CLINTON — When police Chief Craig Johnson was about 8 years old he nearly lost a good friend in a bicycle accident.

The friend was riding his sister’s bicycle down the street when the brake mechanism attached to the handlebars fell off and tangled in the spokes of the front wheel. The bike flipped forward, pitching the boy, who wore no helmet, forward and onto the pavement.

“He took the road face-first, and he wound up with some massive head injuries,” Johnson said.

He said his friend, who he declined to identify, survived the accident, but just barely, thanks to the intervention of a passing police officer who helped him hang on until paramedics arrived.

Today, as Johnson oversees an annual bicycle safety event, he said he is sometimes reminded of his friend.

Like many children on bikes today, Johnson said, his friend was at a higher-than-necessary risk of injury, even though he wasn’t acting recklessly by speeding or doing stunts.

“Kids are kids, understandably, but we want them to understand the rules of the road and the purpose behind wearing a helmet,” Johnson said. “They might be doing everything right, but not wearing a helmet. If they hit a rock, that tar is not forgiving to the human head.”

Somewhere, on one of the thousands of bicycles that children will ride in central Maine this summer, there is another loose braking mechanism or some kind of other dangerous mechanical flaw that could cause the next serious bicycle accident.

In an effort to identify those problems, and to educate children about safe riding, Johnson and other Clinton Police Department members are hosting the department’s fifth annual Bicycle Rodeo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Old Mill Park on Main Street.

The event, which includes an obstacle course and free bicycle inspections, is targeted to children 15 and under, but Johnson said riders of any age or town are welcome.

“We’ll take anybody that shows up with a bicycle,” he said.

Bicycles at the event, which is co-hosted by the Clinton Parks and Recreation Department, also will get registered in a database that will help identify them should they be stolen and recovered, Johnson said.

The event is valuable, Johnson said, because children have a good time testing their abilities on the course while learning about safe riding.

Brian Allenby, communications director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a bicycle advocacy group based in Augusta, said children and adults face different challenges when it comes to bicycle safety.

“A lot of what we do with kids is based on traveling to and from school for kids, because that’s the most common activity they do with their bicycles,” he said.

Allenby said that the organization doesn’t have hard data on the number of bicycle injuries that happen in Maine each year, but that it encourages those who have suffered an accident to report the incident on its website, www.bikemaine.org. The reports help the coalition identify problem areas and behavior that will help them to focus their resources where they’re needed most, Allenby said.

In 2011, the most recent year on record, 677 bicyclists were killed and another 48,000 were injured in traffic crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. Nine percent of those killed were between five and 15 years old; in Maine, there were no reported fatalities that year, according to the highway administration.
 
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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