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  1. #1
    Commuter JohnBrooking's Avatar
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    Riding issues for overweight kids?

    Howdy, families! I usually post in the Commuting and A&S forums, so this is one of my first times here.

    Gradually over the summer, I find myself becoming a bicycle mentor for the kids next door. They have bikes, but their parents are not riders. I've been asked several times to change tubes, raise seats, and so on. In the last few days, the kids have been asking me to take them on a ride around the neighborhood, which I do. The age range is 7-9.

    The 7-year-old girl is a relatively new rider. Due to some medical condition, she is very overweight. She has a chopper-style bike which looks small for her to me, with a banana seat, and is still on training wheels. She has to walk uphills, but nonetheless, her speed is improving quickly on level ground, and her balance looks like it is improving.

    Since I am extremely skinny, and both my kids are average weight or below, I'm not familiar with issues involved in overweight kids riding bikes. Of course I try to make sure she's not getting too winded. But I don't know if there is more I could do, like if maybe a different frame would work better. I tried raising the seat last night, but I don't know if it helped. (It still looks sort of low, but she also has short legs, and maybe that's just the geometry of chopper bikes.) I should check the tire pressure tonight, it's probably low, and that would make for harder riding.

    Any other suggestions?
    Quote Originally Posted by MadfiNch on Commuting forum
    What's the point of a bike if you can only ride it on weekends, and you can't even carry anything with you?!
    Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Meetup

  2. #2
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    My only suggestion is to be careful in that type of situation. The parents for various reasons may not like them participating in cycling with you. Keep the parents informed. Help out how you can and where you can. Enjoy the opportunity to help the kids get some exercise. Don't be upset if their participation ends.

    Your doing well with the bike maintenance and going riding with them. The only other possibility is to keep your eye out for bikes they might be able to use. Put out feelers to the parents if the kids keep riding. Let them know you are willing to help them find better bikes for the kids. I would not offer to buy or help buy the bikes, but that is up to you.

  3. #3
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    I'm a newspaper reporter who's done a lot of stories about fat kids and exercise, and I also have a son who gained 25 percent of his body weight in a few months during a course of medical treatment in elementary school (not his fault or ours--it's a side effect of the drugs, and he got back to normal when he got off them).
    First, good for you for getting involved--but I agree you need to keep the parents informed. People are pretty weird about that these days. I've always liked working with kids, and I'd enjoy volunteer stuff with Boy Scouts or Boys & Girls Club or something now that my own children are grown. When a 62-year-old guy shows up at something like that and asks if they need any help, though, people seem to assume he's a child molester. You don't want to leave ANY room for trouble.
    I think the important thing is to keep the kids moving, whether or not the bikes are perfect. Make the rides easy enough that they don't burn out (a good reason to pump up those tires), and try to keep it fun, but be consistent. Look at the parents, too. If they're porkers, you're really shoveling against the tide. Fat people have fat kids who have fat kids ad infinitum; it's a pretty hard cycle to break.
    I think tuning up the bikes and doing minor repairs is fine. Sadly, though, if you were to show up with a NEW bike for one of the kids, even if your only motive is concern for their health, you're opening yourself to problems. I admire you for what you're doing, but I have to say I'd be nervous about it. Would it be possible to invite their parents to come with you occasionally, or to ride to a park with the kids and meet them there? I'd hate to see somebody get jammed up over something like this.

  4. #4
    Member joe99's Avatar
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    I have read this thread a couple of times and I must say I share the concerns already expressed. Unless the parents actively encourage your involvement in their family activities and participate themselves in some way (even if not actually riding) the situation could turn out bad for you.

    What would happen if the child suffered even a minor injury in an incident totally not your fault?

    If it is a hot day and you supply an ice cream or other refreshment, your motives could easily be misconstrued.

    What happens if you go on a slightly longer trip and the child needs to use a public toilet in a park? Would you send her in alone?

    Overall, the weight question is the least important issue.

    As long as the parents are aware of your expertise and your willingness to help, it is their perogative to ask rather than yours to take the initiative.

