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To Your Health: Push those pedals, but with safety in mind

Kathleen Brummet  |  Supplied photo

Kathleen Brummet | Supplied photo

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Updated: June 23, 2014 11:33AM



Spring is a magnificent time of year filled with longer days of sunshine that tease us with the impending onset of summer bliss.

Especially after the winter we’ve had!

Now is the time to break out the barbecues, power up the lawn mower, hose off the patio furniture, and finally tune up the bike.

THE BIKE! Oh, the bike. The joy we feel when we begin to ride. Fast and free! Pedaling, gliding, racing, whizzing!

Bike riding is a wonderful sport that people of many ages can enjoy. We bike to be healthy, to travel place to place, and just to have fun.

As warmer weather approaches, bike activity increases in our communities. On the streets and driveways, through the trails and parks, bikes are whizzing by.

Yet it is important to emphasize bike safety at all ages, and helmets are one of the most vital parts. Each year, hundreds of thousands of kids go to the emergency department because of bike injuries. Sadly, some of these bike accidents result in head traumas so serious that they result in death. Therefore, bike helmets need to always be worn.

The U.S. government has helmet safety standards, administered through the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and each certified helmet will have a sticker on it.

Bike stores can help with helmet size and fit.

Helmets should be worn by all riders and never with a hat underneath. Proper fit includes wearing it level and covering the forehead, always tightly fastening the straps. Bright-colored clothing is recommended, as are covered, closed-toed shoes rather than sandals.

Make sure that clothing, straps and shoe ties do not get caught in the bike chain. And for the safety of all, bike riders should not wear headphones while cruising, to ensure they can hear any traffic or pedestrian noise.

Biking season is long, spanning several months, and with many ages participating. Babies and toddlers can enjoy the thrill by riding along with a parent in a child seat or trailer. Most children by the ages of 2 to 4 are able to move on an appropriately sized tricycle. Some preschoolers can begin to ride a two-wheeler with training wheels as early as age 3.

Once on a bicycle, kids learn balance, pedaling, steering and braking, and often between the ages of 4 and 8, young children have enough coordination, strength and motivation to learn to ride without training wheels.

Anyone with physical disabilities may enjoy trying an adaptive bike (tandem or recumbent style). There are some Chicago-area bike stores that sell these specialized bikes, custom-fitted to accommodate almost all disabilities, from poor balance and head control to weak or paralyzed arms or legs.

Another possibility is to adapt a regular bike with special pedals or Velcro mitts to accommodate the unique needs of the rider.

With the proper helmet in hand, it is time to check the safety of that bike. Bikes need to fit properly, which can be determined by checking the ability to stand flat-footed while straddling the bike with a 1- to 3-inch clearance of the middle bar. The tires need the proper amount of air, and the brakes must be in good working order. The seat and handlebars should be secure, and the chain oiled and properly attached. Bike stores are able to check out your bike and perform a tune-up if necessary.

It’s time to hit the road (or the sidewalk). Parents need to guide children with their own rules for safety. It is advised that children under age 10 ride on the sidewalks for safety.

In general, it is suggested that bikers ride single-file on the right-hand side of the street, traveling with traffic. Bikers need to use hand signals, obey all traffic lights and stop signs and, only when safe, pass on the left of other bikers.

Caution should be exercised at busy intersections; walking your bike through these traffic zones is the safest way to cross. It is important to keep an eye out for cars that may be turning, and bikers should stay a safe distance away from parked cars since doors may spring open and hit the biker. Bike riders also must yield to pedestrians and watch out for uneven or rocky pavement.

Make bike riding a safe and enjoyable family sport either in your neighborhood or throughout your community. More advanced riders may want to explore some of the local bike trails and pump those pedals!

Trike or bike, training wheels or 10-speeds, bikes are meant to be enjoyed by all.

Ready, set, GO!

Kathleen Brummet is an
education specialist at
Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, which is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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