If you live in Seattle, or any other town that goes all in for Bike to Work month in May, your office may be gearing up for a big month of bike commuting. Sportworks typically fields several bike to work teams and has done very well in the friendly bike to work competition tracked through the Cascade Bicycle Club website. Some of our riders log 40+ miles on their roundtrip commutes every working day of the month! While most bike commuters are not riding that far, many are making an effort to get out on their bikes in May, but why should the grown-ups have all the fun? What about the kids out there that want to ride their bikes to school? National Bike Month in May is also about getting more kids on bikes. Through programs such as Safe Routes to Schools and events like National Bike to School Month and Bike to School Day, more schools are encouraging kids to safely ride their bikes to school.
More kids riding bikes to school sounds great, but how does your school make that happen? There are some simple things that your school community can do to support National Bike to School Month that are both fun and easy and don't require you to be an expert cyclist. Bike Rodeos, Bike to School Day and tracking bike trips during Bike to School month all provide great opportunities for your school community to come together and celebrate more kids riding bikes.
Bike Skills Rodeo 101
What is a bike rodeo? A bike rodeo is an event that can stand alone or can be the kick-off to Bike to School month in May.The rodeo provides an opportunity to bring kids together to learn how to ride safely by introducing bike handling and proper traffic safety skills in a controlled environment. Our elementary school has been holding a bike rodeo for many years on the last Sunday in April or the first Sunday in May as the official start of our Bike to School month.
In order to organize a successful bike rodeo, you will need to rally your parent community and volunteers as you will want plenty of supervision to manage the kids and the skills stations. Volunteers can also help with registration, helmet fitting, set-up and the tear down of your event. Decide where your event will be held. If you will be using your school grounds, you will need to work with the administration to be sure you have the support you need such as access to the building and custodial staff. Publicize your event through the school website, email and kid mail as well as flyers posted at school. 2 – 3 hours is plenty of time to host a successful bike rodeo.
Establishing a budget is another important component to organizing a school bike rodeo as you may need to request funds from the PTA or apply for grants well in advance of your event. Our school budgets a year or more in advance so budget requests must be made at least a year prior to the event date. If your school does not have money in the budget for a bike rodeo, you can seek donations from the community and surrounding businesses. It is quite inexpensive to host a bike rodeo. Most of our budget is spent on paying weekend custodial staff who provide access to the school building during the event. Prizes and food are usually donated by local businesses.
The first stop at the rodeo should be registration. This is where kids sign in and parents or guardians fill out registration/liability forms. If you are incorporating skills stations you may want to create a card with a check box for each station. We offer prizes to kids who complete all of the stations at our bike rodeo which seems to be a motivating factor. Prizes are typically donated by a local business or bike shop. Once kids are registered, they can move on to the stations.
Cascade Bicycle Club recommends the following skills stations to be included in your rodeo:Helmet fit and ABC quick check-
Quick check of helmet fit and bike safety check.
- Driveway Ride-out-
Teaches children to stop and look left, right and left again at the end of their driveway before entering the street or sidewalk.
- Crazy Crossroads-
Teaches children to come to a complete stop at stop signs or uncontrolled intersections and to turn into the correct lane with the flow of traffic.
Teaches children to look behind over their left shoulder to scan for oncoming cars or riders without swerving.
- Rock Dodge-
Helps kids practice looking ahead and quickly avoiding hazards in the road like rocks or glass.
- Slow Race-
Helps children practice balance and control with the goal of being the last one to finish!
Children should always wear a helmet that is ANSI approved when riding a bike. Helmets should be replaced after 5 years, after a crash or when they no longer fit properly. Check to be sure the helmet sits down on the child's head, the straps are adjusted in a "Y" shape around the ears and that no more than 2 fingers can be slid between the strap and the chin when fastened. We offer discounted helmets for sale at our rodeo for kids who don't have a helmet or have outgrown their helmet. Kids are not allowed to ride through the skills stations without wearing a helmet.
The ABC quick check includes making sure tires have air, checking brakes for proper functioning and checking for rider understanding of how they work, making sure the chain is not rusty and the cranks not loose and testing any quick release levers to be sure they are tight. Now that your rider's parents or guardians have completed the registration/liability form and the riders have had their helmet fit checked and their bikes checked, they are ready to roll through the skills stations.
The skills stations are designed to test a variety of bike handling and on street riding skills to insure riders are better prepared for riding to school. The stations allow for practicing riding in a straight line, riding on the right side, proper hand signals, avoiding hazards, braking, riding slowly, looking both directions and making eye contact with drivers and other riders.
