You can take the whole family for a ride--on bikes


Try this quiz: Name the one thing everyone in your family can do together -- from Grandpa to your bored-with-life teen to the baby -- that's fun, whether you're on vacation or at home on a Sunday afternoon. It's healthy, environmentally friendly and free, once you've got the basic equipment. (Hint: Check the garage.)

If you found your bike out there, you can dust it off and join the 100 million other Americans -- including 40 million children -- who DTC are taking to the nation's bike paths and back roads in ever-increasing numbers.

"Instead of going to places like Santa Barbara and sitting on the beach, families are riding bikes. It's a status thing to have a bike rack on your car these days," says Pat Hines, a former professional cyclist who founded Safe Moves, a government-supported program that gets high marks for teaching bicycle and pedestrian safety to more than 2 million Los Angeles and Southern California school children and their parents each year. The program will be expanding nationally next year.

"Biking has gotten to the point where we've got two generations now -- grandparents as well as parents -- out there biking with the kids," says Bill Wilkinson, executive vice president of the industry-supported Bicycle Institute of America.

These folks are hooking $250 trailers on the backs of their bikes to pull toddlers and using specially-equipped tandems so kids can ride along. They're also joining recreational cycling clubs like the nation's largest, Bikecentennial, taking bikes to national parks and signing up for bike trips designed for families (call [406] 721-1776). The Tourfinder, from the League of American Wheelmen, offers a complete list of family-friendly tour companies for $5 by calling (800) 288-BIKE.

Bruce Burgess' Vermont-based Bicycle Holidays, for example, will custom design an itinerary in the Green Mountain State for your family -- even for just an afternoon (call [800] 292-5388) His advice: Seek out level terrain and plenty of stops with kid appeal. And make sure everyone is wearing a helmet -- parents, too.

If you think a bike helmet is too expensive, too much of a bother or impossible to get on your child's head ("not cool," my 10-year-old complains), consider these depressing facts: Four hundred children die every year from bike accidents -- most from head injuries -- and 400,000 are hurt badly enough to require emergency-room treatment.

Studies show bike helmets reduce the risk of serious injury 85 percent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has launched a bike helmet initiative, and so has the National PTA (check with your local pediatrician or PTA for details). And before the end of the year, California's Safe Moves will introduce a $12.95 bike helmet -- among the cheapest available anywhere -- complete with flashing rear light. Call Safe Moves at (310) 399-4805 for more information.

Meanwhile, Chico, Calif., neurosurgeon Jeff Lobosky is doing his part. Since he started the Heads Up project three years ago with the help of the Rotary Club, he's given away 17,000 helmets in the three-county area north of Sacramento. For a free booklet on how to start a Heads Up project in your community write: Heads Up, 253 Cohasset Road, Chico, Calif. 95926.

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