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Bike safety: More than just a helmet

We’ve had some really horrific and tragic bike accidents in our city as of late.

People have always commuted to work by bike in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. In fact, I distinctly remember my father biking to work every day from our family’s westend home in the suburbs to downtown.

But, now more than ever, we need more cyclists. The environment needs it, our bodies need it, and our children need the role-modelling.

Unfortunately, our city has a lot of work to do before it can be considered cyclist-friendly. In fact, it’s down-right dangerous to even attempt to bike in certain areas of the city. And many cycling enthusiasts, quite rightly, note that motorists are a big part of the problem.

As for me, I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a kid. And even then, it was only around the block.

My seven-year-old daughter, though, just learned how to bike this season on her two-wheeler. And wow! Kids sure learn fast. She has really mastered the skill so quickly. So much so that she has been asking to bike to school now. Despite the hyper-parenting that is a bit pervasive these days, our neighbourhood does have quite a few kids who regularly commute to school on bikes.  Which I think is wonderful.

Stella is a bit young to be commuting on her though. So I have been contemplating a bike purchase. Mostly, I’m tempted by the retro bikes with their fun styling and cute baskets on the front. (It’s all about packaging, isn’t it?) They’re not exactly cheap though and I’d hate for the purchase price to end up being used as much as my gym membership (ahem, that is, not much).

Luck shone on us about a week ago with a bike sitting on the edge of the street with a “free” sign. Sure, it doesn’t have a cute banana seat or even any cute paint colours, but it works just fine.

So twice a week now, I’ve been biking in with Stella to school and then I bike back home and do the same at the end of the day. For me, it’s some fresh air. For her, she escapes the dreaded bus ride in the heat.

The kids we see biking along the way all look like proficient bikers. And although they are dutifully wearing their helmets, I fear for their safety.

Why? Well, it seems that they have no clue what the rules of the road are. I have yet to see one of these children use a hand signal and most cross over a road without even turning over their shoulder to check for cars.

If we want to encourage a future generation of happy cycling commuters, it’s going to take more than just a widening of roads and an awareness campaign directed at motorists. We need to make sure that, as cyclists, we’re doing our part to be good citizens of the road.

With this in mind then, I’d like to share some resources for bike safety. If you’re like me, biking was from when you had a pig-tails, so who couldn’t use a little refresher for sharing with their children?

First of all, cyclists need to follow the rules of the road.

I like Ken Kifer’s site because he provides information without fear-mongering about the dangers of cycling. He notes that most of the collisions involving bicycles occurred because the bike rider did not follow the traffic laws for vehicles. On this page, he provides advice for teaching children the rules according to their age. I thought it was quite helpful.  

This Young Cyclist’s Guide on the Ontario Transportationwebsite runs through all the safety rules and even provides quizzes for your child to complete.

And just as we expect a car to signal, bikers must also use signals. Here are the hand signals for RIGHT TURN, LEFT TURN, and STOP.

So, let’s not keep our kids locked up in our back yards. Let’s let them have some fun — but prepare them and keep them them safe! Happy biking to all!

Do you let your children bike to school alone? What about around the neighbourhood? Have you had to brake quickly to avoid a child cutting in front of you on their bike?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider giving me your vote! I’m a finalist in the Scholastic Parent and Child 2010 Blogger Awards!

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  1. Great Post! I don’t mind sharing the road with cyclist however I do not know how many times I have been cut off by a cyclist, who does not use hand signals and I have been forced to slam on my brakes. I work downtown and I think Slater is the worse place for a cyclist to be. It makes me nervous when I drive beside a cyclist because I have no idea what they are going to do at any given time.

    The worse experience I had was when the cyclist was in the middle of the lane, biking down Slater in the middle of morning rush hour without a care in the world, swerving from side to side. People were getting very impatient, honking their horns at the cyclist and the cyclist just kept taking her time and not moving out of anyone’s way. This became a very dangerous situation because you had drivers who were mad and trying to go around the cyclist several times.

    I think that if drivers are expected to share the road and abide by the rules then cyclist should have to too.

  2. I guess they don’t teach bike safety in school anymore eh? I bought myself a bike a couple of years ago thinking I was within a nice distance to work to cycle. After a couple of months I had to give up because it was just too stressful. Even thought I was obsessively following all the bike traffic rules I got knocked down twice and cut off dozens of times and had a few really near hits. I’ll never ride a bike in Ottawa again.

