Staying the Course

Leo Hillermann balances his bike between bricks during the 37th annual bicycle safety rodeo. The event was held Saturday, May 19, at the Washington Fairgrounds swine pavilion. Children ages 5 to 13 could participate in skills competitions, have helmets fitted and learn about bicycle safety. Missourian Photo.

Hairstyles and bicycle design have changed greatly since 1976 when the Washington Optimist Club and Washington Police Department teamed up to hold their first Bicycle Safety Rodeo, but some things never will:

Kids still love to ride bikes, and the skills they need to make sure they do it safely are the same today as they were 40 years ago.

“It’s mostly about control and balance,” said Cindy Buescher, a member of the Washington Police Department who has been involved with the annual Bicycle Safety Rodeo from the beginning.

Each year children ages 5 to 13 are invited to complete five obstacles, including riding their bicycles slowly to measure their ability to balance and riding in a figure eight pattern to measure their control.

They are evaluated on their ability to stay within the lines of the course — like riding between a row of bricks or weaving in and out of cones, said Buescher, noting prizes are awarded to the children in each age category (5-7, 8-10, 11-13) who perform the best in the fastest time.

The obstacle course is designed to be fun for kids, but organizers really hope these lessons translate into lives saved from prevented bicycle accidents.

“We want it to help them so when they are on the road they don’t swerve into traffic or something worse,” said Buescher.

In the last five years, the Washington Police Department has investigated 20 car vs. bicycle crashes.

Of those, 13 (or 65 percent) involved injury to the rider, said Buescher. And in only five (or 25 percent) of the cases were the bicyclists wearing helmets.

The 40th annual Bicycle Safety Rodeo will be held Saturday morning, May 16, beginning at 9 a.m. at the fairgrounds under the swine pavilion. The event is free and open to everyone.

First 100 children participating in the skills rodeo will receive a free T-shirt with the 40th anniversary logo.

Registration is not necessary.

Children who will compete in the skills rodeo need to bring their bike (and helmet if they have one).

Car Seat Checks

What began 40 years ago as a bicycle skills course has evolved to include a variety of safety features for kids of all ages, even infants.

For the last several years, free car seat checks have been offered by certified inspectors with Mercy Hospital Washington and the Washington Police Department.

Presented by City of Washington Police Department, Mercy Hospital Washington and Kohl’s4Kids/Cardinal Glennon,

Many parents may not be aware that car seats actually do expired or that they can be installed incorrectly. In fact, Nicki Harriman, RN, BSN, C-EFM, a trained car seat inspector with Mercy Hospital Washington, said they typically find half of the car seats they inspect are installed incorrectly.

Car seats will be evaluated and replaced if needed, for a small donation. Parents who think their child’s seat may be expire or unsafe but cannot afford to purchase a new one can contact Harriman, 636-239-8645, to see if they qualify for a voucher to receive a replacement car seat free of charge at the Bicycle Rodeo.

“It is one thing that we can do to help ensure the safety of our kids — make sure the car seat is correctly installed, the child is strapped in correctly, and is an appropriate seat for their size,” said Harriman.

“We tend to be in a hurry to advance our kids into the next stages too quickly, when really, if we can just keep them in the appropriate seats until they reach the limits recommended by the manufacturer of the seat and the American Academy of Pediatrics, our kids would be surviving more crashes and not being hurt or even killed, at a rate that we are seeing now.”

Harriman noted that it is recommended that children be placed in rear facing seats until at least 2 years old and in a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness until the upper limits of the car seat (minimum of 4 years and 40 pounds, although many seats will go up to 65 pounds.

Booster seats are recommended until a child is 8-12 years old, 80 pounds or 4 foot 9 inches and sits in the vehicle seat correctly.

“We are seeing a large number of children out of booster seats too early, and the vehicle seats are not designed to fit the children until they reach the limits recommended,” said Harriman. “So, keep them in the booster seats and in the back seat until age 13. We see a lot of kids in the front seat who are not able to even see over the dashboard. The air bags in vehicles can have such negative effects on kids if there is a crash. I think if we educate our families as to why, we would see a huge reduction in deaths and injuries.”

Safety Town for Preschoolers

For preschool age children who ride tricycles, they can start to get familiar with the rules of the road by participating in the Safety Town course. Specifically designed for children under age 5, the course takes them through a simulated town with buildings and road signs, like STOP, YIELD and Railroad Crossing.

