One year ago, in February 2016, a working group of engaged stakeholders in the cycling community from Bike Winnipeg, Manitoba Public Insurance, the WRENCH, and the Active and Safe Routes to School (ASRTS) team at Green Action Centre was formed, and thus the Bicycle Education and Skills Training (B.E.S.T.) program was born. The program was developed in collaboration between all partners, with the foundation of the program based on CAN-Bike.

Early on in the process, the Seven Oaks School Division expressed strong interest in and support of the project, and was in turn chosen as the host school division for the pilot project. Together, the program and curriculum were developed, and approved in late August for program delivery in September of 2016. The three-year program was launched at four schools in the Seven Oaks School Division.

The B.E.S.T. program is the first multi-grade, multi-year bike education program of its kind in North America. Further, the program is unique in that it relies heavily on on-road training components, with students actively engaging with real traffic and infrastructure conditions. Students learn, with the assistance of the B.E.S.T. program coordinator and school teachers, how to properly ride in on-road conditions, learning valuable skills such as hand signals, shoulder checking, lane positioning, and more.

Green Action Centre has been proud to partner with such remarkable organizations who are determined to make cycling education a priority for children. The initial evaluations and results of the pilot program have been very positive, and there is much excitement looking forward to the following year to come with this program.

Why B.E.S.T?

Over the last several years, cycling has become a more popular form of exercise, recreation and transportation. Though there are more cyclists on the streets, most riders, especially younger children, do not have the knowledge, skills, or confidence to cycle safely. In particular, they lack knowledge on road rules, responsibilities as a cyclist, basic bike maintenance, and how to ride safely in traffic.

Due to this lack of knowledge and skill set, people of all ages have low cycling confidence and avoid cycling altogether, or they are cycling in an unsafe way. This pilot project aims to provide school aged children the knowledge and experience they need to safely ride to school and in their community, as well as the environmental and health benefits associated with active transportation modes.

The program was designed to meet the existing objectives of the Manitoba Physical Education and Health Education Curriculums for students in grades 4 to 8, through a combination of work in the classroom and hands on instruction in bicycling skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. A student having taken five years of training ─ grades 4 to 8 ─ would receive a total of 20 hours of safety training. The program instructor hired to facilitate the BEST program in schools is CAN-Bike trained and has a wealth of experience in cycling. 

B.E.S.T. Reflections

MPI: Anthony Lokke, Business Analyst, Road Safety Programming, with Manitoba Public Insurance notes that biking safely is a lifelong skill for youth… “The BEST cycling program focuses on an important age group of children who are becoming more independent. It’s been a pleasure working with our program coordinator, Bob Lawrie and the BEST committee partners on this pilot. Through our collaboration, we have accomplished a lot of great work in a small amount of time.”

Bike Winnipeg: Mark Cohoe, Executive Director of Bike Winnipeg, reflects on the past year, remembering the initial unknowns and the tremendous amount of work it would take to turn the program into a reality. Everyone at the table knew there was a need to move this project forward and start teaching students such an important life skill… Seeing this program develop and succeed under the leadership of the Green Action Centre (thank you Jamie Hilland) and coordinator Bob Lawry has been a highlight of the past year for me and for Bike Winnipeg. Seeing the excitement on kids’ faces as they run for their bikes, their determination to learn, and the sense of joy when they realize that they are riding on their own have made all of the hard work over the last year worthwhile. Finally, I’m grateful for the work and vision of volunteers Bromley Basford, who started the process and developed the model for the program, and Jeremy Hull who chairs Bike Winnipeg’s Education Committee and kept things moving forward until the project was moved over to Green Action Centre. We’re certainly looking forward to the development and growth of this exciting program over the next few years and are thrilled to be part of such a committed team.

Seven Oaks School Division: Brian O’Leary, Superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division, has been very pleased with the pilot program at the four schools in his division. The Seven Oaks School division decided to get involved because the School Division Board of Trustees had already indicated that they would like to see a Bike Education Program in the Division, hoping by supporting this program, they could encourage more children to bike to school and in their community, as well as becoming more active overall. They have seen this program to be very positive for their students, and they look forward to future results.