    Like Velo Dog, I admire your good intentions, but please be careful.
    Joe99

    "See here, young man", said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea,
    From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me."
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  5. #5
    Commuter JohnBrooking's Avatar
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    Thanks for the advice.

    I do make sure every time that they've asked their parents, and the parents do know us, since we have kids the same age. (It is basically an extended family all living in the same apartment house.) They all hang out a lot around their side porch, and are often present when I come over to work on the bikes. In fact, the bike work started with them asking me about changing a tire. I'm pretty sure none the adults have bikes, so I can't ask them to ride with us. Left to just the parents, the kids are limited in their ability to ride except for the parking lot across the street in the evening, and would probably lack education and practice in good riding habits.

    I haven't yet taken the big group outside the neighborhood streets, and probably won't for a good while. I stress riding on the right, or the sidewalk, paying attention to stop signs, and if any of them got ahead, waiting for me at the next intersection. I'll definitely be careful about buying them things. I wouldn't buy them bike things unasked, but I have been trying to get them to know that there's a bike store just a few blocks away that they could go to. I suspect that they believe the bike store will be too expensive, for both purchases and repair.
    Quote Originally Posted by MadfiNch on Commuting forum
    What's the point of a bike if you can only ride it on weekends, and you can't even carry anything with you?!
    Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Meetup

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnBrooking View Post
    ....I have been trying to get them to know that there's a bike store just a few blocks away that they could go to. I suspect that they believe the bike store will be too expensive, for both purchases and repair.
    If they do show some interest, Craigslist can save alot of money. I don't know how active CL is in your part of Southern Maine though. There may be some upfront repair costs, but overall you will save money.

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    I'm sure that, in the circs, their parents approve of your help with their kids, but, can I suggest that you look into the question of 3rd party insurance?

    Don't want to put you off, but, if anything ever goes wrong (well hi there, Murphy!) and you are notionally in charge, there could be serious financial trouble heading your way. Some kind of bike qualification, be it LAB or Effective Cycle Training might also be in order.

    Not to be pessimistic, but Maine is in the US, the home of lawyers, isn't it?

    On the subject of the original question, fun for them is the key. Once she enjoys herself, increase the challenges you give her (small bit by small bit). If there's any spare ground nearby, try looking up some of the skills they teach in road safety "bike rodeos" in the US.

    You could also get some ideas from the British Schools Cycling Assoc. website, www.bsca.org.uk and look up Trix Awards - simple things like a home made certificate she could take to school are great motivators.

    There's also some good stuff available thro' Sprockids in Canada, www.sprockids.com but it has to be paid for. They have some chapters in the US, I believe.

    Good luck and don't let the concerns mentioned above put you off.

    If you want any ideas, feel free to private message me.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Jeffbeerman2's Avatar
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    I have no experience, accept for having been a fat kid with fat parents who fed me McD for most meals.

    I never discovered exercise, and the joy it can bring, until I was in my mid 20s. I was so out of shape as a kid that I believed I was incapable of being athletic. It is really hard on your self esteem to live a sedentary lifestyle when your peers are far beyond you physically.

    My advice:
    Don't give up on them and just keep it fun. Encourage her. Keep what you are doing at her level. Have her set small short term goals and really make a big deal of the achievements. If she is having fun and getting more fit, she will learn lessons and gain self esteem that will reward her for the rest of her life.

    I wish someone had taken an interest in me when I was a kid. You are doing a very good thing.

  9. #9
    Senior Member littlewaywelt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnBrooking View Post
    Thanks for the advice.

    I do make sure every time that they've asked their parents, and the parents do know us, since we have kids the same age. (It is basically an extended family all living in the same apartment house.) They all hang out a lot around their side porch, and are often present when I come over to work on the bikes. In fact, the bike work started with them asking me about changing a tire. I'm pretty sure none the adults have bikes, so I can't ask them to ride with us. Left to just the parents, the kids are limited in their ability to ride except for the parking lot across the street in the evening, and would probably lack education and practice in good riding habits.

