For many Cub Scouts, a bicycle is the next best thing to a magic carpet. Once boys learn to ride, they can visit friends or explore their neighborhoods without relying on Mom’s taxi or their own two feet.
But learning to ride is not the same thing as learning to ride safely. With their limited situational awareness and lack of experience, boys can all too easily get tangled up with cars, pedestrians, loose dogs and each other. That’s one reason packs and districts across the country run bike rodeos. As the days get longer and warmer, a rodeo can be a fun way to teach bike safety to the boys in your pack — and to promote Scouting in your community.
Like all Scout activities, the best bike rodeos let boys learn by doing. First off, each boy should bring his own bike and helmet to the event. Jim Corbett, who runs a bike rodeo in the Northeast Georgia Council each September, suggests setting up 10 or so stations.
At the first station, have volunteers do a safety check on each boy’s bike and make sure it’s adjusted properly. Also check that each boy has a helmet and is wearing it properly, which means it should fit snugly, with the front edge low on his forehead.
For his rodeos, Corbett recruits the owner of a local bike shop for this station. “I believe the first year the guy got 20 sales off people who went to his shop afterward,” he says. “For him, it was great.”
Corbett says the bike-check station can become a bottleneck. To help alleviate this, he suggests bringing along a few loaner bikes that are ready to go.
The next station should teach the rules of the road. That’s a good job for a local police officer, says Cubmaster John Landers of Pack 54 in Miami, Okla. When he ran his pack’s first rodeo, he relied heavily on volunteers from the local police and fire departments, as well as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. “We’re building a sense of community so the children know there are other people than their parents who care about them,” he says.
Of course, even a caring adult in a police uniform can keep boys’ attention only for so long. Sooner rather than later, rodeo participants need to get on their bikes. At Corbett’s rodeo, that means heading to “Chaos Corner,” a roped-off area where boys are encouraged to ride without any rules or guidance.
After 10 minutes or so of chaos, a leader steps in and walks the boys through the process of creating their own rules.
From there, your options for activities are limited only by your imagination, your volunteers and the space you have available. Here are some suggestions for fun stations that will test — and teach — important skills:
- Look Back: The rider must look over his shoulder to see whether a car (represented by an adult holding a sign) is coming. He calls out “car” or “no car” as appropriate. This activity tests his ability to avoid swerving when he looks back, something novice riders tend to do.
- Rock Dodge: The rider must swerve at the last second to avoid obstacles in his path. “We took some cheap foam sponges and glued them together to simulate rocks in the road,” Corbett says. “If they have to run them over there’s no damage, and nobody gets hurt.”
- Slow Race: Two or more boys compete to see who can reach the finish line last without putting a foot on the ground. This activity teaches balance.
- Slalom Course: Boys must follow a slalom course set up using traffic cones. At Pack 54’s rodeo, a volunteer went first on his Harley. Landers told boys, “If he can do it on that big bike, you can do it on your little bike.”
- Sudden Stop: Boys must brake safely in the 12 feet or so between two chalk lines on the parking lot. “They have to ride at a good speed and then stop between two lines to prevent an incident,” Corbett says.
- Pebble Drop: Boys ride along a row of empty cans and try to drop pebbles in each one. This activity helps them practice one-handed riding, which boys need to be able to do to signal their turns.
- Free Ride: Finally, have an area where boys can simply ride for fun — and perhaps practice the safety techniques they’ve learned. Not surprisingly, this is the favorite station at Corbett’s rodeos.
Besides offering valuable lessons, consider sending kids home with gifts. Landers’ pack gave each child who completed the rodeo a “bicycle driver’s license” and a grab bag of items like school supplies. Five lucky kids also won new or gently used bikes in a drawing.
Another great giveaway is bike helmets. Local hospitals, brain-injury charities and bike clubs might have helmets available that you can give kids who don’t have decent helmets or who have outgrown their helmets.
While you can have great success offering a bike rodeo just for boys in your pack or district, you can also turn it into a community service project and recruiting event. Landers appeared on several TV news programs, ran notices in the local newspaper and recorded a public service announcement for a local radio station. As a result, at least a dozen boys joined his pack or another pack in town.
The new recruits were just a fringe benefit, however. His main goal was keeping kids safe. “We want to promote child safety,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.”