News Column

How to Buy the Right Bike

Dec. 7, 2012

Nicole Villalpando

Bike Helmut

Parents, grandparents, those who love children -- you might be thinking that now is a great time to buy a bike for the child you love. And you're right. With Hanukkah starting tonight and Christmas 17 days away, today is a great day for bike shopping.

Before you put little Susie or Tommy on a bike, first know how to reduce bike accidents, rules every parent should enforce and how to pick a bike that's right for the child.

Pick the Right Bike

Joyce Nugent, the marketing director for Bicycle Sport Shop, says her sales team is trained to size kids based on their age if the child isn't with a parent. Still, your best bet is to bring your child with you to test bikes out. You can even ride in the Bicycle Sport Shop parking lot.

If you want to make the bike a surprise present, ask the store what their return policy is if you buy a bike that doesn't fit.

Often parents want to buy a bike their child can grow into, but you should avoid buying one that is too big, making it difficult for the child to maneuver. Some bikes have seat and pedal height adjustments to extend the life of the bike for the child.

The fit is based on stand-over height. A child straddling the bike and standing should be able to have his feet on the ground with the bike not hitting between his legs. When seated, he should be able to reach the pedals easily and the ground. "If they can't touch the ground, they will get hurt," Nugent says.

Also look at how the child is holding the handlebars. He should be able to easily reach them and turn the front wheel from side to side.

Consider the weight of the bike as well. Some of the less expensive bikes are made of steel and can be very heavy, making it more difficult for a child to maneuver.

Look for a bike that will last. Kids are very hard on bikes. Many less expensive bikes are made with plastic parts that break and cannot be fixed. Bikes with metal parts are replaceable and repairable. Don't forget to ask about any warranty that comes with the bike.

No Helmet, No Bike

In the city of Austin, children younger than 18 must wear a helmet by law. If you're outside Austin, check your local laws. Regardless, wearing a helmet is common sense. Nationally, for every $12 spent on a helmet for a child younger than 14, $580 is saved in health care cost from injuries, according to SafeKids Worldwide.

"It's crazy to think that helmets are magic and if they wear a helmet they won't have a head injury," says Dr. Patrick Crocker, director of emergency medicine at Dell Children's Medical Center. "But we have found a 50 percent reduction in head injury if they are wearing a helmet."

Those figures came from a study done on adults. One national study found an 85 percent reduction for head injury and 88 percent for severe brain injury. In 2009, 91 percent of bicyclists killed nationally were not wearing a helmet.

Stewart Williams, injury prevention manager for trauma services at Dell Children's Medical Center, says of the 74 children who came into trauma services with bicycle-related injuries last year, only 14 percent were wearing helmets.

Part of the gift of the bike should be the helmet to go with it. Enforce the rule that kids in your house don't bike, ride a scooter, roller skate, skateboard or use other wheeled devices without a helmet. Don't assume that if a child is riding in their own driveway or nearby they can skip the helmet; most bicycle accidents happen in the driveway or sidewalk close to home, Crocker says.

"Start a child wearing a helmet from the very beginning," he says. "It creates a habit and creates an expectation."

As children age, they may get complacent and not put on a helmet from the beginning of the ride or ride away from home and then take off the helmet. If you see that happening, it's time to take away the bike, scooter, skateboard, etc.

And if you or another adult in the house ride a bike, be an example and put on a helmet.

Pick the right helmet

Pick a helmet that has a CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) sticker that makes it certified as safe. A helmet should sit on top of the head, not tilted backward or to far forward. When a child is wearing a helmet, he should be able to look up and see the bottom rim of the helmet.

His ears should fit in the V-shape between the straps, and the strap under the chin should be tight but comfortable. When the child opens his mouth, it should feel like it is hugging his head.

A loose helmet can pop off in a crash. An unbuckled helmet is no good at all.

Maintain the Bike

Even a new bike will need regular tuneups. Check that the brakes are working, the tires are inflated and none of the pieces are lose.

Look to make sure the handlebars are padded. Williams says one of the soft-tissue injuries they are seeing in trauma services comes from a child falling over an unpadded handlebar and getting impaled with it. Also, children can get tangled up in an ill-fitting bike, so check often to see if your child has outgrown the bike.

If your child is using a regular bike like a BMX bike, you need to add padding.

Learn the rules of the road

Learning to pedal is the first step. Knowing how to turn and brake well helps prevent injury. Practice these with parent supervision.

Children younger than 10 should still be riding on sidewalks, supervised and only in good weather.

Older than that, children should know traffic laws. They should travel with traffic, not against it, and ride on the right side of the road. They should be using hand signals and know that at a crosswalk, they need to stop and look left, right and left again. They should wait for cars to pass before crossing.

"A kid on a bike doesn't do very well against a front bumper," Crocker says.

Even if your child is a master bike rider, there's nothing that replaces parent supervision to avoid accidents.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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