Want to see some bikes that need lots of work? Volunteer to help out on an elementary school field trip! I got a call at the shop early last week from a school that was doing a bike ride on Friday. Last year, I recruited someone else to do the presentation before the ride. This year I was available and decided I could take an hour or so out of my day to talk to the kids.
We talked helmet fit, tire pressure, trail etiquette and safety. They told their stories: when they'd seen moose on the trail; dogs that chased; people who rode on the wrong side of the trail, especially going around corners or through tunnels. I gave my advice; quizzed them on using hand signals (they sure have short attention spans!), then it was time to look at helmets and go outdoors to see the bikes.
I had my floor pump (as did two of the teachers) and a bottle of chain lube. I found tires with a recommended inflation range of 40 - 65 that had only about 20 psi in them. Brakes levers that nearly touched the hand grips before they worked, if they worked. Chains that were rusty or dusty. One bike had a v-brake that needed to be fixed with a pliers. I did what I could on a few bikes while other adults were also checking out bikes, airing tires and adjusting helmets. We could have used an entire shop of mechanics to get these kids safely onto the trail, but we didn't have that.
I've mentioned to teachers before (as I did that day) that having bikes checked over at a shop a week in advance would be very helpful to save time and frustration on the day of the ride. But I also know that requiring a bike check doesn't mean each bike will get one. Some parents who ride bicycles haven't a clue how to maintain a bike at the most basic level, yet will look over the child's bike and declare it safe. Others might not have the funds to pay for the repairs a bike needs to make it safe. Still others just don't think about it. Which is a shame for the child who might get injured or grow to hate cycling because they are miserable every minute they're on the bike.
The idea that parents would sign a permission slip and send their precious child to school on a bike that isn't safe confounds me. I mean, if the brakes in your car didn't work, you'd take it to a shop, right? Hmm, maybe not.
It was kind of sad what poor shape some of the bikes were in. I'm sure none of the teachers wanted to tell a student that he or she couldn't do the field trip because a bike wasn't safe, but I kind of wonder about the bikes I didn't get a chance to look at. I don't expect a school teacher to be an expert on inspecting a bicycle for safety just as they don't expect me to be aware of the many teaching methods they use to keep fourth graders engaged.
I remember my middle-school days. Our family didn't have the money for us to have bikes, so when it was time for the field trip on the rail trail, I borrowed my aunt's root-beer colored three-speed ladies bike to do what may have been my only ride of the year. I don't know what kind of shape the bike was in, but by the end of the day I remember having a sore butt and a sunburn. Ah, those were the days!...
I was working at the shop this past weekend and got a chance to hear some feedback. First, a young boy looked at me and asked if I had been at the school the day before. I told him it was indeed me. I asked if he'd learned anything new and he replied that he was surprised that he did pick up a few things. Ah, to reach one kid! I get it! How rewarding! The next day, a teacher was in and we were chatting about a new picture book about cycling.
I asked where she worked and she told me she worked at the same school. I was there on Friday, I told her. Oh, she said. Oh, that ride was a disaster. The teachers were pretty frustrated with the parents for sending kids to school with dangerous equipment; for not telling teachers their child was just learning to ride; for sending kids to school on bikes that didn't fit them; for trying to insist that their child didn't need a helmet. She said that she stopped doing biking field trips for these reasons. What a shame. But completely understandable.
I know parents are busy and budgets are tight. But don't send your kid to school on a bike that isn't safe. Take it to a shop. An estimate is free. Find out if it can be fixed for an amount that's in your budget. If it can't, the child may actually be better off without a bicycle until you can save for one that is safe. I make this statement with the clear memory of not having my own bicycle until I was in high school when I worked to save enough money for a 10-speed I bought at the PX on the army base where my dad worked. I was a late bloomer when it came to bikes, but I have recovered from the embarrassment of feeling like the only kid without a bike. I guess I'm making up for it now.