Redmond students learn biking options, safe riding

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 02. 2007 5:00AM PST

REDMOND – On Tuesday afternoon at Obsidian Middle School, a group of about 30 sixth-graders in gym class played “Simon says” while wearing shiny new bicycle helmets.

Their teacher wasn’t being overly cautious. The students had just been fitted for helmets as part of a two-week Bike Safety Education program taking place at the school.

Laurakay Louke, project coordinator for Commute Options for Central Oregon, a Bend-based nonprofit, has been working with the Obsidian students for the last few days. She has been teaching them the rules of the road and safe riding techniques. This spring, she has also taught the class to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Cascade Middle School and Bear Creek Elementary School in Bend.

“Our goal is to help people not drive alone, and one of the ways to do that is to teach people about bike safety,” Louke said. “So if you can get children learning about how to ride safely at a young age, it really make sense.”

The program encourages students to ride to school instead of having their parents drive them, Louke said.

“Nowadays a very small percentage of children ride their bikes to school,” she said, noting the rates of childhood obesity have increased in recent years.

On Tuesday, Louke discussed the ins and outs of helmet fitting with the students – saying that they need to fit snugly, with a two-finger overhang in the front to protect the nose – and pointed out that helmets have a maximum five-year shelf life. She then informed the students that they could keep the helmets if they need a new one.

The helmets are free and provided by The Center Foundation, a Bend organization that supports health education for children.

Louke told the students that 90 percent of bike deaths are the result of head trauma, and 75 percent of the deaths could be prevented if all bikers wore a helmet.

Some students also brought in their own helmets to make sure they fit properly. As Louke inspected Forrest McMellon’s sticker-covered helmet, she told him that the chin straps were too loose. Forrest, 12, replied that he doesn’t always buckle the strap.

“You usually don’t buckle them? Ooooh,” Louke said disapprovingly. “A properly fitted helmet includes buckling.”

Forrest said that he usually rides his bike to school, but right now he has a flat tire. He added that he usually uses his bike to “just cruise around.”

“I get to go fast,” he said. “(The class) taught me how to do hand signals.”

Omar Cortes, 12, said he rides his bike to school every day, and he always wears a helmet.

He said he likes his mile-long ride to school because “it wakes me up in the morning.”

The bike safety program starts with in-class instruction on the rules of the road and how to ride with traffic on the street.

The students are fitted for helmets and bikes. And at the end of the program they take a community ride on bikes provided by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, a Portland group that developed the Bicycle Safety Education class.

Although several students said the program taught them how to be safer while biking, those who do not already ride to school said they don’t think they will start now. Louke said she gets a mixed reaction from her classes, although the students usually get excited about their new helmets and the community bike ride.

“Some ride (to school) anyway and so this just is perfecting the technique, some it gives them the courage to do it, and some will never do it,” she said. “This district has kids who live out in Tumalo – they never ride (to school).”

Valerie Goodew, 11, said she usually rides her bike every other day, but not to school.

“I live really far,” she said. “I would if I had the chance.”

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