicycle and stand straddling the top bar of their bike so both feet are flat on the ground. There should be 1 to 3 inches of space between them and the top bar.
Then, run through this safety checklist to ensure the bike is safe to ride:
- Make sure their 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.
3. Be seen to be safe
Wearing bright clothes and putting reflectors on your bikes helps other people on the road see you and your family. And if they see you, they’re less likely to run into you. Daytime riding is the safest so try to avoid riding at dusk and later.
Also, make sure that nothing will get caught in the bike’s chain, such as loose pant legs, backpack straps or shoelaces.
Make sure everyone wears the right shoes — sneakers — when they ride. Sandals, flip-flops, shoes with heels, and cleats won’t help you grip the pedals. And never allow them to go riding barefoot!
Riding gloves may help them grip the handlebars — and make them look like a professional!
Leave the headphones at home. The music can distract your riders from noises around them, such as a car blowing its horn so they can get out of the way.
4. Follow the rules of the road
A bike path free of cars is the best choice for riding bikes, especially for kids younger than 10.
“Every child is different, but developmentally, it can be hard for kids to judge speed and distance of cars until age 10, so limit riding to sidewalks, parks or bike paths,” said Trnka. “However, 10 isn’t the magic number to let your child ride in the street alone. Slowly allow this to happen by trailing behind on your bike and watch what she does. You’ll know when it is appropriate.”
When your kids are ready to ride in the street, make sure they understand and follow the rules of the road:
- Always ride with your hands on the handlebars.
- Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving your driveway, an alley or a curb.
- Cross at intersections. When you pull out between parked cars, drivers can’t see you coming.
- Walk your bike across busy intersections using the crosswalk and following traffic signals.
- Ride on the right-hand side of the street, so you travel in the same direction as cars do. Never ride against traffic.
- Use bike lanes or designated bike routes wherever you can.
- Don’t ride too close to parked cars. Doors can open suddenly.
- Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic (red) lights just as cars do.
- Ride single-file on the street with friends.
- When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left side, and call out, “On your left!” so they know that you are coming.
- Use hand signals — like turn signals and brake lights for bikers. It helps cars and trucks know what you will do next, so they don’t run into you.