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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Happiness is… riding a bike

More Australian teenagers are getting outside and on bikes thanks to a new initiative by Coca-Cola, which aims to improve physical activity levels in teenagers by increasing access to bikes.

After discovering that only 1 in 5 Australians aged between 15-17 years old rides a bike once a week, Coca-Cola launched the Happiness Cycle, which is being run in partnership with Bicycle Network. 

“We’re committed to helping be part of the solution for one of today’s biggest problems: obesity,” explained Coca-Cola on their website.

“As one of our four business commitments to help address this national issue, we’re proud to launch to Happiness Cycle to encourage active, healthy living and inspire people to get moving”.

To do this, Coca-Cola has been giving away thousands of bikes to teenagers at community events around the country, and AustCycle Teachers have been there to ensure kids learn about bicycle safety before they hit the streets.

Just last week a program was run in Bankstown, NSW, where over 200 teens had the pleasure of receiving bikes, which they first had to build themselves. 

“They had a safety talk, then they spent an hour building their bike from scratch and then they collected their helmet and rode around a marked course while we helped with things like seat height, gear changes, as well as some basic bike education,” said AustCycle Provider and Teacher Charlene Bordley. 

Not all of the teens that turned up on the day actually knew how to ride, but by the end of the session Charlene had everyone up and moving.

“One girl hadn’t been on a bike since pre-school and that had been with training wheels. Her mum disclosed to me that she had an anxiety disorder so she had two friends riding next to her, supporting and encouraging her as she went.

“It took quite a bit to coach her through the process but the part I loved the most was that I later found out the two girls who were cheering her on didn’t even know her before that day. Yet by the end they had all swapped numbers and had even planned to go riding that weekend!

“Mum was in tears and couldn’t say thank-you enough. It was such an emotional and overwhelming privilege to be able to teach the girls to ride.”

Other courses have run in Geelong, VIC, and Shepparton, VIC, which Tiffany Wigg, Program and Logistics Co-ordinator for The Happiness Cycle, said were a great success.

By far one of the highlights of the event for me was seeing a young boy from Pakistan - who had never had a bike, and had never been taught how to ride – successfully ride his brand new bike around the Shepparton Showgrounds! It was very rewarding to see”.

A similar sentiment was expressed by one of the mothers from the Geelong course, who wrote to the Bicycle Network to express her gratitude.

“The joy in our house on Saturday was unmeasurable and the fun continued when all the kids took off for a ride around the local neighbourhood later that evening.

“I cannot tell you in words how much this experience means to me. I am so touched to have been a part of the project and love that we were able to take part in such a happy day that will provide unlimited happiness to the kids (none of whom had bikes).

“Thank you so much for a treat that I would not have been able to provide!"

While the Happiness Cycle is designed to increase access to bicycles and improve physical health, the program is also proving extremely valuable because it allows teens to not just be active, but also independent.

And, at the end of the day, they are all learning a valuable life skill that they can take with them wherever they go.

“AustCycle is committed to providing high quality education and training to community members and being a part of the Happiness Cycle allows us to start this education early,” said Gareth Watkins, General Manager for AustCycle.

“But what’s really important as we encourage more Australian’s to cycle is making sure they have the skills to enjoy and ride their bikes safely. 

“We believe in making riding accessible, fun and safe for every member of the community, whether they are four or 44, and this new initiative by Coca-Cola is just one more step further down the right path”.

The next NSW Happiness Cycle program is running in Canterbury on 5 April and the next VIC program will be held in BawBaw on 14 March, followed by Whittlesea on 21 March and Brimbank on 27 March.

Teens can register online at www.happinesscycle.com.au to be part of the program and earn themselves one of three customisable bikes; BMX, hybrid or single speed bikes.

And, once the day is over the fun doesn’t end there. All participants are shown how to use a free app that allows them to challenge their friends, track their distance and earn badges!

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