Annie and her mom Kate participated in a bike safety course sponsored by Pima County and the City of Tucson.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Kate Harrison, a graduate student and staff member of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism. I asked Kate to write something about her and her 9-year-old daughter Annie’s experience in the bike safety course sponsored by Pima County and the City of Tucson. Kate was looking for a course like this to help her daughter feel more comfortable and ride safely on the “open road” as Annie calls it.

My first thought was, “Can a bike safety class really take four hours?” The natural follow-up: “Do I want to invest that kind of time on a Saturday when I can probably teach my 9-year-old, newly-minted-bike-riding daughter all that stuff myself?”

Let’s just say I’m glad the answer to both questions was yes, because the recent Saturday we spent at the Pima County Bicycle and Pedestrian program was more valuable than I could have imagined.

The class – designed for children ages 8-12 and their parents – opened in the conference room of Perimeter Bicycling, 2609 E. Broadway, with recollections by participants of our first bikes. I recalled flying down steep hills and slogging through flooded streets on my two-wheeler in suburban Dayton, Ohio. Others remembered building their own bikes or pedaling across a much-smaller central Phoenix, nary a parent in sight.

Our teachers, Anton Russell and Jorge Garza, quickly engaged my daughter, Annie, and fellow attendees Miguel and Jeremy. Teachers unrolled a cloth that showed a streetscape and used matchbox cars and tiny toy bicycles to explain potential road hazards.

Next came “Bike Jeopardy,” a takeoff on the popular TV game show, complete with buzzers to “ring in” and answer questions. True or false: a bicyclist cannot get a traffic ticket? False!

Nearly 90 minutes had flown by. Now we were ready to move outside and onto our bikes. In the empty parking lot next door, the children practiced turns, braking and hand signals. Teachers also made sure we all had plenty of air in our tires and properly fitted helmets. Finally, it was time to hit the road.

For nearly an hour, we rode neighborhood streets, with Anton in the lead and Jorge bringing up the rear. My husband and I and the children rode single file, careful stay to the far right side of the road, practicing our hand signals with each stop and turn.

When we crossed major streets, such as Tucson Boulevard, the children were able to gauge for themselves the safest time to cross. They also were able to observe what NOT to do as a driver or cyclist, from the cars that didn’t come to complete stops at intersections to the cyclist who darted in front of us when making a turn.

By the time we returned to Perimeter, it was time for the last few exercises in the parking lot, such as practicing sharp turns. Then the children were free to show off their “tricks”: riding while standing, popping a wheelie and the like.

We then collected a considerable packet of goodies: a Tucson metro bike map that depicts shared-use paths, bike routes and residential streets; safety tips for cyclists and drivers; a “Sprocket Man” comic book; a detailed map of the Rillito River Park; and more. In addition, we received safety reflective tape, and a certificate good for a free bike helmet and tire levers at a local bike shop.

My advice? Invest four hours in your child’s safety. Sign up for a free bike safety class at 243-2453. You can download a copy of the class schedule here or click on their sponsorship icon on the right side of the page.

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