Bike riding can be described as a whole lot of things! It can be fun. It can be exciting. It can be adventurous and thrilling but sadly; it can also be risky!
In reality, bike riding shouldn’t be dangerous. In essence, it is a great way to exercise and keep fit, spend leisure time, bond as a family and as a result even conserve the environment.
And guess what; bike safety gear is what bridges the gap between a dangerous riding experience and a fun riding experience.
Why is bike safety so important?
It’s simple; because although riding a bike is fun when precaution isn’t taken riders are more predisposed to accidents.
It is human nature to ignore the dangers that are associated with activities that we love. So we’ll bravely take on the role of “party-pooper” and deliver a few hard facts that all riders have to come to terms with in order to realize why bike safety is so important.
- After football, biking is the second most frequent sport that leads to children ending up in emergency departments in hospitals.
- Every year, over 200,000 children end up in hospitals and emergency rooms due bike-related accidents. And while we may want to blame other factors, a lot of the times these accidents can be prevented by wearing safety gear.
- Hundreds of children die from bike-related accidents each year. In fact, in the US, an estimate of about 100 children succumb to death following bike injuries.
- Properly fitted helmets are estimated to reduce the risk of head injuries by at least 45% - sadly, less than 50% of children under 14 usually wear a helmet.
The truth is that bike safety gear plays an important role in reducing accidents and protecting riders in the event of an accident.
Now, do you understand why it is so important to follow basic bike safety regulations?
Who is most at risk of bike-related accidents?
It is reported that an estimate of boys between 10 and 14 years old are the most likely to get involved in bike-related accidents.
This is not to say that younger or older boys beyond that age range aren’t susceptible to accidents or that girls generally are immune to accidents but to point out that it is at this age (10-14years) that they are usually rowdy and experimental and even tend to get rebellious.
The result of this rebellion and decline in wearing helmets is that it makes them susceptible to serious bike injuries.
That leads us to the next question.
How can I keep my child safe on a bike?
Now that all the sad facts are out of the way, let’s see how you can prevent your child form being part of those statistics.
There are a lot of safety precautions that you can take to ensure that your kid remains safe as they head out for a ride.
Typically safety gear is divided into two: body safety gear and bike safety accessories. Let’s take a look at both.
Safety gear for the rider
These are gears that are worn on the rider’s body to protect them from the impact of an accident.
Do wear a helmet
Helmets are the principals of safety gear. This is because the head is the most commonly injured part of the body in bike accidents and crashes.
They will save you quite a lot from face, head and brain injury in the event of an accident and death in worst scenarios.
So serious is the impact of helmets that even in the U.S all states, with the exception of three require wearing of a helmet while riding as part of the law.
The safest helmets are those that are certified by Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for meeting their safety standards or be developed by ASTM, SNELL or ANSI.
To know that the helmet is certified to standard, they should have a sticker embedded into the helmet. However, there are other helmet-related recommendations that we will look into in just a bit. In the meantime…
- Do wear knee and elbow pads
- Do wear chin guards
- Do wear riding gloves
These are helpful in protecting your hands in the event of an accident but are also helpful as they enhance your grip of the handlebars. If the handlebars are held to precision then chances of your hands slipping are very rare.
Do carry a whistle
A whistle can be useful in alerting parents of your whereabouts in case you get lost or in the event of danger.
These will also save you a lot from stranger danger!
Do wear the right shoes
The right bike shoes are those that have a firm base as they help grip the pedals. That means more sneakers and riding boots and less flip-flops or slippers.
And while you’re at it, ensure that your shoelaces are tightly strapped and do not make the attempt to ride barefoot!
Do wear the right clothing
Loosely-fitted clothes tend to get caught up in the chains or bike spokes and they put you at risk as this may affect your next pedal stroke resulting in you falling off the bike or bruising yourself.
Safety accessories for your bike
These are features that enhance your safety on a bike. They include:
Do embellish your bike with reflective materials
Reflectors are commonly mounted on the bike’s wheels as well as the back of the seat.
