Cool to cycle to school

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Bunny hops, backflips and ape hangers - get your hoops moving. A tour by stunt bikers is promoting safe cycling
Bunny hops, backflips and ape hangers - get your hoops moving. A tour by stunt bikers is promoting safe cycling

Perhaps it was the three-foot jump from a track stand start. Or maybe it was the bunny hopping around and across the chap lying prostrate at the top of the ramp. The backflip would most certainly have done it - but rain stopped the fun ...

Whatever it was, when the Riderz gave everyone high fives and left the playground, the pupils at Towerbank Primary in Portobello, near Edinburgh, went wild, cheering and shouting and running over to the fence to get a last glimpse of what seemed to them like the superstars of the stunt bike world. And some of them were.

The Riderz pilot tour of 10 schools across Scotland this month was just another event within the arsenal of Cycling Scotland, the campaign across the country to get more people cycling. Its aim is to show that cycling is cool. It seemed to be working.

"That was so cool," says Lilidh Aveyard, 11, and in P6.

"I want to learn how to do that," adds Lianna Davis, from P7. "I want to do stunts."

Stuart Russell, 9, and in P5, can already do some tricks, but he was still impressed by the Riderz team. "I can do bunny hops, 360 turns and wheelies, but I can't do the sort of stuff they were doing. They were really cool," he says.

It isn't difficult to find pupils who think cycling is cool at Towerbank. More than 16 per cent of them cycle regularly, up from 12 per cent last year.

The growth is a lot to do with location: the school is a stone's throw from Portobello promenade. But the staff, led by depute headteacher Kirsty Rosie and helped by Edinburgh's school travel co-ordinator, Lorna Henderson, have also worked hard to promote the activity to pupils.

P6 pupils are given on-road cycling proficiency training, while twice-yearly Active Weeks are always heavily focused on cycling.

"Lots of us cycle to school," says Joe Dransfield. "And some of my friends and I go out on bike trips after school."

The tour is part of the organisation's pound;10 million remit to tackle the school run and get more kids biking. "One of the biggest challenges is to persuade parents to let their children cycle," says Ian Aitken, marketing manager of Cycling Scotland. "So a lot of what we are doing is encouraging audits that allow schools to show parents safe routes. It often is not the route they drive. We are also helping put the infrastructure in place to make it easier."

Working with Sustrans, a campaigning organisation that has been fighting for improved cycle routes and better provision in the UK for the past 30 years, Cycling Scotland is starting to have an impact.

Some schools are reporting huge increases in cycling pupils. A school in East Lothian tops the poll with 40 per cent cycling. A survey taken in Lothian Road, a main thoroughfare in the centre of Edinburgh, by Spokes, the Lothian cycling campaign, found that one in five trips was being made by bike.

The organisation has brought in Ian Withers, who teaches mountain biking in the Borders, to manage the Riderz tour. He has hand-picked the riders, who are from all over Scotland. Otis, Sid, Jo, Zander and Josh are well-known in the stunt bike world, and together represent some of country's most talented bikers. They also look cool, and the whole show, with its high platforms and long ramps is adrenalin-driven.

After the demo, pupils get to do cycling-related activities such as a timber trail, work on safe routes to school and get their bikes checked.

"We are going to follow up each visit with research among pupils and parents to see if it has changed attitudes, and then after the summer, when they've had time to go cycling, we are going to evaluate how much it has changed behaviours," says Mr Aitken.

"If it has an impact, we are considering rolling it out to other schools."

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