Ashley Indilicato passed a final test Saturday, rolling off the bicycle safety course behind Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna.
The six-year-old pedaled her pink, blue and white bike and managed all the chalk-lined curves, stopped at a stop sign at the course intersection and respected her brother and sister cyclists.
“It was lots of fun,” said Ashley, eyes hidden behind pink sunglasses and hair covered by a helmet featuring cool characters from the “Frozen” movie. “It’s like riding on the street if you were a car.”
Ann Indilicato, Ashley’s mother, knows her daughter learned a few things at the Niskayuna Bike Event sponsored by the town’s Complete Streets Committee.
“I like that it does have a stop sign so they can learn to obey traffic,” Indilicato said of the bike course. “It winds, it’s not a straight path. I like the whole thing, free helmets, can’t beat that. I didn’t have one, so I got a free helmet.”
Complete Streets officials estimated about 250 people attended the bike party on closed-off Dexter Street. Youngsters and adults took home 48 helmets and also took home bunches of bicycle riding tips.
There were extra incentives to spin on the street: Members of the Niskayuna Mountain Bike Team provided free maintenance; free pizza, ice cream and soda refreshed people on a warm, sunny morning; and cyclists participated in group rides.
Complete Streets personnel want people to strap on helmets and pedal away.
“I think it’s important to bring people together to promote different forms of transportation,” said Tess Healey, a committee member who helped organize the event. “I think a lot of people just mindlessly hop in their cars to go do a short errand. I think this will help them to think, ‘I could ride my bike instead.'”
Healey said she hopes motor vehicle drivers — seeing more bicycles on the road — will become more comfortable with and accepting of two-wheel, non-motorized traffic. “The other part of it is to be an educated bicyclist, to know what the rules of the road are, to be aware how traffic is going to flow and to be able to accommodate that,” Healey said.
Healey also asked motorists to slow down, and think about consequences that would come with involvement in a serious bicycle accident. “Do you want to live with those consequences?” Healey asked. “Is what you’re doing really more important that someone else’s safety?”
Bill Chapman, chairman of the Complete Streets group, said the event “sinks the hook” with youngsters they can get around walking or biking, “And they don’t need a car,” he said.
Niskayuna police were able to stress safety on the streets: “Teaching the kids at a young age with regards to rules of the road and what they can expect from cars and being defensive when it comes to riding their bikes and sharing the road,” said Police Chief Daniel McManus.
McManus added that bicycling with portable music player ear buds — for children and adults — is not safe.
“You have to be able to hear horns, people yelling, cars coming past you,” McManus said. “Having your ears blocked in any way just isn’t safe, on bicycles or in cars.”
Patrolman Jim Walsh, on bike patrol for the event, said helmets are the most important component in cycling.
“Under 14, you have to have a helmet,” he said, adding he sees people of all ages wearing head protection. “With people with head injuries, even people in sports, I think more people are cognizant as far as wearing the helmets,” Walsh said.
Walsh also reminded people on bicycles they must follow vehicle and traffic law. “They have to obey the same rules, stop signs, yield signs, drive with traffic,” he said.
Bicyclists on Dexter Street were encouraged to “practice” putting their bikes on bus racks. A full-sized CDTA bus was parked on the pavement, to show people the routine.
“It seems a little intimidating, if the traffic is there, the bus is running,” Healey said. “This way you get to practice. Personally, it was super easy.”
People lifted and rolled their bike wheels into two metal grooves that are part of the fold-down rack. After a clip secures one of the wheels, cyclists are ready to pay their bus fares.
“We’re going to be more than happy to help them,” said bus driver Edna Colon. “When they learn the first time, they’re going to be more comfortable.”
Bike fans enjoyed the morning.
“We like neighborhood activities,” said Amanda Brazee, whose three sons Alexandre, Luca and Dominic Delauniere participated in the bike events. “We try to walk and bike as much as we can, that’s why we chose to live in this neighborhood, Old Niskayuna. We all rode our bikes over.”
Younger cyclists gave the event positive reviews. “I like that they made it so no cars could come,” said James Healey, 12, who will enter seventh grade at Van Antwerp in the fall. “And they have free pizza, ice cream and drinks.”
“It was really a sense of community and how everyone put in together and everyone knew each other, it was really nice,” said Alexandre Delauniere, 12, another autumn seventh-grader at Van Antwerp.
For others, the scene was a family affair.
”It gets our family out, it gets our bikes out,” said Charlotte Adams, who brought her gray Jamis mountain bike to the gathering. “I haven’t had this bike out since we moved here in 2016. I’ve come to find it’s broken.”
Nick Kozey was riding with his two sons, Alex and Andrew.
“I want my kids to see what other bike riders are doing,” Kozey said. “I like that they got to see the bike club — and just doing community stuff is important for us to be part of this community.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]