A new program is teaching recent arrivals to Canada how to explore the city in a uniquely Vancouver way — on two wheels.

The joint initiative of HUB Cycling — a non-profit organization that promotes cycling in Vancouver — and Immigrant Services Society of B.C. connects Vancouver cyclists with refugees and other newcomers who want to learn how to cycle in the city.

"Some of the newcomers in the spring session have never cycled before, and they learned through this program how to cycle together with their volunteers," said program coordinator Tim Aeberli.

Starting in May, 16 local cycling enthusiasts were matched with 16 newcomers. 

The participants came from 10 different countries, including Syria, Iran, Japan, Iraq, and China, according to Aeberli. Most have been in Canada for less than two years.

"The program … is as much about improving their cycling skills and learning to cycle as it is about improving their English and finding new friends outside their usual circles," he said.

The pairs met every week to learn about cycling rules, routes and safety, and to take in the culture.

Bike Host Program

Participants in the Vancouver Newcomer Bike Host Program celebrate their graduation. (Vancouver Newcomer Bike Host Program)

"Settling in a new city can be an overwhelming experience," said HUB Cycling bike education manager, Alyshia Burak.

"By building cycling knowledge and skills, newcomers are introduced to an affordable, healthy and convenient way to explore their new home and build connections."

Olga Zaytseva, 36, just graduated from the spring program. She came to Canada from Russia in 2016, and is now a permanent resident. 

She said the program has helped her get comfortable cycling in Vancouver, while improving her English. 

"I feel more settled here, not like a newcomer, but more like a resident," said Zaytseva. "I'm really happy with the result." 

Bike host program

Participants in the Vancouver Newcomer Bike Host Program celebrate their graduation. (Vancouver Newcomer Bike Host Program)

Alina Zhang, 51, came from China, and said cycling along the Fraser River instead of driving made her feel more connected to the city.

"I feel very close to the city, so I'm so excited," said Zhang. 

Following the participants' recent graduation from the program, those without a bicycle were presented with their very own bike, helmet and lock, so they can continue cycling even after the program is finished, according to Aeberli.

The summer session of the program is already full with 22 matches, including individuals and families.