Pedaling into 2019 by Trips for Kids Executive Director, Robert Alan Ping
Five new chapters. Over 230,000 kids reached. 30 years of programs. 17 months of hard work from our new national leadership team. These numbers are refreshing to reflect upon as we close out 2018. This has been a year filled with learning, building and growth for Trips for Kids. Just like so many other organizations, we are riding the wave of change and standing firm to our primary focus, which has been and always will be the thousands of youth we serve and our impact across North America through a simple tool for positive growth, the bicycle.
There is much more work to do. Childhood obesity rates are still climbing, less kids are active overall in the US, and health outcomes could be declining for our youngest generations. Kids are spending more time sitting in front of screens than ever before, and less kids are getting outside and active than forty years ago. (although our programs are surely slowing down these trends) What to do? We need to keep pedaling forward to brighter futures, starting with inspiring a popular new culture around kids’ physical activity and bicycling.
First, Make It Cool
Bicycling is still suffering from stigmas: it is considered an elite, difficult, dangerous, white, male, and expensive ‘sport’ – not transportation, recreation, school activity or pastime. Bicycle infrastructure and access – street, trails and parks - is still bad overall, even though some cities are starting to make real progress. All this despite decades of blood, sweat and tears from a small but dedicated group of advocates and organizations (myself included), and a growing interest in bicycling among young adults. What is missing? Well, most people don’t know how or where to get started bicycling, are intimidated by pro shops and too many product choices, don’t see their peers riding, don’t value bicycles and bicycling, and don’t feel safe riding outside. Indoor cycling is growing, though, evidence that there is interest. More people of color are riding, and more girls and women are riding – at least a little bit more.
We need to build a different perception of cycling. Historically, bike companies and media outlets have focused on elite-level racers and events, like Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, Red Bull Rampage and the Olympics. Where has this gotten us? Exactly to where we are now: bicycling is considered an elite, difficult, white, male, expensive and dangerous ‘sport’, with little overall growth.
As Rick Vosper talks about in his December 27 article in BRAIN magazine, we need to build a new generation of riders, starting with PR. We need to show the world that bicycling is not inherently dangerous, it does not need to be expensive, and can be relevant, safe and socially acceptable for girls, women and people of color. Trips for Kids is doing just that through our networks of chapters.
Second, Focus on Kids and Teach them Young
Youth-based bicycling programs are the only way we will move the needle in the long-term. If the bike industry continues to focus on elite athletes and short-term profits, it will never grow beyond the tiny MAMIL (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) market that it now is struggling to maintain. Soccer, running and basketball are the easiest physical activities for kids – put on shoes, go get a ball, find a flat piece of ground, and go for it. Bicycling can be the next easiest option – go get a basic bike, put on your shoes, and start riding, anywhere, anyhow, with anyone. Trips for Kids makes it easy for kids and families to get started doing just that.
Third, Reach the New Majority
Let’s be honest, white males still hold most of the political and economic power in the US and Canada. But, white males are fast becoming a minority. Women are just over half of the population but are only a fraction of the bicycling world. People of color will soon be a larger US population than whites but are only a fraction of the bicycling world. Trips for Kids is the only national bicycling organization that consistently reaches more than double the typical numbers of girls and people of color, and there is a lot more we can do, especially now that we have a new national umbrella organization to lead a coordinated effort.
Kids on bikes. Girls on bikes. People of color on bikes. Lower income folks on bikes. A new culture of bicycling acceptability and access for all types of people. These are the ‘new normals’ that Trips for Kids aspires to create. We can get more kids on bikes and make bicycling a household activity like soccer, walking, basketball (and, yes, even video games…). Let’s begin by making it easy and cheap to get started riding, focusing on regular people who are not expert riders (yet), and then the next generation will ride bikes just because…that is what they have always done. Positive cultural shifts will follow, interest and sales will grow after that, and bicycling will be known to all what you already know it is: one of mankind’s greatest inventions and one of our most healthy, sustainable, social and fun activities.
We are excited about the future of bicycling and our youth development programs. 2019 looks like it will be a productive and successful year, as our small new national team continues to build sustainability and grow and support our chapters. Learn more at: tripsforkids.org
Happy New Year to you, our Trips for Kids family, and let’s hope that many more will join us in 2019!