Start 'Em Right: Selecting a Child's First Bike and Helmet

Start 'Em Right: Selecting a Child's First Bike and Helmet

Your kids may want to ditch the tricycle to ride with the big kids. Before showing them how to ride, start them off right with a safe bike and helmet.

By Howard Seidman, Contributing Writer, myOptumHealth

What helps kids develop judgment, self-confidence and lifelong skills - while having fun at the same time? Hint: two wheels.

Yes, a bicycle gives kids a way to stay fit and enjoy the freedom of getting around on their own. But for all the speed and agility a bike can offer, it also comes with a set of dangers.

Most kids learn how to ride a bike without training wheels between ages 4 and 8. The best way to help your child avoid the dangers of riding is to make safety part of the learning process.

A new bike
Make sure your child's first bike is the right fit. Kids' bike sizes are measured by wheel diameter, not seat height or frame size.

Your child should be able to get off the seat and straddle the bike with flat feet. To get on, children should be able to lean the bike slightly, sit on the seat and put one foot on a pedal.

While riding, your child should not be scrunched up or have either knee hitting the handlebar. The seat should be high enough so the legs are almost fully extended, with a slight knee bend. Your child should be able to reach and turn the handlebars easily.

Pay close attention to the bike's brakes. Coaster brakes - ones that help stop the bike by pressing backwards on a pedal - are easiest for young kids. Most kids lack the coordination and strength for hand brakes until about age 5.

As for bike prices, heavier models are usually cheaper. But whether the metal is steel or an alloy may only make a difference in the wheels. If a bike has brakes that work by rubbing a wheel's rims, those rims should be made of alloy. Steel rims tend to be chrome-plated, which makes them harder to stop when wet.

Helmets are essential
Over 300,000 people are injured or killed each year due to bike accidents. Children ages 5 to 14 have the highest injury rate of all riders. A low-cost bike helmet could prevent many of these injuries.

Riders who don't wear helmets are 14 times more likely to be in fatal crashes.

Yet, only about one in four children wears a helmet when biking. Its use is lowest among kids 11 to 14, who may say they're good riders and don't need helmets. Others complain that helmets are uncomfortable or "none of their friends wear them."

Don't give in, though. Helmets can lower the risk of head injuries by up to 85 percent. Make kids understand the importance of wearing a helmet before they put a foot on a pedal. Talk to your kids' friends and parents about helmets, too. Kids are more likely to wear one if their friends do.

Also, teach by example. Always use your helmet when riding.

Getting a helmet that fits
Look for a helmet with a label saying it meets the standards set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or Snell Memorial Foundation. Also buy a helmet that fits now. One that's too big won't absorb impact properly.

Remember that children are more likely to wear a helmet if they like how it looks. For the best fit:

  • Have your child look up while wearing the helmet. He or she should be able to see the helmet's bottom rim.
  • Helmet straps should form a "V" under the ears when buckled. The chin strap should be snug but comfortable.
  • Have your child open his or her mouth very widely. If the helmet doesn't hug the head, the straps should be tighter.

Having the right bike and helmet will give your child the tools to start riding. Now get ready to take those training wheels off and repeat these three words: Patience, patience, patience.

Sources:

  • USA Safe Kids. Bike/helmet: Protecting your family. Accessed: 04/24/2009
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Traffic safety facts 2007 data: Bicyclists and other cyclists. Accessed: 04/24/2009
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Helmet use. Accessed: 04/24/2009
  • International Bike Fund. Children: Choosing a bike / buying a bike. Accessed: 04/24/2009
  • USA Safe Kids. Bike/helmet: Why kids are at risk. Accessed: 04/24/2009

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