Cycling seems to be enjoying a tremendous revival with the advent of advanced technologies in equipment design, materials, and construction. Cycling trails are being created in all kinds of settings, from urban centers to wilderness parks. If you enjoy cycling you might want to take your child cycling with you.
Some infants accompany the cyclist safely tucked in a specially designed tandem trailer for infants and small children. When the child is old enough to sit up by herself, and has neck muscles strong enough to hold her head with a helmet on, the child may be ready for riding in a child carrier on your bike. No child under the age of one year should be transported in a child carrier. Eventually your children will be old enough and mature enough to ride beside you on their own bikes. Cycling safety is essential for every stage of the child's bicycle experience.
Safe cyclists know the rules of the road. Cyclists should not ride on sidewalks but on the street where they must follow the same laws as motorists. Training to improve your cycling skills in traffic is available in many communities. Contact your provincial or state cycling association, the local cycling club or the local safety council for programs offered in your community.
The primary safety rule for bicycling is the wearing of an appropriate and properly fitting helmet. Before discussing child carriers for bicycles and youth bicycles, I have included a section on bicycle helmets.
1. Cycling Helmets
Bicycling and many other sports such as skiing, hockey, skateboarding, and rollerblading are responsible for many deaths and serious injuries. However, bicycle accidents cause the most common head injuries in children. The statistics are frightening - and clear. Last year, almost 100 children in Canada died from head injuries caused by falling off their bicycles. Thousands more were injured, some with permanent disabilities. In the U.S.A., the Center for Disease Control estimates that if all bicyclists wore helmets, perhaps 500 lives and 135,000 head injuries could be prevented each year; that is, there would be at least a 50% reduction in cycling-related head injuries. Less than 20% of reported cycling injuries involved collisions with motor vehicles; most injuries occur in falls or as a result of riders losing control. Bicycle riders who wear helmets are eight times less likely to incur serious brain injuries than riders who do not wear helmets (Canadian Dental Association pamphlet, "Protect Your Family from Head Injury").
Here are some tips about bicycle helmets:
* Make sure your child wears a helmet when bicycling. Bicycle helmets save lives and years of rehabilitation. Train your child from the start that you are not uncool or "nerdy" if you wear a helmet.
* When picking a helmet, make sure it has an approval seal from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or the private Snell Memorial Foundation. In the U.S.A., it should have a Snell seal, or American National Standard Institute (ANSI) label.
* A helmet should have a hard plastic outer shell with an energy-absorbing liner.
* The helmet should fit snugly so it will not slide around on the child's head.
* Many helmets will come with an assortment of foam shims which can be placed inside the helmet to ensure it fits smaller heads. Follow the manufacturer's directions for the proper fitting of these pads.
* A helmet should also have an adjustable chinstrap with a quick release fastener.
* Make sure the helmet is lightweight, comfortable, and is well ventilated.
* If a helmet has been involved in a serious fall, replace it at once.
* Don't store your helmet away from your bike - attach it to your bicycle so that it's always ready to wear.
* Ideally, when you are purchasing a helmet, you should take your child with you to make sure that it fits properly. For a proper fit, carefully measure the circumference of the head about 1 inch (3 cm) above the eyebrows. If you are unsure about making this measurement, ask your doctor or a public health nurse to assist you.
* A helmet that fits properly has these features:
* It is level from the front to the back and sits about 1 inch (3 cm) above the eyebrows.
* The helmet sits squarely on top of the head, protecting the forehead and the base of the skull (back of the head).
* It fits snugly, but not too tightly; it should neither slide around on the child's head, nor pinch.
* The helmet has straps that are tight and comfortable.
* It cannot be "rolled" forward or backward and can only be removed by undoing the straps.
2. Child Carriers on Bicycles
Many adults who enjoy cycling will be eager to share the experience with their young child. Child carriers are widely used on the back of adult bicycles. However, because the carrier changes the load distribution of the bike, which in turn affects the steering and braking, the Canadian Pediatric Society considers them dangerous and does not recommend their use.
Children in carriers have been seriously injured when the bicycle they were riding on tipped over. The child is very vulnerable when this happens. If you are not an experienced rider and have not practiced with extra weight on the carrier on the bike, don't go for the ride with your child.
If you do decide to use a child carrier on your bike, please follow these rules:
* Ensure you can handle a bicycle with the extra weight of a child on the back of the bike. Practice with a similar weight load before taking your child on the bicycle. Use a bag of sand, for instance, to see how the bike handles with the extra weight. Make sure the manufacturer's recommended load is not exceeded.
* Choose a seat with safety straps that cannot be undone by the child and that will prevent the child from making unexpected moves.
* The carrier should be solid, rigid, and fastened securely to the bicycle frame according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check to see that it is secure every time you go for a ride.
* The carrier should be designed to prevent the child's feet and hands from getting caught in the spokes.
* The seat should have a high back to support the child's head and neck, and side supports to prevent a child from swinging from side to side.
* Dress the child properly. Remember that, unlike you, the child will not be exerting himself. You may be warm and sweaty while the child is cold.
* If the seat on your bicycle has springs, use a guard that will prevent little fingers from getting caught.
* Both the child and the adult should wear approved helmets that are properly fastened.
* Do not ride on busy streets and always ride with extreme caution.
* Do not lean the bicycle against anything or use a kickstand when your child is in the seat.
3. Children's Bicycles
Before children are old enough to ride a bike by themselves, they probably know from first-hand experience that bikes are a good means of exercise and a lot of fun. Sooner or later your children will want a bike of their own. Parents should remember that there are approximately 50,000 Canadian children injured each year while riding their bicycles. Of these, 70 - 100 children die from their injuries each year. Head injuries take the greatest toll, with bike crashes being the leading cause of head injury in school age children (Calgary Herald, Feb. 5, 1995, p. A3).
When your child is physically big enough and old enough to understand the hazards of bicycle riding, you may want to follow these tips:
* Make sure he or she always wears an approved helmet. (Set a good example and always wear yours.)
* The bike should be the proper size. A guideline for sizing is that when your child sits on the seat with her hands on the handlebars the balls of her feet should be able to reach the floor.
* If the bike has a center bar, your child should be able to straddle the bar with both feet flat on the floor. There should be about two inches clearance between the bar and his crotch.
* Teach children that a bike is not a toy and they must ride in a responsible manner.
* Your child must know how to steer the bike and how to use the brakes on the bicycle. If your child cannot stop the bike by using the brakes, she is not ready to ride it on the street. Practice these skills on wide, flat surfaces, away from pedestrians and other vehicles until your child has perfected appropriate techniques.
* Instruct children in the rules of the road. Your children should always ride with a responsible adult until they have the skills, the knowledge, and the maturity to handle the bike on their own.
* Before children can go bicycling on their own, they should know and be prepared to obey all traffic signs. They should know how to signal when they are turning, and know enough to exercise caution when riding close to parked motor vehicles.
Copyright 1995 Safety Health Publishing Inc. Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter / paramedic and best selling author of the book "Kids for Keeps: Preventing Injuries to Children". Martin speaks across North America on the topic of injury prevention. His talks are humorous, but still have a strong underlying safety message. For more information, call him at (403) 225 - 2011 or visit his website at www.safete.com.