January isn’t just a hard-pressed time for the trade looking ahead to a busy month or two of shows, it’s also a lively time for schools preparing for take part in the cycle competition of the year.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Big Pedal is a nationwide stage-by-stage bike race involving schools. Pupils, teachers and parents shun 4x4s and other motor vehicles in favour of bicycles, clocking up miles ridden to and from school for a month. Schools compete to ride the most bike miles and last year the competition saw over 990,000 miles (in 600,000 journeys) ridden during the course of the Big Pedal.
Sustrans organises the competition, which benefits from cash from the bicycle industry levy Bike Hub.
The Big Pedal is back for 2012, running from March 5th to 23rd and, by the end of 2011, 600 schools have already signed up for it. Last year, 800 took part.
This year, Sustrans’ Bike It officers will be on hand to encourage schools to take part – and do well enough to scoop a few of the prizes on offer to the top performing schools.
“Since working for Sustrans I have always been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the pupils at all the schools I worked with,” said Bike It officer Vincent Gibson.
“A healthy dose of real-time, interschool competition makes it so exciting. It’s great to hear friends encouraging each other and having fun together.
“With pupils so enthused about everything to do with cycling, it is inevitable that parents get involved as their children need their bikes to come to bike breakfast, to take part in cycle training after school and to go on the pedalling picnic with their friends. Many parents are already on board and we just work at the initial barriers, put plans in place for continued events and the consensus seems to be that going by bike is popular and easy.”
So, what of the lasting effects on schools and how are they measured? Gibson explains: “After the Big Pedal, all of the schools kept on cycling. Inevitably numbers tail off after a big event, but we make sure schools make a big display with photographs of the riders. And they book in further bike to school days and classroom sessions to keep the pupils interested.”
Find out more about the competition at http://thebigpedal.org.uk/
Big Pedal Case study: Washingborough Primary School, Lincolnshire
In a small picturesque village close to Lincoln, Washingborough Primary School is surrounded by fields, close to Sustrans’ National Cycle Network (NCN) routes and the Fosse Way. An ideal place to walk or cycle to school maybe, but back in 2009 just three children cycled to the school, with the vast majority of the 272 students travelling by car.
In September 2009 the school began working with Sustrans, spurred on by Head Teacher Jason O’Rourke and teacher Jonothan Moody. In a few months of working with Sustrans’ Bike It officer Vincent Gibson, the numbers of children cycling rose dramatically, and last March the school saw hundreds of children cycling to school as part of The Big Pedal.
Moody explains: “At first I was unsure of whether to take part in the competition, but I talked it through with Vincent and was assured that it was relatively simple and easy to take part in. We agreed to take part and it was the best decision we ever made.”
One day saw 301 children and their parents cycle to school – a far cry from those three riders in 2009.
“I thought the competition would encourage a few more children to get on their bikes, but I had no idea of the positive effect it would have on parents and staff at the school too. So many less cars outside the school gates made parents aware of how peaceful and quiet it can be at the beginning and end of school. Parents didn’t have to rush to get their kids in the car and off the double yellow lines!”
“I thought I might struggle to get staff motivated initially, but it was no problem. Everyone got on board and there’s now even a self initiated unofficial cycle club for staff after school.”
An improvement in children’s behaviour was noted by teachers and some children learnt to ride bikes as a result of the Big Pedal. One parent even went out to buy a bike so that she could get more closely involved, says Moody.
“Our work with Sustrans really has been life changing and the Big Pedal competition was amazing. It has improved community spirit at the school and in the area. Pupils and their parents have continued to cycle to school long after the competition, and enthusiasm for getting to school on two wheels continues to grow.”