Gift coaxes schoolkids back to bikes

BY BERNARD CARPINTER
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2010
Lachlan Stent
LEARNING CURVE: Lachlan Stent heads a group of St Mary's Primary School pupils on their new 550-metre cycling track in Hastings.

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A Hastings man has given 62 new bicycles to a local school to get children back on bikes.

Paul McArdle has also given St Mary's Primary School 225 helmets, four bike tracks, a bike shed and an elite cyclist to coach the youngsters.

It is a package worth about $75,000, mostly from his own pocket.

Today at St Mary's, Prime Minister John Key will introduce Mr McArdle's Bikes in the School initiative, which aims to give every primary school pupil access to a bicycle and track.

St Mary's principal Liz Crowley said the scheme had been going for three weeks at her school and was a roaring success.

"The children are all very keen to try their skills on the bikes," she said. "It's also a learning resource in physical education – and it's fun."

Mr McArdle, 42, returned to New Zealand from Amsterdam last year after working in banking for 12 years.

"I used to bike to work every day, in a suit," he said. "Back in New Zealand I noticed how few people are cycling these days.

"As I do not need to work at present, I have decided to launch a number of non-profit projects that will encourage people to ride bikes more."

The Byk bikes from Australia are lightweight and designed for children.

St Mary's now has a 550-metre curving limestone track, two tracks with jumps and a skills track. The bikes are used at the school, not on the road.

Kerry-Anne Torckler, a New Zealand cycling representative, will work at the school for six months to help the children develop their skills.

Mr McArdle, who has two children at St Mary's, said traffic congestion would be reduced and the environment would benefit if more people rode bikes.

"Many countries are presently investing vast sums of money to encourage their populations to bike more because they know that the return on these investments is very high. I believe New Zealand could learn a lot from these countries.

"I think Hawke's Bay is the New Zealand cycling capital because of the climate, the flat terrain and the pathways that have been built here."

Mr McArdle has already organised mountain bikes for police in Taupo and Flaxmere, and today he is at Hastings Girls' High School to introduce a pilot programme there.

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- The Dominion Post

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