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An elementary school bike club can fill this gap and provide kids with the opportunity to become skilled cyclists.
When our daughter, Anna Sierra, mastered riding a bike with no training wheels, kindergarten was one of her first destinations. Parking her little bike next to the big kids’ bigger bikes was a rite of passage.
It was easy for Anna Sierra to learn to ride her very own bike. We are a biking family. Long before she rode on her own, Anna Sierra rode on our bikes, first in a bike trailer, then a front seat and a back seat. As soon as she showed the slightest interest in biking, we made sure Anna Sierra had a properly fitting helmet, a great little bike and every possible opportunity to ride.
But not all kids grow up in families where biking is such a high priority. Not all kids have helmets, or bikes, or enough supervised time to gain the skills to become safe and confident riders.
A School Bike Club
An elementary school bike club can fill this gap and provide kids with the opportunity to become skilled cyclists. Helmet fit, basic bike maintenance and repair, hand signals, shoulder checking, general bike handling skills and route selection can all be taught in a school bike club.
Location and Time
At my children’s school, we initially planned to start an After-school Bike Club. This might work well at some elementary schools. But given that the majority of kids at my children’s school go directly to some form of after-school care, this option would exclude some of the very kids we are trying to reach.
The whole school has a common lunch hour, so we decided on a Lunchtime Bike Club. There are already lunchtime yoga and chess classes at the school, so a bike club is a natural next step.
The only problem was space. My kids attend a downtownish school with limited outdoor play space. At lunchtime, the children who were not in the Bike Club would be playing in the schoolyard so that space wouldn’t be available.
Jennifer McGowan of Halifax’s Active and Safe Routes to School program runs the Making Tracks program that teaches kids how to safely walk, bike, in-line skate and skateboard to school. She suggested we use the school’s gym. “Many of the components of our Making Tracks program can be taught inside,” said McGowan. “We drop a melon with and without a helmet on it to practice helmet safety. We play ‘Name that Bike Part,’ and we teach the kids how to fix an inner tube and change a tire. You can do all of those things inside if your access to outdoor space is limited.” McGowan also noted that some schools offer cycling instruction as a phys ed class.
Bikes for Everyone
Gord MacGregor, the City Wide Sports coordinator who runs CAN Bike courses for Ottawa, ON, realizes that not all kids have access to their own bikes and helmets. To keep his program accessible, he said: “We’re making ‘handlebars’ out of old and broken hockey sticks so everyone can learn basic traffic rules and practice signaling.”
McGowan contacted Halifax’s Bike Again! recycled bike shop. The volunteer mechanics were willing to tune up and provide her with a set of kids’ bikes that schools could borrow. “Most cities have an equivalent recycled bike shop that might be willing to tune up donated bikes,” said McGowan.
Used bikes can be repaired, reused and widely shared. But any helmets distributed to kids should be new to be sure they meet safety standards. This is especially important at a bike club run on school property. Local bike stores may be willing to partner with your bike club to donate helmets or sell them to your club members at a discount.