National cycling coach gets youngsters' wheels spinning
Armed with figures showing Wellington is lagging behind other big cities in cycling numbers, a Hataitai man is on a crusade to get more Wellington schoolchildren on bikes.
Pedal Ready cycle trainer Gary Gibson, who also coaches junior track cycling at the Hataitai Park velodrome, set up a plan 10 years ago to engage more local children in cycling.
Gibson says 800 children compete in school cycling in Auckland and 250 in Christchurch. "I don't think we will ever be as big as Auckland. [But] there is no reason why we shouldn't get as big as Christchurch."
Early signs are looking good. "Six or seven years ago, no-one was out cycling over the weekend, now about 80 kids are out cycling," he says.
Gibson considers cycling a fundamental life skill, alongside swimming, that should be taught to every child. "I see cycling and swimming as having far more value [than most other sports], that take you right through your life."
Through the work he does with Pedal Ready, a cycle skills training programme funded by Sport Wellington, Kiwi Sport and the Road Safety Trust, he has noticed a promising demand for teaching children cycling.
"We are going through so many schools, it's unbelievable."
The focus has traditionally been on primary schools and the intermediate and high schools need to catch up, he says.
The next step is to get children active in cycling clubs, with the opportunity to become an elite cyclist.
Hataitai Park has the facilities to be a cycling hub for Wellington, Gibson says. "You've got mountainbike tracks there, track cyclers there, and a mountainbike skills track.
"A lot of parents bring their kids to the velodrome to just ride.
"It would be cool to have a little area cordoned off as a bike park for complete beginners to come and practise."
He says similar efforts need to be put into competitive cycling.
Cycling is funded as a tier one sport in New Zealand. But considering the money put into it nationally, Wellington is doing little to inspire cycling, he says.
He puts roughly 24 voluntary hours into coaching cycling each week, and nearer 40 hours before events.
What drives him is seeing the progress the children make. "I see a great maturity in every kid, physically and mentally, when they come back from nationals."
- The Dominion Post