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Kids saddle up for fun, learn about bike safety

By Staff | Oct 27, 2009

About 50 youngsters in kindergarten through fifth grade attended the Sanibel Recreation Center’s inaugural Bike Rodeo, held last Thursday afternoon at The Sanibel School’s covered pavilion, where they learned valuable information pertaining to the rules of the road along with the importance of riding with proper safety gear.

The two-hour event also included a bicycle obstacle course, which participants had to successfully navigate in order to receive a Certificate of Completion from the Sanibel Police Department, demonstrations and giveaways of bike helmets, complimentary bicycle tuneups and repairs (courtesy of event sponsor Billy’s Bikes & Rentals) and free popcorn and refreshments from Bailey’s General Store.

“Something like this is a great community activity that brings kids out and teaches them all about bike safety,” said Barry Alan Roth, a member of the Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis Club, who assisted as volunteers at the Bike Rodeo. “We’re teaching them not only how to ride a bike but how to ride along Sanibel’s shared use paths and how to use their brakes, lights and other safety gear.”

Drew Tyska, 7, and her sister Hope, 6, attended the event with their mother.

“With both of them being new riders on the bike paths, I want them to be as safe and as prepared as possible,” said Nicki Tyska. “Something like this is great for all kids to take part in.”

At the north end of the pavilion, several tents were set up where kids not only could sign up for a free bike helmet but to witness an actual demonstration of how important that piece of equipment is to any rider, regardless of age.

Bill Sartoris, a member of the Sanibel Bicycle Club, offered a simple but effective visual aid. He placed an egg inside a thick foam cube, taped together on all six sides. One by one, he asked children to drop the cube on the cement from about four feet off the ground. Each time, the egg escaped damage. Once each child saw that the foam protected the egg so well, he removed the egg and asked one youngster to drop it again. Of course, the egg splattered instantly.

“See that?” Sartoris asked. “That’s your head if you don’t wear a bike helmet!”

Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy’s Bikes & Rentals, volunteered to become a co-sponsor of the Bike Rodeo because he serves on the city’s Parks & Recreation Committee and saw great value in conducting such an event.

“In my business, bicycle safety is so important because so many people use the island’s bike paths,” Kirkland explained. “When we announced that we were gonna do this, we had so many volunteers come out and help us, from the Sanibel Bicycle Club and Kiwanis Club. It’s been such a great success today that the Kiwanis Club is thinking of making it one of their annual events… maybe holding it on a Saturday so even more people can come out.”

Isha Mehraz, a fifth grader from The Sanibel School, was thrilled to learn that he was the recipient of a free bicycle, courtesy of Billy’s Bikes. The 10-year-old said that he hadn’t owned his own bicycle since he was very young.

“This is a great island where many people do kind things for others,” said Mehraz. “I’m looking forward to riding my bike to school, going biking with my friends and riding around my neighborhood. Having my own bicycle will make me very happy.”

Bike riders who navigated the obstacle course rode from point to point, stopping to receive verbal commands from volunteers stationed throughout the course. They offered instruction on how to properly slow down and stop at a roadway crossing, how to look both ways before advancing, the use of hand signals, bicycle safety equipment (including bells, horns, reflectors and lights) as well as the “rules of the road.”

“Here on Sanibel, learning about bike safety is extremely important,” said volunteer Michael Timm. “These things are good for any age, given the amount of car traffic that you have to interact with on the roads.”

Dave DeFonzo, youth program coordinator at the Sanibel Recreation Center, praised the attendance and effectiveness of the first-time event.

“This is a great collaboration between the local bike shops and the Rec Center,” he said. “Living on this island, with the number of people who use the shared paths, these are very useful lessons to learn. My hat goes off to everyone involved because this is going to be a big benefit for our kids.”