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Pedal Power at Goleta Valley Jr. High by Christine Bourgeois

Image: Michael Guttierez - Pedal Power group from Goleta Valley Jr. High

How a successful after-school youth bike program is having a positive impact on the community in Santa Barbara county!

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (SBBC), a countywide advocacy and resource organization that promotes bicycling for safe transportation and recreation, has been offering bike classes to the community for the last ten years. Thanks to a small group of dedicated cyclists who went through the training from the League of American Bicyclists to become certified League Cycling Instructors (LCIs) many adult riders with different levels of riding experience have been enjoying quality bike education taught by our local experts.

In 2007, Bici Centro (a Do-It-Yourself “bike kitchen” and a project of SBBC) opened its doors to the community: it became an immediate success. In the last five years, volunteer mechanics refurbished 900 bicycles rescued from the dump and dusty garages, they helped 6,700 people with bike repair and they built a strong bike education center in our town. The impressive numbers reflect the high demand of a welcoming place for riders with a limited budget to learn about maintenance for their primary mode of transportation and/or to buy an affordable refurbished bicycle.

Image: Christine Bourgeois

However, bike programs for youth have been almost non-existent at Bici Centro mainly because of the location of the shop, the lack of public transportation and limited operating hours. In 2009, a partnership with the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation gave the opportunity for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition to propose an after-school biking program at a local Junior High School. After a meeting with the principal, a pilot Youth Earn-A-Bike program for girls where they would learn basic bike mechanics, practice bike handling skills and signage, review the rules of the road and go on rides in the neighborhood was approved. The school district required a teaching background check and a CPR certification for all instructors involved with the program.

As an avid cyclist, an experienced French/ESL teacher and an LCI, the experimental 18 hour program over a period of 6 weeks sounded like a fun and rewarding project for me. Moreover, my friend Erika Lindemann, a long time LCI and a pioneer in bike education in Santa Barbara arranged her schedule to co-teach with me. We met a couple of times to review lessons from the League of American Bicyclists and to prepare ourselves but the real challenge was recruiting a group of six participants.

On day 1, we discovered that two girls signed up because they didn’t know how to ride a bike. No problem: in less than an hour, our two novices were pedalling on their own, still wobbling but they were ready to practice more. The news about our two “heroes” spread like a wildfire across campus: the following week, two boys asked if they could join the program.

Every week, we could see the growing sense of self-confidence, pride, and independence. Everybody really enjoyed taking care of simple maintenance tasks like putting air in tires, fixing flats, or adjusting the brakes on their bikes. By week 3, they could demonstrate their street skills: they were mastering signaling left -and right-hand turns and they understood the importance of moving into the correct traffic lane and scanning from the front, sides, and rear. Even more importantly, during the last week, they learned to work and ride together as a group. They were communicating with each other about road hazards, riding together in a line, waiting for slower riders, maintaining distance and speed. More experienced riders were helping learners master new skills. By week 6, our teenagers had become responsible owners and safe drivers of a bicycle: they all graduated with a refurbished bike, a helmet, a lock, some lights and a big smile on their face.

One special session was when our friend Nancy Mulholland came to talk about her experience as a bike leader with Women Tours. She brought a map of the US marked with all the long distance trips that she rode during her give years on the job: our 12-14 year old girls couldn’t have been more engaged. They never thought that a lady could get paid while exploring the world on two wheels. Nancy’s presentation also motivated the group to give a name to the program: “Earn-A-Bike” became “Pedal Power."

Yes, the first Pedal Power program was a success! It passed the test but recruiting and marketing the program in an attractive way (while competing with all the other sports and activities on campus) will require creativity, persistence and hard work. I won’t narrate all the details about the evolution of Pedal Power from 2009 until today but the quick summary is: Pedal Power is in high demand!

Two major shifts happened for Pedal Power:

1) All 12-16 year olds (with or without a bike) are welcome to sign up with the commitment to attend the entire session. Parents fill out paperwork and pay a low non-refundable registration fee before the first day of class.

2) The community recognized that the bicycle is a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change. Community involvement and new partnerships have been supporting the demanding youth bike programs and excellent results have been contributing to the huge success.

Image: Christine Bourgeois - Wrenching at Night event at Bici Centro

To download a pdf of this article please click here.

About the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and Pedal Power

  1. The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition has been building a strong group of volunteers to organize bike drives and wrenching nights before each Pedal Power session.
  2. Principals and teachers who were hesitant at first, are now promoting Pedal Power, making announcement on campus, sharing link on school website and if if they can, trying to fit a ride with the group in their busy schedule.  
  3. More students are riding to school and some of them are making their own “posse” group.
  4. A fabulous ride along the Pacific Ocean and up in the hills, the Santa Barbara Century, was created in 2010 to provide funding for Pedal Power. More than 800 riders from all over the US register each October for the popular event.
  5. The demand for LCIs in Santa Barbara County has been skyrocking: twenty-two instructors, more than half which are women have been trained during the past 3 years and eight participants are registered for an upcoming LCI training seminar in San Luis Obispo.
  6. Parents and cyclists from our thriving bike community have been showing interest in going on rides as chaperons and in giving support to our teenagers.
  7. Local organizations and businesses have been welcoming Pedal Power groups for private tours, demonstrations and snacks.
  8. Pedal Power program is expanding to Santa Maria, a city located 70 miles north of Santa Barbara. The first pilot program last year attracted 16 students: two local foundations are funding the program for this school year.

About Christine Bourgeouis

Christine Bourgeois was born and raised in France. She started using a bicycle for everyday transportation more than 20 years ago when she moved to Washington DC. Today, she lives in Santa Barbara and she is the Education Director for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition. When she is not bike commuting or riding with friends, Christine is hiking, gardening, taking photos, bike touring or traveling the world with her husband.