Pedal power to the pupils

12th June 2009 at 01:00
Bike Week starts tomorrow, but for some children, bicycles are already part of school life - and leisure

Exactly what young Robbie Johnstone means when he says "I'm quite rough on my bike" only becomes clear when he jumps on and takes the flight of steps in the middle of the Shawlands Academy playground as if they weren't there - up and down again, accelerating fearlessly in both directions.

"It's a high-quality bike," Robbie (S4) says. "It can take more than I can. Although since I first got it on loan from the school, I have had a couple of punctures and a slightly buckled back wheel."

Fixing these himself was part of the contract Robbie and colleagues in Shawlands Academy's bike loan scheme signed up to. "It's all about keeping themselves safe and looking after the bikes," says PE teacher and sports co-ordinator Sandra Leitch, the driving force behind the scheme. "I found out about Glasgow City's bike loan scheme and put in a successful application. We're now one of seven schools they've given bikes to, along with helmets, reflective straps and locks.

"We had a problem with storage at first, because the cupboard in the games hall was too small. So we applied for a grant from Sustrans for a container to store the bikes and act as a maintenance centre. It's got tools and a water supply, so kids can hose bikes down and fix punctures."

Pupils are encouraged to use the new bikes to cycle to school, but are not obliged to. "The bikes are theirs for a year and they can use them for anything they like, as long as they look after them. We help them find safe routes to school."

Alex Malcolm (S4) lives four miles away, he says. "But I've found cycle tracks and back roads to avoid the main road. Even in winter, it's not that dark when we come to school, and the street lights are always on. It's not dangerous."

Distance was much less for Archie Lamont (S1). "I'm only five minutes' walk from the school, but I use the bike now. Mine had got too small. This is a good bike and I use it all the time to go out with my friends."

The loan scheme is a great deal for pupils, says Ella Watson (S4). "You put down a deposit of Pounds 60 and get Pounds 50 back. So it's Pounds 10 to rent a bike for a year - which is amazing. I've got my own bike but don't use it now. I certainly wouldn't bring it to school. It's far too girly."

The great thing about mountain bikes is that girls and boys ride the same tough, credible machines. In this first year of the scheme, half the bikes have been taken up by pupils and a few staff, says Miss Leitch.

"There might be a bit of it not being cool to take a bike from school. So next year we'll get pupils already in the scheme to give a talk to new first-years and get them interested.

"We have also started a mountain bike club, using the bikes, which is open to everybody at school. It's in Pollok Park, which has graded trails, and we've organised an instructor from Scottish Cycling to come and coach them."

The instructor is very safety-conscious, Robbie says. "He won't even let us sit on the bikes without a helmet - which is good, because it gets you into the habit of not doing anything dumb on a bike."

The machines themselves look complex, particularly the gears, but are easy to use and maintenance is no problem, says Callum Mackey (S1). "If you get a puncture the wheels are flick- release, so they come off easily for repairs. If anything went wrong with my old bike, my dad fixed it. But I look after this one myself, which I like."

Besides keeping fit, active and healthy, that sense of responsibility is a big benefit to the pupils taking part in the scheme, says Miss Leitch. "There are benefits too beyond those pupils. We got a new bike shed from the council and kids with their own bikes are also using it. The project has increased cycling throughout the school."

www.bikeweek.org.uk

www.sustrans.org.uk

ACROSS SCOTLAND

Angus

Friockheim School will hold Health Week Cycling, and offer cycling skills training for P6 pupils; Borrowfield Primary will run a School Bike Week; and Wardykes Primary will have School Cycle Relay Challenge for P4-7s to cycle as far as possible in an afternoon.

Dumfries and Galloway

Opening of new bike racks and canopies in a number of schools with money from the Scottish Government's Tackle the School Run fund. Followed by playground cycling activities.

Edinburgh

Davidson's Mains Primary is running a Car Free Fun Day, asking pupils to cycle or walk to school and get fun stickers. Park your bike, not your car.

Moray

Hopeman Primary will have a 5 Day Cycle Train, inviting pupils to join it as it travels from Duffus to Hopeman along the new cycleway each weekday morning. Check your bike with the Bike Doctor on Wednesday.

Renfrewshire

Stunt team the Riderz will visit a number of primaries with a stunt show and sessions on control skills, bike maintenance and travel planning, as part of Cycling Scotland's Cycle to School Campaign. St Benedict's High will give every child who cycles to school a goody bag.

West Lothian

Linlithgow Primary's Pedal Power is a cycle fair with show and display. Fun and games, bike maintenance workshops, obstacle courses, cycle training for kids, cycle skills, Active Schools games.

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