News, Events and Culture

Helping children onto bikes

Friday May 20 2016

Three Palmerston North schools are now getting their pupils riding bikes thanks to a $150,000 boost from Palmerston North City Council.

Young child riding a bike on a dirt track.

A Council-supported programme is helping to ensure every child learns to ride a bike in a safe environment from the time they start school.

As part of the Bikes in Schools programme the Council asked for expressions of interest from primary and intermediate schools. From those who responded St Mary’s, Terrace End School and Longburn School were picked to receive the Council’s contribution.

The Council has built three bike tracks within the grounds of each school: a skills track with a series of obstacles, a pump track that requires the rider to ‘pump’ their bike as they ride around the track, and a perimeter track. It has also supplied each school with 50 new bikes, complete with new helmets for every child, and a shipping container to store the bikes.

The children all want to ride the bikes, and time is allocated daily so every class gets the opportunity.

Council transportation planner Sandi Morris said the schools had to show a commitment to the programme. “Each school needed to commit to maintaining the bikes, replacing helmets when needed and keeping the bike tracks safe and well maintained. Most importantly, the tracks must be kept available to the general public outside school hours.”

Each school received $50,000 and was required to fund any difference. For example, all three opted to use hot mix as the surface on their perimeter tracks instead of the cheaper limestone so will need to cover the cost variance. The schools have all been busy raising additional money to help complete and deliver the overall programme.

Thanks to a grant from BikeON Trust, Longburn School has finished all three tracks already. Terrace End and St Mary’s Schools are awaiting final funding contributions to complete their perimeter tracks, however their skills and pump tracks are open for public use.

Over the last 20 years there’s been a decrease in the number of primary school aged children riding bikes. Paul McArdle from BikeOn Trust developed the Bikes in Schools programme to help reduce the decline.

Sandi said that because many children have never ridden a bike, when it came time for road safety classes with the New Zealand Police and Sport Manawatū, a large chunk of time was spent teaching the children how to ride a bike before they could teach road safety.

“The availability of bikes and tracks in the school and supporting education programme will ensure each child is taught to ride a bike in a safe environment from the time they start school. The supporting NZ Police and Sport Manawatū programme can then be more focused on the New Zealand Road Code for Cyclists and keeping these new cyclists riding safe in our road network.”

As well as allowing children to learn to manage any risks in a safe environment before riding on the roads, there are obvious health benefits. Other benefits include increased confidence and independence and improved focus in the classroom.

“Other schools throughout New Zealand have noticed many positive changes in children’s classroom behaviour with the introduction of the Bikes in Schools programme,” Sandi said.

“I also want to say a huge thanks to Chris Cobham from Avanti Plus,” Sandi said. “He gave the schools a great deal on the 150 bikes and helmets and offered to service the bikes free of charge for two years. He also went to great lengths to ensure every pupil had the right sized helmet.”

Sandi said it had been a big project, but it was exciting to see children who had never been on a bike out having fun and joining in.

She also had a word of caution for people using the tracks outside school hours. “It’s important that caregivers ensure children are properly fitted with a helmet, their bikes are safe for use, and they are adequately supervised.”