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Bicyclists Gear Up for Summer Safety

Bikers of all ages gathered in Valley Park on Saturday to learn bicycle safety, rules of the road, and equipment maintenance.

For 10-year-old Joe Hempelmann, a Saturday in Valley Park was the supreme opportunity to learn some things about bicycling.

"I got a new bike a couple days ago," Joe said. "It's really fast."

Joe and a handful of other youngsters can now say they know how to better handle their bicycles after attending a workshop in bike safety, organized by the Hermosa Beach public works department along with the South Bay Bicycle Coalition.

Children sat through an instructional course, spoke with a police officer and had their bicycles looked over by technicians from a couple local bicycle shops.

Even Joe's father, Hart, learned something.

"The biggest thing I learned is that helmets go bad after a few years," Hart Hempelmann said.

Ted Ernst, a Palos Verdes resident and a longtime rider in the Cycling Hall of Fame, explained the fact that bicycle helmets can lose all effectiveness. He said that helmets absorb shock through disintegration of the cushion between the outer shell and inner padding of a helmet.

A friend of Ernst died in a bicycle accident even though he was wearing a helmet. Ernst told the workshop attendees that the old helmet no longer contained cushion to provide protection.

"We're teaching safety but we're really promoting bicycling," said Kevin Flaherty, a league cycling instructor. "A bicycle is a first experience of freedom, of independence."

This was the second year of the bike safety event. Last year drew a larger crowd, but the better weather this year meant the event was competing with other weekend recreational draws.

A few children simply riding through Valley Park spotted the bicycle technicians and took advantage of the free on-site expertise.

Sebastian Serrano, 9, had his red bicycle looked over by Rick Wright of Hermosa Cyclery. The headset on Sebastian's bike was loose. Wright tightened it up.

"Thanks," Sebastian said, pleased as he hopped back on his bike.

David Lindert was at the park to attend a birthday party. After learning that the 6-year-old boy had never ridden his little bicycle without training wheels, Chris Garofalo of Beach Cities Cycle helped him practice. Within an hour David was riding his bike without any training wheels while his grandmother cheered him on.

Dave Buckland, a Hermosa Beach Police volunteer, warned that as more children ride their bicycles outside this summer, along with skateboarders, roller-skaters and pedestrians, the Strand will grow more crowded.

But the city of Hermosa Beach is currently making infrastructure improvements to Pier Avenue and elsewhere in order to alleviate congestion.

"We're such a compact city," said Kimberlee MacMullan, a public works commissioner who came up with the idea for the bike safety event. "We'd like to encourage people to bike more and walk more."

The South Bay Bicycle Coalition received a $240,000 grant from Los Angeles County this year to pursue the installation of a bike path master plan through the South Bay. The Beach Cities Health district added in $6,000.

The next step is scheduling the first set of public hearings on the bike path, said Todd Dipaola of the coalition.

As Saturday's bike safety event ended, Joe said he learned to do what's called the "ABC-Quick-Release" before going out for a ride, which means to check the air in the tires, check the brakes, check the chain, check the 'quick release mechanism' holding the tires, and then ride in a circle to test the bicycle.

Joe and others went home with these additional bike safety basics:

  • Ride on the right side of the road
  • Avoid riding at night
  • Wear a helmet and gloves and reflectors and lights
  • Obey traffic signs
  • Understand that car drivers often cannot see you

Youngsters weren't the only ones who took advantage of the free expertise and education. Manny Serrano, 34, wheeled his black beach cruiser over to the Hermosa Cyclery stand.

"You mind checking out my old, beat-up bike?" Serrano asked.

The technicians didn't mind at all.

They checked it over, tightened the chain and Serrano was good to go.

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