Using Your Head

In Ontario, cycling with the helmet is the law.  Anyone under the age of eighteen who rides any type of bicycle must wear a helmet.  But something happens when kids suddenly turn 12 and many feel that they are better than the law, so they leave their helmets at home or ride with their helmets dangling from the handlebars.  It annoys me that this has not been legalized for adults as there are many who feel that they are invincible and ride bikes without wearing helmets; ironically, I often see this when they are riding with their children, who are wearing theirs.  Whether it is the law or not, every cyclist needs to wear a helmet every single time they mount a bike, no matter how old they are, how far they are going or how fast they are riding.

2011 – riding with the dude

When my oldest was 4, he rode his bike everywhere – and always with a helmet.  This was long before the helmet law that came into effect in 2105 but, with parents who cycle and a dad who also rides a motorcycle, not wearing a helmet simply wasn’t an option.  One day, when I watched my speedy son zoom down a 4 year old sized hill, lose his balance and crack his helmet, I was grateful that wearing them was part of our lifestyle.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, a very experienced cyclist, was riding north of the city, training for an upcoming Ironman competition.   The roads were slick that day and, as she crossed a set of train tracks, she lost her balance, slid and hit her head. The damage to her bike was so severe that it needed to be replaced, as did her helmet.   She had a concussion but walked away and started training again a few days later.  Her helmet saved her.

Why people even think about riding without a helmet is beyond me?  Sure, your head might get a little sweaty but wouldn’t you rather have a sweaty head than a crushed skull?   Messy hair can be fixed; brains can’t.

Two years ago, one dark Saturday night, I was driving down a particularly poorly lit street to pick up my son at a friend’s.  At that last minute, I spotted a couple of boys riding their bikes – no lights, no helmets.  My parent  instincts took over and I pulled into a parking lot, which I thought they would cut through, got out of my car and waited.  When they turned in, I called them over.   As it turned out, they were kids from my school, grade 7’s whom I had taught the year before.

“You guys need lights.  I could hardly see you.  There are parts along that road that are so dark that you could have easily been hit.”  Then, I noticed the lack of headwear.  “And your helmets need to be on your heads, not on your handlebars.”

They were speechless, but they got it and it wasn’t long before their lights were turned on and helmets were locked into place. Two years later, on their last day of  Grade 8, one of them said to me “Thanks for stopping us that night.  I always wear my helmet now.”

Yesterday, my own 13 year old left the house wearing his helmet, came back home to change into something warmer and left.  Zeda barked at them as they were chatting on the driveway, which drew my attention to them.  “Where is your helmet?”  I yelled as I ran outside.

“In my room.”

“Go get it.  And where is your helmet?” I asked his friend.  “I’m pretty sure that you have one too.”

“I don’t have one right now.”

“You don’t have a helmet?” I questioned.  I know his mom.  He has a helmet.

“It’s at my house.”

“Then you are going to go home to get it and I am going to text your mom that you are on your way.”

And that night both sons were reminded, by their respective moms, that if they are ever caught without a helmet again, they will lose their bike.

Whether young or old, new to bikes or an experienced cyclist, everyone needs to wear a helmet when riding.   So be warned: if I see you cycling without one, I will call you out every single time.

The Challenge of Change

Like most kids, my 9 year old is often keen to try something new.  But he also loses interest very quickly.   If I am lucky enough that he does stay interested, it is usually due to sameness of the activity – whether it be the structure of the same day and time, the routines surrounding it, or the “no surprise” approach.

Last week, after we started riding our bikes in the mornings, I completely expected him to be bored within days.  He isn’t.  Without even thinking about it, I have managed build consistency around our cycling and that has kept him motivated.   We ride in the morning; he picks the route; we always plan to add a bit more distance each time.  Consistency.

This week, I have been trying desperately to get him to do something different.  “Let’s ride north this time,” I suggested.  “Nope, I’m good,” he replied. “I’ve got a route planned.”  And he did – the same route as the one before but a little bit longer.  Last night, I almost tasted a mommy victory when I got him to ride with me while I headed out with my running club, somewhere different and farther.  At first, everything seemed fine but, once he realized it wasn’t just me he’d be riding with, he walked away.

Tonight, I changed my approach.  I gave him incentive.  “I’m going for a run into the trails and I need you to come with me.  I want to take some pictures in Sixteen Mile Creek so I need you to carry my phone.  That’s right.  I told my kid that he could carry my phone around with him – on his bike.  The coolness factor overpowered him.  “Wait, can I watch the end of this show?  It’s only 13 more minutes.”  Sold!  I had a cycling photographer.

Sixteen Mile Creek - bottom hillKnowing that he prefers trails to roads, we started on a gravel path for the first 2K.  Sure enough, within those first 2K, he was bored.  But as soon as we got into the trail system, the adventure began.  We had the challenge of hills, the beauty of green space, and the excitement of being alone to pull us deeper and deeper into the system.   When one hill became too difficult to ride, I walked up his bike while he found places to climb and take pictures, pictures that I didn’t really need other than to make his presence feel valued.  Four kilometres into the our ride/run, we decided to take a slightly longer route as it would be less hilly and an easier ride home.

It wasn’t long before we realized we were lost, and another adventure began.   We worked our way out of the trail system and navigated back to familiar streets.  Again, he pulled out my phone to take pictures.  This time, he tried his hand at action shots.

Postmaster RunWhen we got home, he asked if he could ride with me again.  He has goals: to ride downhill, to ride part of the way up the big hill, and to learn to take some cool pictures.  To me, that sounds like time well spent together.