Educating the next generation of responsible bike riders

Not so long ago, riding a bike was such a basic building block of the American childhood that it became a cliche: "it's like learning to ride a bike -- you never forget." Kids generally walked or biked to get around their neighborhoods and to school. 

In 1969, 48% of children 5 to 14 years of age usually walked or bicycled to school. [2]

In 2009, just 13% of did so. [2]

Geography has a lot to do with this, but even when you take geography out of the equation there's been a massive shift. 

In 1969, 90% of those kids who lived within a mile of school walks or rode bikes to get there. Today 65% of kids who live within a mile are driven to school, mainly due to safety concerns (Source: 2009 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine).

We can't change school siting policies or residential settlement patterns overnight, but we can work to educate the next generation of cyclists. We've organized free classes for kids at the Andrew Young YMCA, Latin Academy, and Kipp schools serving at-risk communities in SW Atlanta, as well as schools like Drew Charter and the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School. (We're focusing on charter schools for the first phase of this program as they tend to have greater flexibility in scheduling).

Atlanta Bicycle Coalition instructor Neil Walker has taught many bike classes since becoming a League Cycling Instructor, but none are closer to his heart than the ones that involve kids.

As Neil puts it, 

I am so glad that I get to be part of that empowering process that not only builds their confidence but helps to educate them into the riders of tomorrow. As we continue to build Atlanta into a Bike Friendly City we have taught all types of young people. They range from kids that are training to become triathletes to kids who want to know how to repair a flat tire.

I can only smile as I look at the future and the fact that kids look forward to riding more and using their bike as a mode of transportation. I am often asked after the classes about riding and one of the moments I can’t describe is when I am thanked by the kids themselves, not just the staff. These classes aren’t just about bikes, they are my way of giving back to the gift that was given to me; it’s my way of paying it forward.

I don’t take it lightly that I have been granted the opportunity to impact young people through the gift of cycling. These classes have given kids “bragging rights” at their schools, making them part of a unique group that ride their bikes daily and can now become ambassadors to other kids by helping fix bikes and sharing the correct thing to do on the road. In some instances it has sparked a desire to get others involved.