Bike Buddies for Kids

New Bike Buddy Mentoring Program: How Kids can Benefit Too

When I was a lot younger than I am today, I remember going into Springy’s on Barton Street with my Mom and Dad and getting my very first bike. I must have been 7 or 8, and I was so excited to ride my bike for the first time. Back then, we lived in a townhouse complex that had many paved paths for walking and cycling. My Dad insisted that I had to know how to ride safely before I crossed the road, and his lessons for me included locating safe places to cross and learning proper hand signals. 

I also remember riding to school the first time: it started with my Dad and I completing practice rides from home to school on the weekend. Then, on the very first day of the school year, I rode to school confidently on my own. I signaled my stops, crossed with the crossing guards, and signaled my turns until I reached the school. I didn’t know it then, but my bike ride opened up a whole new world of freedom, mobility, and responsibility for me. 

Later, I realized that this ride to school was a rite of passage of sorts, it was “the first time I rode to school alone”. I believe that this accomplishment is something that every child should get to experience. After my first ride to school, my Dad would ride with me whenever I started at a new school to be sure I knew about hazards and busy roads. Best of all, he helped me plan routes that would get me to where I wanted to go more quickly. 

To this day I still route plan, and I believe that route planning for cycling is very important from childhood onwards. At my Dad’s encouragement, I also learned how to do minor bike repairs, like fixing a flat and adjusting my seat. The good relationship I had with my bike allowed me to delay in getting my drivers license until I had finished high school.

This month (November 2019), I have been looking forward to an upcoming bike mentorship program: Bike Buddy. This new program is being launched in partnership with the Everyone Rides Initiative, Cycle Hamilton, and the City of Hamilton. The Bike Buddy program will match up experienced cyclists with new or uncertain Riders who want to learn more about cycling, in order to feel comfortable and safe while riding in Hamilton. 

How great would it be if parents could take advantage of this program to refresh their own cycling, bike safety, and route planning skills? Then they could pass this knowledge along to their kids like my own Dad did to me, and teach their kids how to safely ride their bikes to and from school, the community centre, a friend’s house, or the library. Think of how fantastic this parent/child bonding exercise could be-- even running to the corner store with their parents by bike could teach children how to feel safe and comfortable cycling on Hamilton roads.

If the Bike Buddy program expands the way that a lot of us Hamilton cyclists hope it will, the physical and mental health benefits the program could pass on to our community could be numerous. Imagine if this startup bike mentoring program for adults in our neighbourhoods led to the City and School Board having a great “problem” they haven’t seen in decades: keeping up with an overwhelming new demand for student bike racks! 

To me, the possibilities for the Bike Buddy program seems endless. It is my hope that every parent who bikes can learn from educational opportunities like the Bike Buddy Mentoring Program. Their new knowledge might not only stay with them, but be passed down to their children as well.

Be Safe, Be Seen, and Pedal On- and Thanks for Reading!
Mark Anderson, ERI Connector