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How to keep your family safe while cycling this summer

Derk Maniscalco, DNP

Cycling is one of my family’s favorite sports. It’s fantastic exercise and a fun way to enjoy the outdoors. However I know from personal experience and from my career as an urgent care provider how important it is to protect yourself—particularly your head—while pedaling.

Your brain is your most important asset. Safeguarding it with a helmet reduces the risk of head injuries and traumatic brain injuries by about half. As a young adult, I was struck by a car while riding. I suffered a chest injury but, thanks to my helmet, no head injury. A helmet also decreases the risk of death. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation about 700 to 800 cyclists are killed every year. The majority of them aren’t wearing helmets.

However for helmets to work—and to stay on during even a minor spill—they have to fit properly. Here’s what to look for when fitting yourself and your kids:

  • Choose a helmet that fits snuggly on the head and touches all the way around. Some helmets may have pads or an adjustable ring to help achieve a precise fit.
  • Check that the helmet is level on the head. The front of the helmet should come halfway down the forehead, hitting about two finger spaces above the brow. When a rider looks up, the brim should barely fall within their visual field.
  • Tighten the chin strap until it’s snug. Leave only a finger’s space between the strap and the chin. Opening the mouth should pull the helmet down on the head. The front of the helmet shouldn’t move more than an inch when pushed. The side straps should form a Y-shape just below the ear.

Test the fit by having the wearer vigorously shaking their head. If the helmet is firmly seated and has little to no play then it’s good to go. A helmet should fit comfortably like a good pair of sneakers. If it doesn’t, continue adjusting the helmet or consider another helmet option. Like anything else, modeling good helmet use helps kids learn to wear one consistently and correctly.

In addition to using helmets, there are a few other things you can do to keep you and your family safe while riding:

  • Create space between riders and motor vehicles by choosing routes that include designated bike paths or bike lanes.
  • Avoid riding at dusk and dark. This is when the majority of fatal bicycle accidents occur.
  • Wear reflective clothing and add reflectors to bicycles. Bicycle flags can increase visibility of little tikes.
  • Always obey the rules of the road.

My goal as a health care provider is to prevent injury and illness. If you have questions about how to stay safe while riding, make sure to ask your doctor.

Derk Maniscalco earned a doctorate in nursing practice and cares for patients in Vancouver Clinic’s Urgent Care Department. He enjoys educating individuals and their families and empowering them to be active participants in their health care.