Learning to ride the bike is one of the biggest moments for a kid. Taking that first ride without training wheels brings everyone joy and a proud sense of accomplishment. I remember feeling like I was growing up. Every kid should get to learn how to ride a bike, but they should do so safely. Riding around at top speeds and maneuvering around obstacles is challenging and can lead to serious harm if proper bike safety is not observed. If we keep these important ideas in the back of our mind, bikes can be a safe and fun form of exercise.
Something often forgotten is that bikes are considered vehicles. That means anything we do with a car, we should do with our bikes. It is important before riding a bike to make sure it is working correctly. That means checking tires, the chain, and of course its brakes. It’s a simple step to take but can make all the difference on a ride. One thing we all hear from our parents is to make sure we wear a helmet. Just like we wear a seatbelt in the car, everyone should wear a helmet when they ride. That means children and adults. Head injuries are among the most serious and dangerous injuries one can experience. And children, with their developing brains, are at risk of future permanent damage if they experience serious head trauma.
We often can’t wait to take out children on their first bike ride. But no baby under the age of one should be placed in a child carrier seat. At this age, babies do not have the neck strength or head size to properly wear a helmet. And as mentioned earlier, everyone on a bike should wear a helmet. No exceptions. Once they turn one, babies can ride with their parents on a child carrier seat. Make sure the seat is attached securely and is checked before each ride along with the rest of the bike as described previously. Parents need to make sure their baby’s helmet fits properly as well to ensure proper protection.
The time of day and location is another aspect of bike safety we should all consider. No child (or adult if possible) should be riding bikes at night. With low visibility for the rider and for motor vehicles sharing the road, it can become dangerous for all involved. Wanting to avoid the Texas heat is understandable, but it’s not worth the risk. Instead, consider riding in the early morning after the sun has rose. You can beat the heat while still being able to see properly. It’s also important to drink lots of water and wear sunscreen. The heat can lead to dehydration and sunburns, both of which are harmful. This is especially true for children, who may not recognize the signs early enough to get out of the heat.
We’ve talked about how bicycles are considered vehicles when ridden on the street. This comes with the legal obligation to follow the rules of the road. We all learned them in driver’s ed, and it is important we don’t ignore them when riding a bike. This means stopping at stop signs and red lights, yielding to oncoming traffic and pedestrians crossing sidewalks, and using turn signal gestures to indicate right and left turns. By following all these bike safety tips, we can help keep the roads safer for both cyclists and cars, and our children can continue to enjoy riding around with their friends.
Dr. Patel is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community