Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Guide to Biking with Young Children

Originally posted at Greenwala. Don't forget to stop by to check out 
their fabulous resources (and my weekly posts)! 

I've always loved the thrill, the independence, the wind whipping through my hair, the happiness that comes with biking. But when I put our son on a bike seat behind me for the first time - my joy turn to absolute fear. I know that I had nothing to worry about: we'd bought the most expensive child's seat with maximum suspension, lights, bell, everything. He had his helmet tight on his head. So why did I have this intense urge to run back in the house and cover him completely in bubble wrap?
Well, because the statistics aren't very encouraging: according to a KidsHealth's bicycle safety article, roughly 300,000 kids go to the ER because of bike injuries every year! So what can we do to arm ourselves? And what type of gear should we get for what should otherwise be a perfectly relaxing, environmental excursion?The number one item is fitted, secure helmet:
  • Helmets can reduce the risk of serious brain injuries by as much as 85% so it's important to get a good one. Consumer Reports recently wrote an article rating 15 to see which offered the best protection. You can read their 2009 report here.
  • The US government has created safety standards especially for bike helmets so the first thing to check when you purchase one is to see whether it has met the Consumer Product Safety Commission standards (CPSC). There should be a nice sticker to indicate so.
  • The helmet should not be too big or too small (test it be tilting your child's head back and forth - the helmet should be secure) and the straps should be fastened at all times.
  • If any falls occur and the helmet hits the ground, a new one should be purchased. Falls can damage the helmet and won't protect your child if it has been compromised.
Helmets on, now what? For young children - those not riding trikes, bikes or those too small for the tag-a-longs - trailers and child seats are the best options.
  • Pros: These are particularly great for the once-in-awhile, casual cyclist, as bicycle balance is not greatly impacted, if at all, by a trailer. Most trailers can hold two children and you can also carry toys, food, books, the family dog or groceries from the store (not recommending these should be done together).
  • Cons: The down side is that trailers are a bit of a rough ride and depending on the quality of the trailer, can bump the child around a lot so it's important to shell out for a good trailer if this is the option you choose. We've heard that the InStep trailers are pretty easy to use and are good quality for their price range, particularly as they're also lightweight, foldable and stable.
Child seats:
  • Pros: Certainly one pro is that they're generally less expensive and come in a number of options (ours has built-in suspension and can recline as nicely as an airplane seat for those times when my son decides he needs a little nap). This is where you'll need to consider the amount, type and extent of your biking to choose the best that fit for you, particularly as the options include front or back, rack or frame mounted, portability, lights, suspension, recliners etc.
  • Cons: Bicycle balance and mounting - particularly as you will be bearing the brunt of the ride on any hills, it'll be important that you keep in mind how comfortable they are, the strap mechanisms that will keep them from wiggling while you ride and the flexibility in mounting and unmounting the seat when you want to go for a solo ride.
Once you have the gear, it's important that you let your child get used to the helmet and go for a handful of short, quiet rides to get your child accustomed to the seat. Then enjoy! Bike rides, though they should be taken responsibly, are fun for everyone and lead to many wonderful memories for you and your child for years to come.

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