August 22, 2001 | By: Mark Eclov

All the contestants who participated in the Kentucky state 4-H bicycle safety rodeo left with a ribbon and a set of safety skills that may protect them on the state's busy roads long after the ribbon fades with age.

"The bicycle project has a long tradition of encouraging safety and skill development," said Cheryl Wyatt, Extension associate specialist for bicycle and pedestrian education in the UK College of Agriculture. "Biking is a good, healthy activity that helps develop self reliance and confidence.

Nearly a dozen county Extension agents, state specialists and Jefferson county police officers take the time to organize and carry out the state contest. The event is held just outside the Kentucky fairgrounds at the local national guard armory.

"This contest is not a race," noted Jan Gibson, 4-H agent from Perry County and superintendent of the state 4-H bicycle contest. "The young people are tested on their skills and how they compete on the riding course."

At both the local and state levels, contestants had to complete a written test and guide their bikes through a series of six different stations that help to determine their balance, judgement and ability to take directions.

"We test all the skills that play a role in making a competent cyclist. These same skill sets might even carry over to when these youngsters eventually get behind the wheel of a car," said Gibson.

Riding safety and understanding the critical elements of a bike are stressed at all times. Every contestant's bike is inspected. Chains, tires, brakes and seat adjustments are scrutinized by contest judges before a youngster can compete. If the bike doesn't pass muster, it is set aside and the 4-Her is allowed to use another bike that qualifies.

"We do not disqualify a youngster for a missing safety feature at the state level, but they are given a safer bike and told how to adjustment their bikes for safe use," said Gibson.

A new contest called "City Block" was also pilot tested at this year's state bicycle competition.

"This contest is a simulated city block where you have to ride around the streets safely," said Allen Rust, a senior division reserve champion from Campbell county. Alan said he lives in a small town that allows him and his friends to ride their bikes regularly and that such skills stressed in this pilot test have real meaning to his situation.

Parents and youth interested in participating in the 4-H bicycle safety rodeo should contact their local county Extension office. "It is a very simple event for a county agent to arrange and there are lots of training materials available," said Wyatt. "This project really helps to start kids at a young age on safety concepts so that they build on them as they mature."

Wyatt noted that although Kentucky has lagged behind many neighboring states in creating paths geared for bikers, the state's natural beauty provides tremendous potential for those willing to travel on two wheels. The 4-H bicycle rodeo is one way to insure the next generation learns to take those trips in a safe manner.


Cheryl Wyatt