Learning to ride a bike is a big childhood milestone but a surprising number of kids are missing out on developing this vital skill.
“There’s been a whole generation who have missed learning how to ride bikes and if the parents don’t ride, their kids don’t ride,” explains Bike Taupo Advocacy Group Inc chairperson Pete Masters.
“I’m 63 years-old – it was just a given that you rode a bike to school from the age of five. A bike was a freedom machine. But times have changed now. A lot of children don’t bike to school because parents lack the time to teach them, the money to buy a bike, or worry it’s too dangerous. So many kids are just not learning that skill.”
On Your Bike
Bike Taupo is a cycling advocacy group which has decided to turn the situation around. In 2012 they launched an initiative called Kids Bike Taupo to teach pre-schoolers and primary-aged children how to ride on two wheels.
Their passionate bike tutor, Cath Oldfield, drives a van full of bikes around early childhood centres and some primary schools across the Taupo district including Turangi, Reporoa, Mangakino, Whakamaru, Rangitaiki, Kuratau and Waitahanui.
“Our main mission within this programme is to have all children riding a bike competently by the age of seven,” Pete explains. “Our programme focusses on bike skills, safety, wearing helmets correctly and liaising with whanau/family so everybody is learning and being educated about cycling.”
Once the kids learn, it’s not long before the cycling bug catches on and spreads to the rest of the family unit.
“We want to encourage and support these families to participate and enjoy the many positive aspects of riding a bike, both for physical and mental health. We have noticed that when children are riding a bike well the adults want to join them, promoting family togetherness and fun.”
BayTrust granted $15,000 to Bike Taupo so they can continue their school-based initiative. The money will enable Kids Bike Taupo to run for at least four months and maintain their van which transports bikes and equipment to schools.
“We’re ecstatic to receive this grant. It’s fantastic news. We’re really into long term relationships so that’s great to have BayTrust backing us,” Pete says.
Over the past seven years, the programme has recorded an average of 7500 annual ‘rides’ on its bikes, 250 of which were the rider’s first time on two wheels. Pete says if anything, the programme is over-subscribed – such is the demand from schools and the kids themselves.
“The children absolutely love it. They then go home and say ‘we learnt to ride today Dad. Can you get us a bike?’ There’s plenty of bikes around cheap. It’s just a matter of getting them up and going.”
Part of Cath’s role is also educating parents and encouraging them to embrace cycling as a healthy habit and necessary life skill. “There’s an element of having to train the parents as well. Kids fall off bikes, kids crash and Cath’s got a neat attitude to dealing with the parents so they don’t panic and wrap their kids up in cotton wool.”
Going The Extra Mile
Bike Taupo is an incorporated society and has been promoting cycling as a healthy form of transport and leisure for the past 17 years. They have built and continue to maintain over 200km of mountain bike trails over the Taupo region. The organisation also receives funding from Taupo District Council, local Rotary clubs and many private individuals.
“Our Kids Bike Taupo programme is very popular with schools, groups and early childhood centres because of its success in getting children and adults back on bikes. It’s a wonderful addition to our overall ethos,” Pete explains.
“Once children are able to ride on two wheels and handle their bike we can layer on more advanced skills. We do this at the BMX track, mountain biking and with the final goal of riding safely on the road.”