They aid with enhancing one’s visibility on the road. You want to always ensure that other road users can see you because if they can see you then they are less likely to bump or run into you.
Do use head and tail lights on your bike
Bike lights also enhance one’s visibility on the road and in turn increasing one’s safety. They are especially important when riding at night.
Do accessorize your bike with a bell
This is a fun way to help you alert other road users of your presence so you can avoid bumping into them and vice versa.
What precautions should you take with bike safety accessories?
So many people know that they should wear a helmet but quite a handful are unaware of the right way to do it. And while you may be fully equipped with bike safety gear, it doesn’t mean much if you are riding the wrong bike.
Wondering just how should you wear your helmet and what precautions should you take with your bike? Worry not, that’s what we are here for!
Bike helmet safety
As mentioned earlier, you always want to ensure that your helmet meets CPSC standards. These have to do with the helmet being made of the right protective material and thereby being fit to protect you.
When it comes to bike helmet safety, you need to go a step further and ensure the following:
Ensure that the helmet fits you well
As a parent, you need to purchase a helmet that is correctly sized for your child’s head.
Don’t make the mistake of purchasing a bigger helmet and try to fit by wearing a hat underneath. Chances are that the helmet will slip off not to mention how uncomfortable that might be for the child.
A big helmet is the equivalent of a loose helmet. And a loose helmet has very little effect and puts you at risk in case of an accident as it is likely to fall off.
At the same time, ensure that you are wearing a bike helmet and do not try to substitute it for a football helmet thinking that it will have the same effect.
Ensure that the helmet is worn correctly
The right way to wear a helmet three rules:
Eyes: the helmet should not exceed the space of two fingers between the eyebrows and the helmet.
Ears: the straps should come to a “V” shape under the ears.
Mouth: the space between the chin and the buckled straps shouldn’t exceed two fingers.
Be sure to always fasten the straps while you’re at it.
Wear a helmet each time you ride
It is important to wear a bike helmet every time you go out for a ride, even if it’s just for a short distance and no matter how close you are to your house.
Contrary to popular belief, many accidents occur within the vicinity of one’s neighborhood (driveways, sidewalks and bike paths). Therefore being close to home should not be an excuse for not wearing a helmet.
Avoid damaging the helmet and replace it once damaged
Carelessly throwing the helmet might damage it and thereby prevent it from serving its protective role.
At the same time if the helmet is already damaged or shows signs of wear such as cracks on the helmet and broken straps then it is time for a replacement. More importantly, if the helmet has already been involved in an accident such as a crash then you should discard it and get a new one.
Before heading out to ride you need to ensure the following:
Ensure that the bike is correctly sized for you
Riding a bike that is the right size for you helps to keep you safe- because you are more likely to lose control and fall off of a bigger bike and eventually hurt others.
A correctly sized bike is one that leaves two to three inches of clearance between the top bar of the bike and the rider’s inseam/crotch with the rider’s feet planted on the floor.
Additionally, you should be able to comfortably sit on the seat with your hands on the handlebars.
Ensure that your bike is in the right condition for riding
If the bike is correctly sized, you still need to take a step further and ensure that it is fit for safe riding.
To do so inspect the bike to ensure that the brakes are not sticky or hard to engage, tires are properly inflated, oil is in check and lastly that the seat, handlebars and wheels fit tightly.
How should you instill the importance of bike safety to your kids?
Like we said, many parents struggle with enhancing bike safety practices in their children especially as they get older and show disinterest in such “lame” and “uncool” tendencies. So how should you get them to practice safe riding?
If your child wears a helmet and other protective gear as soon as their first riding experience then they are less likely to rebel against wearing them.
And the more they wear these gear the more habitual it becomes.
Explain the importance of safety gear to them
While you’re at it, be sure to explain why they need to take these precautions
If your child has no understanding of the effect that a helmet has on their riding then they simply won’t wear one
On the contrary, once they have a better understanding of the reason for doing something they are more likely to have a positive attitude towards it
If your child shows disregard to the protective gear, that’s when your authority as a parent comes into play. Be firm about them wearing the gear and the child will sense the importance of it.
