Destination: All Kids Bike Heads to Bentonville, Arkansas
Teaching kids the impact of riding
All Kids Bike
Heads to Bentonville
Like most of the crew here at MBA, you probably remember the first time you finally got the balance down to properly ride a bike. Simply put, there is no other feeling like gliding along on two wheels. We bet most of our readers even remember the first time they got on a bike and how it changed their lives. While this is an opportunity for some, it is not the case for all.
Today, a majority of young people are not learning how to ride or even getting the proper amount of physical activity. If we start teaching our kids how to ride bikes, we will see changes in young people’s activity, a boost to their health and a jump in self-confidence. This can’t happen overnight, so how do we start implementing this? To find out, we connected with a foundation that believes bicycles in elementary schools are as fundamental as whiteboards, racks of balls and rows of desks. They strive to create a school setting where reading, writing and arithmetic are accompanied by learning how to ride a bike.
All Kids Bike is a movement led by the Strider Education Foundation with a mission to place Kindergarten PE Learn-To-Ride Programs into public schools for free by using donations from individuals, businesses and organizations. To take a look behind the scenes at how all of this comes together, we connected with the founder, Ryan McFarland, who is also CEO and founder of Strider Bikes.
We also had the opportunity to speak with some of the attendees about an All-Star Week that was held back in November of 2020. This was its second year and it is organized/supported by Bike Bentonville, Visit Bentonville, and the Walton Family Foundation. This week of events integrated athletes from other sports and professional bike riders such as Brian Lopes, Eliot Jackson, Mike “Hucker” Clark, Kialani Hines, Austin “Bubba” Warren and Rahsaan Bahati into the Bentonville community. Let’s start with Ryan McFarland’s take and get a little more info on how this all comes together before hearing from the athletes involved.
MBA: Tell us the vision and what sparked this idea.
Ryan McFarland: The number of kids riding is on a massive decline. The industry has been talking about this for over two decades. A yearly report came out that stated 75 percent of American kids will not ride a bike even one time in that year. That, to me, is startling. For those of us who are enthusiasts, it’s almost like it doesn’t even register. When the impact of that report came out, the magnitude of this info put me back a little bit. It came down to this: we need to get the greatest number of kids riding in the shortest amount of time possible at the youngest age possible. When we realized that was what we needed to do, it couldn’t just be a hit-and-miss situation. We knew we needed to be in public schools. It needed to be part of the core curriculum that every single kid goes through, and we needed to start at the youngest age possible. That led us to kindergarten as far as being in an organized and structured school setting.
MBA: When a school is “set up,” what does this look like? What does it cost?
Ryan: We addressed the issues that schools were faced with when trying out other programs. We’ve got an extremely simple bike. It is very small, lightweight and can be stored easily. We provide a cart design that is similar to what you would see for folding chairs that the bikes can be placed on and stowed away. The maintenance is minimal. Starting this year, we designed a bike with tires that don’t even need to be inflated. By starting with kindergarten, a big part of this is that we capture the kids before they build up a barrier of not wanting to participate out of embarrassment. It’s $5000 per school, and that is a one-time fee.
What we do is train the teachers by certifying them on the eight-lesson curriculum that meets the SHAPE America National Standard. We give the teacher access to an online portal with resources to complement the curriculum. Then we give them a fleet of 24 student bikes and one teacher bike that are all balance bikes. Pedal conversion kits can be added once the kids make it through the first half of classes and learn the fundamentals. It’s the full package, as it includes kickstands and helmets as well. This is all intended to last at least five years. Of course, if they take care of the bikes, they are going to last a lot longer than that.
MBA: How widespread is the program now since it started in November of 2018?
Ryan: We’ve got the programs running in 38 states and 270 schools. There are over 100 more schools on a waiting list, and another 40 schools in the process, meaning the teachers are training and everything, so we should be over 700 schools by the end of the year. An important thing for the bike industry to realize is that they do not have to carry all the water on this one. I mean, we’ve got support from local banks in towns that have funded the school. We’ve got supermarkets and even dentists. It’s not always supported by bike industry companies.
