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Hot Wheels, Safe Rides

Kids and bikes go together like peanut butter and jelly, and because summer is prime bike season, Parents magazine's Diane Debrovner visits The Early Show Monday with tips on how to buy the safest wheels for children.

Before most kids even own a trike, many ride around on the back of mom or dad's bicycle. The most important point to keep in mind here, says Debrovner, is not to put children on the back of a bike until they're a year old, regardless of whether or not the children can sit up by themselves before they turn 1 year old. Bike helmets are too heavy for babies' necks to support at this age, making it important to wait until the first birthday to take them out for a spin.

The children's bike seat Debrovner chose to show is the top-of-the-line Ketter Flipper brand, which runs $129.99. There are, however, less expensive seats available for as little as $30. Whatever seat you choose, Debrovner stresses the importance of a secure lap bar and/or seat belt. Also, look carefully at the amount of weight the seat supports.

Once children are about 2 years old, they're ready for their own wheels. The Huffy Canopy is a great "starter trike" ($79) because it has an attachment that allows it to be pushed like a stroller. This is convenient if your child's legs aren't quite long enough to reach the pedals yet, or for tykes who are simply too tired to make it home!

The Huffy trike is $79, but you can get a great tricycle for as little as $20. The Fisher-Price Barbie Tough Trike, for example, sells for $20, and there's no question you'll get your money's worth from this toy. The treaded tires make it easier to tackle bumpy driveways or hilly yards, and the wide wheelbase provides extra stability.

Other important things to look for when buying a tricycle are adjustable seats and handlebars, as they allow the trike to grow with your child. The John Deere Heavy Hauler Trike by RC2 ($60) is adjustable and has a high seat back, which helps keep a child steady.

Of course, you can never go wrong with the classic Radio Flyer red 10-inch tricycle ($50). Yes, the trike you rode as a child is still around, but today it's better than ever. Unlike most trikes on the market, the front wheel is relatively small, making it optimal for toddlers who have trouble reaching pedals. It also has an adjustable seat and sturdy frame.

Somewhere between ages 3 and 5, your child may begin clamoring for a "big kid bike." You can start your child off on a small two-wheeler with training wheels, such as the Dumbo 12" by Ketter ($199). This bike has a padded handlebar and covered chains for extra protection, as well as adjustable seat and handlebar. The training wheels are also detachable. Debrovner recommends leaving the training wheels on until a child is at least 5, although she points out that many kids won't feel secure without training wheels until they're 8 or 9.

According to Debrovner, parents shouldn't skip smaller bikes and jump right up to youth bikes. Parents often are anxious to buy their child a "bike he can grow into," but this is a mistake. Not only are bikes that are too big unsafe, they also make a child feel less secure. You want your children to feel comfortable on their bikes so that they enjoy riding and want to do it more often. Training bikes start at under $100, so you don't need to spend a lot of money if you don't want to do so.

There are two easy ways to check and see if your children are riding bikes that are the correct size for their bodies:

  • Sitting on the seat, with their hands on the handlebars, your children should be able to place the balls of both of their feet on the ground.
  • Straddling the center bar, your children should be able to stand with both feet flat on the ground with about one to three inches between their bodies and the bar.

    Once your children are bigger, you can buy a bigger youth bike such as the Jeep Commando TSI$164.99). Debrovner's tip here: be sure the bike has both hand and foot brakes. If your children panic, they may instinctively try to use foot brakes.

    Perhaps most importantly, all kids should wear a bike helmet at all times. Debrovner reccomds three helmets, two youth and one toddler-sized helmet, all of which are deemed the best in their categories by Consumer Reports.

    The Specialized Air Wave Mega ($30) scored the highest of any helmet in impact-absorption tests. At $20, the Schwinn Thrasher is a good value. Both helmets had only fair ventilation, however, and would be better for short rides or cool weather.

    The Bell Boomerang ($30) is the most parent-friendly toddler helmet. It scores highly for impact absorption and is very easy to adjust.

    Just as you want your kids to have a bike that's the correct size for their bodies, you also want to be sure they have a helmet that fits properly. Consumer Reports offers the following tips:

  • Use the appropriate foam pads and the rear stabilizer or helmet's fit system to create a snug (but not tight) fit when you place the helmet level on your head.
  • With the chin strap buckled and all other straps tight, push up firmly on the helmet's front edge. If the helmet moves enough to expose the forehead, shorten the front straps, then tighten the chin strap enough so that you can feel the top of the helmet when you open your mouth. Repeat as necessary.
  • Grasp the helmet by its rear edge and peel it off to the front. If it moves enough to cover your eyes, shorten the back straps (but leave the front straps alone). Repeat as necessary.
  • If you still can't achieve a satisfactory fit, choose another model.
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