bikingHHIA quick guide to safely enjoying the island’s pathways on two wheels

For kids, riding a bike is fun exercise and, as they get older, an opportunity for independence. With 64 miles of pathways and wide beaches, Hilton Head Island is the perfect landscape for kids and families to ride.

Ditching the training wheels is often a rite of passage that keeps kids up to speed with their peers and makes them feel good. Learning to ride involves leg strength, balance and confidence. Unlike crawling and walking, kids don’t naturally figure it out. They need some preparation and instruction.

Here are a few tips:

START EARLY

Kids start building leg strength by pedaling on tricycles when they’re toddlers, and a strider or bike without pedals — or with the pedals removed — can help teach confidence and balance on two wheels. And these tools can be introduced early.

“Bikes without pedals mimic walking movement, so kids can start practicing balance at 2 or 3 years old,” said Rich Sandquist, owner of Hilton Head Bicycle Company. “Then a bike with training wheels is the next step.”

THE RIGHT RIDE

Choosing the right bike is important. For your child, looks and color will likely be the deciding factors. But some mechanical aspects of that first bike are also important. Foot brakes are easier to start with and less of a distraction to young riders than hand brakes. And avoid buying a bike that’s too big in hopes that they’ll grow into it. The seat should be high enough that they can reach the ground with the balls of their feet.

LOCATION

Finding a safe location is also essential when teaching kids to ride. You want a flat surface that’s easy to pedal on and away from traffic. Driveways are often ideal, but Hilton Head offers other great locations.

“Hilton Head is a great place to teach kids how to ride,” Sandquist said. “We have wide, flat beaches that are hard enough to ride on, but soft if you fall.”

Jarvis Creek Park is another spot where kids can safely practice riding. The trails don’t get as much traffic as some of the island’s other bike paths. And the Sea Pines Forest Preserve is a great ride for families because there’s shade, no cars, and lots to see, Sandquist said.

READY, SET, GO

For that critical first ride on two wheels, support your child on their bike by standing behind them, holding the rear wheel between your legs, and holding your child under the armpits. This allows you to support the child while he or she controls the bike. Once they take off, kids usually find their balance and learn to pedal pretty quickly.

Then they’re ready to practice taking off on their own. Put your child’s right pedal at two o’clock and show him or her how to push down with the right leg and push off the ground with the left. Usually, if your child is ready, he or she will be able to ride with confidence in less than an afternoon.

SAFETY FIRST

Once parents have a bike rider in the house, safety is the most important lesson they can impart.

“We see lots of bike accidents,” said Dr. Patrick Snowman, an emergency physician at Hilton Head Hospital. “That is the most common trauma we see in the ER.” Most injuries are minor cuts and sprains, but occasionally the hospital treats broken bones and head injuries that are the result of a bike accident. And children are a large percentage of the riders who get injured.

For all members of the family, Snowman said, by far the most dangerous aspect of riding a bike is getting on and off the bike because you can easily lose your balance or get a foot caught and fall. And although it may not seem like a big risk, falling from the height of a bicycle is enough to break an arm or sprain an ankle. So pay attention, and if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, practice getting on and off the bike.

If it’s been awhile since you climbed aboard your bike, be sure to check the handlebars, tires and brakes before you take off on a ride. Likewise, always check your child’s bike and make sure his or her helmet fits.

“Everyone should wear a bike helmet,” Snowman said. “But it’s most important for riders younger than 16 and senior citizens.”

Other safety tips: Avoid riding at night, and if you must, use a headlamp or bike lamp. Never ride your bike while wearing headphones or ear buds because they hinder situational awareness and you might not hear a car or other obstacles.

Most importantly, never ride on the road. Drunken drivers or distracted drivers are always a threat, and motorists don’t always see people on bikes. Snowman said no one should bike on the road on the island. With its more than 64 miles of bike paths, no one has to.