As Christmas nears, a vision dancing though the heads of some members of your household may be of a shiny new bicycle.
But there are some bicycle safety issues to keep in mind this holiday season. "They're not toys anymore," said Pat Hines, executive director of Safe Moves, a Van Nuys firm that conducts bike-safety education programs for the city's Department of Transportation and the MTA.
"Kids can easily get up to 20 mph" on the popular BMX bikes, she said, "and racers can get up to 60 mph coming downhill."
Hines leads safety-training workshops at schools throughout the Valley and elsewhere in Los Angeles. In her work, she stresses that "the most important part of bicycle safety is a bicycle helmet."
Since Jan. 1, 1994, cyclists 18 and younger have been required by law to wear helmets. And Hines cites research indicating that, by doing so, a cyclist reduces the chance of serious head injury by 85%.
But for a helmet to protect the rider, it must fit correctly and be certified. "Kids won't grow into a helmet--their head at the age of 7 is the size it'll be as an adult," Hines said.
Also, don't buy a helmet unless it has a sticker indicating it's certified by Snell or ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). These helmets are widely available. Regardless of where you buy one, take your child to a full-service bike shop to have the helmet expertly fitted.
"We've been educating bike-shop staffs" about fittings, said Hines, "and 99% will do it for free as a public service."
The size of the bike is an issue stressed by Jim Burke, spokesman for the L.A. Wheelmen bike club. Buying a bike that's too big for a child means "they can't control it and won't enjoy riding it," he said. He advised: "Buy the bike to fit the child."
And a child must ride his or her bike solo--no passengers, both Burke and Hines said. Some of the BMX-style bikes come with metal pegs protruding from the axles on which passengers stand. Avoid buying bikes with this feature, safety experts advise.
Another thing to consider when bike shopping is the increasing local problem of bike theft. According to Jim Langley, a California-based technical editor of Bicycling magazine, "Among kids who've once been the victims of bike theft, there's a trend toward cheap bikes or wrapping electrical tape around parts of a good bike so it looks like a clunker."
When it comes to finding a safe place to ride a bike, there's fairly good news. The Valley's system of dedicated bike paths has been expanding so rapidly that the latest comprehensive map, published by the MTA, is becoming obsolete even though it's only 2 years old.
But it's still worth getting for use during the holidays, for a family bike outing while school is out and smog levels are low.
The updated version of the MTA bike paths map is due out around May.
Meanwhile, the Southern California Automobile Assn. publishes a well-respected, family oriented paperback, "Touring the Los Angeles Area by Bicycle." It's available for $12.95 at AAA offices in Burbank, Glendale, Van Nuys, Northridge, Lancaster and Santa Clarita.
Pat Hines is optimistic about the future of local biking--both because of the new bike paths and the relative ease of riding the Valley's flat expanses. And, she said, "bicycling is the only sport that the whole family can do together, and we're going to become the most bike-friendly city in America."
* FYI: For bicycle safety and advice on choosing a safe bicycle for your kids, call Safe Moves at (818) 908-5341.
* MAPS: For the MTA bicycle route map covering the Valley and other parts of Los Angeles, call (213) 922-5622.