Successful after-school youth bike programs have 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 10 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 riding experience, have been enjoying quality bike education.

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 5 years, volunteer mechanics refurbished 900 bicycles rescued from the dump and dusty garages, they helped 6,700 people with bike repair, and built a strong bike education center in town.

These impressive numbers reflect the high demand for a welcoming place for riders with a limited budget to learn about bicycle maintenance, and to buy an affordable refurbished bicycle.

However, bike programs for youth had been almost non-existent at Bici Centro.  There were several reasons, including the location of the shop, the lack of public transportation and limited open 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 was approved.  This would provide the opportunity for girls to learn basic bike mechanics, practice bike handling skills, review the rules of the road and go on rides in the neighborhood.

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 League Certified Instructor, the experimental 18 hour program over a period of 6 weeks sounded like a fun and rewarding project.

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.  The real challenge was recruiting a group of six participants.

On the first day, we discovered that two girls signed up that didn’t know how to ride a bike. In less than an hour, the 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, and adjusting the brakes on their bikes.

By week three, the students were demonstrating their street skills.  They mastered hand signals and understood the importance of moving into the correct traffic lane, scanning from the front, sides, and rear for cars.

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 beginners master new skills. By week sex, 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.

In one special session, 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 five years on the job.  Our 12-14 year old girls could not have been more engaged. They never thought that a lady could get paid to explore the world on two wheels.

Nancy’s presentation also motivated the group to give the program a name: “Earn-A-Bike” became “Pedal Power”.

The first Pedal Power program was a success!

Now, all 12-16 year olds (with or without a bike) are now welcome to sign up with the commitment to attend the entire session. And now the community recognizes 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.

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.

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. More students are riding to school and some of them are making their own “posse” group.

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.

The demand for LCIs in Santa Barbara County has been skyrocking.  We now have twenty-two instructors, more than half of which are women, and have been trained during the past 3 years, with eight more participants registered for the upcoming LCI training seminar in San Luis Obispo.

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.

Local organizations and businesses have been welcoming Pedal Power groups for private tours, demonstrations and snacks.

The 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, and two local foundations are funding the program for this school year.

Check out our video to learn more!

By Christine Bourgeois – Born and raised in France, Christine 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 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.