Riding safely in SH


October 23, 2019

FOSTER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL students ride with bicycle safety educator Jay Thatcher of Corvallis on Elm Street.

The small group of cyclists pedal up 6th Avenue, toward Elm Street, on a recent sunny afternoon – half a dozen fifth-graders and two adults.

They approach a stop sign at an intersection, and the youngster in the lead pulls up and stops.

"Signal," one of the adults yells.

The boy extends his right arm, then turns the corner as the others follow.

It's another day – the final day, actually – of Sweet Home's Bike Safety Education Program at Foster School.

The class is taught by retired PE teacher Jay Thatcher, a Corvallis-based bicycle safety educator who began teaching bicycle safety 18 years ago in adaptive physical education classes. Thatcher was helped by Doug Robin and Donna Short, local cyclists who have organized Walking School Bus events to encourage children to walk to school as part of the district's Safe Routes to School effort. The bicycle safety program is an extension of Safe Routes to School, Robin noted.

The couple helped arrange for a donation of bicycles from the Albany School District last year, which are used for the classes.

Robin said Sweet Home got the bikes through a series of events, starting with a donation from the Mid Valley Bicycle Club, from its 2018 Tandem Rally, to the Albany Bike Safety Education Program to replace their bike fleet and trailer.

The Albany Bike Safety Education Program knew that Sweet Home was trying to get a bike safety education program started, so it donated its old fleet – 37 bikes and a trailer – to Sweet Home School District, Robin said. The east-county Santiam Spokes Bicycle Club purchased 120 helmets for the program.

The mountain bikes came in various sizes, with wheels ranging from 20 to 26 inches to accommodate just about any child in the program. Thatcher said the top bars, running from the forks to the seat, are slanted, which allows them to fit "a wide variety of children's heights."

Russ Anderson, service manager at Peak Sports in Corvallis, came to Sweet Home on his day off to conduct a safety check on the bikes and replace broken parts, Robin said. Peak donated parts for that effort.

The first class took place last April at Sweet Home Charter School, and classes at the Boys & Girls Club Community Center and Holley Elementary followed in the spring. This fall, classes were held at Foster and Oak Heights, where 28 more students have begun a second class, he said. A total of 138 students will have completed the bike safety education class by the end of October, Robin said.

"Watching the students gain in knowledge, skill and confidence has been so encouraging," he said. "It was especially so for four students that did not know how to ride a bike before the classes started, who ended up riding a couple miles through town on the last day."

Students in the classes learn how to fit a bike helmet and bicycle, how to do a safety check of the bike prior to riding, bike handling skills and rules of the road. Youngsters learn about rights-of-way at a four-way stop and how to make turns properly.

Thatcher said he and other organizers plan to teach the program "in as many schools as let us in."

The final lesson is the Community Ride, in which students ride through town in a small group with a couple of adults.

"They get experience with traffic lights and a variety of road situations," Robin said. "The students have a great time seeing their town by bike."

On this particular day, the students rode from Oak Heights to Sweet Home Junior High.

The bike ride was "very fun," reported Tori Victor, 10. "It was a really interesting ride because in the middle, he would say 'Switch it up,' and everyone in front would go to the back. Everybody got a turn to ride (in the lead.)

"We learned how to do that safely, and we learned how to cross an intersection and we also learned what to do at a stop sign when there's cars coming. We were supposed to listen to the instructor behind us, listen to what he says.

"If there was a stop sign, we would yell 'stopping!' And when it was clear to go, we would go."

Robin said help has come from all sides: free security for the bike storage by Security Alarm Corp., grants from the Cascade West Council of Governments and Samaritan Health and a wide range of school officials and local cycling enthusiasts.

"In Sweet Home, we're raising awareness and enthusiasm for this program that will save a few lives, and provide some necessary safety and freedom for some young people," Thatcher said. "It's a cool program."

Tori said she has a bike, which she's ridden "a fair amount – not too much."

She said one thing that stuck out to her in the class was how to properly check a bike before riding.

"We did something called the ABC Quick Check," she reported. "A is for air, B is for brakes, C is chain and Quick is for the quick-release levers."

Corey Bradbury, 10, said he learned to stand up on the pedals, which is helpful "if you don't have the right seat." He added that he discovered the importance of having a well-fitted seat.

Corey said he rode a bike three years ago, "but not much after that."

He said he learned to "always use double brakes. Always use your signals, unless you're going straight. Then do nothing."

Thatcher said he likes working with fifth-graders, who have the ability to learn the principles of safe cycling in traffic.

"They're not pushing too hard against adults for their own identity, so they can follow directions pretty easily," he said. "We're helping them graduate from being children to being adults."

Corey said he most enjoyed "the feeling of the air in your face, as you're riding down the street."

STUDENTS and instructors gather before a ride.


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