How to run a bicycle rodeo

Ideas for running at a bicycle rodeo from MoBikeFed Board Member Coy Hart, who has been involved with running many of these events:

1) Helmet fit - There is a difference in quality of helmets and if you are going to be fitting a number of new helmets, those with knob adjustable suspension systems are way easier & faster to fit than the cheaper ones which only use pads. Local organizations have been buying these from a company called 'Gear Up' for around $8 each (about $1 more than the very cheapest - which are a nightmare to fit & being in a hurry just makes it worse). Down here, they get two sizes ... small and large, and do NOT get helmets for infants or toddlers. All the small ones are blue and all the large ones are red. This is for our benefit to speed up the process. We usually put the kids name on the black raw styrofoam part of the helmet with a black Sharpie. This doesn't stand out too much, but still identifies who's helmet it is (helmets should NOT be shared) Also, if you have similar organizations in your area, if you can cover half the cost it seems to 'grease the wheels' of those very helpful organizations.

2) Bicycle check - see the ABC Quick Check on the League of American Bicyclists website. Try to engage parents and older kids in this bike check. At the same time as the bike check, you also need to check the fit of the bike to it's rider. Younger kids (9 & under) will be more comfortable if they can put their feet on the ground while sitting on the saddle. Kids 10 & up including adults should have their seat higher and NOT be able to put their feet on the ground while seated. They should start & stop straddling the bike with their feet on the ground and raise themselves to the seat on the first pedal stroke & standing on one pedal and catching themselves on the opposite foot when stopping. Encouragement to get kids to accept this higher seating position is that they will be faster and more comfortable with the higher seat position. Sometimes we try to get local bike shops to help with this step.

3) Ride a straight line - If one is available, just use a painted line on a parking lot. I've seen a lot of zig-zag courses under the pretext of teaching balance, but motorists need to be able to PREDICT where the bicyclist is going ... difficult, if not impossible, if the rider can't hold a line.

4) Scanning to the rear for traffic (both to the left and to the right). Kids can pick up this skill a lot faster than most adults. Start by having the kid straddle the bike standing still while you straddle the front wheel of their bike and hold their handle bars to have them practice. The natural tendency is that they accidently steer the bike in the same direction they are looking. We want them to be able to scan while holding a straight line. Using the same straight line as above, have the children look back and shout out how many hands you hold up on your command (none, one, or two). Do this a number of times with them looking over their left shoulder and after that is mastered then try it to the right. If they are going to attempt a left turn, stress to them that if there is threatening traffic behind them to just pull over to the right & stop, get off the bike and walk across at an intersection. Signaling is also important, but it's not near as important as having them scan for traffic and maintaining control of the bike.

5) Entering a (busier) street from a side street or driveway. They need to learn to stop at the curb line, look left, right, and left again. If their view is obstructed by brush or parked vehicles, they need to ease forward and stop again at the street side edge of the obstruction and do it again ... look left, right, and left again. Enter the street only when it is clear.

6) They need to know they should ride on the right side of the street and NEVER on the left side against traffic. This is mostly because at intersections motorists are NOT going to be looking for traffic coming at them on the extreme wrong side of the street. In almost every town, it is illegal (and NOT as safe) to ride on sidewalks, especially in business districts. The youngest kids in residential neighborhoods are probably going to ride on sidewalks anyway. I tell them to do what their folks tell them to do. Your event can also be an opportunity to try to get the parents to come and learn the proper way to ride in traffic. And, BTW, if you want the kids to adapt a certain behavior, then the adults ought to behave in the same way to serve as an example! If you want your kid to wear a helmet, then YOU wear a helmet on EVERY ride.

Other items and tips:
  • Keep looking up and ahead for what is happening in front of you!
  • Ride far enough away from parked cars to avoid a car door being opened into their path.
  • You can teach Rock Dodge (avoiding objects in the road), Quick Turn (an emergency turn almost always done to the right ... most often to avoid a car turning either right or left in front of the bicyclist), Emergency Stop (lifting off the seat and throwing your weight back over the rear wheel (especially while modulating the front brakes if the bike has them) ... to stop fast and avoid being thrown over the handle bars. See this web page for details.
  • I would never recommend kids riding bikes at night, but if the do they should be equipped with a white front head light and a red tail light as well as a full set of reflectors.
If there is a school still in session or an art class, maybe you could get them to make you some traffic signs (about 2 foot square) and fix up some fronts of cars, trucks, brush, etc. ... everything on cardboard (easy to store) and some of which can just be held by your assistants.

You might contact your nearest MoDOT office or some local agency that maintains traffic signs for some real signs as loaners. The kids need to learn what the signs mean and they should be taught to obey them.

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