Bike safety 1

Marsha Parker of the RAGBRAI Ride Right Committee uses a student to demonstrate the importance of selecting a bike that's the correct size for the rider at James Elementary School Thursday.

OTTUMWA — A cantaloupe was the only thing hurt during a demonstration on bike safety Thursday at James Elementary School.

Marsha Parker and Kristi Meyers of the RAGBRAI Ride Right Committee visited the school’s kindergarten class to give them tips on staying safe while participating in a common childhood pastime.

Parker said the annual program began in 2016 when RAGBRAI spent the night in Ottumwa and has since expanded. This year, Parker, Meyers and Nancy Manson have taken turns visiting every kindergarten class in Ottumwa in order to teach kids about safe riding.

As Thursday’s presentation got underway, the focus was first on finding a bike of the proper size. They began by asking if it would be safe for one of the adults to ride the children’s bike they had brought along to aid the presentation. The class responded, “No!”

Then one of the students was brought up to sit on the bike. The class was in agreement that the student was a better fit for the bike.

“Would Mom’s or Dad’s bicycle be safe for you?” the presenters asked. Again, they were met with a resounding, “No!”

Meyers then brought the presentation to proper riding, highlighting that the one seat on the bike was meant for one person. She emphasized the importance of keeping two hands on the set of handle bars and feet on the pedals.

“Make sure you have two hands, two feet and one person on here,” she said as she went over the different parts of the demonstration bike.

It’s also important, Parker added, to ride during daylight hours and to watch for cracks, holes and sticks on the sidewalk. “Hitting one of those can cause you to fall,” she said. And when you move to the street, make sure you ride on the same side of the street ages cars. “You need to obey the same rules as a car,” she said.

That brought the duo to hand signals. “When you’re riding a bike, you’re the driver,” Meyers said. “Your body has the turn signals.”

She and Parker then walked to students through the hand signals for a left turn, a right turn and for stopping and emphasized them with a short game of “Simon Says” to make sure the students had them down.

From there, the discussion turned to proper attire: bright clothes and tennis shoes. But there was more. Parker advised tucking shoelaces into the shoe or sock to prevent it from getting caught in the chain. Pant legs can be an issue, too, she said, so she demonstrated how a rider can tuck it into a sock or put a rubber band around it to hold it in place.

It was then time to discuss the importance of bike helmets. Meyers demonstrated how to ensure the helmet fit and how to make the straps snug underneath the chin.

Bike safety 2

Kristi Meyers of the RAGBRAI Ride Right Committee shows a kindergarten class at James Elementary School how to make sure a bike helmet fits correctly. Members of the committee have visited every kindergarten classroom in Ottumwa to make the safety presentation and have also given a bike helmet to each student at the presentation, totaling 297 helmets in 2019.

“Wear a helmet because it makes you safe,” she said.

In fact, it’s so important to the Ride Right Committee for the children to have helmets that, with the help of their sponsors, they provide a helmet to each kindergarten student after the presentations.

That’s also where the cantaloupe came into play. Parker demonstrated how a helmet helps protect the head in a bike accident by first dropping one with no helmet. It split open after the short fall.

The next cantaloupe was tucked into a helmet and dropped. While the helmet itself had a little damage, the cantaloupe was fine.

“You’ve got to keep your head safe so you can keep your brains safe,” Parker said.

And, Meyers said, “If your helmet does get damaged, it’s time to get a new helmet.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.


Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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