Get Active: Bike
By: Leigh Felesky
Have you ever read "Miffy’s Bicycle?" Miffy, the little girl in the book, loves her new red bike. Why? Because her wheels allow her to explore the neighborhood, including stopping to smell the flowers in the woods and taking a trip to grandma’s house. It’s an exciting freedom. Riding also improves balance, teaches kids the rules of the road and helps families stay fit. Here are some ideas for both incorporating biking into your family life and planning a day on the trails.
Choose the right route. For safety, ride on less busy side streets or even better, find a bike path so you only have to share the road with other riders and walkers, not cars. You may want to start by going to your local park; lots of parks have paths and trails. When possible, it’s always a good idea to take a map and navigate with the kids. If you have a compass, bring it along. Make sure the trail you choose suitable for the kinds of bikes and age of children, for example, only choose a trail with rough terrain if you have bikes with heavy wheels and an older child who is sturdy while riding.
Make it fun. From running errands to going on a leisurely stroll, determine what the purpose of the outing is at the beginning. Here are some ideas:
- Get the grocery shopping done. Bike to the store and have the kids help you get what you need.
- Explore nature. Take a day trip. Find a path system in your city or go to a park with nature trails. Bike routes can be beautiful and refreshing and you can avoid traffic, which allows everyone to cruise a little more freely.
- Make biking part of your every day. Bike with the kids to school or to work. This way you can get exercise by carrying out regular daily activities.
- Discover your neighborhood. Environmentalist David Suzuki suggests making a map of all the schools, libraries and parks in your area and then going to explore.
Be safe and be comfortable. In general, before the age of nine, children do not have the balance or judgment to ride safely on their own. They need good role models and patient adult riders willing to explain the rules of the road.
- Children should walk their bikes across the road or train tracks; they should stop before entering the road, then look left, ahead, right and left again. Children under the age of seven should not cross the road by themselves.
- Always follow all traffic rules and teach them to your children. Come to a complete stop at stop signs, for example, and ride on the right hand side of the road. Sidewalks may be the best place to practice riding but once children have developed the necessary skills (usually age nine and up) they should ride on the road where other drivers can see them. If the young biker is learning on the sidewalk, remember that pedestrians have the right-of-way and driveways or alleys should be considered intersections.
- When biking, never make a turn without looking behind you first. Children should learn to shoulder check before they signal and turn.
- For more biking road safety rules, investigate safe kids resources and workshops in your area.
Helmets are the most important piece of biking equipment. Here are some standard criteria to look for from CSA International:
- Helmets need to fit properly. That means it should be snug and sit perfectly on top of the head, not move forward, backwards or slide off. Straps should be snug without pinching. There should be two finger widths between the eye brows and helmet.
- If the child is under the age of five make sure they have a special CSA certified helmet that provides the additional cushioning to adequately protect their growing heads from injury.
- Avoid dark helmets. Brightly colored helmets make the rider more visible in traffic and reflective strips can be added to enhance if necessary.
- For comfort, look for air vents in the helmet that will allow heat to escape. If a helmet is in a crash, throw it out. Helmets not in crashes should be replaced every five years.
- To help with your helmet choice, go to a sports store with knowledgeable staff. Look for industry approval markers such as a CSA certification sticker.