    I haven't yet taken the big group outside the neighborhood streets, and probably won't for a good while. I stress riding on the right, or the sidewalk, paying attention to stop signs, and if any of them got ahead, waiting for me at the next intersection. I'll definitely be careful about buying them things. I wouldn't buy them bike things unasked, but I have been trying to get them to know that there's a bike store just a few blocks away that they could go to. I suspect that they believe the bike store will be too expensive, for both purchases and repair.
    I've been coaching kids for about 15 years. Given today's society, unless they are kids of very good friends, I wouldn't do anything alone/without another adult or out of the public eye with kids that are not my own. I applaud your intentions and actions. Just make sure your bases are covered.
    One Less Car
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  10. #10
    Hybrid Fan yatesd's Avatar
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    It seems like the OP is not only being nice, but also proceeding carefully and responsibly. I certainly wouldn't let litigation concerns rule my life. After all, if the parents don't want them to play on the street or with other people, they bear most of that responsibility.

    Sometimes I think people worry about too many things...
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  11. #11
    Senior Member littlewaywelt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yatesd View Post
    It seems like the OP is not only being nice, but also proceeding carefully and responsibly. I certainly wouldn't let litigation concerns rule my life. After all, if the parents don't want them to play on the street or with other people, they bear most of that responsibility.

    Sometimes I think people worry about too many things...
    Sounds like you're saying if something bad happens to the kids it's the parent's responsibility. That's absolutely rediculous.

    I worked briefly in this arena and false accusations happen. No way I'd risk going to jail for it, however unlikely. You put on a seatbelt thousands of times to save you on that 1/10,000th occassion. And kids do get hurt. Do you want to lose your house bc you made a bad decision and don't have enough or any liability coverage? No thanks.
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  12. #12
    fixed for the long haul 40 Cent's Avatar
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    John, I think caution is important here, too. That said, it sounds like you've already contributed invaluably to these neighbors' lives by sharing your passion for biking and initiating them into a different way of life than the one they know. Apart from the little things you're doing you may not be able to do much more unless the parents take the lead and see how much their children benefit from this.

    Your initial question was about a specific setup for overweight children. I think focussing on making the bike as efficient as possible, like you're doing with seat height, tire pressure, etc., helps her see the fun of it rather than the effort. Also, if she has a chance to try someone else's bike (a non-chopper) it may open her eyes more and then she can go beg her parents to buy her something different.

  13. #13
    Hybrid Fan yatesd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by littlewaywelt View Post
    Sounds like you're saying if something bad happens to the kids it's the parent's responsibility. That's absolutely rediculous.

    I worked briefly in this arena and false accusations happen. No way I'd risk going to jail for it, however unlikely. You put on a seatbelt thousands of times to save you on that 1/10,000th occassion. And kids do get hurt. Do you want to lose your house bc you made a bad decision and don't have enough or any liability coverage? No thanks.
    I was going to reply to this post, but my lawyer advised against it.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member Keith99's Avatar
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    Speaking as a big guy who has been big, but not obese for a long time...

    Swimming is the only activity more friendly to the big than cycling I can think of.

    Unless someone is so huge that they are a danger to the bikes structural soundness I don't see any cycle specific problems.

    Do remember kids or even young adults can easily push too hard. Anyone more round or just bigger can have trouble getting rid of heat, pay attention. A bit more of a concern to be sure unfit or large kids are drinking enough. Remember different kids may have problems on bikes in different situations. for the big ones it usually is hills, for the skinny ones windy conditions can be a problem.

    Again remember some truely fat kids are still competitive, you don't want to kill that spirit, but you do want to make sure they don't push too hard too soon.

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    Ideally you could get one adult, prefferably female from the kid's family or a well-known neighbor to ride with you. Of course as long as you are in the street, out in public view, you really should not have anything to worry about.
    Do not, however, let any kids ride with you without a helmet. Also, talk to the parents about getting at least a front & rear blinkie for use even in daytime. Kids this age are not that predicatable and can swerve wildly if they start to loose balance. And ask very politely about said medical condition, you should be aware of it.
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