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Friday, May 05, 2006


This is my newspaper column for next week - feedback always welcome...

I got my first two-wheeler when I was five years old and living in France. I learned to ride it within days. It was a birthday gift, and at the same party I was also given a home-sewn Superman costume (red silk panties included). It shouldn’t take much imagination to picture a little boy pedaling like mad down the road on a tiny bicycle – throwing frequent glances over his shoulder to see if the red cape was billowing out behind. I was the (very little) man of steel. I was flying.

I don’t remember much about the crash. I was racing along behind the neighborhood meat delivery truck when the driver chose to stop and, for some reason, I chose to keep pedaling. My next memory is of speeding in a car to the hospital, with bloody towels wrapped around my head. My mother was comforting me, as she did her best to stifle her own panic. If you would like, I can show you my scar. (Don’t show this article to my mother; she still feels guilty.)

If my story doesn’t convince you to ensure your young children are bicycle-safe, perhaps this information will. Biking is the most popular outdoor activity amongst youngsters in Canada. Nine of out ten children aged 10 to 14 are bicyclists. Sadly, over 50,000 of them are seriously injured in bike mishaps each year. Injuries to those precious little heads account for 75% of all deaths from bike injuries. The majority of these kids are injured within six blocks of home.

A bicycle is not a toy. It’s a child’s first vehicle. You can prepare children to be safer cyclists by helping them practice safe riding skills and teaching them about safety equipment and the rules of the road. Once you’ve checked that the bike is the right size, and properly fitted a certified helmet on the child’s head (CSA, ASTM or SNELL safety standard in BC), supervised practice is the best way to teach riding skills. The safest place to learn to balance and steer a bike is away from the road, in a vacant parking lot for example.

ICBC has a cycling education program designed to teach kids aged 7 to 13 the basics of bike riding. Bike Smarts: A Handbook helps teachers, youth leaders and cycling instructors to improve the knowledge, skills and attitudes of children in the safe handing of a bicycle. It can be found online at http://www.icbc.com/youth/roadsense_kids.asp or by phoning ICBC.

Of course, safe cycling is not just for children. Have you ever seen a happy family pedaling in a line along the road – kids with big smiles on their faces and helmets on their heads, while the helmet-free parents let their own hair blow in the wind?

Perhaps those adults need to know that a fall on an unprotected head from a height of only 60 centimeters (2 feet) can cause permanent brain damage. I might question these parents’ judgment and understanding of the concept of a role model, but I don’t believe they really want to risk brain injury and the seizures, intellectual and memory impairment and personality changes that may result.

As for me, I did get back on my little bicycle and have avoided further serious cycling injuries for about fifty years now. I have no idea where the Superman costume is today, but still have dreams of flying to the rescue (faster than a speeding bullet).

Helmets always. It's the law here for bicycling, skateboard, and rollerskating (for kids, anyway).

Oh, and motorcycles for adults..
Good article Gary. Well written, and a good awareness.
Gary, well said! I've been re learning how to ride a bike (although they say you never forget) Well.. it took me a while to get used to it again. Like I forgot how your pants can get caught in the chain if you don't role them up, or that a beanie is not a helmet, or an unbrella is not so useful on a bike!:)

Just letting you know too that I’ve put some new posts on my blog. I been really busy and haven’t had a chance to for a while. Some new lyrics & general news. You might like the lyrics.
We just remeasured BabyGirl's head to see if her helmet from last yr still fits (it does, but since she inherited my incredibly thick hair, I'm certain it can't be comfortable) so I guess Hubby and I will be purchasing a new one asap.

And I'm so sorry to read about your sweet Sasha. But I'm sure he's warming up the lap of a dearly departed loved one of your's right now in the comfort of the beyond.
well crafted as always, gary and a good argument for helmets!

though I probably should admit to not wearing one myself.
my kids all wear their helmets. my oldest - almost 13 - doesn't want to wear her's to school, so she walks, or I give her a ride when I can, biking without the helmet has never been an option.

I was a pediatric nurse at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, you only need to see one smashed kid and the faces of their parents to convince you.

I've been lucky, my knees, and later my back took the brunt of my biking accidents....
Well said Gary. Wearing a helmet is not obliged over here -YET-. They are working on legislation. I thought my son how to ride last summer. (no helmet)But then we practiced on the dike where only pedestrians go.. Point taken!
My kids are the odd ones out who don't care much for bikes. I lived on my bike from age seven to seventeen. Can't quite understand this, but oh well. Who said parents were supposed to understand.

Good story too, Gary, very evocative.... you know, if you're still interested in a Superman costume, I could probably rig something out for you. You're on your own with the red panties, though. ;-)
Thanks Madcap! I think I'll pass on the Superman costume, but I know you could make a darn good one - you can make anything.
Were you maybe watching that cape billow out when you ran into the truck?

An excellent essay, of course.

I have faint scars on my knees still from learning to ride my bike. We lived on a gravel road.
A nice story combined with an important bike safety message. Think bike, think helmet.

My first bike was a Christmas present; my parents had attached string leading to the Bike under the house. I ran through the house in excitement following the string to discover the Bike; and can still recall that breathless excitement and learning to ride in there first few hours.

I do remember my father cycling with me and pointing out safety aspects of how to ride and to look out for traffic

I graduated from a Bike to a Motor Scooter at 18 and then a motor bike at 20 and finally a Car. Cycling again did not enter my heads till a friend convinced me to enter there Great Victorian Bike ride in 1993. We cycled for over 700km with nearly 5,000 other people, along the Great Ocean Road, but that’s another story.

Best wishes
That's a story we'd love to hear Lindsay!

And Ju, maybe we need a photo post to compare scars..

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