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Posted June 1, 2012

Congress 2012

Teach teens to cycle like you’d teach them to drive

The best way to create the cycling habit is to give hands-on lessons, says researcher

Waterloo - A Queen’s University researcher says the best way to encourage teens to take up bicycling as a mode of transportation is to give them dedicated, hands-on lessons – much in the same way they might get lessons on how to drive a car.

Those lessons involve more than just knowing how to ride a bike, and cover things like route planning and seat height adjustment. It’s also important to give the lessons in peer groups so the teens don’t feel ‘uncool’.

Clare Wasteneys, a PhD candidate, became interested in why people do or don’t cycle when her young daughter responded to a suggestion that she bike to school by answering: “Girls don’t ride bikes!

She also started to wonder why bicycling is a common mode of transportation for people of all ages in some cities (Copenhagen, for example) but not in others.

So to determine what motivates people to cycle, she looked at a successful high school program in Guelph, Ontario that aims at creating the cycling habit in teens. She is presenting the findings from her research at the 2012 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Wasteneys says the program is successful because it appeals to three parts of each person: their head, their heart and their hands.

The ‘head’ is about having knowledge – not just of how to ride a bike, but of how cycling is cheap, healthy and good for the environment.

At the ‘heart’ level it’s about creating the desire to be on a bicycle. For young women, for example, it means learning about cycling in a non-competitive, female environment and understanding that they can cycle without looking “weird.”

“It’s a sense of not losing your femininity if you are a girl,” she says.

The ‘hands’ part is about skills – things like knowing your city’s bike routes, or how to adjust the settings on your bike so they most comfortable for you.

“Even the kids who have grown up in cycling families don’t know how to use the gears properly or put their seats to the right height,” she says.

The Guelph program lasts a full week, she says.

“It does take quite a bit of effort to enable behaviour to change,” she says, adding that teens become ambassadors for cycling once they realize how fun it is and how easy it is to get around.

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