by Heidi Green
May 09, 2012
Rise and shine, sleepyhead! It’s time to dust off those handlebars, don your helmet, and bike to school!
Yes, that’s right: bike to school. May 9, 2012 is the first-ever Bike to School Day, scheduled in conjunction with National Bike Month. The event is organized by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, a group dedicated to “connecting the trip to school with safety, health, community, and choice.”
For 15 years, Safe Routes has coordinated a Walk to School Day each autumn; in 2011, the event involved 3,700 schools and “hundreds of thousands” of schoolchildren. Participation for this year’s bike event is small by comparison, but a total of 700 events in 49 states is still robust for an inaugural event.
The purpose of the event is threefold:
- to enhance children’s health by increasing physical activity
- to improve air quality and the environment by reducing automotive pollution
- to create safer routes for walking and bicycling
Participants are invited to register their event, map their route, and download materials on the event website.
Although bicycle riding is recommended by the Let’s Move initiative, many children don’t ride their bikes regularly. The National Wildlife Federation maintains a searchable database of trails that may be useful to parents planning family bike outings designed to help children develop biking skills. After all, according to one Boston initiative to bring bicycles to low-income children, two of the leading barriers to biking to school are not feeling comfortable on a bike in traffic and not understanding how to properly operate a bike.
If your children bike to school, you’ll want to keep some safety tips in mind:
- Use a proper fitting helmet. In the event of a crash, bike helmets can reduce the risk of head and brain injury by as much as 85–88 percent. Make sure your child’s helmet fits and that she knows how to put it on correctly. Teach your child the Eyes, Ears, and Mouth Test: (1) Eyes: With the helmet on their head, your child should be able to look up and see the bottom rim of the helmet; it should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows, (2) Ears: The straps must form a snug but comfortable “V” under your child’s ear when buckled, (3) Mouth: Have your child open her mouth as wide as she can. The helmet should “hug” her head, and the buckle should be flat against her skin.
- Use a proper fitting bike. An oversized bike is especially dangerous, since your child may not have the coordination needed to keep it under control. Sitting on the seat of her bike, your child should be able to put both of her hands on the handlebars and both of her feet on the ground. Bikes with footbrakes ensure better control for younger bike riders.
- Stay on sidewalks and bike paths. Safe Kids USA recommends that children should bike only on sidewalks and bike paths until they are 10 years of age and understand the rules of the road, including hand signals, riding on the right side of the road (with traffic), and interpreting and following traffic signals.
- Plan the safest route. Choose a route with the fewest street crossings, and whenever possible, plan crossings at intersections with crossing guards. Tell your children to obey all traffic signals, signs, and authorities.
- Supervise your child. Until you know your child is a skilled bicyclist, you should not let her ride to school on her own. Even older children who ride their bikes to school should use the “buddy system,” and ride with a friend.
- Don’t bike in the dark, or in low-visibility conditions. Equip your child’s bike with reflectors and have her wear light-colored clothes and accessories to improve her visibility to motorists.
For more tips about bike safety, check out Safe Kids USA or the American Academy of Pediatrics. Also see our school safety tips here on baby gooroo.
And remember: If you like Bike to School Day, you just might love National Bike to Work Week. That event kicks off Monday, May 14, 2012.