'Riding a bike is a life skill': Cycling ed rolls into Winnipeg schools

The Bicycling Education and Safety Training program has been added to four schools in the city.

Kids will learn how to be confident and competent on the road

The Bicycle Education and Safety Training program will teach kids how to bike safely. (Pierre Verriere/CBC)

An all-new bikers ed program is rolling into Winnipeg schools.

The Bicycling Education and Safety Training program has been added to four schools in the city who will test drive the classes over a three year pilot.

In a handful of 45-minute classes spread out over two weeks, kids will learn the basics of biking and riding on the road.

It's the first program of its kind in Canada, and only the second in North America, said Jamie Hilland, a Winnipeg dad and leader of Green Action Centre's Active and Safe Routes to School program, which spearheaded the program.

He said the classes are designed to make kids comfortable and competent behind the handlebars.

"We're spending how many dollars on getting kids safely educated to drive cars on roads, and yet we're sending kids on roads — (who) are vulnerable road users — on bikes, without any training whatsoever," he said.

The program is being co-funded by Manitoba Public Insurance and the Seven Oaks School Division. The pilot will include four schools: H.C. Avery Middle School, Forest Park School, Collicutt School and R.F. Morrison.

Kids will start their classes in Grade 4, with follow up classes every year until Grade 8. In total, students will get about 20 hours of bike training, including actually hitting the streets with instructors.

Hilland said the classes are designed to fit into a standard phys-ed curriculum. 

"We think it's just as important to learn to play basketball and volleyball as it is to ride a bike," he said. "Riding a bike is a life skill."

Hilland said he's already got calls from interested educators in other school divisions across the country, and he'd love to see the classes grow.

After the three-year pilot period is up, Hilland said program leaders will judge its success based on improvements to kids skills and cycling know-how, and hope to see more active children.

"If we can get more people riding on bikes, it's going to save on infrastructure costs, it's going to improve traffic ... we're going to have a healthier populace," he said.