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Safe on two wheels
June 20, 2009

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By Jimmy Mincin

jmincin@altoonamirror.com

As summer approaches, kids are dusting off those bicycles.

And that means brushing up on road safety issues.

"As a cyclist, you are entitled to ride on the road, but with that right, the responsibility for safety falls on the rider ... that's what kids need to understand right away," said Scott Woomer, president of the Blair Bicycling Club in Hollidaysburg. "The bottom line is that when it comes to (an accident) situation between a bike and a car, it's a losing battle for the bike every time. You don't want to become a statistic."

Woomer, 40, of Altoona said the most important thing for bicyclists of any age is to wear a helmet.

"And make sure it fits correctly," he said. "It should fit snugly on the head with the strap under the chin. You don't want (the helmet) to be extremely tight, but you don't want it flopping around, either."

Bike helmets are so important that the U.S. government has created safety standards for them, Woomer said, adding a quality helmet should always contain a sticker stating that it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in Bethesda, Md. Furthermore, helmet-wearing is necessary even on short rides.

"You have to ride defensively - because (motor) vehicles don't always respect bicyclists," he said. "You never know who or what you'll encounter."

Byron Deshong, owner of Pedal Power in Altoona, reinforced the importance of helmet wearing, saying kids are "six times more likely to sustain a serious head injury while riding a bike than while riding a motorcycle."

"It's just as important to wear a helmet off the road (such as riding in a driveway) as it is on the road," he said.

Other safe riding practices include always riding with the traffic flow (to the right of the white line on the right-hand side of the road); wearing brightly colored clothing at night, as well as equipping your bike with reflectors and a headlight, to promote visibility; riding with the flow of traffic; obeying all traffic signs, signals and lane markings; looking and signaling before turning; and carrying some form of identification in case of an accident.

"We've had police contact us to try and identify kids who've been in wrecks," Deshong said. "Most of them have no form of ID whatsoever. ... It's especially important if they're riding outside their own neighborhoods."

Parents also must be proactive - preparing their kids right from the start for a lifetime of safe riding, said Patti Wilson, secretary of the Blair Bicycle Club.

Wilson's 12-year-old son, Seth, learned to ride a tricycle at age 2 - progressing to a regular bike with training wheels at age 5.

"My mother and I taught him the basics," Wilson, 40, of Hollidaysburg said. "The biggest thing we had to instill in Seth was learning to use his brakes - it took him awhile to learn how to stop. ...

The second most important thing was to always wear a helmet. The third was to always make sure his shoes were tied and his shoe laces were tucked in.

"We started him out small with just a bike and helmet and just had fun with it," she continued. "But we always taught safety every time we rode. ... When kids are just getting started, I think that riding on a bike trail is a great place to start - there's no traffic and it's just a safer environment."

Wilson said bike riding has enriched her relationship with her son, while bringing out the best in him.

"This is quality time and exercise all in one," she said of their rides together. "I'm so glad I have the privilege of sharing this with him. ... It's a very individual sport and it's really helped him to grow and develop."

Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.

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