Written by Tracey Coutts, Ever Active Schools
Watching young cyclists discover the freedom and thrill that comes with learning how to confidently navigate new neighbourhood and community routes is the equivalent of reading about C. S. Lewis’ Lucy moving deeper into the wardrobe, brushing past fur coats that transform to fir tree branches, on her way to discovering Narnia for the first time. Truly, it is.
I HAVE THE BEST JOB AT EVER ACTIVE SCHOOLS – JUST ASK ME AND I’LL TELL YOU.
Supporting school communities across Alberta to increase opportunities for safe, active transportation for school and local trips, while building leadership capacity in youth is really something special. As part of that work, I also get to explore community spaces and cycling infrastructure with young cyclists through Ever Active Schools’ City Cycling Clinics. I love hearing their takes on what they experience – what they see, hear, feel, smell, everything – and how that compares with my own. For some, this is old hat. They have been raised in households where active transportation is the norm. I have met 9 year old cyclists with incredible street-riding savvy: they know the rules, they know what keeps them safe, and they understand the give and take of sharing pathways and roads with other users. However, for many, this is their first taste of the freedom, independence and adventure that comes with cycling outside of their immediate neighbourhoods. Amazement abounds when we halt our rides to contemplate public art, as we meander through parks to smell flowers and breathe in the views, and when we say hello to fellow wheelers and walkers along our routes, because we can. It’s easier to do these things when you’re on foot or pushing pedals and, I like to think, part of that culture.
SO HOW DO WE GET EVERYONE TO THIS PLACE, WHERE THEY CAN EXPERIENCE THIS SIDE OF CYCLING – OR WALKING, OR OTHER FORMS OF WHEELING, FOR THAT MATTER?
Achieving Community Together, a forward-thinking community-based group in Parkland County’s Tri-Region, came up with a clever strategy a few years ago: #TriActiveTravel. The message was simple: if you haven’t ever tried walking or wheeling to local destinations, there’s no time like the present! Those trialists then were invited to share back their experiences during weekly Friday morning coffee meet ups, another initiative that the group devised to build healthy social connections. Throughout this campaign, initiative leaders walked and wheeled Tri-Region sidewalks, pathways, and roads, rewarding walkers and wheelers they came across with #TriActiveTravel t-shirts to help spread the word that active travel was indeed something worth trying. A simple, fun, and effective way to get more folks engaged in wheeling and walking and to help more neighbours and friends find the benefits.
Of course, not everyone is quite ready to get on (their) bikes and ride (thank you, Queen). All of us have to be presented with the opportunity to learn how. For many, this is something that is usually done at home on owned or borrowed, new or new-to-us equipment, thanks to the patient teachings of parents, caregivers, relatives, neighbours and friends. Others are self-taught. Some rely on the expertise of local Learn to Cycle programs. What matters is that the opportunity to try exists. I remember my first bike, a blue cruiser with kick brakes, that was given to me, my older sister, and my older brother when I turned six years old. Yes, this bike-share experience came with some falls (let’s face it – I was self-taught and the bike was a pinch too big for me) and occasions of being in unfamiliar surroundings (yes, I was six but it was the ‘70s), but that’s all part of coming into your own as a cyclist. I was creating my cycle story, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I wasn’t given that chance.
Many Alberta school communities, community associations and leagues, neighbourhood groups, etc., have been offering such experiences for years: opportunities for novice riders to improve cycling and wheeling skills by hosting Bike and Wheel Rodeos in local school and community spaces. If you’re part of a school community or neighbourhood organization that hasn’t hosted such an event, we invite you to try. With the right tools and some helping hands, these events are quite manageable and well worth the effort. Ever Active Schools’ City Cycling Clinic Guide was created to offer a framework for both bike/wheel rodeos and city cycling clinics. The comprehensive skill development station model presented in the guide easily transfers to support bike/wheel rodeos. Of course, additions can always be made to the rodeo course, including a bike wash station and bike decorating station, to provide a balanced mix of learning and fun. Always remember, if you’re hosting an event for the first or 50th time: it does NOT have to be perfect or elaborate, and you do not have to take this task on alone. Reach out to your school or broader community to find parent or community volunteers to help; recruit older students to lead stations; and use what you have on hand (chalk, hula hoops, pylons, tennis balls, etc.) to create your course. What you are doing is providing a safe space for novice riders to practise, learn, and improve – to practise balancing, manoeuvring, shoulder checking, hand signalling while riding, and stopping; to learn about bike maintenance, helmet safety, locking your bike, and bike etiquette (how to share travel routes respectfully with other walkers and wheelers); to improve skills and gain confidence. What you are doing is providing an opportunity for young cyclists and wheelers to try, to start seeing the many benefits of adding cycling into their lives, to start creating their own cycling stories.
CONSIDERING DATES TO HOST YOUR CYCLING EVENT?
Don’t forget that Wheel Week is right around the corner from June 4 to 11, 2023. Register here and let the planning – and possibilities – begin: https://shapeab.ca/wheel-week/