This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
For most kids, a bicycle is the official vehicle of summer. What other ride takes them to pick-up games at the park, sounds like a motorcycle with the simple addition of baseball cards, and helps get them home before the streetlights come on?
Bikes can be part of the happiest memories of childhood. That’s why it is so important for kids to get the proper bike and learn how to safely spend their time on two wheels.
Riding a two-wheeled bike is a little like potty-training: Parents shouldn’t push their child to ride their bike without training wheels until they are ready. It’s natural for children to be a bit apprehensive about trying their bike without training wheels for the first time. Parents should keep in mind a child’s coordination when evaluating whether the child is ready to ride without wheels. A bike with foot (pedal) brakes rather than hand brakes is a good starter bike for a child who is still learning.
As a parent, it can be very exciting to surprise your child with a much-coveted gift, but it is important to take your child with you when shopping for the bike. This can allow you and the child to be sure the bike is the proper size and type. Bikes should be the correct size for a child and not one that a child can grow into, as an oversize bike can be dangerous.
Parents should talk to their child about bike safety but should set a non-negotiable rule: A helmet must be worn at all times, on every ride. Injuries can happen on a sidewalk just outside a child’s house just as easily as they can occur anywhere else.
The most important thing about choosing a helmet is getting the right size helmet and the correct helmet for the activity, said Cathy Hogan, coordinator of Safe Kids St. Louis at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. Buying a bicycle helmet, rather than a skateboarding or football helmet, is crucial.
“If they want to figure out the correct size before they get to the store, they should know the measurement around the child’s eyebrows,” Hogan said. “One important thing to note is, helmet sizes are usually printed on the box in centimeters. So if parents get that measurement with a measuring tape, they will know how many centimeters and the best size when they get to the store.”
In addition to a helmet, it is wise to make sure that your child wears sneakers or shoes when riding the bike, as serious injuries can occur to unprotected feet.
A child’s first time riding the bicycle without a parent pushing the back is a momentous occasion that can lead to a lifetime of joyful, two-wheeled memories. By ensuring that your child is as safe as possible, you will have a hand in helping create those memories.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.