Do this by making them understand that if they don’t wear their safety gear then they don’t get to ride their bike.
Set a good example for them to follow
Another known fact about kids is that they usually learn through observation and mimicking.
In other words, your child is more likely to put on safety gear as they head out to ride if they see you doing the same.
Make it fun!
This method never fails!
If your child gets to choose their own helmet and decorate it then they are more likely to wear it.
Be they young or older, when kids get to choose their own helmet or accessories (in their own style), this forms a bond with the gear and increases their chances of wearing it.
Positive reinforcement always works like a charm.
By praising your child or giving them treats once they wear the helmet without being pressed to do so, they will end up wearing it more often.
Bike safety rules and cycle paths
Safety doesn’t just have to do with having the right bike and accessorizing with the right safety gear. It also entails following road safety rules.
For starters, you need to identify safe and unsafe areas for bike riding.
Children under the age of ten are much safer riding on the sidewalk or bike paths. This is because streets are more often than not quite busy and at this age they do not know how to navigate their way with passing cars.
A bicycle path is a dedicated area for safe riding. Most cities have bicycle paths where riders can freely cycle without putting their lives at risk.
Therefore sticking to riding on sidewalks and bike paths is the best way to keep them safe.
As for bike safety, be it on the streets, sidewalks or bike paths, the following safety rules ought to be followed with precision:
Yield to traffic/ Be sure to check the road for other road users
As the saying goes; prevention is better than cure.
When riding in the streets it is important to always keep an eye out for other vehicles. Always slow down or stop to check for traffic before proceeding if leaving your driveway, an alley or a curb.
Check left, right, then left again before making your move so as to avoid a collision.
Go with traffic flow
Maintain riding on the right side of the road and never ride against traffic as doing so usually puts you at risk of a collision.
Obey all traffic rules
Stop at all stop signs and follow obey the traffic rules. Remember your bike is a locomotive too so you aren’t exempted from the rules
Avoid riding too close to parks cars – ride as far out as possible to avoid unexpected car doors opening or run-ins with those that are pulling out.
Cross at intersections
Use the crosswalk to head on the other side and avoid getting into accidents with cars whose drivers can’t see you coming.
Ride single-file on the street with friends
Maintain a straight line and avoid swerving between cars at all costs as this puts you at risk of a collision.
Always signal your turns
Learning hand signals is important as it lets other drivers know which direct you intend to go and thereby avoid running into you.
These are the hand signals you should always be aware of (and use your left arm when signaling):
Left turn – check behind you first and simply extend your arm straight out to the left and ride out slowly
Right turn – check behind you and either hold your right arm up from your side or bend your left arm up at the elbow to form an “L” shape
Stop - check behind you bend your elbow downward in an upside down “L” shape then come to a stop
Be sure to always use the correct signals and avoid changing directions without first looking behind you and signaling.
Stay alert at all times
Don’t wear headphones as the music will distract you from surrounding noises such as a hooting car or oncoming traffic.
Watch out for road hazards
These include potholes, puddles, broken glass et cetera.
And if you happen to come across any and you are riding the lead bike, alert your friends so that they too can avert them.
Only one person should ride the bike at a time
This is especially important if riding on a busy street.
Control your bicycle
Always ride with both hands on the handlebars
If you have any items to carry, ensure that they are in the bicycle carrier or backpack
Avoid riding in the dark
It is much safer to do so in the day when you can see clearly.
If you have to ride in the dark or in low light settings, make sure that your bike has both head and tail lights. Wearing bright or neon colored clothing also enhances your visibility.
Remember; just because you can see the driver does not mean that they can see you.
Riding is fun and it can remain fun when done correctly.
Safety gear can make the difference between a ride ending in a happy/ relaxed mood or end in tears in an emergency room and worst case scenario death.
Remember that setting a good example for your kid by wearing safety gear too will get them to do the same. If you are the type of parent who relies on sheer luck for their protection then you don’t really don’t need to have a child with the same mentality. Counting on luck to protect your child is as good as nothing.