Other important elements of organizing a successful bike rodeo include being prepared for all types of weather. 10 x 10 event tents are great for keeping the registration table dry as well as food and prize tables out of the elements. We endured a deluge during our 2014 school bike rodeo. The tents were crucial as were good attitudes! Despite the bad weather, our attendance didn't suffer and the kids learned how their bikes handled differently in the rain. We do live in Seattle where rain is the norm, but don't shy away from a little or a lot of the wet stuff. It provides a valuable learning opportunity. It is important to have a first aid kit to treat minor injuries, a bike pump and some basic tools are also recommended. You may want to have some information on Bike to School Day and Bike to School Month if your school is participating in these events.
To set up your skills areas you will need sidewalk chalk, small cones, signage material and markers to make various signs used at the stations plus 10 tennis balls cut in half for the rock dodge. You will need a large paved area such as a playground or parking lot to set everything up with at least 70' x 80' of space. Cascade Bicycle Club has more information on how to set up your skills stations as well as the objectives and tips for each station on their website at www.cascade.org or by contacting their School Programs and Bike to School Coordinator.
You can get creative with your bike rodeo by adding more elements that are of interest to your community. We have invited an Olympic athlete to our rodeo this year to talk about what it takes to win an Olympic medal in cycling. We are holding a bike drive with Bike Works ( www.bikeworks.org) to collect used bikes which will be refurbished and given to underserved youth. We will be selling discounted helmets to kids who need new ones and raffling off a brand new bike.
A Sportworks bike rack will be on hand to show kids how to properly park and lock their bikes once they arrive at school. There will be small mountain bike obstacles in the field for kids to practice their off-road skills and we are partnering with the local high school who gives students volunteering credit for community service performed at events like bike rodeos! Mechanically inclined parents will be on hand to perform basic bike repairs as well as a food truck to feed the hungry bikers. We invite the surrounding neighborhoods to join us and extended an invitation to a nearby private school that does not have enough resources to host their own rodeo. Our bike rodeo has turned into an inclusive and welcoming community event where families get together on the first Sunday in May to encourage kids to ride their bikes.
The Bike Rodeo is an excellent way to kick off Bike to School month at your school. After the kids have brushed up on their skills and helmets and bikes have been checked, they are ready to get rolling. In Washington, Cascade Bicycle Club offers a Bike to School program where kids can track their minutes riding, on forms available on the Cascade website and turn minutes into prizes at the end of the month. Before we had this nifty system, we created our own trip tally sheets that went home with every child. Children tracked their trips through the month and earned prizes for trips made by bike even on the weekends. Grade levels competed against each other to win an extra recess for the most trips made by grade.
Bike trains are another great way to get kids riding and create comradery on the way to school. Bike trains are based on the walking school bus concept, but kids get to school by bike as opposed to on foot. Bike trains need to have at least two supervising adults, one at the front of the train and one at the back to help with navigating city streets and giving gentle reminders to utilize the newly learned skills. Establish a central meeting place such as a ride leader's house or local landmark. Be sure to leave early enough to account for any possible delays along the way and to insure kids get to school on time.
The highlight of Bike to School month is Bike to School day. This year, National Bike to School day is Wednesday, May 6 th. This is an opportunity to celebrate all of the kids who are making the effort to get to school by bike. For many of them, especially the younger ones, this is a big accomplishment. They are proud of themselves for doing something that is not only a healthy choice; it is a fun one too. They may have just learned to ride or they may be seasoned pros, but they love being celebrated for their accomplishments and Bike to School day is no exception.
Having greeters at all of the school doors to help welcome your riders is a big hit. An even bigger hit if they have stickers or a healthy snack for the proud pedalers. Or post "bike fairies" dressed in tutus and bike shorts armed with a sticker or small piece of chocolate along various routes to encourage your brave bikers along the way. Perhaps a celebratory balloon arch to pedal under as they approach school? However you decide to celebrate getting more kids on bikes at your school, acknowledgment of their effort will surely be appreciated.
As a kid, riding a bike opens up a whole new world of possibility and pride. It brings a kind of freedom and responsibility that marks a very poignant time in a child's life. Most people remember the day they first learned to ride a bike. It is right up there with the other big life milestones. It is a pleasure to witness and honor that childhood rite of passage where a bike becomes a child's first "ride". Learning to ride a bike is a huge step along any child's path to independence. You have the power to instill and nurture the message that a bike will always be a viable form of transportation that is both good for their body and good for their spirit. Above all, riding a bike is just plain fun and that is what will and should matter most to the kiddos in your life. Our job is to provide the opportunity for our kids to get out there and ride and to teach the skills they need to stay safe on their journey.