When you think about it, if the industry jumped in more and worked on getting mainstream attention to this program, they could almost sit back and be the beneficiary. We are trying to get bike enthusiasts to realize they need to be the leaders and that they don’t have to do all the work. By being a leader and bringing the program to life, all kinds of non-bike enthusiasts will jump in to support. That is the exciting bit I think and the real potential to push this forward.
MBA: Tell us about Bentonville, Arkansas, and how it played into All Kids Bike. Why did you go there?
Brian Lopes: We went out there for multiple reasons, one being that Bentonville has already implemented the All Kids Bike program into several schools in and around the northwest Arkansas area. Of course, Bentonville is an awesome place to go ride a bike. With the support of the Waltons and the local community, they are all behind the All Kids Bike program. We figured it was a great place to make it happen.
MBA: What was the All-Star Week?
Brian: The thought behind this was that some of the athletes have never been to Bentonville before. A lot of them were not linked up with the program yet, so we thought, let’s take them to Arkansas, introduce them to the All Kids Bike program and get them to sign up, and become ambassadors. We all partook in building the bikes that were brought to a school newly on the program, all while stoking some kids out on riding. Now, everyone that came is an ambassador for All Kids Bike. It’s cool to have all these ambassadors, but as I said from the start when I got on board, we need to move the needle. Just because we have the ambassadors doesn’t mean we get the funding. For me, I want to make this successful and get schools funded. y goal is to not only fund schools but to be involved and make an impact by making it all come together. Through my channel, I already have one school funded. I aim to raise $55,000 that will fund 11 more schools. I’d like to even fund the elementary school I went to during my upbringing.
MBA: Tell us about your overall experience of going out to Bentonville, visiting these schools and becoming an ambassador for All Kids Bike.
Eliot Jackson: I got to go and experience how fast the kids were able to learn by not going the more traditional route of training wheels, then being reluctant to take the training wheels off, or getting started too late to where there is a lot of social pressure or embarrassment.
For me, it was kind of a full-circle moment. I was there to introduce kids to bikes and then, being in my situation, the only reason I have this opportunity is because of the bike. That is important. As you mentioned, a lot of us take it for granted that everyone is introduced to bikes or has friends who ride bikes. I think we all have different experiences and even a relationship with the bike. Even if you do have a bike, a lot of us see it as transportation rather than recreation, a path to a career, or a better socioeconomic outcome. So, I think that is a cool thing where we are getting kids on bikes early for them to have the opportunity to see all of the people take it in so many different directions.
“A yearly report came out that stated 75 percent of American kids will not ride a bike even one time in that year. That, to me, is startling.”
MBA: How important is this program for our industry right now?
Eliot: To me, there is this vast untapped market because we kind of assume that everyone who wants to ride a bike can ride a bike and does ride a bike; however, there is this tremendous population of people who maybe don’t have the opportunity, the places or the community, and I think we ignore them—really to the detriment of cycling culture, business outcomes, and just including other people with different perspectives in the world. If you think about it, we have this vision of everyone wishing they could be in the outdoors and riding a bike. But if I am living in downtown Los Angeles, why would I go and spend $1000 or a couple of hundred bucks on a bike to then figure out how to get it an hour away into some trails, buy all the gear, and stuff like that? If you told someone that they’d likely think you are crazy.
So, I think it is about introducing people when the barrier to be involved is lower. I can be a kid and ride around a parking lot or in a dirt yard building some little dirt piles to jump off of to be able to say, “Man, this is cool! My friends, my teachers and my classmates are doing it to build that community one school at a time. This even introduces it to the parents, which I think is essential as well. It’s really about creating and implementing an impactful program like this and then doing everything we can to smooth the gaps. Many times we donate one bike and it affects one person’s life. Here is a situation where you’re teaching kids how to ride, and that one bike teaches many, many kids how to ride in the years ahead.
In the long run, we’d say the All Kids Bike program is addressing an issue that could truly change our youth. Now that you understand and have read first-hand accounts, who isn’t interested in signing up and getting involved? If you’d like to drive this cause ahead in a meaningful way, the All Kids Bike team welcomes a discussion about partnering to arrange Kindergarten PE Programs into schools. Thanks to all that could make this happen and the continual push for getting more kids on bikes!