Porirua Bikes In Schools: “The Best Thing Ever”
More than 1300 students from six primary schools in Porirua can now ride a bike, thanks to Bikes in Schools and local cooperation.
Mass bike-riding is the best thing that’s ever happened at Titahi Bay School, says principal Kerry Delaney. Almost all the children now have their own bike; the school’s bike racks are full. Riding is an accepted routine – teachers take their students to the track to ride together.
This bucks the trend of Kiwi kids becoming less active. The last 25 years has seen a worrying decline in children’s physical activity, researchers say.
Cars, devices, unsafe streets and lack of time outdoors all contribute. Being physically active is one of the best routes to keep children healthy. Children who bike regularly take this into adulthood, helping health and the environment.
More wheels are turning across the region: a 2019 review found all students in five Porirua schools with Bikes in Schools could confidently ride a bike – more than 1300 students. This is a big change from a few years back, when many Porirua children lacked chances to cycle.
Kids of all abilities are supported to try riding on two wheels. Learning to ride wasn’t easy for 12-year-old Chad Vickerstaff: he qualifies for Ongoing Resourcing Scheme disability support. But most days now, he heads over to Titahi Bay School – his previous school – to ride on its bike track after school. And he has his own bike with high handlebars and thick blue tyres.
“It was quite surprising that he could ride a bike – I thought it would be too hard for him”, says his Mum, Shantel Croton. “Without the bike track, he wouldn’t have taken up biking. I think it’s changed his life a lot. It’s helped him enjoy school more.”
In recent years Chad has taken part in three school triathlons: “I don’t really slow down for anything now!”
Biking can benefit those who struggle with school or home, says Delaney. If things have gone wrong at home, or someone’s told them off, children get on a bike at school and leave some of that stuff behind: “It’s not just about learning to ride a bike; it’s about feeling good about yourself.”
Bikes in Schools is an in-school biking package led by the schools. A bike track, fleet of shared bikes, helmets and storage container are complemented by skills training and maintenance support. All children – with or without their own bikes – can ride every day at school.
A national initiative, Bikes in Schools has a registered charity, Bike On NZ Charitable Trust, that offers free advice to any interested school or local council on how to manage, fund and implement Bikes in Schools. Possible funding sources to help schools set up the programme include: community funding, local councils, businesses, government agencies, Bike On NZ Charitable Trust, and donations from individuals.
Community leader Chris Te’o grew up in Porirua East, first learning to ride a bike at the age of forty-three: “When you pick up biking in your forties and it’s transformational, you know how transformative it will be for young kids.”
He’s a founder of USO Bike Ride, which encourages cycling and health among Pasifika and Māori communities. The group has helped to make Bikes in Schools happen in low-decile Ngāti Toa, Corinna and Holy Family Schools.
Te’o is often stopped by parents in Porirua East who say their children love biking since learning to ride at school. The tracks are assets for the whole community: parents and kids ride together there after school.
Says Te’o: “Kids who didn’t get an opportunity to cycle now do get those opportunities – and they can take the skills, confidence and bigger goals with them throughout life.”
What’s happening in Porirua is unique, says Bike On NZ Charitable Trust’s Paul McArdle, Bikes in Schools founder. People who work ‘on the ground’ are closely involved, and local partners meet often: schools, councils, community and cycling groups.
Nationally, Bikes in Schools and other projects have so far helped over 30,000 children at more than 100 schools to ride a bike at school.
Now the Climate Change Commission is calling for twice as many trips on bikes by 2030. Bikes in Schools offers a great start towards this goal, helping young kids to hop on a bike.For more information or images, contact Louise Thornley 021 032 4537