Q: My 5-year-old is ready to learn how to ride a bike. To save money, I'm thinking about shopping for a used bicycle at tag sales. Are used bikes safe?
A: "They're a fine option," says Libby Thomas, research associate at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, in Chapel Hill. You'll just want to make sure that whatever bicycle you buy fits your child properly. Hint: While sitting on the seat with hands on the handlebar, your child should be able to place the balls of both feet on the ground. Also, while straddling the center bar, your child should be able to stand with both feet flat on the ground with about a 1-inch clearance between the crotch and the bar. For bicycle safety tips, see https://www.aap.org/family/bicycle.htm.
You should also make sure the bike hasn't been recalled. To avoid buying a used bike that's inherently unsafe, check www.cpsc.gov before shopping. (Learn more about recalled products at tag sales.) After you've selected the right bike, make sure it's bike trail, sidewalk, or road-worthy by performing basic maintenance before your child learns to ride or take it to a bike shop for a tune up. (Also see, should you buy a bargain bike?)
Once you know your child's bike is up to snuff, teach your child these traffic safety rules. Thomas says first be sure the conditions and location are age-appropriate for your child. Early skills should focus on good riding and bike handling—such as braking, dodging, and checking over the shoulder—well before the child rides near traffic. "As kids grow up, they might consider using their bike to commute to school or work, so the traffic safety they build on now can serve them well later," Thomas says.
Before and as you're riding with your child, remind her to:
--Always wear a lightweight, well-fitting bike helmet, even if she's just peddling on the driveway, and wear one yourself to set a good example when you're riding alone or with her. A bike helmet can reduce the risk of bicycle-related head and brain injuries by up to 88 percent, and facial injuries by two-thirds, according to data analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. (See how to get a good bike-helmet fit.)
--Steer clear of pebbles, potholes, glass, and other objects as she's riding.
--Stop at all red lights and stop signs.
--Ride with traffic in the farthest right lane that's going your direction, to yield to pedestrians and oncoming traffic.
--Use hand signals when making a turn by pointing the right or left arm out, respectively, for a right or left turn.
If your child is a beginner, limit her bicycling trips to parks, bike paths, safe trails, and other areas where there are no cars. As she gets older and her skill level improves (use your best judgment on that one), graduate to neighborhood streets and other low-traffic areas, while still riding along with her, and so on. "You need to teach children how to ride safely in and around cars just like you teach them how to cross the street safely as a pedestrian," says Thomas. For more pointers related to bicycle safety, see https://www.hsrc.unc.edu.