Originally published May 7, 2021 in the Arizona Republic.
By Paulina Pineda
Wearing black and white helmets, face masks and their school uniforms, kindergarten students zipped around on bicycles inside the gym at Scales Technology Academy in Tempe.
The bikes didn’t have pedals though. Known as balancing bikes, the two-wheelers are meant to teach kids how to balance on the bike while in motion, the first step to learning how to ride.
But they’ll soon swap footrests for pedals as they become more confident in their riding skills through a new program at Scales that aims to teach students how to ride a bicycle as part of the physical education curriculum. The program, All Kids Bike, also is being offered at Thew Elementary School in Tempe.
More than 5,000 students at the two schools are expected to learn how to ride over the next five years, program officials estimated.
Gov. Doug Ducey, who helped kick off the program at Scales, said it will help get children moving after a year cooped up at home during the new coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a tough year on our kids and seeing them out and active and moving is a sign of blue skies ahead for the state of Arizona,” Ducey said.
'Skill that is going to serve them'
Ducey and representatives from All Kids Bike finished assembling a few of the bicycles, screwing the handlebars into the frames, before the governor fielded questions from the students who sat crisscrossed on orange dots spread across the gym floor.
Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions from the young children during an All Kids Bike event at Scales Technology Academy in Tempe on May 6, 2021.
Each student was then equipped with a helmet and given a bike.
Using their legs to propel themselves, they raced around the gym as Ducey and school officials cheered them on.
Principal Andrew Lebowitz said a PE teacher heard about the program and worked to bring it to the school.
Students will first learn how to balance on the bikes and steer without pedals before graduating to pedaling.
The goal is to get kids interested in cycling and teach students how to ride at a young age.
“One of the best ways to get kids active is to get them excited about bicycles,” said Ryan McFarland, a board member with All Kids Bike. “It’s a skill that is going to serve them now and through life.”
All Kids Bike was created by the Strider Education Foundation, the nonprofit arm of bike manufacturer Strider.
It’s free to schools thanks to sponsorships from businesses and organizations and donations from individuals.
BNSF Railway Foundation donated $10,000 to sponsor the program at Scales and Thew and the funding covers a fleet of 24 balancing bikes, pedal conversion kits, helmets, an adult bike for the instructor and training for teachers.
More than 277,000 students have participated in the program over the last five years across 296 schools in 39 states, according to All Kids Bike’s website.