When the bell rings for physical education classes at Mickelson and Camelot schools in Brookings this week and next, the kids will be in for a special treat. The doors to two new sheds will open, revealing 66 new mountain bikes – 33 at each school – and the kids will get to “pedal for health.” According to Robb Rasmussen, owner of Sioux River Bicycles & Fitness, the bikes couldn’t have arrived at a better time. “This bike movement is catching on here in the Midwest, and it’s a pretty exciting thing,” he said.
The bikes will be used for the students’ physical education classes in conjunction with the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. “All of the kids coming through our schools will be getting special training in cyclery and the rules of the road,” says Rasmussen. The “bike barns” at the intermediate and middle schools were built with the help from Brookings National Guardsmen as well as Camelot staff and volunteers. The new wheels were purchased through Rasmussen’s business for $26,000, which was part of a $143,000 grant written by city officials Mike Struck, Jackie Lanning and Allyn Frerichs. The remaining $117,000 of the grant has been used to put in bike trails and lanes around Brookings to make the city more “bike friendly.”
So that every child in the school can take advantage of their use, four of the bikes are designed for kids with special needs. The bikes, a step up from the basic mountain bike, are manufactured by Trek, a brand Rasmussen says is sturdy and easy to maintain. (Camelot students will get the Trek 220 series, and the Mickelson students will ride the Trek 3500 series.)
Rasmussen has been one of the key promoters in Brookings of Safe Routes to School, an international program started in the 1970s and designed to get community leaders, schools and parents across the United States to improve safety and encourage more children to safely walk and bicycle to school.
The program’s goals are to reduce traffic congestion, improve the health of the bikers and protect the environment by making use of non-polluting transportation. But Rasmussen said there is much more to the Safe Routes program. “We not only are encouraging physical activity, but we are hoping to teach kids responsibility on so many levels.” He says the schools’ P.E. course is designed to teach kids the rules of the road and how to watch for careless drivers. “Hopefully, if we have kids who learn to be responsible bikers, maybe that will transition them into being responsible drivers as teens and to (help them) make more careful choices – like not talking on their cell phones or texting while behind the wheel.”
The students will also need to learn how to take care of their bikes. Rasmussen said each of the two-wheelers is numbered, and the number of the bike and its serial number will be on engraved plates on the wall. “If the students are going to intentionally damage or try to vandalize their bike, they are going to be held responsible for them,” he said.
Tools for the bikes will be stored in the shed, and staff will be trained on how to make minor repairs to them. If major repairs are needed, that’s taken care of, too. Rasmussen said that Sioux River Cyclery will donate staff time and assistance for any repairs for three years.
Because of all of the partnerships and ideas coming out of the Safe Routes program locally, Brookings is going to be scrutinized as a model for other programs around the nation, Rasmussen explained. Because SRTS is about community partnerships, he said students will be able to bike to school field trips to places around town. Students could learn about local history lessons by biking through Brookings’ downtown historic district. Science and nature lectures could be discussed as students coast through McCrory Gardens.