Why Do Bicyclists Wear Such Funny Clothes?

A Grade-School Educational Program


I prepared following program to present to second and third graders at one of the local elementary schools. It is designed to educate and entertain kids, while introducing them to the world of cycling. This may not be a big deal if you live in a "bicycle-friendly" environ like Boulder or Seattle, but in our part of the country, serious adult cyclists are still a small minority.

The program can be presented in fifteen minutes, although it was easily stretched to a half hour by allowing questions during the talk. It emphasizes visual learning...kids just seem to have natural curiosity about bicycles and related gear, and they enjoy demonstrations. Also, because I was presenting to some bilingual education classes, I brought along 8.5 x 11 inch "flash cards" showing the spelling of certain of the vocabulary that is unique to cycling and which I wasn't sure they would understand without some reinforcement. Those vocabulary words are highlighted below; you can handle this according to your judgment of the capabilities of your audience.

The following presentation reflects my cycling background. As you put your program together, you'll want to tailor it to fit with your experiences and preferences. The more you can personalize it, the better the kids will respond.

Note that I intentionally did not try to make this a bicycling safety seminar. I'm not qualified to do that. Besides, I was trying to make things fun for the kids, and not hit them with a bunch of do's and don'ts. However, a common thread of the program is that many of the accessories are designed for safety purposes, and I tried to get in subtle hints about safe bicycling practices where possible. The lone exception is the subject of bicycle helmets, where I am quite dogmatic about the common sense need to wear 'em on every ride. You may disagree, but for the kids' sake, don't knock helmets in their presence.

I was pleasantly surprised at the good reception this little program received, from students and teachers alike. I'm sure that you will have equally good results if you are enthusiastic about the subject. Good luck!

Hello, girls and boys. My name is _____________.

I'm very happy to be here with you today. Usually, during this time of the day, I'm at work. I work for ______________, where my job is __________________. But, when I'm not at work, one of my favorite things to do is ride a bicycle. That's what I want to talk to you about today: bicycles.

How many of you like to ride bicycles? Whenever I have time after work or on the weekend, I go for a ride. Most of the time, I will ride about __ miles. That's like riding to _________ from here! A few times, when I was younger, I rode _____ miles in one day. I have ridden over _________ miles on bicycles during the past ten years, and that is like riding ________________. So, as you can see, I like to ride bicycles a lot, and I've learned a lot about them over the years. Maybe today I can show you some things about bicycles that you didn't know.

Now, before we talk about the bicycles themselves, I want to show you a few things that make riding a bicycle either easier or safer.

You probably think that I'm wearing some pretty funny-looking clothes. Well, let me show you why I wear clothes like this when I ride my bicycle.

I'll let you tell me where to start. Should I start with my feet, and work my way up, or start with my head and work my way down?

OK, we'll start with the feet! I'm wearing special bicycling shoes. They look kind of funny, don't they, but they still look pretty much like regular shoes. So, what's so special about them? Let me take one off and show you the sole of the shoe. See this piece of black plastic? That's called a "cleat." Some of you may have shoes that you wear to play football, soccer or baseball, and those shoes might have cleats also. But this is a different kind of cleat. I'll show you more in a minute, but this cleat snaps onto the bicycle pedal when I ride, so that my foot doesn't slip off the pedal. This helps me to ride faster, when I'm in a hurry.

Next are these goofy-looking shorts. They are made of a material called lycra which is very stretchy. It helps keep your muscles warm. Now, I'll bet that many of you have shorts that are called "bike shorts" and look something like this. But here's the big difference between your shorts and the ones I'm wearing: these special shorts have padding in the seat! This is very important in being able to stay comfortable when I ride for several hours, because bicycle saddles (that's what we call the seat on a bicycle) can be very hard.

The shirt I'm wearing is called a jersey. It's made of a special cloth that helps me stay cool in the summer. Look at the back of the jersey; what do you see? Right...the pockets are in the back! I can carry things with me (pull out a banana)--like food!--without them getting in my way when I ride.

Even the gloves I'm wearing are specially designed for bicycling. You probably can't see it, but these gloves are padded in the palms, so that my hands don't get so tired when I'm leaning on the handlebars during a ride. The fingers are cut-off to make it easier to work the brakes and shifters, and they are also cooler in warm weather. I'll pass them around so you can see how they are made.

The last thing is probably the most important, and it's this [point at the helmet]. What do you call this hat? That's right, it's called a "helmet." How many of you have a helmet that you wear when you ride a bicycle? I never go for a ride without my helmet. I don't fall off my bicycle very often, only once in 25,000 miles in fact, but I know that if I ever do, my head will be protected. Sometimes, going downhill, I might go 45 miles per hour, but you know what? You can hurt your head if you fall off your bicycle going only two miles an hour, if you land wrong. But if you're wearing a helmet, your head is probably safe. You can see why a helmet is so important. Plus, I think they look really cool!

