Saddle up, pardner!

Saddle up yer bike, that is.  Today was the city’s annual “bike safety rodeo”, an event that we have hosted for the last ten years.  As a commissioner on the bicycle safety advisory committee, I have had the privilege of helping to organize and staff the event most of the past ten years.  While there is no calf roping or bull riding, it’s still a fun event that is usually well attended.  Last year we had nearly 225 children who attended, which may not seem like much, but for an event like our rodeo, that is a really good turn out.

One of the activities at the bike rodeo is the safety and skills course.  Our course is intended to give riders challenges that improve balance and bike handling, as well as teaching safety skills such as riding in a straight line while checking over your shoulder, a necessity for riding busy streets.  The course this year started with weaving through cones, spaced 5-6 feet, a simple challenge that was a favorite for many of the new riders.  It moved on to a spanning station, where the rider was required to call out the number of fingers the station marshall was holding up, both while the rider was riding away and towards the marshall.

Next was a station that I call ‘sobriety test’, a 30 foot straight line that each cyclist had to negotiate without putting a foot down.  The cyclist also could not go past the end of the 30 foot line in less than ten seconds.  If the rider crossed the line too soon or veered off of the line more that five times, they had to try the skill station again.

From that station, each cyclist had to pass a volunteer who posed as a train.  If the train came into their path, the cyclist had to stop.  Once through, the next station was a figure eight — also one of the popular stations on the course.  Part of the figure eight went around a drain grate and the grade leaned towards the grate, making that part of the figure eight like a banked turn.

The final station was a ‘rock dodge’, intended to teach the skill of looking over your shoulder while going around a car.  Each cyclist finished at a certification station, where they received a personalized certificate and had their picture taken with our mayor.  Our mayor is a cyclist, who created our bike commission as one of his first tasks as mayor.  He knew me from seeing me on my daily bike commutes and recruited me as one of the original members of the commission.  Mayor loves the rodeo, volunteers for and helps with set up at every rodeo, never misses a second of each event.  After receiving their certificate and picture, each rider gets their bicycle registered with a city sticker, issued through our police explorer volunteers.

I had the privilege of planning and putting together the bicycle safety/skills course for this event.  It was fun not only laying out the course, but training and supervising the volunteers who marshalled each station on the course.  Most of our volunteers were from our high school key club, great kids who worked hard, enjoyed interacting with the kids who came through the course.  Two of the girls who volunteered were part of the middle school flute choir that my daughter was in charge of while she was in high school, so I was excited to send pictures of them to my daughter — and she loved seeing them.

There are two big draws to our bicycle rodeo.  One is that our city includes money in our commission budget for 20 new bicycles and a large number of helmets that we give away at the event.  A DJ walks around the event, interviewing volunteers and participants, calling out the winners of the bicycle drawing every few minutes.  The other draw is three professional bicycle mechanics who donate their time as well as new materials for a bicycle safety check.  They repair brakes, chains, make saddle height adjustments, replace tubes, inflate tires to the proper pressure, lubricate the bikes — and make sure bikes are safe to ride.  Usually they find a way to make sure a needy child’s ticket gets drawn in the bike drawing.  They also inspect all the new bicycles before they are given away.  This year, they also assembled the majority of the bicycles that were given away.

There is also an area where people can drop off their tired or unused bicycle, where an organization  called Working Bikes Cooperative collects them for repurposing.  It’s funny to see those bikes being taken away at the end of our event.  The Coop volunteer carefully stacks them into the back of the tiny Toyota pickup truck, the sight of the tall stack of bicycles reminiscent of something you would see in a third world country!

After it’s all done, we’re treated to a nice meal of Potbelly sub sandwiches.  It’s such a great event to be a part of.  I love it!