  3. We are a family of cyclists and we follow the rules of the road. We are teaching our daughters to ride safely and defensively. And yes, we even stop at stop signs.

    I do bike to work, but every day someone, whether it is a motorist, fellow cyclist, or even a pedestrian does something dangerous that affects my commute. It is nerve-wracking. I ride according to the rules, assertively, but above all, defensively. I always remember that I will not win against a car.

    I worry about my kids on the road too, and I’m not sure when I will let them bike alone. I will make sure they are well armed with safety knowledge first, and that I can trust them to remember to use it.

  4. Natasha – No excuses for adult cyclists not following the road rules, including hand signals!

    XUP – Yes, good point – I guess they don’t teach this anymore in school. Only “bus safety.” Which is a sad statement on how much biking kids get to do these days, isn’t it?

    Finola – I am so glad to hear that your girls are learning all the rules. We are strictly following them here too (including stop signs, of course!). It makes me so frustrated to live in a city where bikers cannot feel safe to commute. I really think it’s an important element in a “great” city.

  5. Some cyclists, like my husband, and like Finola, do ride defensively and are affected by others. But a lot of cyclists are very dangerous on the road. I have been cut off many times as a motorist by cyclists who believe they own the road, and no later than yesterday evening, walking on the bike path on my way to work, I got hit by a cyclist who “didn’t see me”. I was walking on the far right so as not to bug any cyclists or runners. Also I am 5’9″, so fairly noticeable. She didn’t see me cause she had her head turn and was talking to her boyfriend. I’m sorry but I see a lot of that on the bike path, and that is downright dangerous. And the cyclists are usually experts at saying it is not their fault and that the motorists are dangerous. They believe they own the road and do not know or follow the rules. How many cyclists I have seen who go through red lights or stop signs because they don’t think the rules apply to them?

  6. tootired says:

    “He notes that most of the collisions involving bicycles occurred because the bike rider did not follow the traffic laws for vehicles.”

    This isn’t true. The vast majority of the available research indicates that approximately 50% of these collisions are the fault of the driver and 50% are the fault of the cyclist. Of course I would agree that the ASSUMPTION of the general public, that cyclists are responsible for the majority of these collisions, is overwhelmingly accepted as fact.

  7. Heather Ann says:

    Sam and I were just arguing about this (calmly and rationally discussing it) today. Rideau Valley Drive is not a slow road. The hill going up Jockvale where Rideau Valley Drive turns into Jockvale is horrible. It is curved, steep and blind. A guy in front of me/beside me had a small child in one of those chariot things which I think are just invitations to run over children. I slowed down a lot. I got honked at. I was trying to find the right moment to go around this dad and his child before he went up that horrible hill and I had impatient drivers behindme. Now, my husband thought that the problem was the other drivers and I thought that the cyclist should have know better than to take his child on that busy road and that hill. I don’t think there is the proper respect in either direction.

    • I totally think the problem was the other drivers honking at you! They should just mellow out. (Also, that was probably my husband and son, so I am outrageously biased!)

      I know what you mean a bit about the chariots, but it is hard to say which is safer – a chariot or a seat on the back of a bike like my parents used to have. In fact, do they even make those seats for the back of bikes any more? I just don’t know.

  8. Great post Julie! We live in an area full of 4 way stops. I can’t tell you how many times I seen a child fly off the sidewalk into the intersection. No thoughts of safety, no signals, regard for cars, nothing. We can’t expect kids to know when there are some adults who haven’t a clue about signals or safety. Thanks for the refresher…it’s so important.

  9. Extra info on this topic:

    Why kids should wear helmets, an Ottawa Citizen article:

    Cyclists face major dangers on the road, an Ottawa Citizen article:

  10. Heather Ann says:

    It was not your husband…..unless he has put on weight. ; ) And bleached his hair.

    Oh, I don’t know if those seats on the back are safe or not, but I still see them. The chariot just scares me in traffic because it is so low to the ground. I imagine all the bad things that will happen. See, in our house I am the worried parent holding my kids back and my husband wants them to fly. I just see so many impatient and inattentive drivers that I am terrified of them being off the bike path and on the road. And, in the situation I described, I think the cyclist had every right to be on the road, but given how people drive on that road, I think it would have been safer not to have been on it. KWIM?

  11. Heather Ann – No, his butt is just as cute as always! 😉 And yes, I know exactly what you mean … just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, right? That stretch of road is dangerous for drivers, let alone cyclists.


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