John Key opens bike tracks at St Mary's School, Hastings

A Hastings man has given 62 new bicycles to a local school to get children back on bikes.

Paul McArdle has also given St Mary's Primary School 225 helmets, four bike tracks, a bike shed and an elite cyclist to coach the youngsters.

It is a package worth about $75,000, mostly from his own pocket.

Today (19 Feb 2010) at St Mary's, Prime Minister John Key will introduce Mr McArdle's Bikes in the School initiative, which aims to give every primary school pupil access to a bicycle and track.

St Mary's principal Liz Crowley said the scheme had been going for three weeks at her school and was a roaring success.

"The children are all very keen to try their skills on the bikes," she said. "It's also a learning resource in physical education – and it's fun."

Mr McArdle, 42, returned to New Zealand from Amsterdam last year after working in banking for 12 years.

"I used to bike to work every day, in a suit," he said. "Back in New Zealand I noticed how few people are cycling these days.

"As I do not need to work at present, I have decided to launch a number of non-profit projects that will encourage people to ride bikes more."

The Byk bikes from Australia are lightweight and designed for children.

St Mary's now has a 550-metre curving limestone track, two tracks with jumps and a skills track. The bikes are used at the school, not on the road.

Kerry-Anne Torckler, a New Zealand cycling representative, will work at the school for six months to help the children develop their skills.

Mr McArdle, who has two children at St Mary's, said traffic congestion would be reduced and the environment would benefit if more people rode bikes.

"Many countries are presently investing vast sums of money to encourage their populations to bike more because they know that the return on these investments is very high. I believe New Zealand could learn a lot from these countries.

"I think Hawke's Bay is the New Zealand cycling capital because of the climate, the flat terrain and the pathways that have been built here."

Mr McArdle has already organised mountain bikes for police in Taupo and Flaxmere, and today he is at Hastings Girls' High School to introduce a pilot programme there.

YouTube link: Sarah Walker rides the skills track.

From Principal Liz Crowley's speech:

Bikes in the Schools, has given our students another tool to increase their enjoyment of daily physical exercise and of course, increase participation in cycling. It is also reflective of current physical activity, and health, policy goals.

Here at school we talk a lot about Learning Outcomes - that is - …what will our students learn from a particular experience?

So - what are the outcomes for our students from the ‘Bikes in the Schools’ programme?….

- improved muscle development, fitness, coordination and balancing skills

- greatly enhanced self managing behaviours (our students are expected to be responsible for their helmet and bike, for responsible use of the tracks - either as an individual cyclist, or as part of a riding team, and, in following the riding rules)

- an appreciation of biking, as environmentally friendly transport

- a knowledge of the road code

- a greater confidence, competency and awareness, when on the road, not only as a cyclist, but eventually as the driver of a car

- and crucially, a greatly enhanced positivity towards daily physical exercise

BUT most importantly it is fun... it’s about having fun while you are learning …

- It’s fun to be riding with the wind in your hair.

- It’s fun to have your heart and other muscles pumping

- It’s fun be getting fitter and being able to balance really well, especially going round those back corners

- It’s fun learning to able to manage yourself as a responsible cyclist, here on our tracks and ... eventually, as a cyclist out on the road

- It’s fun having your teacher and Principal ride with you

- It’s fun being challenged by the skills and pump tracks

- It’s fun because you know that every time you ride, you are getting better - biking is a personal challenge
- but most of all - it’s fun because biking makes you feel

We know that with the ‘Bikes in the Schools Programme’ operating at St. Mary’s School – we are onto a winner for our students.

It is certainly a superb model which we know other schools will want to emulate.