“Hey kids – watch this!” We can all guess how this story goes, right? About 25 years ago, when I was teaching my sons the joy of cycling and riding bikes, our whole family was out for a ride on a dirt trail. It was a great day – mild temperatures, helmets on and smiles all around. I decided I wanted to show everyone how to pop and ride a wheelie. While the first half of the trick went exactly as I planned, what followed was the exact opposite. Mid-air, I regretted my decision but it was too late and I was flipped over backward, off my bike and flat on my back. It’s safe to say that poor decision put a quick end to our family outing that day. I rode home with a bruised ego and six broken ribs.
Flips and tricks aside (and many years later), I remain committed to the idea that riding bikes is an excellent way to spend time with your family, explore the outdoors and get some exercise. It’s a low-impact activity that can easily be customized based on how much free time you have and depending on your current or desired fitness level.
When my boys were growing up, I was always looking for activities for us to do together – preferably outdoors. So, we started cycling. We cycled throughout their childhood and teenage years. Now that my sons are adults and even as they have their own families and pursue new interests, we continue to find time to ride when we are together.
Riding bikes as a family is a great way to explore where you live – especially for children. It helps them understand their community. Children are visual learners and this way, they can discover how to move around that space by learning directions and alternate routes. Plus, riding a bike gives them a sense of independence and freedom; it allows them to explore beyond their immediate neighborhood and it encourages problem-solving.
If your family is thinking about taking up cycling as a hobby, I’d like to offer a few safety tips and insights – not just as a veteran cyclist with more than three decades of experience – but also as an old fire chief, a paramedic and currently, as the CEO of the region’s emergency medical services agency – REMSA.
A little preparation and attention to safety can go a long way and make for a pleasant and memorable ride. Follow the following safety tips to ensure your ride ends with a smile on your face:
- Purchase a properly-fitted helmet for all riders – including young children in bike seats or in trailers. You can find helmets for as low as $30 each.
- No matter what time of day you’re riding, wear reflective accessories or bright-colored clothing. This will make it easy for others to see where you are.
- Install lights on your bike. Reflectors (what usually comes standard on bikes) work only at night when headlights illuminate them. However, electronic, flashing headlights and taillights are noticeable regardless of the time of day. You can even purchase rechargeable options for approximately $20.
- Carry your mobile phone for safety reasons, emergencies or to GPS your route. Invest in a mount so that you aren’t distracted by holding it in your hand. Otherwise, put your phone away while you’re riding. Cycling is the perfect reason to be off your phone. If you need to make or take a call, pull over, just like you would in a car. Your vision and hearing are your best safety devices while you’re riding – anything you can do to limit distractions is important.
- Consider wearing eye protection. Sunglasses or clear glasses can protect your eyes against sunlight, bugs and pebbles.
- If you’re riding during the day, wear sunblock and carry water to stay hydrated.
- At intersections, be mindful that cyclists are considered a vehicle so either practice traffic laws or be a pedestrian and observe those signals.
- Know how to perform common, minor repairs on your bike. You can search for videos online to gain some knowledge.
- Carry a small bike case with you on every ride. Include tire tools, a spare tube, a patch kit and a hand pump. Teach your children how to find a solution to a problem on their bikes too.
- Carry your driver’s license and a credit card. Consider a wearable form of identification which can include your emergency contact and pertinent healthcare information.
Visit the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration website for more information about how to properly fit a helmet, drive defensively and share the road with motorists and pedestrians.
Like any other physical activity or sport, it might take a little while to find your cycling groove. Don’t be intimidated by big price tags for expensive bikes. You can get a quality road, mountain or hybrid bike for around $500. Take time to learn the bike, discover where you enjoy riding and ask your children to show you where they like to go. You never know where your bike will take you!
Earlier this year, my wife and I cycled down the western coast of Ireland for seven days. Recently, I joined emergency medical services (EMS) colleagues from across the nation for the annual EMS Memorial Bike Ride – an event honoring EMS personnel through long-distance cycling to memorialize and celebrate the lives of those who serve every day, those who have become sick or injured while performing their duties and those who have died in the line of duty.
And until I can check off the number one item on my cycling bucket (going to watch the Tour de France), I’m shopping for my six-month-old grandson, Brooks’ first bike!
Be safe, explore and enjoy the ride!
This article was contributed by Dean C. Dow, President and CEO, REMSA