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continued...

This can be a particular problem for parents whose children have shot up over the winter months. O'Halloran says that rather than raising the seat too high, parents should consider buying a new or used bike with a bigger frame.

The other important consideration in bike size is the cross bar.

"The cross bar should be an inch to two inches lower than the riders crotch when the rider has both feet on the ground," says O'Halloran.

Even if the bike is still the right size, O'Halloran says it will still require a tune-up before starting a new season. That means checking brakes, brake pads, gears, spokes, rims, and tires. "The front tire is more important that the rear tire because a blow-out on the front is more likely to cause an accident," he says.

In terms of accident prevention, helmets are where it's at, Thomas Robb, DO, director of the trauma center at St. Barnabas Medical Center in New York, tells WebMD. Robb and his staff initiated a helmet safety program late last year and have already distributed 3,000 helmets.

"We plan to give away another 2,000 in the next month," he says.

Robb says he and his emergency room colleagues are making the rounds of schools and recreation centers to preach the helmet gospel.

"I tell them that there is a big difference between a head injury and a broken arm or hand," says Robb. "I tell them that the arm will heal, but very often there is no healing from a head injury."

A few hundred miles southwest of Robb, Linda Hawkins, Philadelphia's "Helmet Lady" is preaching the same message. Hawkins is coordinator of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Philadelphia, a volunteer group housed at Children's Medical Center.

She tells WebMD that helmets are a must -- but to be effective "the helmet has to be the right size. Lots of times parents want to buy a helmet, but they don't fit the helmet in the store so they get the wrong size.

Typically a helmet will be sized by age; for example, the box will say for ages 5 to 7. Parents with a 6-year-old will buy that helmet, but it may not fit, she says. So if it doesn't fit, but the 6-year-old has a new bike, he or she will be riding the bike while the parent is exchanging the helmet. Wrong. Rule number one is open the box and fit the helmet in the store."

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