Break Point!

Volume 4, Issue 5 View the Archives May, 2001
Bicycle Safety Issue
Bicycling with Children
Five Steps to Proper Helmet Fit
What to Look For When Purchasing a Bicycle Helmet
Ensuring a Proper Fit For Your New Bicycle
The ABC's of Bicycle Maintenance
Tips to Keep Children Safe on the Road
Surf's Up- A guide To Internet Sites On The Web
Next Month in Injury Prevention

Bicycle Safety Issue

Kathy O'Day
Loyola University Burn and Shock Trauma Institute, Injury Prevention Program

Riding a bicycle is more than basic transportation; it can be a fun and exciting way to spend time with your family. When you ride a bicycle, you’re not alone. You share the road with cares, trucks, pedestrians, and other cyclists. A crash can turn a bicycle adventure into a bicycling tragedy.

This issue of Break Point will provide tips on bicycle maintenance, basic rules of the road and proper helmet fitting for the whole family.

Since nearly 900 people are killed each year from bicycle crashes and nearly 200 of them are children, taking a few minutes before you ride to make sure your bicycle is “road worthy” could save your life or the life of a loved one.

Break Point is produced by Loyola University, Burn and Shock Trauma Institute Injury Prevention Program. Please call us at (708) 327-2455 or email to: Kathy O'Day with any comments or questions.

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Bicycling With Children

Each year in the United States, bicycle-related injuries send approximately 350,000 children under the age of 15 to emergency departments. More kids, ages 5-14 are treated in hospital emergency departments with injuries related to biking than any other sport.

Although most automobile/bicycle crashes involving adult riders are caused by the motorist, most of those involving child cyclists are caused by the child. Young children may have difficulty understanding the rules of the road, but obeying bike safety rules and exercising caution while riding in traffic can avoid many of these crashes.

All cyclists should follow standard safety precautions. As parents it is our responsibility to pass our knowledge and experience to our children as they learn how to ride.

When your child is very young, a smart way to teach your child safety is by example. You should wear your helmet each time you ride and make sure your child wears a helmet if they ride with you. However, a child must be at least one year old before you put a helmet on them. Their neck muscles and spinal cords aren’t developed well enough to support the weight of the helmet especially in a crash.

For older children a properly fitted bicycle will help prevent a crash. Don’t buy a bicycle your child needs to “grow into”. An oversized bicycle could cause your child to lose control and get hurt. A bike is the right size when your child can sit on the seat with his/her feet flat on the ground, the handlebar no higher than their shoulders. Bikes for beginners should have coaster brakes (or foot) brakes, not complicated hand brakes. If your child is starting out on training wheels, be sure they can be adjusted as his/her skills improve.

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Five Steps to Proper Helmet Fit

Before you ride you should have a bicycle helmet and you should make sure the helmet is fitted correctly. Here are some fitting instructions, some problems that arise, and ways to get a proper fit.

Fitting Instruction - Step 1

With one hand, gently lift the front of the helmet up and back. The helmet should not be able to be moved front or back on the head.

The problem- The helmet moves back to uncover the forehead.

The solution- Tighten the front strap to junction. Also, adjust padding thickness and/or position, especially in back. Make sure the chinstrap is snug. If this doesn’t work, the helmet may be too big. Re-measure the circumference of the head and choose a new helmet.

Fitting Instruction - Step 2

With one hand, gently lift the helmet up and forward. The helmet should not move forward.

The problem- The helmet moves forward to cover the eyes.

The solution- Tighten the back strap. Make sure the chinstrap is snug. Also adjust the padding thickness and/or position, especially in the front of the helmet.

Fitting Instruction - Step 3

Put a hand on each side of the helmet and rock the helmet from side to side. Have the helmet wearer shake their head “no” as hard as possible. The helmet should not move from side to side.

The problem- The helmet slips from side to side

The solution-Check the padding on the sides and make sure the strap is evenly adjusted.

Fitting Instruction - Step 4

Have the helmet wearer open his/her mouth (lower jaw) as wide as possible, without moving his/her head. The top of the helmet should pull down.

The problem- The helmet does not pull down when the wearer opens his/her mouth.

The solution-Tighten the chinstrap. Make sure the front and back strap junction lies under each ear.

Fitting Instruction - Step 5

Check to see where the front edge of the helmet covers the wearer’s forehead. The front edge of the helmet should not be more than two fingers’ width from his/her brow.

The problem-The helmet does not cover the forehead.

The solution- Position the helmet no more than two fingers’ width above the brow. Tighten any loose straps. Make strap adjustments so the helmet stays over the forehead. The helmet may be too small. Re-measure and fit a new helmet.

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What to Look For When Purchasing a Bicycle Helmet

There are many different bicycle helmets on the market it can become confusing to consumers which helmet is best. Helmets come in a variety of styles and prices. Choosing the best helmet for you depends on what type of cycling you plan to do and how often you ride. Before you buy a helmet make sure it meets the SNELL or ANSI standards.

The United States National Safety Council recommends that all cyclists wear helmets. The first body part thrust forward in a bicycle crash usually is the head, and unless the cyclist is wearing a helmet, the only thing shielding the brain is skin and bone. Not surprisingly, 75% of bicycle deaths are caused by head injuries.

The most important thing to look for in a helmet is the fit. When the straps are adjusted and secured beneath your chin and the helmet is sitting level on your head, it should feel snug and comfortable, but it shouldn’t be so tight that it restricts your movement. Your helmet should be brightly colored so motorists can spot you easily.

Cycling helmets come in 3 basic styles- sport, road and mountain bike. All types are designed to protect riders from impact while being light, comfortable and stylish.

