Health & Fitness

Keeping Kids Fit: Bike to School Day a great time to teach safety

Bike to School Day.
Bike to School Day. Miami Herald File

For children, riding your bicycle to school used to be one of the greatest moments of independence. Excited by your new-found freedom, you could go as fast or slow as you wanted, and you didn’t have to stay cooped up in the car. How can we get that back?

National Bike to School Day, an annual event, is a great start. A Bike to School Day event can incorporate the whole community, including parents, teachers, law enforcement, local businesses and community organizations. This can be a fun family activity and a great way to energize the entire family’s day. As you ride together, you’ll notice the smile come across your child’s face and probably yours as well.

A Miami-Dade County school has participated in National Bike to School Day every year since the event kicked off in 2012. For this year’s event on May 4, BikeSafe is partnering with Jane S. Roberts K-8 Center to host a morning ride and will then visit students in the afternoon at both Fienberg Fisher K-8 Center and Nautilus Middle School to promote riding to school.

Physical activity and play are extremely important for a child’s development. In an age of abundant standardized testing and decreased recreation, it’s important that we provide our children with opportunities to move around. Bicycling to school builds activity into the day and can result in improved physical and mental health, and improved academic performance. It can also empower children and provide them with a sense of independence and self-reliance.

There are a few key preparations you should take to ensure you and your child have an enjoyable and safe ride to school.

Sit down and discuss safe bicycling behaviors with your child. Make sure they know the basics. They should know to stop and look both ways before crossing streets. If they are riding on the street, they should know to stop at all stop signs and red lights. Also, remember to discuss the importance of being aware of your surroundings; bicyclists shouldn’t be looking at a cellphone or wearing headphones while riding.

Help your child select a safe and comfortable route. The direct route is not always the best, and it’s important to explore the options available for your ride to school. Quiet neighborhood streets are ideal, especially ones that keep you away from primary neighborhood arteries. Going a few blocks out of the way can often lead to a much safer and enjoyable ride. Explore your school neighborhood on the weekend to come up with possible routes, and try them out on a school day to see which one you like most.

It is also important to make sure the bike is safe and ready to ride. An ill-fitting bike, or one that doesn’t work properly, can put a damper on any ride. Perform the “A, B, C, Quick check” before you take your bike out. Check your tires for Air by making sure the pressure matches the suggested pressure on the tire’s sidewall. Inspect your Brakes by making sure the brake levers and calipers are working correctly and don’t rub against the tire or wheel where they aren’t supposed to. Examine the Chain, chain ring and the pedals to ensure that there isn’t any rust and everything spins smoothly. Lastly, if the bicycle has quick release levers on the seat post or wheels, make sure they are closed securely to prevent a wheel from falling off or a seat from dropping during the ride. If there are any issues, take the bike to a local bike shop.

Florida law states that children 16 and younger must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Use the two-finger helmet fitting rule to ensure proper fit. This rule uses the rider’s two fingers to check that there are only two fingers of space between the eyebrows and helmet, that the straps of the helmet make a “V” shape around the rider’s ears and that only two flat fingers fit between the rider’s chin and the closed helmet buckle.

Finally, remember to model safe behaviors in front of your children. They watch everything you do. It’s important to reinforce safe practices with your own behavior. This includes everything from wearing a helmet to stopping at stop signs.

For more information on National Bike to School Day and bicycle safety, visit www.ibikesafe.us or www.facebook.com/iBikeSafe. There’s great information on ways to get your school involved in Bike to School Day and how you can host your own event. We hope to see you riding!

Jonathan Hooshmand is the program manager of BikeSafe, a part of the Kidz Neuroscience Center at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.

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