I've also got something attached to my helmet that makes riding safer. Can you tell what it is? It's a rear-view mirror. It helps me see what's behind me without taking my eyes off the road ahead of me. This is very important when I ride on busy streets, like I sometimes have to do.

Let me show you something else I carry with me when I ride. This looks like a backpack, doesn't it? Can you guess what it's for? It's called a CamelBak, and I carry my drinking water in it. I can suck on this long tube, like a straw, and drink water while I ride. You probably don't remember, but two years ago the temperature got up to 116 degrees. Well, I went for a ride that afternoon! That was not the smartest thing I've ever done, but I had a good supply of water with me, so it was OK.

Now, are you ready to look at some bicycles? Good.

You know that there are several different types of cars, depending on what you need to do with them. Who can tell me some different kinds of cars? [race car, pick-up, bus, etc.] Well, did you know that there are also different types of bicycles? I've brought three different kinds with me today to show you.

Before we begin, does anybody know why we call them "bicycles"? Well, when you ride, the wheels turn in circles, which you could also call "cycles". And there are two of them. If you didn't already know it, the term "bi-" means "two", so "bi-cycle" means two cycles or wheels.

Now, the first of our three bicycles is called a mountain bike. You may have a bicycle that looks a lot like this one. Mountain bikes are built to be very strong. They are like the Jeeps of the bicycling world. This mountain bike belongs to my wife.

Here are some things that make mountain bikes different from other bikes. First, look at the tires. They are very fat and they have bumps on them, called "knobbies." These tires dig into the dirt or mud and they make it easier to ride where there is not a paved road. We like to take our mountain bikes to Colorado and ride on the trails in the mountains. Also, they have these flat handle bars, which are designed to help you steer more easily. Everything on a mountain bike is heavier and stronger than on a regular bike. Are there any questions?

Now, here's something about all of the bikes that I'll show you today that might be different than your bicycle. How many of you stop your bicycle by pedaling backwards? If you pedal backwards on these, here's what happens...nothing, right? The brakes are on the handlebars. Here's how the brakes work on these bicycles [demonstrate]. You just squeeze these levers on the handlebars; one stops the front wheel and the other stops the back wheel.

The second bike I want to show you is called a "road bike" or a "racing bike." Isn't it pretty? Everything about it is designed for speed. Let's compare it with the mountain bike. First, it has very skinny, smooth tires; this lets me ride much faster on the pavement, but I can't take it on a dirt road because it wouldn't steer very well and it will get a flat very easily. Next, the handlebars are curved, so I can lean over; this also helps me go faster. And look at the pedals. See how different they look from the mountain bike pedals? Remember when I showed you the cleat on the bottom of my shoe? This is how it snaps into the pedal. [demonstrate clicking in and out] By the way, this was a little hard to get used to, when I first got them. If you forget to click out of your pedal when you stop, you'll fall right over! That's very embarrassing.

Optional; may be too advanced for the younger kids. I have 21 speeds on my mountain bike, and 16 on my road bike. You need more gears on the mountain bike, so that you can ride up mountains easier. [demonstrate changing gears]

Finally, here's my favorite bicycle. It's called a tandem, although you might also hear people call it a bicycle built for two. As you can tell, it looks just like a regular road bike, but there's room for two people: two saddles, two handlebars and two sets of pedals. My wife and I ride this tandem; she sits on the back and I sit up front. I think I have the best seat; I get to look at the road, but guess what she gets to look at?!

On the other hand, she can look around at the scenery while we ride, but I have to pay attention because I steer the bike and also have to use the brakes when we stop or slow down. On a tandem, the person who sits up front is called the captain and the person who sits in the back is called the stoker.

Tandems are a lot of fun to ride. They are more comfortable than regular bikes, and you can go much faster, especially downhill. Although my wife tells me that I go downhill much too fast to suit her. She wishes she had the brakes on her handlebars!

Now, who would like to come up and be the stoker for a minute?

There's a lot more I could tell you about bicycles, but we're just about out of time. Before I leave, I want to remind you to always be very careful when you ride your bicycle. If you have a helmet, always wear it. If you don't have a helmet, tell your parents that you need one. They're not very expensive. Always watch out for cars, because the drivers might not be watching for you. And most importantly, have fun! Maybe someday, I'll see you out on your bicycle and we can go for a ride together!

Thank you for letting me come and visit with you. You are one of the best groups I've ever talked to!

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