The National Safety Council recommends that a good helmet:

Has a stiff outer shell designed to distribute impact forces and protect against sharp objects.

Has an energy-absorbing liner at least ½ (1.27 centimeters) thick.

Has a chinstrap and fastener to keep the helmet in place, is lightweight and cool in hot weather and fits comfortably.

Safety Warning: When a helmet has been in any type of crash, helmets loose their capacity to absorb shock. If your helmet sustains any impact replace it. Even after a light impact crash, there may be tiny cracks in the inner shell that may not be visible.

Check with the towns you will be traveling in to see if they have any local ordinances regarding bicycle helmet use.

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Ensuring a Proper Fit for Your New Bicycle

To ensure comfort and safety, a properly fitted bicycle is a must. The following guidelines provided by the Chicago Police Department will aid you in achieving a good bicycle fit.

Frame Size-There should be 2-3 inches of clearance between the rider’s crotch and the top-tube while straddling the bicycle.

Saddle Height-The single most important aspect of body positioning is saddle height. It influences how effectively power is delivered from your legs to the pedals. Proper saddle height reduces knee strain and thereby reduces the likelihood of knee fatigue or injury. Adjust the saddle so that when seated, your heels rest solidly on the pedals. Pedal backwards. If your pelvis rocks from side to side in order to keep your heels on the pedals at the bottom of the stroke, the saddle is too high. Lower the seat until your heels remain on the pedals while pedaling backwards. When saddle height is properly adjusted, rocking from side to side will no longer occur.

Your legs should not be fully straight while cycling. A proper riding position requires legs to be approximately 95% extended at the bottom of the stroke, with the balls of the feet squarely placed on the pedals.

Saddle Tilt- The saddle should comfortable support most of your body weight. Body weight should be centered on the saddle, with your arms flexed and relaxed.

Safety Warning:

The manufacturer inscribes seat post and handlebar stems with marks establishing the maximum adjustment (max. adj.) height. Never raise a seat post or handlebar stem higher than these marks. There must be sufficient post or stem inside the frame to support the stress and weight. Insufficient stem or post inside the frame may cause the top part of the tube to break off.

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The ABC's of Bicycle Maintenance

A proper fitting helmet and a properly fitted bicycle help keep you safe while navigating the streets on your bike. A well-maintained bicycle will extend the life of your bicycle and help you avoid any unnecessary pitfalls on the road.

To ensure overall safety of your bicycle, do the A-B-C- Quick Check procedure before you ride your bicycle. A good overall tune-up of your bicycle should be completed if your bicycle hasn’t been used in many months.

Air-Check tire pressure and inflate to recommended maximum pressure. Look for damage and tread wear.

Brakes- Examine brake pads, cables and housings. Ensure that all brake pads open and close together and operate smoothly.

Crank- Check For bearing play in crank and headset.

Quick Release- Many bicycles are equipped with quick-release axles rather than the traditional thread and nut type of wheel axle. Make sure any quick-release devices are tightened and tires secured to the frame.

Component Check- Check bicycle components and ensure all are functioning properly by taking a slow ride in an area designed for bicycles.

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Tips to Keep Children Safe on the Road

A bicycle is considered a vehicle. Bicyclist must obey traffic laws and rules, such as riding on the right side of the road, obeying traffic signs, etc. Prepare your child for riding in the street by teaching him/her about good riding skills and the rules of the road.

It is important to become aware of the local ordinances in the town where you live or the areas you like to bike in. You will be required to follow the local laws.

Here are some other tips to keep children safe while they ride:

  • Make sure your child wears his/her helmet when riding. If you ride, set a good example and wear your helmet, too. Even a moderate blow to an unprotected head can cause a permanent brain injury.
  • Don’t allow your child to ride a bicycle at dusk or after it becomes dark. Between 30-45% of fatal bicycle crashes occur after dark.
  • Enroll your child and yourself in a bicycle safety class or bike rodeo, classes are often offered by local police departments or other community groups.

Other tips include:

  • Ride a bike that is the right size for you.
  • Complete an ABC check of your bicycle to make sure it is in proper working order before you ride.
  • When exiting a driveway, stop, look left, look right, look left again, and exit only when there is no traffic.
  • Ride on the RIGHT with the flow of traffic.
  • Stop at all STOP signs and all traffic lights.
  • Do not ride in the wrong direction on one-way streets.
  • Use proper hand signals to indicate turns.
  • Ride single file.
  • Give the right of way to pedestrians.
  • Carry no passengers (except with an approved child carrier)


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Surf's Up- A guide To Internet Sites On The Web

Cranium Canyon

Parents are given steps on planning a safe family outing and get first hand accounts from bike crash survivors on how wearing a bicycle helmet saved their lives. Children have 3 cool games to play to teach them how to be safe in the KID/ZONE.


Vince and Larry Safety City Bicycle Tour

Vince and Larry crash dummies will give children a tour of their safety city. They take children on a bike tour and visit 5 different locations to teach children about bicycle safety, helmets, city biking, gear for biking, and danger zones.


Illinois State Police Bicycle Safety Command Center

This site covers everything you will need to keep safe on the streets or paths. There is a printable inspection sheet that can be completed prior to the start of the bicycle season.


Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

This site gives information and documents on bike helmets, standards for testing, resources, etc. Read the BHSI newsletter for more information on BHSI services.


Chicago Police Department Bicycle Safety

The Chicago Police Department provides information on bicycle safety and you can even register your bike with the police department on line.

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Coming Next Month in Injury Prevention

  • Fireworks Safety Month
  • National Safety Month
  • National Sobriety Checkpoint Week (6/30 - 7/4)
  • Safe Water Activities

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