“It’s not a competition, but more a way to get them started knowing the rules. There is a bank building, police station . . . ,” said Julie Frankenberg, a Washington Optimist Club member who co-chairs the Bicycle Safety Rodeo with Buescher. “It’s a really great thing for the little kiddos to experience that.”

Safety Town is provided by Kohl’s4Kids/Cardinal Glennon.

Free Helmets

Since 2007, the Bicycle Safety Rodeo has offered free helmet fittings and, for the last several years, free helmets.

Getting children to wear helmets while riding bicycles is an ongoing challenge, said Buescher. Some children and their parents just don’t understand the danger.

The family of the late Lt. Steve Thiemann, a Washington police officer who died from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident in 2009, has been helping provide free helmets to all children at the event who need one.

In addition to receiving free helmets, children will be able to hear a talk about the importance of wearing helmets, said Buescher.

Free Child Identification Program

Members of the Freemasons Hope Lodge 251 in Washington will offer parents a chance to create a comprehensive identity profile for their children completely free of charge through its MO CHIP, Missouri Child Identification Program.

It is a tool designed to give families a measure of protection against the ever increasing problem of missing children.

Mascots, Balloons, Free Food, More

St. Louis Cardinals Mascot Fredbird will be at the Bicycle Safety Rodeo from 9 to 10 a.m. before heading to the Cardinals game that day. The St. Louis Rams mascot Rampage will arrive at 10 a.m.

Mascots from both local high schools, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School and Washington High School, also will attend.

There will be a bounce house, clowns, face painting and free food — pizza provided by Domino’s Pizza, as well as hot dogs, soda and water, popcorn and cookies.

Members of the Washington Volunteer Fire Company and Washington Ambulance District will be set up on the scene with their trucks.

The staff from Revolution Cycles in Washington will give free bike safety inspections. They will be looking for things like loose handlebars, loose chains and tires that are low on air.

The Washington Police Department also will register bikes to provide an official record in the event the bike is lost or stolen.

People are welcome to attend any one of these activities that will benefit them, said Buescher. They do not need to take part in everything.

Rodeo Began in 1976

Bob Kamper was working as a Washington police officer when he initiated the Bicycle Safety Rodeo back in 1976, modeling it after a similar event that had been held in Union. From the start, the event has been cosponsored by the Washington Police Department and the Washington Optimist Club.

Bike safety has long been one of the youth projects of Optimist International, said Frankenberg.

The first Bicycle Safety Rodeo was held on the parking lot behind the city auditorium. Over the years, as the event has grown in size and scope, it has been relocated a number of times.

From the parking lot behind the auditorium it was moved to the front parking lot. Then in 1985, it was moved to the parking lot of the old Elks Hall (where Washington’s Public Safety Building is now located).

In 2007 and ’08, the Rodeo was held on the parking lot at Patients First Health Care in Washington. The company’s expansion plans last year forced the Rodeo to relocate again, this time to the swine pavilion at the fairgrounds.

Attendance at the rodeo has steadily grown. In recent years it has been 100 or more children, said Buescher, noting the biggest year was 1991 with 159 children participating, she said.

As attendance has grown, organizers have worked hard to boost the prizes. In 1976, all participants were given front and rear bike reflectors.

“Our first grand prize was a generator light to put on your bike,” Buescher recalled. “1981 is when we gave away our first bike as an attendance prize.”

That year they also increased the number of generator lights given away. In the years that followed, the rodeo also gave away things like bike speedometers, bike flags and then helmets.

“1995 is when we gave away our first helmets,” said Buescher. “We gave away just six or eight of them as attendance prizes, and that’s when we really started to encourage all kids to wear helmets whenever they rode a bike.”

The rodeo increased the number of bikes it gave away first in 1985, when it gave away two 10-speed bikes (one to a boy and one to a girl) and again in 1999.

Volunteers make the rodeo run smoothly each year.

Jerry Jasper sets up the skills stations, which requires measuring and spray painting, placing cones and bricks to mark the configurations.

Optimist Club members staff the skill stations and serve as judges.

Reminder to Be Safe, Careful

After 40 years of hosting the Bicycle Safety Rodeo, organizers say they have seen hundreds of Washington children grow up, to the point where they are now seeing children who participated in those early years come back now with their own children. That has been rewarding, said Buescher.

So too is the knowledge that they are teaching kids life-saving information.

“We hope we are touching at least one child,” said Frankenberg. “We hope they get something out of it, or that it’s just fun and a reminder to be safe and careful on the road.”