Nice ride

City kids get a free bike and learn about riding safety

Kainelle Spence (left) and sister Percaioos Spence test out their bikes during a Bike Together Winnipeg event
Kainelle Spence (left) and sister Percaioos Spence test out their bikes during a Bike Together Winnipeg event.

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2015

A group of kids are lining up at a booth located in Blake Gardens, a housing development in Winnipeg's North End, waiting to get fitted for free helmets to go along with their free bikes.

But Kainelle Spence is hesitant to join them.

The 10-year-old grips the handlebars of a shiny white bike she has just received and looks up at her dad. "I'm not leaving. If I leave, someone will steal it," she says of her bike.

Spence's fear is understandable. Someone stole her last bike right out of her yard - just cut the cable that was holding it to a fence and rode off with it.

Eventually, though, she is able to overcome her fears, get her helmet, and ride her new bike for the first time, happy as can be. When asked what it was about the white bike that was so special, she has an easy answer.

"I was thinking it would go fast," she says, smiling shyly.

As its name suggests, Bike Together Winnipeg is a true community effort. Organized by IMPACT, the Winnipeg Health Region's injury-prevention program, Bike Together Winnipeg is a partnership between the Sports Medicine and Science Council, Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI), Winnipeg Police Services, City of Winnipeg, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Headingley Correctional Centre, Bike Winnipeg, Green Action Centre, and the Winnipeg Repair Education and Cycling Hub (WRENCH).

The goal of the bike events - there will be five this summer - is twofold: to promote cycling as a healthy, affordable mode of recreation and transportation and to promote bike safety behaviours. "We want to get more kids on bikes and being safe, including wearing a helmet for every ride and following the road rules," says Wendy French, IMPACT's Injury Prevention Co-ordinator.

"Lots of organizations were doing some cycling promotion and safety education. Bike Together Winnipeg brought the major players together for a more co-ordinated approach."

The bikes are not actually new. They were abandoned before being brought to Headingley Correctional Centre, where trustees repaired and repainted them. Members of WRENCH double-check them and teach the kids how to keep their bikes in good repair.

After the children are fitted for a helmet and a bike, they are taught the ABCs of bike maintenance: air, brakes, chains, along with basic hand signals. Then the kids head to MPI's bike rodeo, where they guide their new bike through a maze of orange pylons, learning skills such as turning and signalling. Winnipeg Police Service officers and cadets are there to teach them about safety and give them a hand, if necessary.

"It's nice to see them giving back to the community," says Kainelle's father, Joseph Chartrand, of the organizations involved in the program. Chartrand brought two of his four children to the event. "I'm really happy this came along. It means a lot. The girls are excited about it. They'll be happy to have a bike again."

IMPACT works to make Winnipeg safer for cyclists and pedestrians through education, advocating for safer policies and promoting safety equipment. And while Winnipeg is taking measures to make roads safer for cyclists, such as adding bike lanes, riders continue to be injured.

Each year in Winnipeg, approximately one or two cyclists die and another 70 are hospitalized. According to IMPACT statistics, head injuries cause 80 per cent of child cycling deaths and 28 per cent of cycling-related hospital admissions. A helmet, worn properly, can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 per cent, and brain injury by up to 88 per cent. Yet despite legislation requiring cyclists under the age of 18 to wear helmets, not everyone does.

 In 2013, for example, only 49 per cent of Winnipeg cyclists wore helmets. Helmet use was highest among children eight to 11 years of age, at 87.2 per cent, and lowest among youth between 16 and 19 years of age, at 26.4 per cent. The Bike Together Winnipeg project was conceived as a way to reinforce good helmet behaviour.

"We're working in areas with the lowest rate of observed helmet use," French says.

During the June 25th event at Blake Gardens, 27 children received free bikes and helmets. Bike Together Winnipeg hopes to give away 250 bikes, helmets and locks this summer.

The youngest rider was Hassan Abdikadir, who is just two years old. He was so little that he needed his dad to give him a push in order to get rolling.

"He's very active," says his father, Ahmed Mohamud, who immigrated to Winnipeg from Somalia with his wife and children. "The children need bikes in the summer to have fun and be active. They'll be healthier, stronger, get more exercise and eat well."

His daughter, Huda Abdikadir, 12, already has plenty of plans for her new wheels. Her first stops will be the park and a candy shop. "It'll be easier for me to go to school and to have fun in the summertime," she says.

Holli Moncrieff is a Winnipeg writer.

Wave: March / April 2015

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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